Image sources: DesiringGod.org, Bonnellart.com. Artist: Daniel Bonnell
I was reading my Bible plan on youversion the other day when it led me to the baptism of Christ. I’d never thought much of the event before, but this time it stood out.
Why did Jesus submit to baptism? There are two parts to this answer we should explore: the role of baptism in Jewish life; and what baptism seems to represent in the New Testament Scripture. We will look only at the second for now.
Baptism represents several things. I believe that baptism is representative of repentance from sin, and it prepares our souls for public affiliation with Christ. But why would Christ himself need to be baptized? Is he not sinless? Is he not our master, the one by whom we are named? What is the significance of his act?
While thinking about this and reading a couple articles about this passage, I think that baptism is representative of work that is public and work that is private. Or maybe I’m more correct to say that Christ’s baptism reflected both private and public reality simultaneously. More than this, it referred to Christ’s present and future work, simultaneously.
In Matthew when Jesus says that his baptism fulfills all righteousness, that is a present reality. The reality of the death of Christ is already present to him and he is already working in the task he has been prepared for. It is like a war. When we speak of World War II, or Haiti’s War of Independence, we can think of it as a series of battles, but it is all one event historically. All of these events come together as a unified whole. This is how God sees the work of Christ. In submitting to baptism, Christ also indicates-privately since no one else has knowledge of the event at the time-his obedience to the Father’s plan for redemption of man. This is why He says He is well pleased with His Son. His Son has accepted the cross, and descending and ascending into and from the waters symbolizes his descent to and resurrection from death on the cross.
It is public because everyone witnesses these events. The completion and fulfillment of God’s plan is announced. But it is also indicative of future work. It points in human time to a future reality that will be fulfilled 3.5 years later at the conclusion of his public ministry. The baptism is a symbol that promises the completion of a future reality.
Therefore, the baptism is important because it is yet another testimony of God’s faithfulness to Himself and His promises. To Him, He has already completed His work in you, and your salvation and glorification is one complete and unified event. But he is also promising the fulfillment of a future reality. That you will be presented along with His Son faultless before the throne. It is private because your baptism indicates your obedient acceptance and participation in His plan. But it is public because you declare your identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Present and future, public and private.
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