Why Was Jesus Baptized?
© 01.21.18 By D. Eric Williams
This article appeared in the January 25 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle
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 (Matthew 3:15).
There are many opinions concerning the significance of Jesus' baptism. Some suggest Jesus was baptized as an example for us to follow. Others say he was baptized as an act of humiliation or to show that he fully identified with humanity. Still others say his baptism was an act of obedience as one called by God and responding to the prophetic office of John.
It may seem that understanding the exact reason for the baptism of Jesus is not as important as our being baptized as his followers. Yet, unless we understand why Jesus was baptized we cannot understand the full significance of our own baptism. And in order to understand why Jesus was baptized we need to go all the way back to the beginning.
When Adam sinned he acted in the capacity as the representative of humanity. Paul says that through one man's offense, judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation (Romans 5:18a, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This is the source of our "sin nature." It is something no one can avoid. Every human being ever born has inherited the nature of Adam. Every human being born is a member of the Adamic race.
According to the Bible, Adam was the "son of God" (Luke 3:38). The old covenant nation of Israel was also called the son of God (Exodus 4:22-23, Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15 etc.). These two may be understood as the first and second Adam. The first Adam dragged all of mankind into an adversarial relationship with God. The next Adam proved that humanity could not save itself even when God's standards of right and wrong were clearly delineated.
Finally the Eternal Son, came as a true human and was proclaimed the true son of God (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11). The Bible also tells us that Jesus is the eschaton (last) Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). In other words, he is the final son of God representative of humanity. He is the final federal or covenant head of the people of God. And just as Jesus died on the cross in our place, he was baptized by John at the Jordan River that day in our place. In other words, he was baptized as the eschaton Adam, the new covenant head of the people of God. The first Adam had failed; the second Adam (Israel) had failed. But he last Adam was assured of success. His baptism was not an act of humiliation. It was not primarily as an example. It was not an act of solidarity with sinners. It was a proclamation that the eschaton Adam, the new covenant head had arrived to undo the damage done by the first Adam. Jesus was baptized to symbolically wash away the sin of (the first) Adam, something he would definitively accomplish at the cross. Thus he began his ministry with the advance notice that there was a "new Adam" who was establishing a new humanity, soon to be washed by his blood and brought into right relationship with God once and for all. To fulfill all righteousness was a reversal of the actions of Adam. It is to initiate the unfolding of the kingdom of God.
When we are baptized it means we are identifying with the last Adam, as members of a new race of mankind. Yes, it symbolizes our being washed clean of our sins. But perhaps more importantly, it is symbolic of our being washed clean of the old covenant relationship. Baptism says we have died and are free from any covenant tie to Adam; we are a new creation united to Christ.
We will return to this topic in a couple weeks