Updated: Nov 25, 2021
There are a few scenes recorded in the Bible that I wish I could have been there to see. One of those scenes is the baptism of Jesus. I have often pictured this scene as an image of power, of authority, an image of a king who reigns.
The Gospel of Mark is a fast-paced gospel. Mark uses very few words as he transitions from one scene or event to the next. For first time readers of the Bible, the Gospel of Mark is a good place to start because it moves so quickly. Mark is on a mission. He has good news to share and as you read you can almost feel his excitement and urgency he has as he tells the story of Jesus. Unlike Luke or Matthew, Mark jumps right into the baptism of Jesus. For those who have spent some time reading God’s Word, Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism are familiar words. However, as we pause to consider them we find a few powerful images.
Mark 1:9-11 (New King James Version)
“It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
One question often asked about Jesus baptism is, “Why was Jesus baptized?” This is a very good question considering what we read in the New Testament about baptism and the life of Jesus. John the immerser was baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins (ref. Mk.1:4). On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter preached that people should repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (ref. Acts 2:38). We read in the New Testament that people were baptized for the remission of their sins. The Scriptures also teach us that Jesus was without sin. The apostle Paul recorded in (2 Cor. 5:21) that Jesus “knew no sin”. In (Hebrews 4:15) we read, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The “High Priest” in this verse is speaking of Jesus. If baptism is for the remission of sin and Jesus had no sin, why was Jesus baptized? The Gospel of Matthew provides some insight for us concerning this question.
Matthew 3: 13-15
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.”
Jesus says the purpose of His baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus was baptized to completely keep and fulfill the command of God. Coffman provides the following thoughts in his commentary of these verses.
“Jesus, although He had no sins to repent of, honored and delighted in keeping the commands of God” 
Baptism, as we read in the New Testament, is for the remission of sin. Jesus had no sins of which to repent. However, He was baptized to fulfill the word of God as He took delight in keeping God’s Word.
One of the images we see in Jesus’ baptism is the image of the Messiah. Mark states the purpose of his gospel in the opening sentence. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk. 1:1). Mark’s purpose for writing his gospel account is to tell about the good news of Jesus. At times we read the word “Christ” as the last name of Jesus. However this word means “anointed, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word rendered “Messiah”” In this first sentence of Mark’s Gospel, Mark is proclaiming and revealing the truth of Jesus, God’s Messiah. God, in a voice from heaven and the Spirit descending upon Jesus both attest to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus is God’s anointed, the Messiah. Christ is not His last name but a title. At the baptism of Jesus, the Messiah is revealed. This is good news!
A King and His Kingdom
Children’s Bibles have the tendency to picture Jesus’ baptism as a peaceful scene with a clean flowing river and fluffy white clouds set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. There may be nothing wrong with this peaceful picture however, Mark may be expressing more.
“And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.”
Mark records the heavens “parting” and in doing so, he uses a very specific word. The word used has more of the meaning of the heavens being torn open or torn apart. It is the same word used in (Mk. 15:38) to describe the veil of the temple and how it was torn from top to bottom. We see in Jesus’ baptism an image of power as the heavens are ripped opened and torn back. As this dramatic scene unfolds, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. This image, to readers of Mark’s Gospel and perhaps to those who were present that day, might bring to remembrance the words of the prophet Isaiah.
"The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist."
The announcement of Jesus’ baptism is of a judge who will rule in knowledge. One who will judge fairly and with impartial justice. One who will slay the wicked, who will be righteous and faithful. The Messiah has come in Whom God is well pleased. The good news of God’s reign and of His rule is here as Jesus Himself would proclaim in (Mk. 1:14) “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The parting of the heavens as Jesus comes up out of the water brings to remembrance another famous parting that we read about in the Old Testament. God parted the Red Sea as He led His people out of captivity from the land of Egypt (ref. Ex. 14). God leading His people out of the land of Egypt was God delivering His people. Oppressed and under the heavy hand of the Egyptians, the Hebrews were in bondage and slavery. As God parted the Red Sea, His people passed through the waters to their freedom. Their captors were overtaken and lost to the water. It was a time of God’s deliverance and His rescue as He provided the way of their salvation. In Jesus and at His baptism we are reminded of His provision.
The Way of Escape
Much as when God led His people out of the land of Egypt, today Jesus provides a way for us. The apostle Paul teaches us that we are in bondage and held captive by our sin (ref. Rom. 6:20). We are set free from our sin as we follow His Word. Entering the water, we are immersed and raised to newness of life. The apostle Paul speaks of our baptism mirroring the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we are raised to walk in newness of life (ref. Rom. 6:1-4). Mirroring Jesus in baptism we are united together with Him in the likeness of His death. And as Paul continued to record, “certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). Sin, in our life, being done away with we are set free. (ref. Rom 6:6-11). In Jesus, we find our escape as Jesus provides a way for us to be released from our bondage.
A Powerful Image
The baptism of Jesus is a powerful image. More than just an image, His baptism is a revela