Does Jesus need to be baptised??

The Baptism of Jesus – 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

Marian Free


In the name of God whose plan is, was and always will be to save the world.

Why does Jesus need to be baptised? Surely Jesus doesn’t need to be cleansed from sin. He doesn’t need to profess his faith. John certainly doesn’t think that Jesus needs to be baptised. It is important that we, with John ask the question? Why does Jesus need to be baptised? The problem is that it is easy for us to make assumptions based on the  idea that John’s baptism was like that which we received when in fact the two things are very different.

John’s baptism – that received by Jesus – was very different from the baptism that has grown up in the practice of the church. John was calling the people of Israel to repentance.  Baptism (the greek word simply means “wash”) was a sign that they were turning their backs on the way that had been living and were returning to God. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was not intended for individuals but for all of Israel. John was calling for the renewal of the Jewish people nation. He was NOT calling for people to repent of their own individual sins. John the Baptist was preparing the people as a whole for the coming of a Redeemer.

Baptism in the name of Jesus is, at the very least a post-resurrection event. It is form of initiation and a statement of faith. John’s baptism is not and cannot have been a baptism into the Christian faith.  Jesus had not even begun his public ministry and Jesus was, and remained a Jew.

What all this means is that when we consider Jesus’ baptism we have to see it as a stand-alone event and not as something that foreshadows the practice and doctrine of the Christian church. The baptism of Jesus is not baptism in the way that we think of baptism, but something entirely different.

All the gospel writers record this event, so we can state with some confidence that it has a basis in historical fact. Jesus was baptised and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended on him. Matthew, Mark and Luke all report a voice coming from heaven (or from a cloud) that affirmed Jesus as God’s Son and indicated God’s pleasure in God’s son.

Of the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, Matthew’s is the longest. This is because he alone records John’s reluctance to baptise Jesus. “I need to be baptised by you and do you come to me?” he asks. John recognised that Jesus is the more powerful than he.  John thinks that Jesus should baptise him, not vice versa. Matthew apparently agrees with John that Jesus does not need to be baptised, so in order to understand what is happening, we have to examine how Matthew explains Jesus’ baptism.

According to Warren Carter we need to pay attention to four things in order to understand Matthew’s understood if we pay attention to four things: the context, John’s baptism, the conversation between John and Jesus and the voice from heaven[1].

The account of Jesus’ baptism occurs part way through chapter three in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ ministry is yet to begin. In fact it will not begin until mid-way through chapter four (after the temptations). Matthew has been setting the scene. Jesus’ baptism is one of the way in which Matthew establishes Jesus’ identity and demonstrates the way in which Jesus is a fulfilment of God’s promises. Matthew begins by establishing Jesus’ identity and the ways in which his early life is a fulfilment of scripture. Jesus is of the line of David, conceived by the Spirit to save the people from their sins. He is Emmanuel, “God with us”. His life is in danger because he is a threat to Herod. The leaders in Jerusalem ignore his birth and yet he is recognised and worshipped by foreigners. Through Joseph, God ensures that he is kept safe from harm and finally John the Baptist prepares the people for his coming.

Matthew has made is clear that Jesus has been sent by God. His baptism by John demonstrates that Jesus both understands and accepts his role and that he intends to be obedient to God’s plan for his life.

Only Matthew records the conversation between Jesus and John – John’s initial reluctance and Jesus’ insistence. Remember that John ‘s baptism is not about individuals, but about the nation of Israel. Jesus’ sinlessness is not in question, it is Jesus’ role as the “one who is more powerful” that causes John some anxiety.  Jesus’ response is mysterious. All it really tells us is that Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism is part of God’s plan for putting everything right – the plan that John has been announcing to the world. Just as other events in Jesus’ life so far have been to “fulfil” God’s plan, so too will Jesus’ baptism. It does not make immediate sense, just as Jesus’ death will not make sense. What is important for Matthew’s story is that God has a plan and that Jesus is determined to submit to that plan, to accept his commission from God.

After Jesus has convinced John that his baptism is not only right, but also divinely sanctioned John baptises Jesus. Then, as Jesus emerges from the water, God affirms both Jesus’ identity and his mission by opening the heavens, descending as a dove and declaring Jesus to be his son, the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Through genealogy and story, affirmation and fear, Matthew has established Jesus as the one of David’s line who will fulfil God’s promise to bring salvation to Israel. Now that he has made it absolutely clear who and what Jesus is, Matthew can begin his record of Jesus’ teaching, teaching that he has proven can be heard and received with absolute confidence. Those who hear and those who read Matthew’s gospel know exactly who Jesus is, by whom he has been commissioned, and what role he is to play in the history of Israel.

As we travel together through the gospel according to Matthew this, we can be sure of this that Matthew believes that: Jesus has been sent by God, to fulfil God’s promises and to carry out God’s plan. What we read and hear can be trusted because it comes from God..





[1] For the original see


Tags: , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: