There are several different types of baptisms and examples of baptism in the Bible. However, the baptism of Jesus stands out as perhaps the most iconic and unique of them all. In this article we dive into the story of Jesus’ baptism, and the historical details of what led to this moment.
Who recorded Jesus’ Baptism?
Jesus’ baptism is recorded by all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). It is also referenced in the gospel of John, however John’s record is a first party testimony to the event rather than an accounting of it. In addition to the gospel recordings of the baptism of Jesus, extra-Biblical authors from the time period, or shortly thereafter, also wrote about it.
The Synoptic Gospel Accounts of the Baptism of Jesus
The following are the 3 synoptic Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
John’s Account of the Baptism of Jesus
As previously mentioned, John’s account is styled more from a reflective point of view. That is, as though John recounts it sometime later.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Extra Biblical Accounts of Jesus’ Baptism
In addition to the gospel accounts, there are also non-canon accounts of Jesus’ baptism. One example of this is found in the Hebrew Gospel. This text was believed to be a gospel for Jewish Christians. Unfortunately, the Hebrew Gospel is lost as there are no manuscripts known to exist. What remains are commentaries, many by Saint Jerome in the third century.
On such commentary by Jerome reads as follows:
Further in the Gospel which we mentioned above we find that the following is written: It happened then when the Lord ascended from the water, that the whole fountain of the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon him and said to him: My son, I expected you among all the prophets that you should come and that I should rest upon you. For you are my rest, you are my firstborn son, who shall reign in eternity.
What happens during the baptism of Jesus?
The following is an overview of what occurs before, during, and after Christ’s baptism. The references below are from Matthew’s account of Christ’s baptism.
John the Baptist Paves the Way for Jesus the Christ
The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a fore-runner to Christ in Isaiah 40:3. This is one who would “pave the way” for him. Matthew informs his readers that this John the baptist was the one whom Isaiah was speaking of:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”Matthew 3:1-2
In Malachi, a prophecy is also made regarding a forerunner to the Christ:
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.Malachi 3:1
John says of himself that “he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” which points to Christ.
John’s Call to Baptism of Repentance
John the baptist, so named because that’s what he did. His message was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who came to John and accepted baptism would make a commitment in their life to turn from their former living. Their new way of living was to be one with works that would prove their repentance.
We see some of John’s preaching from Luke’s account. From verses 10-14 John calls the people to end their old self-service practices. Instead, they are to consider first the needs of their neighbors, and those who are most vulnerable. For example: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.Matthew 3:11
John Prophesies Jesus’ Baptizing Work
In the previous verse, we see that John the baptist exclaimed a different kind of baptism would come from Jesus himself. That baptism is with the Holy Spirit and fire. There are questions about what a baptism of fire means, but the following verse may help explain:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.Matthew 3:12
John’s Objection to Jesus’ Baptism
When Jesus came to be baptized by John, he objected saying that it he had need to be baptized by Jesus. This illustrates John’s understanding of who Jesus was and his righteousness. John knew that Jesus Christ was sinless, the faithful Israelite.
What’s interesting is that John uses the word “need”. Perhaps we can draw from this statement by John the importance of water baptism? In addition, in his condemnation of the Pharisees and Sadducees, John equates the baptism of repentance with “fleeing the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7).
Jesus’ Response to John’s Objection
Jesus Christ was sinless and without stain, perfectly completing the law, yet he still submits to the baptism of John. This is what John knew about Jesus, his perfect righteousness. Jesus responds to the objection of John saying “let it be so for now” and “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
This statement is interesting. Who does Jesus mean when he says “us”? Could he refer to himself and John the baptist, or is it possible Jesus refers to himself and the other two personalities of God?
However, perhaps the more challenging question is, why was Jesus baptized in the first place? If we understand baptism to be repentance and for the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus who had no sin… what need did he have for baptism? Read my answers to these questions in this article: Why was Jesus baptized?
The Theophany At Jesus’ Baptism
Quite a unique thing happens at the baptism of Jesus. That is, what is called a theophany, or a visible manifestation of deity. A theophany happens a few times throughout the Bible. The best examples I can think of are the burning bush, or when Jacob wrestles with Jesus. In fact, Jesus himself is a kind of theophany.
In the gospel accounts of his baptism, we see the “Spirit of God descending like a dove”. This occurs as soon as Jesus comes out of the water (note: he must have been submerged). As this happens, the voice from heaven (God the Father) is heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
As this happens, heaven was opened (probably meaning clouds parted) and the “Spirit of God” (the Holy Spirit) came down like a dove and rested on Jesus. This probably means that the Spirit appeared like a dove. That is, that a dove was the closest thing that the authors could relate it to for explanation.
Jesus’ Ministry Begins
The baptism of Jesus Christ marks a turning point in his life. I think it not only marks a turning put, but publicly marks Jesus as the Christ. This theophany mentioned previous was the sign for the people that Jesus is the messiah. This is the one that John the baptist had prepared the people for.
It is at this point, on the heels of this public identification as the Son of God, that Jesus begins his public ministry for what would ultimately be his rejection by the Jews and subsequent death on a cross. But first, Jesus would endure a test the will of the Spirit for 40 days and 40 nights.
Jesus’ Testing After His Baptism
In Matthew 4, it appears that immediately after the events at his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness area. This indicates that it was the will of God that Jesus endure what was about to take place.
Jesus Christ Known or Unknown by Satan?
Jesus baptism seems to trigger a concerted spiritual effort directly against the Christ. During this 40 days and 40 nights, the account pictures “the tempter” (probably Satan) attempting to entice Jesus to sin.
It’s interesting to me that Christ’s ministry came after this period of testing and after Jesus was baptized. Since his baptism was an identification of him as the son of God, and a public anointing of him as the Christ, is it possible God had not revealed to Satan that Jesus was the Christ before this?
Satan Tries to Entice Jesus to Do His Will
Whatever the reason for the timing of this event, what occurs is the tempter attempting to entice Jesus to follow his will. There is quite an interesting progression to the types of tests that the tempter employs upon Jesus. It’s as if he wasn’t yet fully certain that Jesus was the Christ.
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:3-4
Notably, in all three of the tempter’s challenges, Jesus Christ returns his answer with scripture. But we see the craftiness of the tempter (Satan) in that he also uses scripture. A sign that not everyone who professes knowledge of God is one whom we should listen to!
The First Proclamation as the Christ
After enduring the testing in the wilderness, Jesus went to Galilee, teaching in the synagogues. Matthew’s account shows that Jesus went into Capernaum and “from this time” began preaching just as John the baptist did saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
On one such occasion at the synagogue in Nazareth he publicly read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah which speaks of the Messiah to come and announces, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What started as a possible good reception from the Jews in this audience turned into what would characterize the Jewish response to Jesus. This encounter ended with the group attempting to throw Jesus Christ off a cliff.
Baptism of Christ FAQ
The story of Jesus’ baptism is in the four gospel accounts in the Bible. All four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have an account of the event.
Several things happened in the baptism of Jesus. First, John the baptist is baptizing in the Jordan river when Jesus comes to him to be baptized. After John initially objects, he then baptizes Jesus, submerging him in water. Immediately after he ascends out of the water, the Holy Spirit comes down upon him and God the father speaks.
Jesus is baptized in Matthew chapter 3 starting in verse 13.
The baptism of Jesus is in Luke chapter 3 starting in verse 21.