“And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’
And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.”
There is one question which begs an answer. Why was Jesus baptized?
In all four gospel accounts the baptism of Jesus is recorded. Clearly this was a significant event in the life of our Lord. This significance was not lost on John. “In those days” when Jesus of Nazareth came to be baptized by John in the Jordan, John knew that this was no ordinary Jew. Remember that John’s message was repentance for the remission of sins (v. 4), and John’s baptism of these penitent sinners was the public representation of their repentance; an outward symbol of an inward reality.
Jesus had no sin for which to repent. He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15b); which is why, according to Matthew; John initially blanched at the thought of baptizing Jesus – “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14)
Why then was Jesus Christ baptized?
Jesus was baptized to identify with the people He came to deliver. Christ’s baptism represented His willing identification with the sinful people He came to redeem. Concerning Christ’s baptism Kent Hughes writes:
“In His baptism He associated Himself with us sinners and placed Himself among the guilty – not for His salvation but for ours – not for His guilt but for ours – not because He feared the wrath to come, but to save us from it. His baptism meant the Cross!” (Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 24.)
John MacArthur writes:
“Jesus came into the world to identify with men; and to identify with men is to identify with sin. He could not purchase righteousness for mankind if He did not identify with mankind’s sin. As the prophet Isaiah wrote in 53:12, “he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many”. Jesus’ baptism also represented the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save.” (Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 78.)
Indeed, Jesus Christ was derisively known by the religious right as the “friend of…sinners.” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) On the cross the One who “knew no sin” was “made to be sin for us…that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There was no sin in Him but all sin was placed on Him: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
As in all things Jesus Christ is the believer’s ultimate example. On the night before His crucifixion Jesus demonstrated the posture of a servant for His disciples as He washed their feet. When that powerful object lesson was finished He said to them, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15) Years later Peter would write “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
This example extends beyond suffering and service; it includes every aspect of Christian living, beginning with the ordinance of baptism. Baptism is part of God’s plan for believers under the New Covenant. Jesus perfectly followed the Father’s will in every aspect; including baptism. Jesus was baptized, and He was baptized by the one whom God had authorized to baptize. With His baptism Jesus has provided an example of obedience to His followers.
A believer should be baptized because baptism is a public confession of faith in Christ. Baptism is not sacramental, it does not save, but it is symbolic of the salvation one possesses. To be baptized is to be obedient to God the Father, and it is to follow in obedience to God the Son.
In Christ’s baptism He identified with sinners. When believers are baptized they identify with Christ: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Jesus’ baptism also illustrated how His earthly ministry would culminate: with His death, burial, and resurrection. His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection from the grave is what His baptism prefigured.