Christians regard Jesus’ baptism as one of the most significant events in the account of his life. So much so that the alleged baptism site has become a type of “Holy Land” much in the same way other significant areas in Israel have. But do we actually know where Jesus was baptized? If so, what does this mean for us?
In this article, we will look at some of the Biblical evidence pointing us to the baptism site of Jesus with the goal of answering the question “where was Jesus baptized?”
Does it really matter where Jesus was baptized?
Before we continue, I do want to address a particular issue common in world religion. That is, places or things involved in the life of “Holy” people have a tendency to become idolized. What happens is the places or things are themselves regarded as Holy. This is easily identifiable in the “pilgrimage” many Christians make to sites such as where Jesus was baptized.
As Christian “pilgrims” travel here, the baptism site itself becomes an element of worship. Such things can become a form of idol worship in which reverence for a particular location is set before the very meaning and person of Christ, his life, and lessons he taught. In this way, the Christian can become less of a follower of Christ, and more interested in their works, hoping that coming in contact with the “Holy land” is what saves or blesses them, rather than a faith in Jesus Christ.
As followers of Christ, we must place these things in their proper context. I enjoy learning about artifacts, or places of significance (such as the baptism site of Jesus). However, I know that my healing, rest, and salvation comes from faith in Christ, not an artifact or place of significance. Therefore, I do not need to make a pilgrimage, kiss a wall, or touch the waters of Jesus’ baptism site to gain God’s blessings and favor. I simply need to follow Jesus with true faith in him.
Where was Jesus baptized?
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river. Evidence for this is in Matthew’s account, which states that John baptized people in the Jordan river:
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
And again in Matthew’s account, we see that Jesus came to the Jordan river from Galilee to be baptized by John:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Where is the Jordan River?
The Jordan River is in the Middle East and flows starting from Mt. Hermon south through the sea of Galilee, ending in the Dead Sea. In total, it spans about 143 miles start to end. However, since it is a meandering river, its actual length is much longer.
At about 1,400 feet below sea level, the Jordan river is the lowest elevation river on Earth.
Where in the Jordan river was Jesus baptized?
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river in an area called “Bethany across the Jordan” a few miles north of the Dead Sea. This we know from John’s gospel in Chapter 1 and verse 28: “These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” Getting more exact than that, however, becomes more difficult.
The east bank or west bank?
There is some disagreement whether this was on the west or east bank of the Jordan river, but most archaeologists agree it was likely on the eastern shore. This is because as Jesus was coming from Galilee, he would take a normal route around Samaria. This route would cross the Jordan placing Jesus on the east bank.
It makes sense for the identity of this area to be Bethany “beyond” or “across” the Jordan, as most likely this would relate back to Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was west of the Jordan river, Bethany beyond the Jordan must be the eastern bank.
Why was Jesus baptized in the Jordan River?
The Jordan river certainly had significance throughout the Bible. We find mention of it over 170 times in the Old Testament, and another 15 times in the New Testament. Many great things happened in the river including the crossing of the Israelite people after God freed them from Egyptian slavery. Certainly Israel and Jordan had a history and undoubtedly it was held in high regard among the people.
However, there’s no indication that any of this plays a role in why John the baptist used the Jordan river for his baptism. It may very well be that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river simply because of convenience.
The Jordan River Area Was an Often Traveled Area
Using the Jordan river for baptism and as a location for preaching makes sense from a strategic standpoint. In this area, John would certainly see much traffic from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, and other places. This seems to be exactly his strategy in Luke’s account:
And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.Luke 3:3
Matthew writes about the result of this strategy:
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Matthew 3:5-6
Another interesting detail is that John preached in the wilderness area. This covered a large portion west of the Jordan including Jerusalem, Jericho, and stretching further down along the Dead Sea. However, we see that immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. This seems to indicate that perhaps his baptism site was not in the wilderness area, but in fact on the east bank of the Jordan river.
Should you travel to the Jordan river for your baptism?
There are those who decide they want to partake in baptism at or near the location where Jesus’ baptism took place. While this seems like a nice idea, it may not be the right decision for you. Here are a few reasons why:
The Water Itself Does Not Save You
The particular water used in your baptism does not grant you more favor. The water does not bless you. The water itself is not Holy. This includes the water available in the Jordan river at the baptism site of Jesus. Instead, God looks for a person who appeals to him for a clean conscience from obedience (1 Peter 3:21). He does not care about what type of water, or what location.
The Lord adds you to the church and you become a Christian based on this appeal to God, not the type, location, or source of the water used in your baptism.
In fact, the water that existed in the Jordan river at the baptism of Jesus is not even the same water that is there today. It has moved on through the water cycle and dispersed throughout the world. So, even if you desired immersion in the water used at the baptism of Jesus, you would not be able to.
Baptism is Urgent
If the Jordan river is the closest body of water available to you for baptism, then perhaps you should consider it for your baptism. Chances are, however, that your location is not close to the Jordan river. That means time and travel is involved to get to where your baptism will take place.
However, the Bible speaks of baptism in an urgent way. Paul’s instructions are to not wait to take immersion: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Every account we have of conversion includes baptism, which was never delayed or scheduled. There was never any waiting around for baptism in the Bible.
You should not wait to become a Christian. You don’t need to travel all the way to Israel to be immersed in the baptism site of Jesus. Instead, you can accept baptism in any body of water and have justification by your faith in Jesus Christ.
Focusing on the Physical is a Wrong Mindset
When a person desires baptism in a particular place, it may be a sign that they value the physical over the spiritual. That is, that somehow the works that we do make us more righteous, or that God holds certain objects or places in greater regard than others.
This focus on the fleshly things is a reliance upon ones own worthiness. In this view, if a particular mountain is considered “Holy”, then it’s my hard work and effort climbing to the top of that mountain that gain me salvation. This is opposed to the free gift of God, which is accepted through an appeal to God in baptism.
Is there ever a reason to consider baptism in the Jordan river?
There is one reason to consider baptism in the Jordan river, and that is if you live near it. Otherwise, any body of water is sufficient for your acceptance and commitment to Jesus Christ in baptism.
Now that you understand where Jesus was baptized, a good next reading is my article detailing when Jesus was baptized.