The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Introduction


The baptism of Jesus simultaneously marks the inauguration of Jesus' earthly ministry as well as marking the beginning of the decline of John the Baptist's ministry. MacArthur is among many who consider the baptism of Jesus to be little more than an example for us to follow.1 Yet it is in fact so much more. It is at the baptism that those who are most prone to responding to their Messiah are gathered in repentance.
Many in Israel wondered if John might be the Messiah. Yet the last prophet declares with assurance that he is not even worthy to untie the laces of the Messiah's sandals (Matthew 3:11). John, the official herald of the coming king was waiting for the Christ to be revealed. The baptism of Jesus fulfills that need as the Messiah is identified to John by a special theophany of the Holy Spirit. It is this identification which enables the Baptist to complete his task as herald (John 1:29-34). But the herald must wait his turn to announce the king's arrival; the first public announcement is made by God the Father himself.
Here at his baptism the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is first prefigured. It is here at his baptism that the perfect one intentionally identifies himself with repentant sinners, and demonstrates his full humility. It is at his baptism where the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ begins.

Each gospel contains an analogous passage which serves to clarify certain aspects of the Matthew narrative. Mark 1:9-11 identifies the geographic origin of Jesus more accurately as Nazareth. Luke 3:21-22 informs us that Jesus was praying as the heavens were opened, and further clarifies that the Holy Spirit which descended on Jesus was in the bodily form of a dove rather than simply flying down the way a dove would. Both Mark and Luke have the heavenly voice speaking directly to Jesus as in, "you are my beloved son…" which raises significant questions concerning Matthew's purpose in changing it. John's addition to the baptismal story (John 1:31-34) is more contextual in nature. It is from John 1:32 that we discover the baptizer did not know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah until after he saw the dove come upon him. Therefore there was something else about the nature and character of Jesus which caused John to seek baptism from his cousin. These collective hints, together with Matthew's account combine to display and explain the baptism of Jesus Christ.

1John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, Includes Indexes. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1984), p. 266.