The Baptism of Jesus

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Bautismo de Cristo (Navarrete el Mudo).jpg

For those who have eyes to see (i.e., those who understand the history of the Kings of Israel), the baptism of Jesus is not a washing away of sin (the ordinary reason for people coming to be baptized by John the Baptist) but the moment when he is anointed as The Christ, the King. John plays the role of Samuel, who anointed (christened!) Saul and David as King of Israel. He is also cast in the role of Elijah, the prophet who was commonly expected to come back down from Heaven to anoint (christen!) the next "son of David" to fulfill the promises made in God's covenant with David (cf. Ps 89:1-38).

Unlike Samuel, John the Baptist did not use oil to anoint (christen!) Jesus as The Christ, the King. The Father Himself anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, the reality symbolized by the prophet's oil of anointing. The Scriptures about Jesus' Baptism are ambiguous about who saw the Spirit and who heard the voice from Heaven.

OT archetype NT fulfillment
The prophet Samuel anoints (Greek derivative: christens) David. John the Baptist witnesses the Father anointing Jesus.
Holy oil is poured over the man chosen to be King as a symbol of God's grace and favor. The Holy Spirit is bestowed on Jesus, the King of Kings. He is anointed not with oil but with that which the oil symbolized: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power" (Acts 10:38).
The King is called "Son of God" (Ps 2, Ps 89). King Jesus is God the Son.
The King is called Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek. Jesus is called Messiah and Christ.
The King continues his dynasty by producing children with his harem. King Jesus continues his dynasty by causing His followers to be "born again" by "water and the Spirit" (Jn 3:4-5).
The King is mortal; he is replaced by one of his sons. King Jesus rose from the dead and will live as King forever, fulfilling Psalm 89 in an unexpected fashion: "I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages" (v.5).
Water is used to cleanse people and things. Jesus cleanses the waters of Baptism by submitting to John's baptism.

Synoptic Accounts

Mark 1:7-11

7 And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.

8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit."

9 It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

10 On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

11 And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."[1]

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

14 John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"

15 Jesus said to him in reply, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."[1] Then he allowed him.

16 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."[2]

Luke 3:15-21

15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.

16 John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.

17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

19 Now Herod the tetrarch, who had been censured by him because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the evil deeds Herod had committed, added still another to these by (also) putting John in prison.

20 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened

21 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

22 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."[3]

Synoptic Parallels

Mt 3:13 Mk 1:9 Lk 3:21
7 And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. 16 " ... but one mightier than I is coming."
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 16 I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
8 I have baptized you with water; [16 I am baptizing you with water...]
he will baptize you with the holy Spirit." He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.

17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan 9 It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
to be baptized by him. and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

14 John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"

15 Jesus said to him in reply, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed him.

16 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water 10 On coming up out of the water 20 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], [2] he saw the heavens being torn open heaven was opened
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. 21 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." 11 And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." 22 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Observations on the Synoptics

  • Only Matthew has a dialogue about how odd it is for John to baptize Jesus (3:14-15).
  • In Matthew and Mark, Jesus sees the Spirit descending in the form of a dove. Luke is ambiguous about who sees the heavens opened and who sees the Spirit.
  • In John, John the Baptist sees the Spirit descending on Jesus and remaining with Him.
  • In Mark and Luke, the voice from Heaven speaks to Jesus directly: "You are my beloved Son ..." In Matthew, by contrast, the voice speaks to the crowd: "This is my beloved Son."

John 1:29-34

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

30 He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’

31 I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”

32 John testified further, saying,
I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.

33 I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”[4]

John vs. the Synoptics

Differences :
- Jesus is not baptized by John the Baptist.
- The heavens are not opened.
- There is no voice from Heaven speaking to Jesus, John, or the crowd.
- The Spirit is not described as taking the form of a dove.
Agreements:
- Jesus outranks John (v. 30).
- John's mission was to baptize with water (v. 31).
- Jesus's mission was to baptize with the Holy Spirit (v. 33).
- John saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus and remain with Him (v.33).
- John identifies Jesus as "Son of God" (v. 34).

Paradoxes of the Baptism of Our Lord

  • Jesus takes a sinner's bath, but He is free from sin. John's baptism for repentance with water was prophetic of Jesus' "baptism in the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk). John prepared the way for Jesus. It was perfectly appropriate for Jesus to be blessed by John:
  • Jesus identifies Himself with sinners. He is not afraid to be mistaken for a sinner, and he wants to take the burden of all sins upon himself. He doesn't insist on receiving the accolades due Him as true God and true Man. As with His death on the Cross--which He calls a baptism (Mk 10:38)--He did not have to do this. His immersion in the world of sin and His immolation on the Cross are pure acts of love.
  • Jesus' baptism is the culmination of John's ministry.
  • The water did not cleanse and sanctify Jesus; He cleansed and sanctified the water (the Eastern tradition blesses baptismal water at this feast).
  • Jesus was anointed (messiahed, christ-ed or "christened") without oil. He received the reality of the Holy Spirit that the oil used in the anointing of the Kings of Israel had symbolized.
  • This is a coronation (Latin, corona, "crown," hence coronation, "crowning") without a crown.
  • John the Baptist, unlike Samuel, does not anoint the King, but witnesses the Father anointing the Son with the Holy Spirit.
  • Because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, John identifies Jesus as the one Who will "baptize with the Holy Spirit." The new sacrament of Baptism uses water, but the real interior washing away of sin is done by the Holy Spirit, not by the symbol of water that is used in the sacrament. Washing with water is an effective sign of our sins being washed away.

The Baptism of Jesus is a scandal. If He is God the Son from before all befores who has become human to save us from sin, what is He doing taking a sinner's bath? We Puritans would rather have Him stand aside, looking down from a great height on the filthy people dirtying the water with their sins. Jesus was never afraid of being mistaken for a sinner. He ate and drank with public sinners; He touched lepers; He let an unclean woman touch Him; He healed the children and servants of outsiders; He spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well; He let his disciples harvest and munch some grain on the Sabbath; He Himself worked on the day of rest; He let his enemies pin him to the Cross. Jesus took a sinner's bath so that all sinners might be washed clean. It is the perfect emblem of His whole mission.

East vs. West

The East, as a general rule, celebrates the Baptism of Jesus on what the West calls the feast of the Epiphany ("shining forth"); the East calls the feast "Theophany" (revelation of God).

Wikipedia, "Epiphany"
A separate celebration of the Baptism of the Lord was introduced for Latin Rite Roman Catholics in 1955. Initially, this was to be held on January 13, previously the octave day of the Epiphany, but in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar the date was changed to the first Sunday after January 6. In countries where in a particular year the Epiphany falls on January 7 or 8, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday.

References

  1. Greek: γὰρ πρέπον ἐστιν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. Fulfillment is a major theme of Matthew's gospel. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus fulfills the whole of the Old Testament.
  2. Some ancient manuscripts add "to him" in Mt 3:16: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν [αὐτῷ] οὶ οὐρανοί. Mark's gospel is unambigous: "He saw the heavens being torn open" (1:10).

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