Index by Subject

Jesus and John at the Jordan River

Matthew 3:13-17

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, recorded in Matthew 3, Mark 1 and Luke 3, Luke states, “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age…” (vs. 23).

The baptism of Jesus signified the end of His time in anonymity. He left Nazareth (the city of His youth) behind (cf. Mark 1:9), and traveled by foot 60-70 miles to be “baptized by John in the Jordan.” With this act of obedience, Jesus began His public ministry and His inevitable trek toward the cross at Calvary.

Of the three baptism accounts recorded in the gospels, only Matthew records the conversation between John and Jesus. When Jesus presented Himself to John to be baptized by him, the text says that “John tried to prevent Him, saying ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’” (vs. 14). Before noting Jesus’ response, it is important to note a few things about John’s reaction to Jesus’ presence at the Jordan.

First, John 1:29-34 reveals John’s testimony that he did not know Jesus to be the anointed of God until the Holy Spirit’s descent at the baptism. Since John’s words precede that event, it can’t be said that John was speaking from his knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. However, as Jesus’ cousin, he would have been aware of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and been familiar with His good character. It may even be that he suspected Jesus to be the Messiah. Regardless, his awareness of his own sin, and his respect for the virtue of Jesus, led to his attempt to “prevent” Jesus from being baptized.

Such an attempt constituted one of many tests to Jesus’ determination to do God’s will. It is reminiscent of Peter’s rebuke of Jesus as He predicted His death, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22). Though Peter’s intent was pure (as was John’s), Jesus called him an adversary by opposing what was necessary. The Hebrew writer refers to Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God,” and “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:9,10).

John’s baptism was “for the remission of sins” (cf. Mark 1:4). As Jesus was not guilty of any sin (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-24), it follows that His baptism served a different purpose. (Note: It is ironic that the One who did not need baptism nevertheless submitted to it willingly, while those who are in need of the “remission of sins” are often unwilling to submit to the command to be baptized, cf. Acts 2:38). Jesus revealed the purpose of His baptism in the Jordan with His answer to John, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

While Jesus’ answer implies an acknowledgement of His virtue, His baptism was still necessary. To put it simply, God expected it, so Jesus did it. This theme in Jesus’ life, repeated again and again even to His death on the cross, is referred to again by the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 5:8, “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Paul said it this way, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).

While the death on the cross is the ultimate expression of Jesus’ obedience, it is by no means the only one. This baptism in the Jordan was “to fulfill all righteousness.” His temptation in the Wilderness that immediately followed was a further test: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10).

As H. Leo Boles put it in his commentary on Matthew:

“Nothing must be left undone that would honor God and assist Jesus in beginning and carrying out his ministry. As John’s baptism was not ‘from men’ but ‘from heaven’ (Matt. 21:25; John 1:33), it became Jesus to receive the baptism of John, and John to administer it” (pg. 91).

Truly, Jesus came to do the will of God. This is evident in His words, and in His actions. From His baptism in the beginning of His ministry until His decision to carry through to the cross (“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will,” Matthew 26:39), Jesus showed His willingness to “fulfill all righteousness.”

He serves as a wonderful example to us. Harold Fowler puts it well in his commentary on Matthew, “Nobody will ever form a better ethic than ‘doing all that God tells us to do’” (pg. 116). Wise words to live by!