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Why was Jesus Baptized?

by Tucker D. Anderson on November 12, 2021

As we prepare for our baptism services on November 21, 2021, I have been pondering the meaning of Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). Why is the sinless Son of God baptized? A common answer is that Jesus is baptized to set an example for his disciples. Although this explanation certainly has merit, the baptism of Jesus has many rich theological nuances that we should not miss. I will highlight three neglected aspects of Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus and the Promised Land

Physical space and place are prominently featured in the biblical narrative. For example, the Jordan River takes center stage at a defining moment in redemption history (the picture you see above is of the Jordan River at a location just south of the Sea of Galilee). Joshua 3 recounts the entry of the people of God into the promised land after a long forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Moses’ protégé, Joshua, leads an eager people through the dry riverbed of the Jordan on their way to their promised home. Later biblical writers would refer back to this momentous occasion. When recounting God’s saving acts in Psalm 114, the psalmist vividly describes the saving work of God,

“When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back” (Ps 114:1-3 ESV, emphasis mine).

The Jordan was an evocative reminder of God fulfilling his promises. Although subtle, the Jordan crossing provides a backdrop for Jesus’ baptism (Drimalla, “The Meaning of Baptism”). God is again making good on his promises as the better Joshua is about to lead his people to a new Promised Land— which the New Testament describes as the new creation (Moo, “Hebrews,” in NIVBTSB, 2204, Heb 4:8-11).

Jesus’ Identity is Revealed

The baptism further reveals aspects of Jesus’ identity. He is both the divine servant figure of Isaiah, and the Davidic king (Blomberg, “Matthew,” in CNTUOT, 14). After Jesus comes up from the water, an audible voice is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17 ESV, emphasis mine). New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg, notes that there are “two allusions” to significant Old Testament passages (Blomberg, “Matthew,” in CNTUOT, 14). First, when God the Father declares Jesus to be his “beloved Son,” a first-century Jewish listener would have heard Psalm 2:7, a reference to the Davidic king, and Isaiah 42:1, a reference to the “servant” (Blomberg, “Matthew,” in CNTUOT, 14). I invite you to read Psalm 2 (a coronation psalm) and Isaiah 42 (the commissioning of the servant figure) for the surrounding context. Doing so can help you to better understand the significance of Jesus’ baptism, person, and ministry.

After Jesus comes up from the water, an audible voice is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17 ESV, emphasis mine).

Jesus is Anointed for Ministry

Finally, at the baptism, Jesus is “anointed” for his kingdom ministry (Schreiner, Matthew: Disciple and Scribe, 103; Stein, Luke, 47-48). Consider the anointing of David for kingship. The text says that “...Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully on David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13 ESV). Similarly, when Jesus comes up out of the water, the “Spirit of God” (Matt 3:16) comes upon Jesus empowering him to be the Servant-King, the one who would announce the “kingdom of God” (Matt 4:23) and accomplish redemption for his people.

At the baptism of Jesus, many of the central redemptive themes in the Hebrew Bible find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus. He is the one who accomplishes our salvation as the divine Servant-King. So, while Jesus is certainly setting an example for us to follow in his baptism, I hope you see that there is much more beneath the surface.

 

Recommended Resources and Bibliography

 

Blomberg, Craig L. “Matthew.” In Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1–100. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007.

 

Brown, Jeannine K., and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. Edited by Joel B. Green. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018.

 

Drimalla, Shara, and BibleProject Team, “The Meaning of Baptism in the Bible,” Bible Project, Accessed 11/12/21, https://bibleproject.com/blog/baptism-in-the-bible/.

 

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007.

 

Moo, Douglas J. “The Letters and Revelation.” In NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.

 

Schreiner, Patrick. Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. Kindle.

Stein, Robert H. Luke. Vol. 24. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

 

   

Tucker Anderson has served at Calvary Church since 2015. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion is helping people develop a biblical worldview by understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament.

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