So we’ve been looking at baptism. I’ve told you my position on baptism, as it relates to paedo vs. credo baptism and we’ve looked a bit at the OT perspective on baptism and some definitions. I wanted to talk about the OT perspective on baptism because I believe the OT perspective on baptism has direct bearing on what we’ll discuss next.
In this post, I’ll be talking about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. During this post, we’ll be looking specifically at Matthew’s account and Mark’s account (in the Gospels) of Jesus’ baptism and John’s baptism. So let’s jump in.
So let’s take a look at Matthew’s account first. As we do that, I think it is important to remember that Matthew was Jewish as was the audience he was writing to. This is important. It’s important because there are things he writes about that have direct ties to the OT and only make sense if you’re Jewish. So keep this in mind. Let’s also remember that baptism and ritual cleansing was a common practice for the Jewish people prior to the life of Jesus. So baptism was not at all unusual. What was unusual was the purpose of it and what it became during the life of John and Jesus.
Let’s look at Matthew’s account. In chapter 3 of Matthew’s gospel we find the account. Without quoting the whole text at length, I’ll ask you to open your Bible as you read this post. Read Matthew’s account. The first thing we need to know about John is that he was the last prophet, the final man whom God sent in the role of preacher to the people of Israel prior to the coming of the Messiah. The role of the OT prophet was to call the people of God back to Himself by repenting and turning again to the covenant relationship they had with the God of Israel. We see in John the final “OT prophet.” This has significance for how we understand his baptism and the fulfillment of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new covenant.
So right at the beginning of Matthew 3, we see John’s message. In verse 2 we read his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So right at the beginning of John’s message, we see what it is about. He was heralding a distinctly eschatological message. In effect, he was proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God as he prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. John’s purpose in baptism seems to be to awaken the covenant people of God to the reality of the coming Messiah.
We can see this eschatological flavor in verse 7 of Matthew 3 where John talks about “the wrath to come,” and tells everyone to repent. But why repent? They were called to repent because of the coming wrath (judgment) of God that would come along with the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom. So it looks like John believed that Jesus’ coming was to bring judgment on those who would not repent. There’s an interesting thing I think we see here. Notice that John does not call for belief. No, he calls for repentance and says that the coming Messiah would also baptize, but His baptism would be a spiritual one by the Holy Spirit. So John was not calling for belief and faith but rather repentance.
Remember John’s purpose.
We see John’s purpose specifically laid out for us in Mark’s gospel. In the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel, we see John’s purpose in verse 4 where it says that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. As we saw in the last post, it was not uncommon for the Jews to practice baptism and ritualistic cleansings and converts to Judaism were baptized. So John’s baptism was to require a one-time baptism of repentance for those already in the covenant people of God. This was a clear sign of the inauguration of the new covenant.
Keeping the background of baptism in the OT becomes critical in understanding John’s purpose in baptism.
So if that’s the case for John, what about Jesus? Why would the very Son of God need to be baptized? Let’s go back to Matthew’s account. The detail he offers is quite helpful I think. We see John being reluctant to baptize Jesus. Who wouldn’t be reluctant to baptize Jesus?! As we remember John’s purpose then we see why he was reluctant. After all, why would God’s Son need to repent or be forgiven for sin? But notice Jesus’ answer to John in Matthew 3:15.
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
What does that mean?!
It seems clear in the Bible that God’s kingdom is defined, if you will, by His own righteousness. So then Jesus teaches us what God’s righteousness requires by obedience to God’s will. He also, by His death, secures God’s righteousness for us sinners and his baptism also points to His giving of His own life to once and for all secure righteousness for God’s people and those who will place faith in Him.
In other words, Jesus had to be baptized so that we could learn what obedience to God’s will means. If the very Son of God (who is God in the flesh) obeyed the will of the Father, how much more should we obey as adopted sons and daughters?!
Another reason for the baptism of Jesus seems to be the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We see this immediately following His baptism as He comes out of the river, the Spirit descends on Him and the Father speaks, thus verifying for all present that the kingdom of God had been inaugurated and the Messiah had come (see Isa 42:1).
Some random thoughts before I wrap this one up. It is interesting and worth noting a couple of things about baptism and Jesus’ ministry. It appears, from John 3:22 and 4:1, that Jesus Himself seemed to abandon baptism during His ministry. Now don’t read into that that I’m saying Jesus doesn’t believe we should be baptized. That’s not what I said. I’m not sure why it seemed that Jesus and His disciples stopped baptizing people. That’s probably for people way smarter than me to determine. Just an interesting note to add.
One other interesting thing to note is that there is no record in the NT of the disciples themselves being baptized. The one exception I could find to that was when Paul was converted. In Acts 9 we see Paul’s conversion and subsequent baptism. I believe Paul was hearkening back to John’s eschatological flavor and following Jesus’ example but that’s just my opinion. Again, just an interesting note that we have no record of any of the other disciples being baptized.
So this is where we are now. In the next post, we’ll be looking at baptism at the beginning of the Church in Acts and looking at mode. I hope you have found this helpful and interesting so far.
Soli Deo Gloria!