The Baptism of Jesus–Fuller Picture

[For those interested, a video of my 2007 sermon on the baptism of Jesus at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN, is available here (October 21, 2007) and my 9/6/09 sermon on the baptism of Jesus at Woodmont Hills Family of God will be available here soon.]

Luke’s description of the baptism of Jesus is succinct, but filled with significant language which is played out in the whole of his narrative (Luke 3:21-22).

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Given the theology of John’s baptism in Luke, it is quite surprising to read that Jesus was baptized along with “all the people.” The people and Jesus shared the same baptism—a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Jesus underwent the cleansing ritual that announced the coming of restored Israel. But why does Jesus need cleansing?

The baptism of Jesus has been a central aspect of Christian art and piety from the beginning. The earliest piece of Christian art, and the most frequent scene depicted in the earliest centuries, is the baptism of Jesus. The Christian festival of Epiphany, celebrating the baptism of Jesus, was practiced in the East as early as the late second century, which is well before Christmas was ever instituted. By the late fourth century, Epiphany was the most significant feast in Syria. The reason for this emphasis is that the baptism of Jesus was the “dominant model for Christian baptism.” The baptism of believers was patterned after the baptism of Jesus. Indeed, we believe Luke intended this very pattern.

The baptism of Jesus is a model for Christian baptism; it is the first Christian baptism. It participates in the reality of John’s baptism as a cleansing ritual but it also participates in the “last days” of Christian baptism as the context for the reception of the Holy Spirit.

On the one hand, Jesus identifies with sinners through the waters of John’s baptism. He undergoes a ritual designed for penitent sinners. He goes down in the river with “all the people” and identifies himself with the people. Jesus’ baptism is not the baptism of a righteous man who needed no cleansing, but is the identification with a people who needed cleansing. Jesus dives in with his people looking for the kingdom of God. This is, of course, exactly what Jesus did in his own death. Quoting Isaiah 53:12, Jesus characterizes his own death as one who was “counted among the lawless” (Luke 22:37). When Jesus went down to the river, he counted himself among the lawless as well. Not because he was himself a sinner, but that he identified with his people. He shared their corporate identity and underwent a cleansing ritual designed for sinners. Jesus was one with his people, both in his death and in his baptism.

On the other hand, Jesus experienced something that his people had not yet experienced, and would not experience in Luke’s narrative till the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. When Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (Luke 3:22). In this moment, as Peter later recalled in Acts, Jesus was “anointed…with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). This anointing involves several ideas. First, it is the promise of divine presence. The Holy Spirit now abides with Jesus and leads him (cf. Luke 4:1). God is present with his Son. Second, God anoints his Son with his Spirit. It is a divine commission. The Son is given the Messianic task—it is the Spirit-anointed task of the Messiah to “preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). This anointing involves the power to carry out that task so that the Messiah demonstrates the presence of the kingdom of God by casting out demons by the Spirit of God (Luke 11:20; cf. Matthew 12:28). Third, this anointing is a public divine declaration of God’s relationship to his Son (Luke 3:22). God owns his Son in this moment.

As a model or paradigm for Christian baptism, Jesus’ baptism is our baptism. We undergo the same repentance-baptism as John proclaimed, but we also experienced the divine blessing of the Holy Spirit. God gives his Spirit to us, anoints us with his Spirit as we are empowered for ministry and publicly declares our relationship to him as his own children. We are adopted into the family of God and God sends his Spirit into our hearts crying “Abba, Father” (Galatians 3:26-4:6).

But not only this—in this baptism, Jesus commits himself to the way of the cross. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus experiences the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan to turn from the way of the cross. But Jesus’ experience in baptismal waters is his commitment to experience the baptism of suffering (Luke 12:50). Jesus’ own baptism in water anticipated this baptism into death, just as our baptism in water is both a participation in the death of Christ and an act of discipleship that commits us to the way of the cross as well. If we follow Jesus into the water, then we must follow him to the cross also (cf. Luke 9:23-26).

Taken from Down in the River to Pray, pp. 53-54 by John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor.

16 Responses to “The Baptism of Jesus–Fuller Picture”

  1.   eirenetheou Says:

    All of the authors of the Gospels know that Jesus came to John at the Jordan, but only Mark treats that event in a straightforward way, just as he will continue to press on through all kinds of anomalies and terrors. We can see the rest of these authors struggling with what the relationship of Jesus and John could possibly mean. For them it is clearly a scandal.

    In Matthew, John and Jesus perform a little song and dance, with John reluctantly agreeing to “fulfill all righteousness.” In the narrative of Luke, Jesus is baptized after John is arrested — when, how, and by whom is not quite clear. In the Fourth Gospel, we never see Jesus baptized at all, but John announces “the Lamb of God.” The Gospel authors know that when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, he becomes a disciple of John. “The one who comes after me” is disciple language, just as it is when Jesus uses it in Mark 8:34.

    In Matthew 11:3 || Luke 7:19, John sends messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who comes [after me], or shall we look for another?” That one would “baptize with the Spirit and with Fire”; it is the “fire” that the imprisoned John wants to see. Where is it? Jesus in reply does not quote Scripture, even in Matthew; rather, he fulfills it: “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” What they hear and see Jesus doing are the true works of discipleship. When we do these things, then we are the Presence of Jesus in the world.

    God’s Peace to you.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I agree, Don, that the baptism of Jesus is scandalous…just as the cross is as well. I think Luke embraces this and numbers Jesus among the “sinners” but empowers him to led them out through the wilderness into the kingdom of God.

      BTW, I don’t think Luke intends us to think Jesus was baptized after the arrest of John. Rather, he concludes his narrative on John with the imprisonment before he focuses on Jesus. It is a topical rather than chronological arrangement of the material. But that, ultimately, is neither here nor there. 🙂

      •   eirenetheou Says:

        John’s baptism is “a baprism of repentance [a turning to God] for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3||). For many Christians, even now, baptizing Jesus with this baptism is truly scandalous, something to “explain,” as Matthew does, or finesse, as Luke and the Fourth Gospel do.

        i think that Luke knows exactly what he is doing, and “time” (see Conzelmann and others) is very much on his mind, but his consciousness of chronology is not all that is at work here. In Mark and Matthew, we are permitted to see John baptizing Jesus, but not in Luke or the Fourth Gospel. “And when Jeus also had been baptiaed” — ah, the passive voice, always the refuge of the not quite sure! By whom was Jesus baptized? For what? At least the Holy Spirit descends — that’s important for Luke, for you, for me, and for all of us! Thanks be to God!

        These texts reveal to us as in a glass darkly the evolving consciousness of “Christology” in the Gospel authors. They are four preachers, bless them, not four historians or four biographers. They are walking by faith, as it is given to them to walk, and we may be reassured in our own struggles with reality by some of their fumbling around.

        God’s Peace to you.


  2.   rich constant Says:

    well thats just to short 🙂
    brett’s birthday 19 to day
    got to go pizza-out…….

    john mark

  3.   Jerry Starling Says:

    Thank you, John Mark, for pointing out that Jesus’ baptism looked forward to the cross.

    Too often, we limit baptism to a look back at the sins for which we seek forgiveness instead of also reckoning it to be a “pledge of a good conscience before God.” We look back, not ahead. Of course, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to walk in the way of the cross as we go forward.

  4.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Just a tidbit note of something interesting I learned about baptism…

    The hymn “Come Holy Spirit, Dove Divine” (written by Adon­i­ram Jud­son, 1829) is full of both salvation and discipleship language. Interestingly, this hymn is one of only two hymns written by an American Baptist missionary who eventually came to embrace believer’s baptism and in addition to his mission work in Burma, translated the Bible into the Burmese language. The hymn gives us a great window to see the link between baptism and missional theology. Here is the link to the hymn on cyber-hymnal:

    Grace and peace,


  5.   dhw Says:

    I trust that God has ordained the spiritual path I have been on for six decades, but I wonder how different that path would have been if I had been immersed in this sort of profound and beautiful teaching during my earlier years. How absolutely refreshing. I still want to splash around in it.

  6.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    it is sure nice to have a comp. again
    i was able to listen to the pod cast

    “Baptism of Jesus (John Mark Hicks)”
    and the one on intimicy.
    after that one
    i felt so broken along with you
    it is really experencial with all of us even with our lord,”the journey”
    i do hope and i will PRAY(i gona tell on ya this time) that you come out to pepperdine this year,
    the reason you might ask.
    my brother ” I NEED A HUG”


    blessings john mark
    and all

  7.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    if being led of Jesus by practising the will of god faithfuly as true son’s,we abide in the truth as faithful children being led of the Spirit finding the Peace of God and expressing that peace by the love of god that we share, pleading the word of recincilation.
    if love covers a multatude of sins,hosanna…

    a guy i like to read a lot once said on this blog.

    “The “kingdom” here is not the structures and organization of an institutionalized church. Rather, the kingdom is the reign of God in the world; when God reigns the curse is overcome, when God reigns barriers are destroyed, when God reigns diseases are healed, demons bound and death destroyed, when God reigns people groups are reconciled, when God reigns the poor and oppressed get justice.”


  8.   Xander Says:

    The whole forgiveness of sins part throws me off on this baptism. John wasn’t forgiving sins, he was calling the people to repent and turn toward God. The baptism was the public display of these people turning to God. When Jesus was baptized, He had no need to repent, since we was without sin, but he did make the declaration of following God.

    Jesus never baptized anyone before His death, leaving that to his disciples. I used to get stuck on Luke 12:50, but I am guessing the baptism there is His death and resurrection and reclaiming the authority over the world.

  9.   Johnny Melton Says:

    It is not the case that John’s baptism did not involve the forgiveness of sins. John, according to Luke 3:3, came preaching a message of “baptism of repentance unto remission of sins….” That is, John’s message was one that contained a call to baptism that was a sign of repentance and both the repentance and the baptism were εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν [i.e., εἰς — unto (for) ἄφεσιν remission (forgivenss) of ἁμαρτιῶν (sins).

    When Peter preached in Acts 2 he responded to the question, “What shall we do?” with the command to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ “εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν” [i.e., εἰς — unto (for) ἄφεσιν – remission (forgiveness) τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν — of your sins (the sins of you).”

    There are at least two differences between John’s baptism and the baptism that Peter proclaimed. First, Peter’s baptism was “in the name of Jesus.” Second, it included the promise of the Holy Spirit. Both baptisms were rooted in a call to repentance unto remission of sins. John made it clear that he was preparing the way for the one who was to come. When Jesus received John’s baptism–a baptism that was a sign of repentance and for the forgiveness of sins–it is not insignificant, considering what Peter promised in Acts 2:38, that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God declared his approval.

    Jesus identified himself as the representative of people—the ideal Jew—and in his baptism he repented representatively for the people, and representatively he received the blessing of faithful obedience (i.e., identification as God’s favored son). If Jesus can representatively take the sins of all people on himself when he dies on the cross, without actually having committed a sin, why could he not representatively receive baptism of repentance unto remission of sins, without actually having committed a sin?

    •   Xander Says:

      If John’s baptism encompassed forgiveness of sins, then there would be no need for Jesus to forgive sins later on. Besides, can’t God only forgive sins? If the Pharisees got upset with Jesus for forgiving sins, why would they not have had the same issue with John?

      Jesus forgave all sins before the cross, so forgiveness of sins is not the point of the cross. The water baptism is an outward sign of dedication and obedience to God; what salvation is about.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Of course, no one believes John forgives sin, but that God forgave sins through baptism on the ground of Christ’s work. Jesus forgave sins before the cross, but on the basis of the cross itself. There is forgiveness of sins in ancient Israel as well.

        Jesus is the ground of the forgiveness of sins, but faith is the means, and faith receives what God gives through the promise of God attached to baptism. It is God who promised it and God will deliver.

      •   Xander Says:

        Maybe what I am getting hung up on is that the act of the baptism has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sin, rather it is the repentance that the baptism represents that is what God is honoring. When there is an act involved, people will tend to focus more on the act and it becomes just another ritual. Only repentance and obedience to God results in the forgiveness of sin.

  10.   rich Says:

    you just might look at the work of god in the Christ. as dealing with the root cause of death/separation.which was unbelief/disobedience to God’s word.
    Christ dealt with the power of sin which which is the law,and was obedient unto(for the purpose of?? a fair translation of unto here john mark?) death,
    for the glory of god’s Name by the promised blessing through the faithful seed.unto Life through the Spirit of God. and not by righteous merit found in law . but through the righteous faith of the true vine of god,to bring forth much fruit……..
    hence a new covenant baptism to life and the in dwelling of the fathers spirit in the new creation…
    read the of peter &chapt 2/3 ch gal.

  11.   rich Says:

    the BUT NOW of rom 3:21 to the there is therefor NOW NO of rom 8:1

    also look to Romans chapt 4:23-25…rom.5:18-21
    rom 6:20-23 and rom.7:24-25
    these deal with thr rubic of sin/law and death in the creation and shows how god delt with the promise by grace, through one righteous act rom:5-18 and freed men through faithful obedence to Jesus’ teaching of gods love,and the jews inability to work there way into gods forgiveness under law.
    there is therefore NOW NO condemnation…..


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