Why was Jesus water baptized?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Arguments quickly arise among denominations regarding water baptism because no two groups can agree as to how water baptism should be performed. Who should do it: a priest, a pope, or a pastor? Where should it be done: a river, a lake, a bathtub, a baptismal, or a swimming pool? Who needs it: babies or adults, or both? How should it be done: effusion (pouring), aspersion (sprinkling), or immersion (submerging)? How many times forward? Backward? How long? What type of water? All of this confusion, so little Bible understanding!
Every professing Christian today wants to be water baptized in order to “follow Jesus in ‘believer’s baptism.’” Yet, Jesus was also physically circumcised (Luke 2:21)—what Christian today wants to “follow Jesus in ‘believer’s circumcision?’” Surely, just because Jesus did something does not necessarily mean we must do it too. Jesus was water baptized and He told His disciples to water baptize, but does that we should be water baptized and water baptize others? Do we really need “believer’s baptism” today like most preachers claim? In order to answer this question, we ignore denominational doctrine and church tradition. Let us look to the rightly divided Word of God for the answer, for the Bible alone is the final authority.
Whenever people see the word “baptize” or “baptism” in the Bible, they automatically assume it must be water baptism. Contrariwise, there are several types of “baptism” in the Scriptures—many have nothing to do with water. For instance, read Matthew 3:11: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” Undoubtedly, there are three baptisms in this one verse—(1) water baptism, (2) the baptism with fire (the judgment at the Second Coming of Christ, at the end of the seven-year Tribulation), and (3) the baptism with the Holy Spirit (this was the day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2). Moreover, there is the baptism by the Holy Spirit into the Church the Body of Christ. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13)—“baptized into one body,” not “baptized into water!” As you can see, some “baptisms” in Scripture have absolutely nothing to do with water.
The word “baptize” first appears in the Bible in Matthew chapter 3 when John the Baptist is preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 3:2). If a Jew had placed his or her faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah-King, this water baptism was “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” and it was an outward profession of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 1:4; John 7:29-30; Acts 13:23-25). However, John the Baptist’s water baptism was nothing new to Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel’s priests would wash with water before entering into the priesthood (Exodus 29:1,4; Leviticus 8:6); they had to wash prior to dressing in the ephod (priestly garments), and had to wash before entering the Tabernacle and Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:17-21).
At this point, we have established two critical points. Firstly, water baptism can be traced back to Old Testament Law. Water baptism is an Old Testament ritual; it is not a “New Testament ordinance” like preachers claim today. Jesus’s earthly ministry and His water baptism are still Old Testament ground, because He had not died yet (Hebrews 9:16,17). Thus, the New Testament cannot begin until after Jesus’s death. In fact, this “New Covenant” with Israel will be brought about at His Second Coming, over 2000 years after His water baptism and death.
Secondly, water baptism was for the Jewish believers of the Gospel of the Kingdom. What is the connection between water baptism and the kingdom that Jesus was going to establish on the earth? In Exodus 19:5-6, God promised to make Israel “a kingdom of priests” (1 Peter 2:9: Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6). If every Jew was to be a priest, who would every Jew need to do? Wash with water, just like in the Old Testament! Turn to Mark 1:4 KJV: “John [the Baptist] did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” These Jewish believers of the Kingdom Gospel were sinners, and as we disucssed earlier earlier, the water baptism was an outward sign of their faith (Luke 7:29-30).
Jesus needed to fulfill the Old Testament priesthood law. Matthew 3:15 KJV: “And Jesus answering said unto him [that is, John the Baptist], Suffer [Allow] it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered [allowed] him.” Jesus Christ needed to fulfill all the righteousness of the Law, the Old Testament. Remember, the priests would wash themselves (see Exodus 29:4; Exodus 30:20; Leviticus chapter 1; Leviticus 8:6; Leviticus 16:24; 2 Chronicles 4:6).
The Lord Jesus also needed to identify Himself with His Jewish believers. The small remnant of believers in Israel at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry was called “the little flock” (Luke 12:32). Remember, the analogy here is Jesus Christ being the Shepherd, and these Jewish believers are sheep, like Psalm chapter 23 said. In order to identify Himself with those Jewish believers, Jesus was water baptized; as Isaiah 53:12 said, Christ would be “numbered with the transgressors.” John the Baptist water baptized Jesus Christ in order to manifest Him as Israel’s Messiah (Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-33). Anyone who refused the baptism of John was publicly admitting their unbelief; the fourth reason Jesus was baptized was to separate the Jewish believers from the Jewish unbelievers (Luke 7:29-30).
So, these are the four reasons why Jesus was baptized: (1) to fulfill the Old Testament ceremony of the priesthood washing, (2) to manifest Himself as Israel’s Messiah, (3) to identify Himself with the “little flock,” the remnant of Jewish believers who were also being water baptized, and (4) to thereby sort the believers from the unbelievers.
However, when Israel rejected their Messiah and demanded His crucifixion, and refused to repent and trust Him (Jesus) as Messiah in the early Acts period, the promise of Israel’s kingdom would be postponed. In Acts chapter 7, after the Jews stone the prophet Stephen (who was filled with the Holy Spirit), the Lord set Israel aside nationally for their unbelief. As Romans 11:11-13 says, Israel’s prophetic program has been temporarily stopped while God is dealing with the non-Jews (Gentiles) today through the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
With all that said, we have no reason to be water baptized today for any reason. Israel’s water baptism has nothing to do with us today because we are not the nation Israel. We are the Church the Body of Christ, who have a waterless baptism. We are under the Gospel of the Grace of God, not the Gospel of the Kingdom (as was preached in Israel). We are in the Dispensation of Grace, not the Dispensation of Law.
We have the one baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Ephesians 4:5. The moment we place our faith in Christ Jesus alone as our personal Saviour, the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us into the one Body of Christ. This is why Paul said Christ did not send him to water baptize in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Contrary to religious tradition, God’s Word tells us that we do not need water baptism for any reason in the Dispensation of Grace. Water baptism is for Israel’s program, so leave it there, where it belongs!