Christianity 201

March 13, 2013

Did Jesus Need to be Baptized?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:46 pm
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<NLT) Matthew 11: 1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was,   “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”…

11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

(AMP) 14 But John protested strenuously, having in mind to prevent Him, saying, It is I who have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?

15 But Jesus replied to him, Permit it just now; for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness [that is, to perform completely whatever is right]. Then he permitted Him.

This is from David Capes at

When you read the Gospels, it is clear that John’s baptism is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  So the question arises: Why did Jesus need to repent?  Or what sin was Jesus guilty of that he needed to be forgiven?  In Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ baptism we are told that John finds Jesus’ request to be baptized puzzling for he demurs and says “I need to be cleansed by You.  Why do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:13-14).   But Jesus convinces John to superintend his baptism.

So why was Jesus’ baptized?  The rest of the New Testament and Christian tradition claim that Jesus was without sin so he had no need to repent—in the traditional sense of the word—and be forgiven.

Let me suggest several reasons why Jesus went to John and insisted that the prophet dip him in the Jordan River.

First, Jesus wanted to identify with John.   When Jesus heard what John was doing in the desert—calling  people to change their ways and announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God—the Nazarene wanted to be there, to drink it all in,  for he sensed in his spirit that it may be his time.

Second, Jesus wanted to identify with the women and men who were coming to John in repentance and faith.  These were the “poor in spirit” Jesus would declared “blessed” in his Sermon on the Mount.  Put another way, Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.  Later, as controversies increase around him, he will be criticized for being a friend of sinners.

Third, Jesus’ baptism marks a turning point in his life.  The word translated “repentance” in most Bible translations means “a change of mind” (metanoia).  Now a true change of mind is always accompanied by a corresponding change of behavior.  After his baptism everything changes for Jesus.  He will leave behind the carpenter shop to become an itinerant preacher and healer.  He will leave behind his home in Nazareth to set up his headquarters in Capernaum.  He will leave behind a private life and become a most public person.  Jesus’ baptism is the turning point of his life.

Fourth, Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his coming death, burial, and resurrection.  Now I must admit that this last reason is more speculative, but it is certainly consistent with the story as it unfolds in the Gospel.  When Jesus submits to John’s baptism, because of who he is—God’s Son, the Anointed One–he gives baptism an entirely new focus.  Those who follow Jesus in baptism will do so as an act of initiation into the Christian faith; through baptism they participate in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Roman 6).  For Christ-believers baptism is the start of their new life; it is the turning point of their lives just as it was for Jesus.

Read the same account with additional notes in the Bible translation David helped create, The Voice Bible.


  1. Because John has said the coming one (king) of the new kingdom (of heaven) will baptize with the Spirit, when John says he should be baptized by Jesus, he could be thinking he would be the first one baptized with the Spirit. Jesus answers that he will be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness (not to repent). Jesus’ baptism will lead to the Spirit descending from heaven on him (anointing him as heaven’s king) and the voice from heaven announcing him to be the beloved son. Thus Jesus’ baptism leads to heavenly powers inaugurating the promised king (the coming one)–who will begin to rule with righteousness, fulfilling the promise of passages like Isa. 11:1-5. The kingdom of (and from) heaven has begun.

    Comment by jesusandthebible — March 13, 2013 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  2. Interesting and good commentary, but, surprisingly that commentator leaves out some very significant events that are very important for us to understand if we are to understand what it means to follow Christ. He left out the dove and the voice of the Father. He left out the Father’s voice affirming Jesus as son – a highly significant event. More importantly if the church looks to Jesus’ baptism as prototype of the new initiate then these events must be remembered, their significance for the Christian life understood and then applied in the Christian’s life. It does not seem to be understood.

    Comment by g. Hartwell — March 13, 2013 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

    • Sometimes it’s easy to look at a particular sermon or Bible study in terms of what’s been left out. Because of the depth and richness of scripture, there are always going to be other elements that get missed.

      For me, a key part of Jesus’ baptism is John’s “Behold the Lamb of God” statement. It’s a confirmation of Jesus’ identity that he was qualified to make, given that we know that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were part of the priestly line. Then, for a rabbi to be launched into public ministry there needed to be two confirmations of his ministry. The other happens almost right away with the voice of the Father which you mention.

      I think however that this goes beyond the intended audience at, which is designed for people reading the Bible for the first time in their lives, who would ask different kinds of questions requiring different types of answers. That’s not Christianity 201 readers, but I included it here for the very reason that it was a different type of response.

      I have a friend who talks about Bible passages having specific interpretations. He numbers them, #1, #2, #3 etc. and says sometimes you go to church expecting to hear those and instead you get #5, #6 and #7. That doesn’t mean the latter applications are wrong and not a given for the person preaching, although you’re right, in some situations it does!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 13, 2013 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

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