Why Was Christ Baptized? (Article 19-20)
A common question I receive is, why was Christ baptized? What I’m referring to is John the Baptist’s baptizing of Christ in Matthew 3:13-15. In this scripture, Christ approaches John the Baptist to be baptized. John asks Christ, why do you require me to baptize you when you should be baptizing me? In response, Christ simply states, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So, without further question, John the Baptist baptizes Christ.
John the Baptist’s View of Christ. Central to conventional Jewish thought, by way of the Torah, is the coming of a divine and all-powerful Messiah or ruler of the world. However, the purpose and truth of the Messiah’s arrival were not known, nor understood by the Jews. This is why John the Baptist cried out, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2). The word “repent” means to have a change of understanding to the “truth,” thus thinking to who the Messiah is and the purpose of His coming. As believers, we know that Christ’s first coming was not to rule the world consistent with Jewish thinking but to save it. By way of Jewish (and Islamic) belief, salvation is achieved by means of doing good works on earth, and not by way of faith, which is central to our Christian belief. However, John the Baptist did not know how Christ’s purpose or how it was to be achieved, nor did He anticipate the Messiah’s coming in a full human condition e.g., the Son of Man. Instead, John the Baptist viewed Christ as a divine and all-powerful being, and not as a mortal man with all its frailties. Therefore, John the Baptist was confounded when Christ required baptism. Viewing Christ as the “Messiah,” “Lord of Lords,” “King of Kings,” and the “Son of God,” John the Baptist saw it more appropriate for himself to be baptized by Christ instead of the other way around. As a human man, Christ needed to be baptized to receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, hence His receiving of God’s power. In sum, His receiving of the Holy Spirit was “fitting (necessary)” to fulfill the mandate and purpose of His ministry on earth: The fulfillment of all righteousness which paved the way for our Salvation.
The Baptism of Christ. When Christ was baptized, He immediately came up out of the water, and the heavens opened up to Him, and the Spirit of God (The Holy Spirit) descended on Him like a dove. In that instant, Christ was filled with the Holy Spirit. Well, you may say, wait a minute here. Why would He need to receive the Holy Spirit? Christ is the Son of God and in fact, is God!? As such, He is already filled with His own Spirit. Him being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t make sense. It does make sense considering the purpose of Christ’s first coming to the world – that being to save it. As explained in Romans: “For just as through the disobedience (sin) of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience (righteousness) of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19). The above scripture denotes that due to one human man’s (Adam’s) sinful action in the world, it had to be one man’s (Christ) works to reestablish man’s right standing (righteousness) with God. It was for the above reason, Christ was birthed into this world as a human, thus giving way to His role as the “Son of Man.”
Christ - The “Son of Man.” We read that Jesus was called many names throughout the Bible, but His reference as the “Son of Man” stands apart for an important reason. It denotes that He was birthed into the world fully human to fulfill a specific purpose. The purpose I speak was to be a servant, not to be a master to man - "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). To accomplish His mandate as the Son of Man, Christ had to receive a filling of the Holy Spirit (God’s power and wisdom). Specifically, scripture tells us, “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.” What happens next is very important to understand. It was only after Christ received the filling of the all-powerful Holy Spirit that He was led by the Holy Spirit to confront and be tempted by Satan. It’s important to note too that it was by way of the Holy Spirit's power that Christ was able to take His journey to confront Satan. Along this journey, Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4). Now, let’s pause for a minute. Christ went without food for 40 days and He did so trekking through the harsh desert wilderness. An average human being can only go without food for about 3 weeks. It was by way of the Holy Spirit's power that Christ's human condition could be sustained without food for such a long period of time.
Physiologically speaking, a human without food for this length of time would be completely emaciated. As it relates to Christ, all major organs – liver, heart, kidneys - would be shrunk in size and be on the verge of complete failure. His blood pressure was likely to have been dangerously low, with severe muscle tissue loss. Christ would also have likely been suffering from hypothermia, especially being subjected to the cold desert nights. Imagine Christ’s severely weakened physical state when the Devil appeared to Him. Yet, Christ did not submit to the Devil’s tempting of Christ’s flesh, with the very first temptation being food (bread). It was only by way of the Holy Spirit’s power, which He received during His Baptism, that Christ, as a man, was able to reject all three (3) of Satan’s tempting of Christ’s humanly flesh. Over two-thousand years later, the same holds true for believers. We too must be baptized and receive a filling of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our mandate as disciples of Christ.
The Tempting of “The Son of Man.” As we read in Matthew 4, the Devil appeared to Christ and said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Note in the above verse that the Devil refers to Christ, not as the Son of Man, but rather the “Son of God.” See, central to Satan’s temptation is not the offering of bread to the hungry Christ, but rather to tempt Christ to admit He is the “Son of God.” By so doing, Satan is tempting Christ, by way of His flesh, to abandon His role as the Son of Man, thus compromising the purpose of His first coming, which was to be completed on the Cross as a man. Christ does not take the bait. He rebukes Satan by merely stating, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). In His above response, Christ reminds us that it is only by God’s Word that gives life, and it is by God’s Word that all life can be sustained. With the rejection of this first temptation, Christ conquerors the attractions of the flesh, thus underscoring the importance of living as spiritual beings instead of human beings.
We next read about Satan’s second temptation. “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: [He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone].’” (Matthew 4:5-6). Note Satan’s reference to Christ as the “Son of God again,” and again Christ not taking the bait. He responds to Satan’s deceptive antics by stating, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7). With the rejection of this temptation, Christ conquerors man’s quest for God to prove His deity, existence, authority, and power. Note also that in this statement, Christ reminds Satan that God is His Lord as well, bringing forth God’s supremacy over Satan as His Creator.
Finally, Satan brings out the “big guns.” Satan’s third and final tempting of Christ focuses on man’s pride – the deadliest of all sins. ”Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9). Note that this is the one and only temptation Satan does not refer to Christ as the Son of God, thus conceding to Christ’s role as the Son of Man. In so doing, Satan tempts Christ’s human condition by offering Him complete authority, power, and control over the world if Christ only bow and worship him. For Christ, this was the final straw. Christ commands, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” (Matthew 4:10). With this final temptation, Christ conquers man’s pride, that being man’s desire to be his own God.
Angels Minister to Christ. Matthew 4:11 provides compelling proof that Christ’s role was serving in the capacity as the Son of Man. Note the scripture says, “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” The significance of the verse is that angels descended down on Christ to minister not to His Spirit - for He was filled with the Holy Spirit, but rather to his frail and broken body. It was after conquering the frailties of man’s flesh, that Christ began His ministry (Matthew 4:12-25).
Conclusions. Much has been said in this article; however, the main takeaways are these. First, Christ had to fulfill His purpose of salvation as a human, thus role as the “Son of Man.” In this capacity and although holy and pure, it was God’s will that Christ (God Himself) experience man’s full human condition, that being man’s perspectives, emotions, and frailties as a prerequisite to salvation. In turn, we should appreciate that even before His ministry began and His works on the Cross, Christ’s sufferance was set in motion while serving as a mere mortal to man. Second, Christ’s baptism reveals the path and the way to Salvation. Although being filled with the Holy Spirit was necessary to fulfill His mandate as the Son of Man, it also established the requirements for our rebirth and regeneration into Spiritual Beings. Finally, and equally important, Christ’s receipt of the Holy Spirit underscores the importance and purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is only by way of the Holy Spirit can we have the power to overcome adversity and the fleshly desires which keeps us focused on our desires instead of God's will for our lives. Remember that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15), and it is by our abidance in Christ, and the taking on of His Spirit (The Holy Spirit) can we fulfill our purpose as disciples and experience the fullness of His love. It is from receiving His fullness can we finally experience what we all have in common - our quest to be happy and with it, finally have peace and rest.
Final Thoughts. Much like today, early Christians were faced with suffering as they adopted a lifestyle contrary to that of the secular world. By choosing Christ as Lord and Savior, we knowingly cast ourselves out of the world as we await Jesus’ triumphant return. Upon the Lord’s second coming, we, as believers in Christ, will inherit the kingdom of God and through grace, will be blessed with the gift of eternal life in heaven.
Those persecuted for worshiping the king of kings will be blessed as the Holy Spirit continues to flow outwards from within our redeemed hearts. God will bring eternal rewards to those who follow in Christ’s footsteps, to all those who believe in Him.