Before Jesus begins His public ministry, He goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. This is an important but puzzling event. John’s baptism is “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). But Jesus has no sins to repent from or be forgiven of. So why is He baptized?
A Flawed Trend
There are many explanations for Jesus’ baptism. One is that He is baptized to set an example for us. Another is that He is baptized to identify with our sins. Still another is that He is baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). But these explanations are unconvincing because they aren’t what the Bible says.
What the Bible Says
Jesus is not baptized to set an example for His followers. When the New Testament talks about our baptism, it refers not to His baptism but to His crucifixion and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-10). Jesus is not baptized to identify with our sins. Rather, He identifies with our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). This explains why He does not “fulfill all righteousness” when He is baptized (Matt. 3:15). Rather, His baptism causes John to recognize Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Jesus is baptized so that at the beginning of His ministry God can publicly declare that He is God’s Son. As Jesus comes out of the water, God the Father says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). John says the reason he “came baptizing with water was that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.” John recognizes Him as God’s Son when the Holy Spirit comes upon Him (John 1:29-34).
What It Means for Us Today
Jesus is baptized so everyone will know that He is God’s Son. This is made plain by God’s declaration. Jesus, John, and the people of Israel need His public affirmation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that Jesus is His Son. This is also made plain by Satan’s temptations. Twice he tempts Jesus with the taunt, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9). He appeals to Jesus’ humanity by questioning His identity.
There are important parallels between Jesus’ baptism and ours. At Jesus’ baptism, God declares that He is God’s Son. This is validated when the Holy Spirit comes down and remains on Him. At our baptism, God adopts us as His children. He assures us of this by giving us the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of sonship” (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7). As His sons and daughters, we enjoy full access to Him and are confident we belong to Him.