Matthew 3: 13-15. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. The he suffered Him.”
To me, this incident is one of the most dramatic in all scripture. There is so much that could be written about just these few moments of time, because they affected all of the future.
This event marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He was about 30 years old, ready to face the next three years. It was His baptism that clarified that John’s baptism was NOT a baptism of repentance unto salvation, for He had nothing of which to repent. He was sinless, the God-Man, and was to be the Provider of salvation, not a recipient.
We also learn from Jesus’ baptism that John was taken aback when Jesus approached him. He understood fully Who Jesus was. He knew he was face to face with Messiah. How incredible that moment must have been, as he watched Jesus stride down to the banks of the Jordan, the river of death, and stand waiting to be baptized.
John humbly acknowledges his own need of redemption, but he also humbly obeys when Jesus tells him they must do this in order to fulfill all righteousness. For the word suffer in this passage, read the word allow. That makes more sense to us, and it is an accurate meaning of the word.
The symbolism of Jesus’ baptism is clear. Baptism for us today symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the hope of resurrection unto eternal life for us. It is the first step of obedience after salvation, not before; it does not provide salvation, but confirms it. By being baptized, Jesus was symbolizing that He would die and be buried. That is why we believe baptism is to be done by immersion, rather than sprinkling. More about that in a moment. When Jesus came up out of the water, He was symbolizing His resurrection, providing hope for all mankind.
So why do we immerse? Many, many churches baptize by sprinkling; often this is done when the recipient is a newborn. So let’s take a look at the word baptize and see what we can learn.
Baptizo is the Greek word used in this passage. Its meaning is to dip, to dunk, to make fully wet, to immerse. This word never changes throughout the New Testament. However, by the time the King James translators were set to work, the Church (the state-governed religious body) was already baptizing by sprinkling.
The word for sprinkle or pour is rantizo. It is not used in scripture to describe baptism, but the beleagured translators were on the horns of a dilemma. They had to find a politically correct way (nothing new, is there?) to translate this passage so as not to offend either King James or the Church. They came up with the idea of using a transliteration instead of an exact translation, and that is when our familiar word baptize was coined. Because it was nonspecific as to method, it could be read either way. The translators kept their heads on their shoulders and the King and the Church were happy.
Political correctness, however, often leads to biblical incorrectness. When we strive to please man rather than God, there will be error. Romans 6:3-5 makes it very clear that baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Sprinkling does not fulfill that symbolism. Down through history, there has been actual bloodshed over this issue. Satan has once again taken what God has established and twisted it to cause disunity. Worse, he has persuaded us that if a child is sprinkled as an infant, he is “safe,” and on his way to heaven. This type of “baptism” has surely sent many thousands of souls to hell. The Bible clearly tells us that it is our belief, not our works, that will gain us eternal life (Titus 3:5).