JESUS’ BAPTISM: A LINK BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW COVENANT 3
JESUS’ BAPTISM: A LINK BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW COVENANT
All the four Gospels capture the baptism of Jesus Christ in RiverJordan. Before the coming of Christ, baptism had no significant valuein the Jewish life. John the Baptist gave it a new meaning bybaptizing people with water. As a vehement preacher, he chose to callpeople to repentance by condemning their hypocritical ways of life.John was always at loggerheads with the Pharisees and the Sadduceesfor rebuking their evil lives of hiding under the shadow of belongingto the house of Jacob.1According to John the Baptist, belonging to God’s chosen race wouldnot save them from the wrath of judgment. However, John acknowledgedthe coming of another powerful teacher who would baptize people withwater and fire. When Jesus went to Jordan to be baptized by John, theactivity marked the end of John’s mandate and the commencement ofthe great ministry that Jesus would roll out in Judea and beyond.2The baptism of Christ and the supernatural phenomena that accompaniedit fulfilled various Old Testament prophecies. It also prepared himfor the challenging task ahead.
The Immediate Context of Jesus’ Baptism
John the Baptist was a renowned preacher who had shunned thecomfortable life and chose to live in the desert eating insects andhoney. He wore a skin cloth as a sign of humility and repentance. Heappeared in Judea and called people to repentance. John emphasizedthat the kingdom of God had come, and people had no option but torepent, and escape the wrath of God. He was indirectly referring tothe presence of God among the people through Jesus Christ who wasborn among humans. John the Baptist called the crowd to repentance byvocalizing, “A voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare theway of the Lord. Make straight his paths” (Mathew 3:3). He echoedthe words of Isaiah who called the Israelites to repentance (Isaiah40:3).
Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees accepted to be baptized. Inaddition, they were acquainted with the coming of a messiah who wouldbaptize them with water and fire. John confessed that he was not evenworthy of unfastening the sandals of the mighty and glorious Messiah.As a warning, John proclaimed that the Israelites had neither anoption nor time to reject the call. John the Baptist asserted, “Hiswinnowing fork is in his hand” (Mathew 3:12). They had to make ahasty decision and accept baptism and denounce their hypocrisy.
In verse 13, Jesus descended from Galilee and found John at the RiverJordan baptizing the individuals who had embraced his teachings. Johntried to dissuade Jesus from coming towards him by acknowledging hisundeserving nature, but Jesus insisted on being baptized. He assuredJohn, “Allow it now, for thus it fits for us to fulfill allrighteousness” (Mathew 3:15). As he emerged from the river, theheavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descendedupon him. A voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased” (Mathew 3:17). After baptism, theSpirit led Jesus into the desert where he fasted for forty days andnights. It is while in the desert that the devil tempted him threetimes unsuccessfully. When the devil left, the angels came toadminister to Jesus, and he set forth to begin the Galilean ministry.
Old Testament Reflection
The various supernatural occurrences during Jesus’ baptism can betraced in various books of the Old Testament. When Jesus was comingout of the water, the heavens opened. By opening the heavens, Godintended to give a message, affirm his love, and pleasure that he hadin His son.3He was orienting the people to the true nature of Christ andaffirming the words of John the Baptist concerning a Messiah, whomJohn was not even worth of loosening his sandals. During his call,Ezekiel explains having a similar sight of the heavens. He recalls,“While I was among the exile by River Chebar, the heavens opened,and I saw divine visions” (Ezekiel 1:1). He became the firstprophet to be called by God while the Israelites were in servitude inBabylon. His objective was to prepare the Israelites for the finaldestruction of Jerusalem. The voice of God also reached Moses fromheaven in form of thunder (Exodus 19:19). He received instruction onhow to prepare the Israelites for receiving the commandments.
Also, when the heavens opened, the Spirit of the lord descended likea dove upon Jesus. The dove is iconic for representing the spirit ofGod. Various Old Testament authors mention the bird in their books.In the book of Psalms, David outlines the exodus and conquest of theIsraelites. He says, “Every household will share the booty, perhapsa dove sheathed with silver, its wings covered with silver gold”(Psalms 68:14). Although the Israelites had lived among thesheepfold, they were now covered with abundance the same way a doveis covered by its wings. Solomon also refers to his lover as a dovethat exudes loveliness. Solomon calls, “O my dove in the clefts ofthe rock in the secret recess of the cliff let me see you. Let mehear your voice for it is sweet and you are lovely” (Songs ofSolomon 2:14). In chapter five, he revisits the elegance andbrilliance of his lover and describes her as being a perfect dove(Songs of Solomon 5:2).
Isaiah also captures the descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.Isaiah inscribed the first words that Jesus read in the synagogues.The prophet wrote, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because theLord has anointed me” (Isaiah 61:1). Isaiah also explains thenature of Christ as one who’s God will anoint with his spirit. InIsaiah 11:2, the prophet indicates, “The Spirit of the Lord shallrest upon him.”
The voice from heaven confirmed to John the Baptist and the peoplethat indeed Jesus was the son of God. Old Testament prophets alsoforesaw the coming of a messiah sent by God to fulfill the salvationof man. In Isaiah 42:1, he explains the origin of Christ whom theIsraelites waiting upon. “Here is my servant whom I uphold. Mychosen one with whom am pleased.” These same words came from heavenduring Jesus’ baptism at River Jordan. The Psalmist also explainsthe nature of Christ whom God would send. He writes, “You are myson today I am your father” (Psalms 2:7). In addition, God hadpromised to raise an heir from the house of David. God instructedSamuel to deliver the message of an heir who would establish aneverlasting dynasty in the house of David. The Lord describes theheir as, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me”(Samuel 7:14).
Summarily, various Old Testament prophets had foreseen the baptism ofJesus and the voice from heaven acknowledging him as the son of God.Therefore, they fulfilled prophecies and introduced a link betweenthe old and New Testament. The mighty king that people have beenyearning to have was among them.4It also fulfilled the words of John the Baptist of calling people tostraighten their ways for the coming of the Lord.
The Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John vividly describe thebaptism of Jesus. Several correspondences and variations ensue inthem. All the synoptic Gospels describe the opening of heavens andthe voice that confirmed Jesus as the Son of God with whom he waspleased. However, the Gospels of John and Mathew are clear that JohntheBaptist saw the heaven open and heard the words. Mark andLuke only state, “A voice came from heaven.” A reader may make apresumption that all those who were present, by deducing informationfrom the two Gospels, heard the voice. Luke notes that, “And avoice came from heaven, you are my beloved son with whom I ampleased” (Luke 3:22). Conversely, John indicates that John theBaptist testified having heard a voice and seeing the heaven open. Hebelieved that Jesus was indeed the Son of God despite that they hadnever met (John 1:33-34).
Secondly, the synoptic Gospels have a slight variation in the wayJesus presents himself for baptism. Matthew indicates that John theBaptist tried to forbid Jesus from letting him baptize him with water(Mathew 3: 14). The Gospels of Mark and Luke do not include theincident. John goes to the detail of explaining the reaction of Johnthe Baptist when he saw Jesus. He even outlines how John the Baptistintroduced Jesus to the crowd. Having never met before, John theBaptist proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sinsof the world. He is the one of whom I said” (John 1:29-30). Theintroduction is not present in the other three Gospels.
Although all the occurrences during Jesus’ baptism were imperative,it is easy to deduce the indispensable ones that are common in thesynoptic Gospels. The descending of the Holy Spirit in the form of adove is present in all of them. The Spirit would strengthen Christ inthe wilderness during the temptations and throughout his ministry.5In addition, the voice from heaven reaffirming Jesus as the Son ofGod was also important for John the Baptist and the believers.Although John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God in thegospel of John, it is worth noting that they had never met before.The voice from heaven confirmed to John the Baptist that God had sentJesus.
The text teaches various attributes about Jesus. First, it is notablethat before baptism the residents of Galilee were oblivious of thepresence of the Son of God among them. Although John the Baptist hadmentioned him immensely among the people while he was calling them torepentance, it was possible that they could not comprehend the natureof the proclaimed Messiah. The reluctance of John to baptize Jesusdepicts his acceptance that the Messiah was more powerful than hewas. People had high regards for John the Baptist, and they likenedhim to the Old Testament prophets. The intention of baptism, asoutlined by John the Baptist in Mathew 3:12, was to denounce sin andescape the wrath of God.6Since Christ was sinless, he did not deserve to be baptized. John theBaptist was reluctant to baptize Jesus because the ritual wasintended to purify sinners. However, Jesus insisted on undergoing thecustom because he wanted to identify himself with the sinners. Mathewportrays him as a humble king in spite of being the son of God.
Secondly, the text also portrays Jesus as fully prepared for hismission. Calling human beings to repentance was an uphill task, as itdemanded entering into disagreements with the radical Pharisees andSadducees.7It is evident with the bitterness that John the Baptist regards thePharisees. He refers to them as a “brood of vipers” fleeing thewrath of God (Mathew 3:7). Therefore, Jesus needed the guidance ofthe Holy Spirit whom God sent in the form of a dove.
The baptism also inaugurated his mission. It was after the baptismthat Jesus began his ministry and became a thorn in the lives of thehypocritical Pharisees. Isaiah had foreseen his mission, and hedescribes Jesus as filled with the Holy Spirit. When God opened theheavens, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, it attested hisassociation with the Father and the Spirit. Christians invoke thethree during baptism.
The baptism of Jesus illustrates how Mathew fulfills his role in thegospel. Before he became a disciple, Mathew was a highly paidpublican. He left his occupation to follow Christ. He is also amongthe disciples who wrote accounts of Christ bearing their names.Although the New Testament does not follow any chronological order,the Gospel of Mathew offers a swinging door for the Jews from the oldto the New Testament. His audience although not outrightly stated inthe gospel, was the Jews who had waited long for the Messiah. TheGospel had a special appeal to the Jews as it traces the genealogy ofJesus to their forefathers. It not only portrays Jesus as one of theJews but also one born in the lineage of kings and patriarchs. Thepurpose of Mathew, therefore, was to introduce Jesus to the Jews. Itmay not be a coincidence that although Mathew is considered to havewritten his gospel after Mark, his work comes first in the NewTestament.
The passage, therefore, fits adeptly into the purpose of the gospel.Mathew introduces Jesus through John, who was to baptize him. John’sreluctance did not hinder Jesus from being baptized.8Mathew describes John as a renowned figure in the country whom thepeople likened to Elijah. By urging people to prepare the way for theLord, John stood out as the indispensable character to introduceJesus. Besides, by seeing the heaven open the descending of the HolySpirit John the Baptist believed that Jesus was truly the son of God.Mathew fulfills his role of presenting Jesus as the promised and longawaited Messiah.
Practical Application of the Passage
Christians can borrow a lot from the baptism of Jesus at River Jordanand apply the lessons in their lives. First, Jesus, although withoutsin, accepted baptism just like the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Johnthe Baptist rebuked for their hypocrisy and insidious deeds.9Baptism to them was a sign of humility. Jesus, in spite of being theson of God, humbled himself and allowed John to baptize him.Similarly, the passage has an imperative lesson to prospectiveChristians and those who are seeking baptism. They should disregardany titles they hold, their nativity and the influence they have inthe society and accept the act of humility.
In addition, the attestation of the Father that Jesus is indeed hisson should also affect the attitude that Christians have on hisconsequent teachings. The authority that Jesus exhibited in histeachings emanated from God.10Therefore, unlike the Pharisees who were haste to question the sourceof authority that Jesus had to forgive sins and raise the dead,Christians should draw reference from this passage. Besides, it isclear that Christ was working through the guidance of the Holy Spiritwho descended upon him during baptism. The various titles given tothe Holy Spirit in the Old Testament including the mind of God andthe mighty counsel manifested themselves through Jesus.
The passage, though short, links various Old Testament prophecieswith the New Covenant. Therefore, just as Jesus indicated, he had notcome to abolish the law but rather strengthen it. For example, theoutpouring of the Holy Spirit to the servant of God as prophesied byIsaiah is fulfilled during baptism. In addition, the psalmist hadwritten about the God confirming Jesus as His son. The connectionbetween the two covenants infers that believers should hold theprophecies as inspired by God. It is also correct to infer that alltheir teachings were through the intervention of the divine power ofGod.
In conclusion, the baptism of Jesus as captured in Mathew 3:13-17describes several characteristics about Jesus. In the passage, Godconfirms Jesus as his son and sends the Holy Spirit to guide him inhis mission. Jesus presents himself as a humble servant who fulfillsvarious Old Testament prophecies as foreseen by Isaiah and the David.John the Baptist, whom the Jews likened to Elijah used to call peopleto repentance. He baptized them to prepare the way for the Lord. WhenJesus went to Jordan for baptism, John was reluctant, but Jesusinsisted. The gospel of Mathew fulfills its role of linking Jesuswith the lives of the conservative Jews. In the passage, Mathew usesa native Jew, John the Baptist, to create a transition between theold and the new covenant. It also explains why his gospel precedesthe other synoptic gospels. After baptism, Jesus began his Galileanministry, and he became a public critic of the life led by thePharisees. Christians can draw several lessons from the passage.Christians should observe humility and denouncing of titles andembrace baptism. Also, by linking the old and the New Testament,Jesus confirmed the teachings of the old covenant prophets.Christians should hold the teachings as true and abide by them.
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Brown, Christopher A. "Practicing Baptism:Christian Practices and the Presence of Christ, written by BårdEirik Hallesby Norheim." Journal ofYouth and Theology 15, no. 1 (2016):107-109.
Love, Mark. "Jesus` Baptism and Ours."Leaven 22,no. 4 (2015): 3.
Walvoord, John F., and Charles H. Dyer. Matthew.Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013.
Wright, Christopher JH. KnowingJesus through the Old Testament.Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
1 Love, Mark. "Jesus` Baptism and Ours." Leaven 22, no. 4 (2015): 3.
2 Love, Leaven 22: 3.
3 Wright, Christopher JH. Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 14.
4 Wright, 32.
5 Adams, Marilyn McCord. "12th January: The Baptism of the Lord Matthew 3: 13-17." The Expository Times 125, no. 3 (2013): 128.
6 Adams, The Expository Times 125, 127.
7 Adams, The Expository Times 125, 129.
8 Walvoord, John F., and Charles H. Dyer. Matthew (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013), 21.
9 Brown, Christopher A. "Practicing Baptism: Christian Practices and the Presence of Christ, written by Bård Eirik Hallesby Norheim." Journal of Youth and Theology 15, no. 1 (2016): 108.
10 Brown, Journal of Youth and Theology, 108.