Did John Baptize Jesus With The Same Baptism He Baptized Others With?
Other than Jesus' baptism, every time we see baptism in the New Testament, it follows acknowledgment of sin, confession, and repentance (Acts 2:38), and it is a union of the symbol—water—with the reality—the Holy Spirit that produces a washing and cleansing from their sin. And so Our first Pope, the apostle Peter was able to say, “baptism now saves you”.
Jesus was perfect and sinless, so why did he need to be baptized? Even John the Baptist (the one who baptized Jesus) asked that question. The corresponding account of his baptism in Matthew 3 begins to answer:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.–Matthew 3:13-15
Jesus himself explained that he was being baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” On a basic level, part of the reason for Jesus’ baptism was simply to obey what God wanted him to do. Even though he had no need for baptism, Jesus submitted to God’s will that he be baptized. So the question then becomes, “why?” If it wasn’t something Jesus needed, why was it something that God wanted Jesus to do? I believe there are three answers to this question:
1. To fully and truly identify with mankind.
Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things…” Verse 17 follows with, “Therefore he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” In order to “fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus completely identified with sinful man by taking on human flesh and partaking of the same things that sinful people need – things like baptism (following conversion and repentance, of course).
One theologian said it this way, “He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness. He who was without sin submitted to a baptism for sinners. In this act the Savior of the world took His place among the sinners of the world.” I really can’t say it much better than that!
2. To foreshadow Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Romans 6:3-5 says, “Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Verse 9 adds, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
In this passage Paul explains that the main purpose of a Christian’s baptism is to associate and identify with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice – which required him to wholly identify with sinful man – completely satisfied the wrath of God. Jesus’ resurrection displayed his utter victory and power over sin, and it assures those who trust in him that they too are set free from the power of sin and made righteous before God. We as sinners identify ourselves with the perfect Man Jesus in the same way that he, the holy Son of God, identifies with us. There is beautiful symmetry and poetry to this image, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are its focal point.
“For our sake he made him to be a sin offering who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” –2 Corinthians 5:21
3. To inaugurate Jesus into the priesthood.
If we see Jesus’ own baptism by John as an inauguration to priesthood, some light can be shed on a few of the details of that event, especially as recorded in Luke’s account (Luke 3:21-23). In our first point, the question of why Jesus was baptized at all, especially with a baptism “of repentance for the remission of sins” (3:3), was answered by saying that Jesus was identifying Himself with His people. He submitted to baptism as part of His work as the sin-bearing substitute. This explanation fits very snugly with the view that Jesus was baptized into priestly ministry. The High Priest of Israel, after all, was a sin-bearer. Throughout the year, the sins of Israel “accumulated” on the High Priest until they were confessed over the scapegoat and sent out of the camp on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). The Aaronic priests were ordained to bear the sins of Israel, “baptized” into substitutionary ministry. This explains what Jesus meant when He said that His baptism was part of “fulfilling all righteousness” (Mathew 3:15): Jesus fulfilled righteousness by undergoing baptism into priesthood.
Second, Luke tells us that immediately after His baptism Jesus “began His ministry,” being “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). Priests likewise began ministry at the age of 30 (Numbers 4:34-37), following their ordination, which included a ritual bath.
Third, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father identified Jesus as the “Son of God” (Luke 3:22). This can be a royal rather than a priestly title (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:6-7), and it surely carries that resonance in Luke 3. Jesus is the royal priest, the priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-3). But son-ship is not unconnected with priesthood. The Levites, who served in a semi-priestly capacity, took the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Numbers 3:38-51). In Hebrews 4:14 the new high priest is identified as “Jesus the Son of God,” and in 5:5 the author interprets Psalm 2:7 (“Thou art my Son”) as a prophecy of Jesus’ glorification as high priest.
Finally, immediately after recording the baptism, Luke gives the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38). By modern standards of literary structure, this does not seem to be an appropriate place to insert a genealogy. 1 Chronicles and Matthew make better sense in opening with genealogies. Once we see that Jesus’ baptism is the inauguration of His priestly ministry, nothing could be more appropriate than a genealogy. Priests of the Old Testament had to prove descent from Aaron, and later from a particular branch of the Aaronic clan, or they were not permitted to serve (Ezra 2:61-63). Throughout the Old Testament, priests are consistently identified as “son of” some previous priest, a sign that the priesthood was tied to physical descent. So Luke, having recorded Jesus’ baptism into priestly ministry, must show that Jesus has a right to this ministry.
Contrary to expectation, the genealogy proves that Jesus is not a descendent of Aaron but from the tribe of Judah. How then can he serve as priest? Luke, in keeping with Hebrews, shows that this Priest is from an older order, but Luke presses the case even further than Hebrews. This Priest is a priest after the order of Adam (Luke 3:38). And as the first Adam, having been given the priestly ministry of guarding the garden, was tested by Satan, so also for this newly ordained Priest, who passes through the waters into the wilderness to be tested by the devil (Luke 4:1-13), so that He could be a priest who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
What did the Fathers of the Church teach?
The Church Fathers Tertullian, Ambrose, and Augustine all claimed that baptism inducts the baptized person into membership in the royal priesthood of the church, and Thomas Aquinas said that baptism, by imprinting an indelible “character” on the soul, confers a share in the priesthood of Christ. This was even worked into some ancient baptismal liturgies; the actual water baptism was followed by an anointing with oil, and this was explained by reference to the anointing of priests and kings in the Old Testament.
Was John's Baptism the Same as Ours?
The baptism administered by John was not the Christian baptism which the Church administers. This difference was most clearly demonstrated when St. Paul encountered some men in the city of Ephesus who had received John’s baptism. The Apostle insisted that they still had to receive Christian baptism (Acts 19:1–6). In a similar way, we’re told, a man named Apollos, who had actually been preaching Jesus, “knew only the baptism of John,” with the implication that such baptism was insufficient (Acts 18:24–25).
John’s baptism, St. Paul explained, was simply a “baptism of repentance, telling people to believe in the One who was to come after Him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 18:4). But Christian baptism is much more. Through it, we are buried with Christ in His death, and raised with Him to new life (Romans 6:1–5). Christian baptism cleanses us of both original sin and actual sin committed up to that point (Acts 2:3, 38–39; 22:16). It causes us to be “born again” into the family of God (John 3:3–5; Galatians 3:27). It incorporates us into Christ as members of His body, initiating us into life in Christ and His Church (1 Corinthians 12:13). It restores to us the supernatural life of God and infuses in us the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
All this comes about through the action of the Holy Spirit—divine activity that was absent in John’s baptism. St. John himself declared: “I have baptized you with water; but He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). The men in Ephesus whom St. Paul encountered, who had received John’s baptism, had never even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. But when they received Christian baptism, “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:2, 6). When we were baptized, the Spirit came upon us as well, with life-giving consequences.