The Public Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism. This historic event is prominent in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke, Mathew and Mark). But the Gospel of John does not have a direct account of Jesus’ baptism.
The majority of modern theologians are of the view that Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is a historic event with much accuracy. It is regarded by Bible scholars as one among the two certain historic facts about Jesus, including the crucifixion.
The Baptism is also one among the five major events in the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ life. They are, in order of time, the Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection and the Ascension. The Baptism of Jesus is regarded by most Christian denominations as a crucial event and the basis of the Christian rite of baptism.
This event is celebrated on January 19th in Eastern Christianity (as per Gregorian calendar) as the Feast of Epiphany. As per Roman Catholicism, Jesus’ baptism is one among the luminousmysteries, included in the Holy Rosary. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is a Trinitarian Feast.
Luke, Mathew, and Mark describe the baptism of Jesus in similar passages.
When Jesus is baptized by John, a voice from heaven is heard. In Mark and Luke, a voice from heaven is quoted saying that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. In Mathew, the voice (of God) addresses the crowd and says Jesus is his beloved Son.
Mathew: When John meets Jesus, he tells Jesus that he needs to be baptized by Jesus and asks why Jesus is approaching him. Nonetheless, Jesus convinces John to baptize him. Then a voice from heaven is heard addressing the crowd.
Luke: He is unique in describing John as a relative of Jesus and John’s birth also being announced by an angel. As per Luke, when John baptized Jesus, who is praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit of God descended on him in the guise of a dove.
In this Gospel, John the Baptist witnesses the Spirit of God descending like a dove on Jesus. This Gospel accounts for Bethany in Perea as the place where John was baptizing and where Jesus was choosing his disciples.
The Gospel of John also describes the event of Jesus coming into contact with two disciples of John the Baptist. One is Andrew, and the other is unnamed. Both follow Jesus after listening to him speak. In Acts 18, the disciples of John merge with disciples of Jesus.
Location of The Baptism
As per one account, John was baptizing people in Enon, nearing Salim. The Gospel of John describes the baptism in the town of Bethany in Perea, on the Eastern bank of Jordan, next to Jericho. As per others, the baptizing is connected to springs and Al-KharrarWadi, near the Eastern side of the river Jordan.
The baptism is the event starting the Ministry of Jesus, following the Ministry of John the Baptist. According to Luke, the word of God came to John in the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar and when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea.
Some scholars hence assign the Ministry of John the Baptist to have begun in 29 AD. The Ministry of Jesus began shortly thereafter.
Most scholars today believe that the baptism of Jesus was a historic event which is highly certain. The proof of historic facts affirming the event is abundant.
One of the proofs of this event is the criterion of embarrassment- which means it is an idea which the early Church would not have invented: that Jesus who was without any sin was baptized by John.
Another proof is the criterion of multiple attestations or multiple accounts about the incident.
The Significance of the Baptism
It might seem that the baptism of Jesus had no value. The baptism given by John is for repentance of sins,but Jesus was without blemish or sin.
As such John was reluctant to baptize Jesus. He says to Jesus,“I need to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me? Jesus insists on his baptism saying, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mathew 3:15).
But there are several reasons for the importance of the baptism of Christ. It was valuable for the start of the Ministry of Jesus. It was the opportune time for Jesus to start his Ministry and he needed to be given a public recognition by his forerunner.
John was the voice from the wilderness, calling all people to repent in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. In the act of baptizing Jesus, John was proclaiming that he was the one they had been waiting for, the Son of God, who would baptize with ‘the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Mathew 3:11).
The baptism of Christ implied that he identified with sinners. By his baptism, he was like sinners, who received the righteousness of God, dying with him, obtaining freedom from sin and beginning a new life. The righteousness of Jesus would fulfil all the needs of the law for sinners, something they could not do on their own.
Also, by the act of being baptized by John, Jesus provided legitimacy to the Baptisms performed by John, showing that it was by the power of heaven and with the approval of God. This had future significance as it would convince those in doubt when John would be arrested by Herod.
But the most important value of the Baptism of Jesus was that the public act recorded for all future generations, the perfect symbol of the Triumvirate of God, revealed in all its glory from heaven. The voice of God from heaven declaring his pleasure with the Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus in the form of a dove is an amazing picture of the Trinitarian quality of God.
This depicts the work of the father, son and spirit to provide salvation to humankind. Even before the foundation of the world, the Father loves the righteous. Now, he sends his Son to search for and save the lost. The spirit draws the faithful to the Father, via the Son. Thus, at his baptism, all the wonderful example of the glory of God is on display.