05.02.03 Mt. 3:13-17; Lk. 3:23a (See also Mk. 1:9-11) From Galilee to Jordan
JESUS IS BAPTIZED
Mt. 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
15 Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.
16 After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17 And there came a voice from heaven:
This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!
Lk. 23 As He began His ministry, Jesus was about 30 years old
When Jesus left Galilee, it was not the area by the Sea of Galilee, but the Roman provincial district of Galilee which was a large area to the west of the Sea. The village of Nazareth is within that district. He went to His cousin John who was along the Jordan River a short distance north of the Dead Sea.
“To be baptized by him (John).” The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of His ministry. This obedient act was performed for several reasons:
- Jesus was to be consecrated to the complete will of the Father.
- Jesus was to acknowledge the approval received from the Father (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1).
- Here John, the crier in the wilderness, announced the arrival of the Messiah and the beginning of His ministry.
- Jesus identified Himself with sinners (Isa. 53:12; II Cor. 5:21).
- Jesus identified Himself with and to Israel (Jn. 1:11).
- He set the example for others who would become believers to follow.
- Jesus also identified Himself with the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king.
- Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.
- Jesus was verbally identified by the Father in a manner all present could hear.
- Jesus received the anointing of His ministry (Acts 10:38).
05.02.03.Q1 Why was Jesus baptized (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-23a)?
Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, but there are reasons or insights that define the meaning of that phrase. The term righteousness (Gk. dikaiosyne) is defined by a number of phrases such as uprightness, upright, just acquitted or as said in a simplified manner, as if I never sinned. But obviously everyone does sin, and baptism is the symbolic act to declare one has accepted divine forgiveness as if he never sinned. But since Jesus never sinned, His baptism was for the fulfillment or purpose of righteousness as follows:
- According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 16:4) a priest was consecrated to his office by the ritual cleansing of washing with water. While Jesus was to function in the office of Messiah and not as a priest, He still took on the symbolic priestly cleansing in order to fulfill the demands of the Law, which signified He was consecrated to God and ready for public ministry. The baptism itself didn’t result in the forgiveness of sin, but rather, it was an expression of the repentance which already occurred when one accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, including the forgiveness of sin.
- It was to identify with the preaching of the Kingdom of God.
- To identify with the believing remnant of John’s baptism.
- To identify with sinners (2 Cor. 5:21). Since Jesus took upon Himself the nature of sinful men, and placed Himself in their position, it was proper that He should submit Himself to every ordinance of God’s appointment concerning sinful men.
- To receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38).
His baptism was the last act of his private life and first act of his public ministry. While the baptism has symbolism (described above), so does its location. Note the following:
- It was the same place where Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter Canaan some fifteen centuries earlier. Joshua’s entrance into the new land symbolized a new life for God’s people and new era. The crossing point was named “Beth-Abara,” meaning “house of the crossing.” In the course of time it was abbreviated to “Bethany,” but the term “beyond the Jordan” was also attached to it as not to confuse it with the village of Bethany located near Jerusalem, the home of Lazarus (Jn. 1:28). Therefore, the baptism at this site represented a new era; a new beginning.
- It was where Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire.
- It was where Gideon defeated the Midianites and killed two of their princes.
The Jewish people practiced two rituals in water:
- Baptism (which most Christians are unaware was practiced by Jewish people)
- Ritual immersions (which most Christians do not understand)
Baptism was a one-time event for the repentance of sin. It was usually practiced for a number of reasons, such as when someone became a member of the Sanhedrin. The Essenes also baptized new members into their sect, and many scholars believe the Pharisees did likewise, but evidence for a firm conclusion on this matter is still lacking.
The ritual immersion in a mikvah was in response to defilement caused by a physical transgression (touching a dead body, walking over a grave, etc.), whereas baptism was for repentance of sin and the coming to faith. Since there is no Christian counterpart to ritual immersion, it is difficult for Gentile believers to understand its purpose.
“After Jesus was baptized.” The ministry of Jesus was inaugurated with the symbolism of entering the water, which was equated with death, and then brought out of the water, which was equated with the rebirth of new life. By His baptism, he identified Himself with the sinful and lost people, in order to become the sacrificial Lamb of God. As Jesus publicly dedicated Himself to do His Father’s will (Lk. 22:42; Mt. 3:15), the “voice from heaven” confirmed His calling.
At the close of His ministry, Jesus brought a sense of reality to the symbolism of death and life when He died on the cross and arose three days later. It has been a doctrine of the church for believers to declare that they have died with Christ to the passions of the world and have been raised to live in the newness of His life.
Over the centuries there have been numerous church discussions on the mode of baptism. Some churches today teach that a new convert needs to be completely submersed in water, because the definition of baptize in the Greek is to submerse or put under the water. Others teach that the full meaning of the doctrine can be found in the symbolism of sprinkling water on the new believer and, therefore, submersion is not necessary. Such discussions have, unfortunately, led to arguments and church splits, all of which could have been prevented if they had known what the early church fathers taught about the matter. The Didache (ca. A.D. 90-120) is the earliest known book on church doctrines, rules, and procedures. The authors understood not only their language but also their culture and context. They had an interesting interpretation concerning the mode of baptism.
As for baptism, baptize in this way: Having said all this beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot do so in cold water, then do so in warm water.
But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, let the person baptizing and the person being baptized and others who are able fast; tell the one being baptized to fast one or two days before.
Obviously, there was a preference as to how a baptism was to be performed. Note that fasting was a part of baptism, probably because the church considered conversion a serious decision during a time of persecution. Finally, it should be understood that baptism did not begin with John and Jesus, as it was an old Jewish custom for new converts. The observers of John knew precisely what he was preaching and doing.
The site where Jesus was baptized was not difficult to find. Several accounts written by visiting pilgrims centuries ago gave archaeologists strong clues as to where the event occurred. The primary difficulty with opening the area for modern tourism was that the large area was filled with explosive land mines that remained hidden since the Israeli-Jordanian wars. Once both governments cleared the area, it was opened to the public.
One of the accounts was written by a Spanish nun, Egeria, Etheria, or perhaps Atheria, in the years 381-384. All that is known about her must be taken from the surviving parts of her book, The Tree of Life: A Brief History of the Cross. She was not a merchant or one who held office in government or the church, but rather, she was a pious woman from northern Spain or southern France who was sincerely interesting in walking the steps where her Savior once walked. In 384 she visited the home of Peter (06.03.04) when it was standing complete in Capernaum. In her description she said that it had been turned into a church that consisted of three concentric octagons. She also mentioned that the small church was occupied by many monks and that,
Between the church and the [monk’s] cells was a plentiful spring which flowed from the rock.”
A century and a half later, another pilgrim, Theodosius, is believed to have visited the site between the years 515 and 530. He described the Church of Saint John the Baptist as being on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
At the place where my Lord was baptized is a marble column, and on top of it has been set an iron cross. There also is the Church of Saint John Baptist, which was constructed by the Emperor Anastasius. It stands on great vaults which are high enough for when the Jordan is in flood …. From the Dead Sea to the Jordan, where the Lord was baptized by John – there are about five milies.
Theodosius, De Situ Terrae Sanctae 20
Like the Bordeaux pilgrim, Theodosius located the hill from which Elijah was taken up, which he called the Little Mount Hermon, across the river from the baptismal site. He continued to say that the site was near the intersection of the Roman Jerusalem-Jericho road and the road that connected with the Via Nova Traiana on the Transjordanian high plateau located to the east.
Only a few decades later, in 570, Antoninus Piacenza, a pilgrim from the Italiam village of Piacenza, toured the Holy Land and was a somewhat more descriptive of the site. He said,
We arrived at the place where the Lord was baptized. This is the place…where Elijah was taken up. In that place is the “little hill of Hermon” mentioned in the psalm…. By the Jordan, not far from where the Lord was baptized is a very large Monastery of Saint John, which has two guest houses.
Pilgrim of Piacenza, Itinerarium 12.4
Finally, a pilgrim named Arculf, visited the site around 670 or 680 and also mentioned a church and gave this description (speaking of himself in the third person):
The holy, venerable spot at which the Lord was baptized by John is permanently covered by the water of the River Jordan. Arculf, who reached the place, and swam across the river both ways, says that a tall wooden cross has been set up on the holy place…The position of this cross where, as we have said, the Lord was baptized, is on the near side of the river bed. A strong man using a sling can throw a stone from there to the far bank on the Arabian side. From this cross a stone causeway supported on arches stretches to the bank, and people approaching the cross go down a ramp and return up by it to reach the bank. Right at the river’s edge stands a small rectangular church which was built, so it is said, at the place where the Lord’s clothes were placed when he was baptized. The fact that it is supported on four stone vaults, makes it usable, since the water, which comes in from all sides, is underneath it. It has a tiled roof. This remarkable church is supported, as we have said, by arches and vaults, and stands in the lower part of the valley through which the Jordan flows. But in the upper part there is a great monastery for monks, which has been built on the brow of a small hill nearby, overlooking the church. There is also a church built there in honour of Saint John Baptist which, together with the monastery, is enclosed in a single masonry wall.
The Writings of Arculf
05.02.03.Z THE MOSAIC MADABA MAP DEPICTING “BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN.” This section of the 6th century Madaba Map preserved the village of “Bethany beyond the Jordan” as “Ainon where now is Saphsaphas” meaning “the place of willows.” It also depicts a ferry crossing the Jordan just north of Bethany in an area where now is the Allenby Bridge. Many old maps as this one were oriented toward the east and, therefore, north is toward the left. Wikipedia Commons.
05.02.03.A. THE BAPTISMAL SITE OF JESUS. Tourists look at what historians believe to be the original baptismal site of Jesus. It is located a short distance north the Dead Sea – the same location where Joshua crossed the River to enter the Promised Land of Canaan fifteen centuries earlier. The baptism at this location marked the beginning of a new era. Across the narrow river is the Hashmonite Kingdom of Jordan. Photograph by the author.
Critics have pointed to the fact that Arculf said that the baptismal site was on the western side of the River rather than on the eastern side as all other sources indicated. There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy.
- He may have made a error, as it is unknown how long after his visit he had the time and the writing material to record his comments.
- The distance from the lower end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is about ninety miles, but within that ninety mile space the Jordan River winds so much that it nearly doubles its length – one hundred eighty miles. The river is known to have changed its course from time to time, especially as the result of a severe earthquake. Arculf may very well have written accurately in light of the fact that the river could have shifted. It is unknown if the earthquakes of 363 and 749 caused a change of the Jordan River, but the riverbed has certainly changed numerous times in the past thousand years.
Few sites have as many ancient witnesses as does the place where Jesus was baptized. The mosaic Madaba Map these descriptions of the hill and buildings enabled archaeologists to find the old church foundations and, thus, secure the site identity.
“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.” The Holy Spirit (Shekinah Glory)  came upon Jesus in a dynamic manner to empower and equip Him to do the will of the Father who voiced His delight. The Trinity made the first dynamic action. Just as centuries earlier the dove announced to Noah the end of the flood and death to humanity, now it had announced the beginning of eternal life through Christ Jesus. The promise of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 11:2 and 42:1. Luke’s intention here was not only to report the actual event of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, but obviously, also to reflect upon a similar event that occurred in the days of Samuel the prophet. When Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, the Spirit of God came down mightily upon David (1 Sam. 16:13). In the Jewish tradition as recorded in the Talmud, the Spirit of God is described as descending or hovering over the waters as a dove in Genesis 1:2 and another Talmudic passage makes the clear association between the Spirit of God and the dove. It reads as follows:
And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters – like a dove, which hovers over her young without touching them.
Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 15a
Those who were present at the baptism, who undoubtedly included some representatives from the Sanhedrin, could not have missed this association. Just as God ushered in a new creation (Gen. 1-2), so likewise would Jesus be the One who would usher in a “new creation” of a New Covenant. Genesis 1:2 was predictive of the significant event that came upon Jesus. Might not the Spirit, Who as a dove brooded or rested on a troubled earth at a crisis time produce light, life, and love? In later years when God destroyed the inhabitants of the earth with a great flood, it was a dove that encouraged Noah to face the crisis with high hopes (Gen 8:8-12). A similar image of the Spirit of God “hovering” was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as follows:
And over the poor will His Spirit hover and the faithful will He support with his strength.
Dead Sea Scroll
The conclusion is obvious; the passage is to be interpreted as meaning that just as the Spirit of God hovered over His new creation, so the Spirit of God hovered over Jesus who was about to usher an age of new creation in men’s hearts and lives. Unfortunately, as the church lost the heritage of its Jewish roots, it also lost spiritually enlightening insights such as this one.
“The Spirit of God descending like a dove.” In this phrase all three persons of the Trinity are present. Unfortunately, some have attempted to translate this phrase to mean “a spirit of a god.” The key is in understanding Greek grammar, which states that it is not necessary for a noun to have an article for it to be a definite noun. Both the head noun and the genitive noun can have either an article or lack thereof and it makes little semantic difference. The result is that the statement is a definite noun. Hence, the phrase “a spirit of a god” is clearly a misinterpretation. The theological significance is enormous. Furthermore, the imagery of a peaceful dove has a clear reflection to the Old Testament account of a dove in the flood narrative (Gen. 8).
“This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” One of the unique features of reading Scripture with Jewish eyes is how various segments of verses are tied together to create a powerful message. One of the most profound uses is this statement spoken by God at the baptism of Jesus. The statement consists of three phrases and each one points to an Old Testament verse that intensifies its impact. See 11.01.02 concerning the same thought at the Transfiguration. The three phrases are:
- “This is My beloved Son.” All in attendance heard the voice from heaven. The statement is based upon Psalm 2:7.
You are My Son, today I have become your Father.
For centuries rabbis had pondered the reference to the word “Son” and concluded it was a messianic prophecy. Therefore, this interpretation was well-established by the first century and the divine voice clearly affirmed the deity of Jesus, a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. While the voice identified Jesus as the Son, it did not confer the status or office (priest/king) upon Him at this time. Note: According to Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, and 5:5, Jesus was installed into this office (priest/king) at His resurrection /ascension.
- “Beloved son” This phrase could also be translated as “whom I love.” It originated in Genesis 22:2 and refers to the time when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac. Today’s scholars are unsure if this passage was considered to be a messianic prophecy in the first century, but apparently the early church did recognize it as such.
“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
While the phrase reflects upon the sacrifice that Abraham was about to make, after the resurrection of Jesus it was recognized to be prophetic, reflecting the future sacrifice that Jesus would make. This astounding message was sandwiched between two incredible verses and those in attendance must have wondered what kind of person this Jesus was.
- “I take delight in Him.” This phrase is rooted in Isaiah 42:1, which reads as follows:
This is My Servant;
I strengthen Him,
this is My Chosen One;
I delight in Him.
I have put My Spirit on Him;
He will bring justice to the nations.
Whereas Psalm 2:7 refers to a royal announcement, Isaiah 42:1 refers to a servant. First century Jews believed these two passages to be of a messianic nature, but they could not understand how a king could also be a servant. This apparent contradiction became known as the “Messianic problem,” and would be resolved only when they understood the identity of Jesus as their Messiah.
Finally, theologians have often called this event the “theocratic anointing.”  The term applies to a special intervention by the Holy Spirit Who equips someone who is called to fulfill a special mission. Moses and the seventy elders (Num. 11:17; 25) are among several examples of the Old Testament era.
05.02.03.Q2 Why did Jesus have to wait past age 30 to begin His ministry (Lk. 3:23)?
According to Moses, the age of ministry according to Moses was from the age of 30 until 50 (Num. 4:3-43). Scripture states that “Jesus was about 30 years old” which is obviously indicative that He was not age 30 when He began His ministry. That raises the question as to why Jesus waited until He was past 30 to begin His ministry.
John and Jesus were cousins who were six months apart in age. John had to obey Numbers 4:3-43 and could not begin his ministry until he was the age of 30. In the meantime, Jesus had to wait until the “time was fulfilled” (Gal. 4:4) before He could begin, and that included waiting for John to,
- Get his ministry established, including the acquisition of disciples, and
- Sufficiently proclaim that the Messiah was coming. This most certainly required more than a year, possibly two.
- Furthermore, since there were many itinerant preachers in the countryside, John had to establish himself as a trustworthy and respectable rabbi. Being dressed as the prophet Elijah brought people’s attention to him and his message, and distinguished him from all the others.
Therefore, it can be assumed that Jesus was probably between the ages of 31 and 33 when He began His teaching ministry. (He began with a teaching ministry and had five disciples before He performed His first miracle in Cana.)
. Brown, “Righteousness, Justification.” 3:352-54.
. Acts 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 11:18; 13:38; 26:18.
. Older references to the location identified it as being just south of the Sea of Galilee. However, more recent scholarship agrees with ancient witnesses who place the location north of the Dead Sea.
. For more information of various reasons for baptism, see baptism as related to Nicodemus in 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. See 05.01.03 and 05.03.02.Q1 “Was the baptism by John similar to the baptism ritual that the Jews performed when a proselyte joined them?” 05.05.05.A “Dead Sea Scroll 4Q414 With Baptismal Liturgy;” see also chapter 7 of the Didache.
. See 05.05.05.D “First Century Mikvah;” and the video of Dr. Paul Wright who discusses the mikvah at the southern temple steps (04.04.03.V).
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “B”).
. Also see comments on baptism at 05.05.05.Q2 and Q3.
. For other references that pertain to the doctrine of baptism, see Mt. 29:19; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38, 8:36-38, 10:47-48, 16:14-15; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12.
. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.
. See also Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.” 58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec, 1991) 65.
. Shanks, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem.” 32.
. Thiede and d’Ancona. The Quest for the True Cross. 66-67.
. Quoted by Wilkerson, Egeria’s Travel’s. 120.
. Piccirillo, “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 439-41.
. It was not unusual for people to take on the name of their town or village as a last name.
. The work of Piacenza, Itinerarium, in English is Itinerary. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades. 69; See also Piccirillo. “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River.” 440-41.
. Quoted by Wilkerson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 107.
. See http://israel-tourguide.info/2011/01/10/earthquakes-history-archaeology/ Retrieved August 25, 2014. The Jordan valley is one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. There have been hundreds of minor earthquakes, and major ones have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for days, in 1160, 1267, 1534, 1834, 1906 and 1927. At such times, buildings are destroyed, thousands of lives are lost, and the river often redirects itself as a new river bed is formed.
. See “Madaba Map” in Appendix 26; See also 14.02.03.D and 05.02.03.Z.
. Khouri, “Where John Baptized: Bethany beyond the Jordan.” 36.
. The Shekinah Glory appeared four times in the life of Jesus: 1) to the shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), 2) at His baptism (Mt. 3:16), 3) at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:5)and, 4) at His ascension (Acts 1:9).
. Babylon Talmud, Chagim 15a.
. Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.” 58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec,1991) 65.
. Erickson, Christian Theology. 861. This doctrine is so basic to Christianity that some theologians do not single out this passage in their writings.
. For passages that refer to the deity of Christ, see Mt. 1:18-25, 3:17, 17:5; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:14, 18, 33-34, 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 4:9; Isa. 9:6; Phil. 2:7-11.
.Wallace, Greek Grammar. 243, 250-51. For further study, see “Apopponius’ Canon and Anarthrous Constructions in Pauline Literature: An Hypothesis.”which was developed by David W. Hedges for his Master of Divinity thesis. See also Granville Sharp’s Rule at http://www.bbc.edu/journal/volume1_2/granville_sharp-baker.pdf Retrieved January 12, 2015..
. See Appendix 6 concerning Old Testament sacrifices and Jesus.
. See further details in Appendix 26.
. See further details in Appendix 26.
. http://www.bookmanministries.com/Documents/Theocratic%20Anointing.pdf. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
. Joshua, (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9), Othniel (Jg. 3:10), Gideon (Jg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jg. 11:29), Samson (Jg. 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).