"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among" men (John 1:14) for about a third of a century. For good reason, not every earthly activity of Jesus is recorded in the Bible (John 21:25). But we can rest assured that what is written about Him in God’s word is sufficient to cause us to recognize Him as the Christ (John 20:30,31).
One unique happening in the life of Jesus was His baptism. Let us examine what the Scriptures say about this event by presenting and answering a series of questions.
1) Where does the New Testament record the baptism Jesus? A: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23.
2) Who baptized Jesus, and where did it take place? A: "Jesus came … and was baptized of John (the Baptizer, rdc) in Jordan" (Mark 1:9).
3) Where was Jesus before He came to be baptized? A: In "Nazareth of Galilee" (Mark 1:9).
4) What had Jesus been doing before His baptism? A: Later, some asked regarding Him, "Is not this the carpenter" (Mark 6:3). Thus, He must have been working as a carpenter.
5) How old was Jesus when He was baptized? A: After Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism, he immediately noted, "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age …" (Luke 3:23).
6) What was John’s reaction when he learned that Jesus wanted to be baptized by him? A: "But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14).
7) Why was Jesus baptized? A: John’s baptism was a "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Jesus, however, "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22), and thus He could not have been baptized for the remission of sins. What, then, was the reason for His baptism? Jesus Himself said to John, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" ("Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," NKJV, Matthew 3:16).
Jesus was baptized to fulfill or carry out righteousness, and since all of God’s commands are righteousness (Psalm 119:172), then it must be the case that Jesus was baptized in obedience to the Father’s command. Of those Jews that refused to receive John’s baptism, it is written that they "rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (Luke 7:30). By being baptized, Jesus certainly showed forth an example of submission to the will of God that was worthy of imitation for those Jews who lived in His time, even as it continues to serve as an excellent example of obedience for men living today.
8) Was Jesus’ baptism an immersion? A: Perhaps you have seen pictures or movies in which John the Baptizer is shown pouring water on Jesus’ head as they stood in shallow water. The pouring of water on someone’s head is not biblical baptism. The Greek word from which our word "baptism" is translated simply means an immersion or dipping. That is what a genuine baptism is in every case, an immersion into water. The text of Matthew 3:16 states that Jesus went up "out of the water" immediately after His baptism. To say that He came up out of the water indicates that He first had to enter the water. Neither of these actions (entering and exiting water) are required for either sprinkling or pouring, both of which are religious practices invented by imaginative men.
9) What was the difference between Jesus’ baptism and the baptism that other Jews received from John? A: John called upon other Jews to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Those who received John’s message "were baptized of him …, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:6). Since our Lord lived "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), it was impossible for Him to repent of or confess any of His own transgressions. Thus, as we noted above (questions #7), unlike all others who received John’s baptism, the Messiah could not have been baptized in order to receive the remission of sins.
10) What happened after Jesus was baptized? A: Jesus prayed (Luke 3:21), the Holy Spirit "descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22), then Jesus was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tempted (Mark 1:12,13). In this we clearly see that there are three in the Godhead, for the actions of three distinct persons are noted: the praying Son, the descending Spirit, and the confessing Father.
Because of an earlier revelation from God, when John the Baptizer saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus, he knew that Jesus would be the One that would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is the Son of God. Listen to John’s testimony about this unforgettable event: "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God" (John 1:32-34).
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? The Bible says that it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). And what does He say about Jesus? "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5). [It is possible that on this special occasion the Father confessed Jesus as His Son twice, for Mark’s account records that the Father said "Thou (instead of "this") art my beloved Son" (1:11)]. If God says that Jesus is His Son, then that settles the matter, regardless of what any man might say about it!
11) Does the example of Jesus’ baptism prove that today water baptism is not necessary in order to be saved, as some claim? A: What is the motivation for such a statement? Here is how some people reason. Jesus was baptized, right? Right. And surely we do not believe that He was baptized in order to be saved, because He had no sins, right? Right. In all things Jesus is our model or pattern, right? Right. Well, if Jesus was not baptized for the remission of sins, and we are to imitate Him in all things, then we should not be baptized in order to receive the remission of sins or be saved. Or, to put it another way, if Jesus could be pleasing to God without being baptized for the remission of sins, then people living today can please God without being baptized for that purpose.
What can we say to this idea? We know that it is a popular one in some denominational circles, because we have personally heard it expressed to us in private studies in three different countries! The truth is, if we are searching for the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved," then we should not look at what Jesus did in the Jordan River or any place else. Please hear us out. When we consider examples of conversion, we must recognize that Jesus is not an example of one that was converted, for He was never lost! Only one who is lost by being separated from God through sin is in need of salvation. Therefore, the action that Jesus took by being baptized is not a parallel to a situation where one today is lost in sin!
Think about this. What if instead of saying that Jesus was not baptized to be saved, I say, "Well, Jesus never repented, so it is not necessary for a person to repent in order to be saved today?" You would say, "That’s faulty thinking." How right you would be! But why? First, because we all know that Jesus was never converted, He never was lost and thus He never did anything to be saved. So, when we discuss what A SINNER must do in order to be saved, Jesus’ baptism does not come into play as a model. Second, we know from other passages which are not connected with the baptism of the Christ, that repentance is commanded by God (Acts 17:30) and is a condition of receiving the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). In the same way, other passages that are not connected with the baptism of our Lord also plainly prove that baptism is essential in order for a sinner to have his/her sins washed away (Acts 22:16; 2:38).
Jesus’ baptism was a very significant occasion in His life. It demonstrated His desire to do the righteousness of God (Matthew 3:15). It was at this time that God the Father vocally claimed Jesus as His Son (Matthew 3:16). Further, it was like a pivotal point in His earthly life, for it was not until after this that we read about the beginning of Jesus’ public preaching ministry. Jesus’ baptism was unique in that His is the only immersion that has taken place in harmony with the Father’s will, and yet was not for the remission of sins. May God help all of us to see the lessons that we can learn from the inspired record of our Lord’s baptism.
-- Roger D. Campbell
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