Baptism of Jesus by John
9. Baptism of Jesus by John
This passage begs the question: If Jesus did not believe in the apocalyptic vision, what was he doing being baptized by John, who clearly did believe in it? One possibility is that at this point in his life, Jesus had not necessarily rejected the idea of an apocalyptic messiah – that insight came after his baptismal experience and his time in the wilderness, which we explore in the next section.
Again, trying to put ourselves in Jesus’ sandals, we can project that John was making quite an impact among the Jewish populace, arousing Jesus’ curiosity about what John had to say. We can also imagine that Jesus -- himself preoccupied with his peoples’ plight under the Romans -- was inspired by John’s courage, since his actions were creating dangerous enemies (not just Herod but Jewish religious leaders as well). With all of that playing in his mind, it’s not hard to see how Jesus might have been motivated to experience the baptism that John was offering.
All of this is, of course, conjecture -- we cannot know for sure. But whatever Jesus’ motivation for undergoing John’s baptism, we do know that he had quite an experience: “the heaven was opened, and the Spirit of God descended, as a dove, upon him.” The language is poetic, not literal. If you’ve ever had what might be called a religious experience – what mystics have referred to as a direct perception of the oneness of reality that penetrates the soul but defies verbal expression -- you would be compelled to rely on poetic language to convey it.
We can also see how such an experience could lead to a total shift in Jesus’ identity – “And a voice came out of heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; this day have I begotten thee.” One interpretation: Jesus had an “ah ha!” experience of the first order, in which he became deeply conscious of his personal relationship with God.
However we might try and describe the experience, it was clearly powerful, and required Jesus to remove himself from his normal environment to assimilate what had happened. This brings us to his time spent in the wilderness.