Why was Jesus baptized? This is a very mature question that pertains to the bible which generally shows an in-depth understating of the one inquiring. It is not the kind of question any new believer or scholar of the bible or any casual reader of the bible would ask, simply because it requires a sound understating of who Jesus is and what baptism by itself means.
Why baptism is an issue.
The Greek meaning behind the word baptism is ‘Baptisma’ which translated to English means washing, immersion, or dipping. In the context of the bible, baptism is where someone is immersed in water to symbolize they have turned a new leaf and have entered into a new covenant with God through Jesus Christ. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). This ritual although a physical activity has a crucial spiritual significance to believers of Jesus Christ. It symbolizes the end of one’s past life without the knowledge of Christ and the beginning of the new life in Christ (Romans 6:4). Jesus Himself commanded his disciples to take his message to the whole world making new disciples and baptizing them (Matthew 28:19).
Where the trouble begins
For most believers of Jesus Christ, baptism is a symbol of death to the sinful nature and newness into a new life of righteousness having been forgiven of all past sins and iniquity. However, countless scriptures outline that Jesus Christ was born without sin, lived without, and died on the cross without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22), yet he, like sinners, was baptized. It is true Jesus was born without sin and lived and died without sin, or else how would he be the savior of sinners? However, to understand this, we need to look deeper into the bible itself for answers. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” – 2 Timothy 2:14-16.
The Jewish Mikvah vs Baptism
Why would you want to know about the Jewish mikvah? From the bible, we know that any believer in Jesus has been graphed in to be partakers of the house of God that is first Jewish (Ephesians 2:11-13). God himself expects us to grow in the knowledge of Christ and likens his word to food that can provide growth. To be more precise God likens his word to a sword, hammer, truth, Water, Milk, Bread, and Meat. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” – 1 Peter 2:2. “I But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who because of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”. If you want to know why Jesus was baptized then it means that you are ready for the meat of that is God’s word, and what better way than looking deeper into the person of Jesus Christ?
When you search online, or better still, go on a tour to Israel, you might come across archeological features that look like Jacuzzi bath tabs only that they are curved from a stone on the ground, some might mistake them for wells. Those are referred to as ‘Mikvah’ singular or ‘Mikvahot’ plural.
In John 5 we read about a paralyzed man healed at the pool of Bethesda, take note of how the chapter unveils, “After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” – John 5:1. The chapter highlights a pool that had a cleansing and healing effect on all that went in (John 5:4). Another instance of a pool attributed with cleansing and healing purpose is recorded in John 9:7.
The Jews had a custom of ritually cleansing themselves before they would do anything scared, for example, before they take a vow, say God’s name, read or write a scripture or offer a sacrifice. The idea of the ‘Mikvah’ is still a well-practiced ritual especially among Jewish women as they go through their cycles or get ready for birth. However, they do not travel back to Israel for it, there are modern Mikvahots built throughout the world for Jewish people that pretty much resemble a Jacuzzi.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews would still go to different Mikvahots for spiritual cleansing. An interesting fact about these pools is that they had to be filled with ‘leaving water’ (usually up to the knee or waist-high), which means the water could either be rainwater or flowing water but not stagnant water or one that springs from the ground such as a well.
The ‘Mikvah’ ritual was very private and one would strip naked and scrunch down until his whole body was submerged in the water. Here is the eye-opener; the Jews believed that since the fall of Adam man was born with a sinful nature and only when a sinner was in the ‘water’ of the mother’s womb, was he incapable of sinning although a sinner. In Psalm 51: 5 King David highlights, “Surely I was brought forth in iniquity; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.” Well that’s not new, you might say, but once a Jewish person had immersed themselves in a Mikvah, and immediately his/her feet had left the water they would be termed as, ‘born again’.
Nicodemus questions the purpose of baptism
Branching off a little we take time to remember Nicodemus. Nicodemus had an important question that most of us would have asked or at least thought about, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Although it may sound obvious, what Nicodemus was asking is, ‘How does submerging myself in a pool of water take away my sin?’ Keep in mind that Nicodemus was no ordinary man, he was the head rabbi at the temple and what that meant for the Jews at the time is that he knew all about the Torah and would occasionally give insight. His stature explains Jesus’ question to him. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” – John 3:10. If this question could bugle the head rabbi of the 2nd temple, that surely explains why most people have the same question. Luckily Jesus answered Nicodemus’ question.
Here comes the first big clue of why Jesus needed to be baptized and it is the answer that made Nicodemus seek Jesus secretly. “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” – John 3: 13-15. The clue here is that Jesus’ baptism did not represent his cleansing but His death and resurrection as sin atonement for many (both Jews and non-Jews). Just as the bronze snake was a solution to the transgression of the Israelites in the wilderness, his baptism was a symbol of his death and resurrection as a solution to the sin of the world. Isaiah talks about a righteous and faithful servant of God that would bear the iniquity and unrighteousness of God’s people –Isaiah 53.
John The Baptist leading Mikvah
The book of Mathew opens up beautifully as John quotes Isaiah 40:3 and submerges people in the river Jordan for spiritual ‘cleansing’ as they confess their sins. An interesting fact about John the Baptist is that many people assume he was baptizing, which even clearly explains why they named him John ‘The Baptist’. If Jesus had not yet died nor wasn’t even revealed to many Jews including the disciples, how then did John know about the fact of baptism? Remember, the Jews were not even expecting a messiah that would come to die but one that would reign over their enemies. Even the disciples had a hard time believing Jesus had come to die, so how did John the Baptist, the most famous man before Jesus, convince the Jews to be baptized?. Lucky for you, you already know about the Jewish mikvah ritual. In 1 John 1:9, we see a reflection of what John The Baptist was doing at the Jordan River. John The Beloved talks about God being faithful to cleanse us of all unrighteousness as he talks about a new way to be cleansed through confession to God and asking for forgiveness.
To Fulfill All Righteousness
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John The Baptist a man described by Jesus as the greatest of all that is born of a woman did not expect this. Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” To fulfill all righteousness means that, although for Him it was not required that He should be baptized but because most Jews that were religious did it, He also did it. This makes sense simply because although John knew who He was, other Jews did not know and could have raised many questions. Keep in mind Jesus wanted to remain elusive and would usually perform miracles in secrete so as not to bring unwanted attention to who He was or revealing Himself at the wrong timing, not being baptized would have made it so obvious that he was the messiah. Later on, Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah during a prophecy reading in the temple in front of all the temple priests, should he have been baptized and revealed that he was the messiah the prophecy would not have been fulfilled in that manner.
Another instance Jesus did something He was not required was during the paying of temple taxes Mathew 17: 24-27. “But so that we may not offend, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
To be identified by John
“… the one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” –John 1:33. John The Baptist was the only one who could testify that Jesus was the Messiah simply because God had told him about the messiah although John Himself did not know who He was. John 1:33 lets us in on a special sign that John was waiting for that would identify the Messiah to him. Keep note that John was a man of the wilderness, If Jesus was to go to him most likely He would find him in the wilderness preaching repentance and baptizing. I would love to bring your attention to a part of the instruction, that is, “… and remain”. This instruction cannot be left out simply because Jesus was not the first one that the Spirit of God descended on. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Leaving God came upon many prophets and Kings such as David, however, He did not remain. The Spirit left once they sinned and it was only when they repented and asked God for His Spirit that He would give Him to them again –Psalm 51:11. However, in the future, there will be one that the Spirit will descend on and ‘remain’. For this prophecy to be fulfilled Jesus had to go to John the Baptist and as people lined up to be baptized, He also lined up considering He was familiar to most people that would go to John for cleansing as he was popularly known to be a ‘Good Rabi’. As Jesus was baptized by John unlike other people, the Spirit descended on him as a dove and ‘stayed’ on his shoulders. As we all know doves are not parrots, they easily get scared and fly away but this one, ‘remained’ John 1:32.
Baptism an Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
“…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus accepted to be baptized by John to show that He is the one to perform the ultimate cleansing and baptism to those that believe with fire.
“If I do not go, the Holy Spirit cannot come”. Jesus needed to be baptized as an outward symbol of his death resurrection that would result in a pure cleansing of man’s heart thereby which the Sprit can finally rest on. “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life” – John 4:14. Both Jews and non-Jews throughout the world were used to ‘water that does not quench’ that is Laws, Idols, and rituals that did not bring the knowledge of God neither did it wash away all unrighteousness but Jesus was to baptize them into an intimate relationship with God.
About 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection was the day of Pentecost, which was the baptism of the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus. This associates Jesus’s divine purpose with John The Baptist’s physical purpose. From this, we know that it is not John the Baptized that baptized Jesus but Jesus that Baptized John from his mother’s womb -Luke 1:41.
To fulfill ancient prophecies
The arrival of Jesus was the very center of the whole bible prophecy God’s most chapters explain how he will take the sin of the world through the blood of his son. As Adam and Eve fall, God does not leave them to themselves but declares to them “I have found a sacrifice” as He covers them the skin of an animal dripping with blood. “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”- In Genesis 22:18. Prophesies such as in Psalm 91:11-12 “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” are fulfilled immediately after Jesus Baptism. “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire” – Isaiah 4:4. First of all, the judgment here means a sprint of reconciliation and repentance. John confirms this about Jesus but he adds that He will perform this kind of baptism.
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father” –Psalm 2:7 was fulfilled as He was getting baptized.
In Mathew 21:37-38, Jesus tells of a parable that pertains to his death as another clear picture for the reason of His baptism.
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father” -Acts 13:31-33. This prophecy was beautifully fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism.
To begin His ministry
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” – John 3:28-30. John says his mission has ended simply because Jesus was now present, in fact shortly after Jesus’s baptism John was beheaded. Coupling this with the descending of the Spirit on Jesus as a dove clearly shows that it was the beginning of the ministry of Jesus The Christ. You might argue that previous to this, He turned water into wine in John 2; however, considering his words, “My hour has not yet come” clearly shows it was not yet time to begin his ministry. Another interesting fact tied to His baptism is the outspoken voice of God affirming to Him that “you are my beloved Son, in you am well pleased” was crucial as He was getting ready to be lead into the wilderness. This affirmation was key to strengthen Jesus, that was always in the bosom of the father, overcome His testing
The First Fruit of the Dead into a new convent
Baptism represented the birth of a new convent that is not dependent on the ‘Law of Moses’ but on Jesus Christ. “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea” 1 Corinthians 10:1-2. Just as Moses led the children of Israel through the sea and was a partaker in their baptism, so is Jesus although far better than Moses would lead the whole world into a new convent with God and will are that belief in him are baptized unto him. “… we are hidden in Christ”. The bible also describes Jesus as the ‘The first fruit of them that was deed’ clearing associating Jesus with our death because of our sin but our life because of Jesus’s resurrection. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” -1 Corinthians 15:20.
To reveal God’s Mercy
Here is what most people might not know, during the baptism of Jesus a thick cloud descended on him and all that were around him, the interesting thing is that when the cloud descended on the people it was usually not a good thing. For example, in the Old Testament such as in Numbers 12:10, the cloud descending on someone usually meant judgment and would usually leave the ones it descended on with skin disease such as leprosy that would be considered unholy which meant the affected one will be an outcast. One clear proof of this is in the transfiguration where the same cloud descends and the bible records that the disciples were afraid. They were not just afraid of the supernatural as many would assume, they were also afraid of the cloud that is God’s presence as they as Jews knew what it meant. However, at the baptism of Jesus, there was no judgment on anyone. Jesus went on to touch the leper as it was one of the miracles that would reveal that He is the messiah. If you ever wondered why He healed the leapers in secrete and then sent them immediately to show themselves to the temple priests, now you know, it was because He was providing proof to the temple priests that He is the Messiah. “Nobody can do these things unless God is with him” the words of Nicodemus the head rabbi are proof.