Why Was Jesus Baptized? Studies in Mark, Pt. 10

When we read some of the New Testament passages concerning baptism, we find statements such as, “Repent and be baptized” or “be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” etc. Such remarks suggest that there is some type of relationship between baptism and deliverance from sin. Such remarks also leave us wondering, then, “Why, if Jesus never sinned, was He baptized?”

To some, the baptism of Jesus is nothing more than a refutation of His divinity (e.g. “If He was truly divine, He would not have sinned but since He was baptized for the forgiveness of sin, well, He must have been a sinner and He surely was not God.). Others see the baptismal event as the moment when Jesus became divine or when God began to do a new work in and through Jesus. Prior to His baptism, some argue, Jesus, as a mere man, had committed sin.

Really, though, remarks such as these are making the texts say something they never intended to. Moreover, these kinds of arguments, which are actually mere “implications” or “suggestions,” do not hold much water. In fact, the baptism of Jesus does not suggest that He was a sinner and it definitely does not do away with His divinity. No, the baptism of Jesus was intended to say and signal something totally different than those claims.

So, “Why was Jesus baptized?” Well, in keeping with the series, I want to explore the issue from Mark’s point-of-view. I would suggest that Mark offers us two reasons for the baptism of Jesus and that each of those reasons compliment one another. The first of these is that Jesus was baptized to show solidarity with humanity.

You will notice that Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is right at the beginning of his story. You will also notice that Mark has set the story up in such a way as to echo the exodus event (I have spoken about this in more detail here). In other words, Mark takes the story of Moses and tells the story of Jesus with similar echoes. Thus, just as Moses was leading the people out from under Egyptian oppression, through the Sea of Reeds (which Paul calls “baptism” in 1 Cor. 10) and bringing them to a new shore where he would guide them towards God’s presence and the Promised Land, well, Jesus is doing something similar. Jesus is leading the people out from under and oppressive Roman government (which the people probably participated in), through the waters of baptism, onto a new shore and into a new Kingdom.

To miss this point in the opening of Mark’s Gospel (which most commentators have!), is to miss out on one of the keys to understanding the baptism of Jesus: In the baptismal event, Jesus was showing solidarity with the people. Jesus was essentially saying in His baptism, “I understand your plight, I know your situation and I am here to change it by changing your hearts and minds as well as the hearts and minds of others.” So, to say it once more: The baptism of Jesus was a sign of solidarity with humanity. But this reason cannot stand-alone.

Thus, another reason that Jesus was baptized was to mark the beginning of the fulfillment of His mission. Yet, this mission would never had gotten off of the ground if Jesus had not first shown solidarity with the people; it would have never taken off had He not shown them that He could understand them and the situations they were in. I would argue that Mark situates this story right at the beginning of his account because this is his understanding of the event; Mark places the baptism at the beginning because it signals the beginning of the formal ministry of Jesus, a ministry opposed to Empire and oriented towards the Kingdom of God, His Kingdom.

It is at this point, though, that we must also acknowledge that when the people came out to be baptized, Jesus was not only showing solidarity with them, but they too were showing solidarity with Him and this new movement (why else would Mark mention it, surely not to impress us with “numbers”). And really, when we are baptized today, aren’t we saying the same thing? Aren’t we saying: God, I align myself with You and Your ways; God, I am showing my solidarity with Your life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension; God I am living my life to carry on Your mission and carry out Your work?

I would suggest, in closing, that from Mark’s vantage point, Jesus was baptized for two reasons: 1) To show His solidarity with humanity, and 2) To mark the beginning of His formal public ministry. And at the risk of repeating myself, I would say that when we are baptized into Christ, we are doing the same things, showing solidarity with Him and marking the beginning of our ministries. Furthermore, it is for these reasons (but not these reasons alone), that I would argue that believer’s baptism is essential!


  1. What about viewing Baptism as covenental? I.e. Jesus was baptized in order to show how this new covenant was being entered into, and did so because He Himself was entering into this covenant.

  2. Josh,

    Interesting question. While other Bible writers might suggest this, I'm not so sure that it can be drawn from Mark's writing. I would argue that there would be more echoes of "covenant" in the text. However, I could be missng those echoes if they do exist.

    Also, Mark seems to be more geared towards a "kingdom" mentality than a covenant one. He is more concerned with telling about the kingdom of corruption (e.g. govt.) being replaced with the Kingdom of God. To me, this is incredibly clear from the get-go. I think that this religio-political context has to be borne in mind when making sense of Mark.

    Outside of the fact that I see no (OT) covenantal echoes and the fact that Mark's emphasis is on "kingdom," I would probably stay away from the covenant language. I would further stay away from it today for practical reasons too, for instance, becuase covenantal theology has a lot of presuppositions and baggage attached to it. (I'm not saying to never speak of "covenants," don't misread me here) I just don't think Mark was doing covenant theology in the sense that we think of it today.

    So, from a textual and contextual point-of-view, as well as from a modern day theological point-of-view, I would say that Mark is not viewing baptism in general or the baptism of Jesus as covenantal. As I suggested though, I could be missing something. Perhaps if you had some examples or evidences for this, it could create some more discussion on the topic.

    Good thoughts Josh. Oh yeah, hope the semester and year at Franciscan goes well for you.

  3. hi Michael,
    I am a baptist and would agree with you that Jesus' baptism shows his identifying himself with us, imputed sin, a foreshadowing of the cross. Our baptism then is a sign of our imputed righteousness. But what do you mean by believers baptism is essential?

  4. Great post, Michael.

    Do you think the heaven σχιζομένους and the announcment by God that Jesus is Messiah parallel with Mark 15.38-39 [temple curtain ἐσχίσθη and the confession of the centurion that the sign over Jesus' head was true] contributes to your argument that this officially began His ministry [my word - campaign]?

    Jesus is officially declared King at His death in GMark...so does His baptism foreshadow this: specifically the ripping and the declaration?

  5. Reformed Christian,

    thanks for dropping by. what i mean by essential is "essential for salvation." i guess i should unpack that since i may mean something more by it than others.

    my understanding is that Jesus didn't die for just anyone, He didn't die for just one person, He didn't die just for you or me. Jesus came and died and was raised and will return for His bride, THE CHURCH. In the NT, baptism was the initiation into the Church, the Body of Christ. So, if you want to see Jesus as the Groom and "be in that number" when He returns, you have to be part of the Church--which, as I said, to the NT writers included being initiated through baptism. make sense?

    Glad you're commenting so much, that's great, you have some good insights and thoughts. on this post, i do see some of the connections between those passages. i don't know though, that i would say there is a "parallel" there, though there is, again, some undeniable connections. the biggest connection perhaps has to do with the "king" issue. i disagree with you a bit that JC is "officially" declared king in Mk. 15. In fact, He is declared king in 1.15!!!

    even more, as i have argued in previous posts, mk. 1.1-8 is a picture of Jesus replacing caesar (and JBap replacing caesar's forerunners), which then pictures Jesus the king in the opening episode. so, i think there are connections between the opening and near end but probably not "parallels" or things of that nature.

  6. Michael,

    I agree completely that Jesus' Kingship and the Kingdom of God are one and the same. I also fully agree with your assertion that the author of GMark is saying something contra Caesar with 1.1-8 narratively.

    I meant "officially" to be: someone says Jesus is the King of the Jews in public and is not quieted.

  7. Glad you found this post thought-provoking Celucian. I am still working through this issue, as I said, and think that I have arrived at a more sound view, in addition to what I've said here. Perhaps I'll post on it some time soon.

  8. Non orthodox christian sources (Celsus, Talmud, Patristic quotations) state that Jesus was a bastard (mamzer), his father a Roman soldier. Accepting this as true it is most likely that Mary was raped during the War of Varus which followed Herod's death. The purpose of John's baptism was to restore Jesus' ritual purity and/or admit him to the congregation of Israel as a convert, since he was not a full member by birth. (SEE J.Schaberg, Illegitimacy of Jesus.)

  9. Anon, This argument is totally untenable. The whole "Pantera" notion is absurd and best and incredibly fabulous at worst. Finally, there existed no baptismal practices in antiquity for "bastard" children in specific and especially not one that had the ability to reconcile bastard children to God the Father. There is nothing sound about any of what you are suggesting here. Not to sound harsh but this is some very poor exegesis.