The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist
By Matthew Castro
I have been studying the Book of Mark recently, and bought a Knowing the Bible study to help with the task. While using the study book, Dane Ortlund, who is the author of the Mark study, asked a good question about Jesus’s baptism in Mark 1:9-11. He wrote, “Jesus comes to the Jordan River and is baptized by John. John himself has already made it clear that Jesus is grater than he is (Mark 1:7), so this cannot be an act of submission to John. Instead Jesus is likely identifying with the people. How might later statements by Jesus, such as Mark 10:45, further fill out the significance of Jesus’ baptism?”
As a Baptist, I believe strongly in the importance of believer’s baptism or credo baptism, and I have always believed that baptism is important because Jesus himself was baptized. However, I have never truly thought about the significance of Jesus’ baptism. Why does Jesus allow John the Baptist to baptize him?
John the Baptist in Mark 1:7 said quite directly that, “One who is more powerful than I am is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, the Son of God, is clearly greater than John. So, why does Jesus relegate himself to allow John the Baptize to baptize him?
The answer lays in the meaning of John’s baptisms. Mark wrote a few verses earlier, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5). People from all over the region were coming to John to repent of their sins and return back to God. John’s role in Jesus’ ministry was a forerunner. He prepared the way for the Messiah’s ministry of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. His baptism of repentance prepared the people for the salvation to come through Jesus Christ.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was not a Jewish ritual that confirmed a person’s Jewishness. Therefore, Jesus was not required to be baptized to fulfill the law as he did with his circumcision or his temple visit as a 12 year old boy. Jesus has nothing to repent or confess, since while he was tempted in every way like we are, he did not sin. Even as a child or a young man, he did not sin in his youth. Jesus has no need for John’s baptism of repentance.
Jesus’ baptism is also not necessary for his divine nature. Jesus is the Son of God. He has always been the Son of God. The apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (Jn. 1:1-2). Therefore, his baptism was not a adoption or coronation ceremony by which Jesus, the ordinary man, received a divine nature and commission from God as some heretical views of Christ’s identity claimed. Jesus was born into the world as a man, who also possessed the fullness of God. His baptism did not add to his nature in any way.
The gospel of Matthew provides a helpful clue to the reason for Jesus’ submission to baptism. Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). It is fitting. Fulling all righteousness is fitting. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus joined fallen humanity in the baptismal waters, because though him he will provide for their righteousness. These people, who were coming from all over the region and repenting of their sins, will be justified not in their Jewishness, but they will be justified, counted righteous, by the one who is greater than John the Baptist. He appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh and identifies with sinners in baptism, so that he may fulfill all righteousness for them. None are able to make themselves righteous, but Jesus will cause many to be counted righteous.