The three synoptic Gospels each record the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22). All three record the Father’s intimate proclamation, God’s booming voice from heaven directed to His Faithful Son, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well-pleased.” And Matthew, Mark, and Luke each report that, following His baptism, “Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1–2).
Matthew included a detail not recorded by the others. “John tried to stop him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John allowed him to be baptized” (Matthew 3:14-15). John obviously knew his role as the forerunner, and that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who had come to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of the Savior, the Son of David, the Eternal King.
At His baptism, Jesus set an example for believers to follow. Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” We too should be baptized because it’s right. The act of baptism doesn’t save. Salvation is not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but baptism rightly gives testimony of the graciously-given eternal cleansing and miraculous renewal of our blood-bought salvation.
Matthew wrote that “the heavens suddenly opened” (Matthew 3:16). Luke wrote, simply, “heaven opened” (Luke 3:21). But Mark added a dramatic detail. “In those days Jesus ... was baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open” (Mark 1:9–10). Can you imagine Jesus, splashing out of the water, gazing up to see the heavenly curtains thrown aside, torn open?
Luke also added a small but important detail. As Jesus was baptized, “he was praying” when “heaven opened” (Luke 3:21). As the Father spoke from Heaven, the Son also spoke to His Father in Heaven. I wonder what prayerful words were uttered by those sinless lips?
Luke does something else unique. The first twenty verses of Luke’s third chapter are given to the ministry of John the Baptist, ending with his imprisonment at the hands of Herod. “When John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the evil things he had done, Herod added this to everything else—he locked up John in prison” (Luke 3:19–20). Then, in a literary twist, Luke doubles back to report the earlier baptism of Jesus. I wonder if this is Luke’s way of expressing the supremacy of Jesus and the submissiveness of John.
The Gospel of John doesn’t really record the actual event, but rather the testimony of John the Baptist concerning the baptism. “John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I told you about: “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.” I didn’t know him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and he rested on him. I didn’t know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The one you see the Spirit descending and resting on—he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34).
Few events are recorded by all four Gospel-writers. The birth of Jesus is only recorded by Matthew and Luke. The raising of Lazarus is recorded by only John. The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son are recorded by only Luke. All four Gospels record Jesus’ baptism. The lesson must be important!
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.