The baptism of Jesus. 3:21-22


This small episode in Luke's gospel is the third in a group of six witnesses, or testimonies, to Jesus. Our particular episode concerns the witness of Jesus' baptism. We see in Jesus' baptism the hope of redemption, and in the words from heaven, the commissioning of God's servant messiah on our behalf.

The passage

v21. The people were coming to John to be baptized and Jesus joined the crowd and was baptized along with the people. Jesus certainly doesn't need to undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In accepting John's baptism, Jesus shows his full support for John's mission, and at the same time he identifies with the very people he has come to save. Jesus' baptism is a symbolic act in that it is a visible replay of Israel's escape from bondage in Egypt. The gospel writers are keen for us to see Jesus as remnant Israel, so Jesus passes through the water like Israel of old, but unlike Israel he does not fail his time of testing in the wilderness. In his baptism the sinless one sets out on the journey to become sin on behalf of sinners so that sinners might be without sin.

v22. Following his baptism Jesus has a vision. It's as if the separation between heaven and earth is breached and the Holy Spirit, who is in dove-like form, comes to Jesus while God the Father speaks. The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus, anointing him, setting him apart and equipping him for his divine service of healing the brokenhearted and announcing freedom, Isa.61:1. Then, God the Father speaks, authenticating Jesus' messianic credentials. God commissions Jesus as his Messiah-Servant. He does this by quoting scripture. First Psalm 2:7, a quote from the coronation liturgy of God's Messianic King. Then Isaiah 42:1, a quote from the ordination liturgy of God's Suffering Servant. So, although this vision is for Jesus alone, God announces to the heavens and the earth that this Jesus is the glorious coming messiah-king who will soon bring all things into subjection to himself and that he is also God's suffering-servant who through his suffering and death will save a people unto God.


1. If Jesus doesn't need to be baptized, nor receive the Holy Spirit, then why did he submit to John's baptism and why did the Holy Spirit come upon him?

2. What is the witness of Jesus' baptism?

3. How do we share in his baptism?

4. The words from heaven, what do they tell us about Jesus?

A washing for Israel

The theology behind this short passage is quite substantial. For the people of Israel, their king represented the nation; the king was a corporate entity. When the prophets spoke of the coming king, the messiah, they did so in a way that retained this corporate identity. The messiah was, in a sense, the people. So, prophecies concerning the new Israel, or the righteous king, were interchangeable. Jesus the Messiah, King David's greater son, is also the new Israel. Through faith we are united to Jesus and so we become with him the new Israel, the chosen, called-out, people of God.

In our passage for study these themes are intertwined. Jesus represents Israel, escaping from the bondage of Egypt through the Reed Sea, passing through the waters into the wilderness. The prophets foretold the day when suffering Israel would be released from the bondage of sin and death and possess the blessing of eternal life. This promised day finds its fulfilment in Jesus who takes upon himself the role of faithful Israel. Unlike Israel of old, Jesus did not fail the test in the wilderness, but remained faithful, even unto the cross.

Our passage for study images this corporate role, both in Jesus' baptism and in the words from heaven. Jesus is regaled as king with words from the royal Psalm, 2:7. Linked to this is the reference from Isaiah 42:1 where Jesus is displayed as the suffering servant.

So, in simple terms, Jesus, as the representative of the people of God, sets forth on his mission to carry a people from bondage and death to freedom and life. He does this in his own life as the glorious messianic king who suffers on behalf of the people. So in him, through faith, we escape bondage and head for the promised land of freedom and life.

For Luke, the baptism of Jesus sits in the middle of John's ministry. In truth, having baptized Jesus, John's mission is over. For Luke, the incident serves to witness who Jesus is - the Christ, the messiah, the servant king. To this messiah shall be gathered a lost people and through their incorporation with him they will find life eternal.

For those of us who read the story today, we find assurance in the knowledge that in Christ we have passed through the Reed Sea, we have escaped the bondage of sin and are assured that we will be carried to the promised land. In Christ we have become God's unique beloved children in whom he is "well pleased." This possession is not gained nor retained by our faithfulness, but by the faithfulness of the one who went before. So, let us never waver in our reliance on the Servant-King.

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