Jesus - the promised Savior of Israel - comes to John, who administers the baptism of repentance. Despite John's protest, he insists on being baptized, after which the heavens open and the holy spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, and the voice from heaven announces our Lord's sonship (Mt. 3:1,2,13-17). It seems that a good starting point for analyzing this very significant scene is to return to the genesis of baptism as such. Baptism is Greek baptisma [G0908], which literally means immersion. Our Lord, therefore, did not come to John in order to be sprinkled with water from the river, but to be immersed in it. Why immersed, this is explained by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 10:1,2. Israel, who leave Egypt in response to God's call, pass at the bottom of the Red Sea - in a sense they are immersed in it. When the crossing is over, the waters return to their place. Israel's path to the promised land begins. The immersion is therefore a symbolic caesura/ separation of life before God's call and the one that follows.
God's call to humanity in the Gospel age is twofold. The first is a general call to repentance in the name of Jesus Christ. "Truly, then, God overlooking the times of ignorance, now He strictly commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). The second is a special call addressed to the elect, urging them to take up sacrificial service for the Gospel. These two callings 'meet' in 2 Cor. 5:20 - the call to reconcile with God (through repentance) is a general call that "on behalf of Christ" is performed by those who were called with the special call and accepted it (by repenting in the name of Jesus; cf. Acts 2:38). The parable of the wedding feast reflects this twofold nature of God's calling. In the parable, everyone is invited to the feast without exception, the 'good' and the 'bad', but ultimately only guests with the right robe are allowed to participate in the feast, as "For many are called, but few chosen" (Mt. 22:14).
The result of a positive response to God's call is always consecration understood as a body sacrifice (Heb. 10:10,14). In the lecture Spirit, soul and body in the Bible I argued that the concept of the body has two meanings: 1) in the material aspect, the body is our physical coating; 2) in the spiritual aspect, the body is character. Because the character is recorded in the human nervous system (and thus in the material body), hence the Bible uses the concept of the body to describe this element of personality (Rom 8:1-13). Consecration taken in response to the general calling is the sacrifice of the body of character. Repentance literally means a 'change of thinking' (Greek metanoia) and refers to a decision of one who does not want to live in the body of sin anymore - does not want to give in to the lusts of the body that lead to exceeding God's law - but who wants to be obedient to it. Sticking to obedience, one develops a new character in the Lord's image, thus becoming the body of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 12:12,13; James 1:22-25).
The elect who hear the general call and react to it through repentance, receive a special call to take up the sacrifice of the body in the material sense. God realizes this call by giving the spirit of his love agape - the love of the truth (Rom. 5:5). The purpose of the elect is the service for God's Word - its study, teaching and proclaiming. The body is a tool in all this, especially if it serves to go to people and proclaim Christ (cf. Rom. 10:15). Hence, we will read the admonition of the apostle Paul: "I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). The consecration of the elect is more than just a good life. Their body is to be 'alive and holy', which indicates the proper development of character, but also it is to be sacrificed as "reasonable service" - service for the truth. By subjecting ourselves to the spirit of the truth, we live not for ourselves, but for the one who 'died for us and was raised' (2 Cor. 5:14,15).
It is worth noting, however, that baptism is not only immersion of the body, but also its rise. This element also has its equivalent in the experience of believers. If baptism is a response to the general call, then after immersing of the body of character in repentance, it rises in conversion. Repentance is a decision to give up sin; conversion is a adoption of the principles of the truth as one's own (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Because as a result of the process of conversion we become the body of Christ - his body is born within us, the Bible speaks in this context about birth of the spirit. Similar is the case with the special call. The immersion symbolizes the sacrifice of the material body, which must be consumed in death; the rise is an expression of the believers' hope that the result of the sacrifice of the body will be a new life in a spiritual body - "to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in Heaven for you" (1 Pet. 1:3,4).
All the above discussed aspects of baptism apply to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. When the surprised John protests against baptising the Lord, he hears in response that "it is becoming to us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt. 3:15). This means two things. First of all, although from the beginning he was foressen as the Savior of the World (Lk. 2:29-32), Jesus needed to confirm his personal decision. The whole of the Biblical teaching allows to conclude that God does not deprive man of will, but cooperates with it. This is obvious in the case of the general call because people have the freedom to reject it and many take this freedom. The special call is also not a compulsion. Firstly, because God gives his spirit of the truth to those who have already reacted with repentance when hearing the Gospel. Secondly, the apostle Paul writes that some "did not receive the love of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:10). So it is possible to reject it.
God acted fairly with our Lord (i.e. in accordance with His own rules), leaving him to make his own sacrifice. His baptism in the Jordan, therefore, symbolized the special calling: by immersion, he expressed sacrificing his own body/ life to serve the truth (cf. Jn. 18:37); by rising, he symbolized the hope for resurrection to the spiritual glory (cf. Hbr. 12:2). The controversial topic is whether the Lord's baptism could also symbolize his answer to the general calling. It is almost a common view in Christianity that Jesus was perfect from beginning to end, from birth to death. However, it seems that this view has little to do with reality. The fact is that the Bible states supernatural circumstances related to his birth (Mt. 1:20). But the fact also is that the same Bible leads the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph (not Mary), which clearly implies his paternity (Mt. 1:16).
Since the day of his birth our Lord was human - not God-man, not a perfect man, but a man - a descendant of Adam (1 Jn. 4:2). He was not born with the knowledge of God's law, but he had to learn it (Is. 7:14,15). His bodily weaknesses were like ours. He could feel hunger, fatigue, sadness (Mt. 4:2, 8:20, 21:18, 26:38). His merit was not that he was perfect, but it was exactly the fact that having weaknesses of the body, he did not give in to them, but bore "sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:21-25). Of course, Jesus was not anyman either. Undoubtedly, God carefully chose his parents and surroundings. From an early age, our Lord was studying God's law and called God his Father (Lk. 2:46-49). We read about him that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk. 2:52). On the one hand, it means that he was not perfect from the beginning (since he was making progress; cf. Heb. 5:8), even though on the other hand, he did experience a special providence of God, who predicted him as a tool of salvation.
The meaning of the Savior's baptism is expressed by his prophetic announcement: "Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God" (Heb. 10:7). The immersion in the Jordan's waters was a visible sign of his full devotion to God: both in the element of fulfilling His law and sacrifice in the service of the Gospel. This declaration of our Lord's full sacrifice was accepted by God, which was manifested in a voice from heaven and the holy spirit coming upon him in the form of a dove. Jesus' baptism was in a sense different from the baptism of all his followers. Earlier I wrote that God gives the spirit of the truth to His elect who, like the Lord, offer Him their lives. However, we get a particle only, which the Bible calls the earnest (Eph. 1:13,14; 2 Cor. 1:21,22). We are to develop this earnest, "until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
It was different with our Lord: he received the fullness of the spirit at one moment when he left the water (Jn. 3:34). In his case, there was no question of gradual development from begettal to birth of the spirit through development in knowledge and the use of the Word. The symbol of the open heavens means that at that moment he received a full insight into spiritual matters (Mt. 3:16). At the same time, the voice from heaven announced the Lord Jesus to be God's son, which means that at that moment he also experienced birth of the spirit (Mt. 3:17). The apostle Paul refers to this event in Rom. 1:4. He literally writes that our Lord "was marked out the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead". He became God's son during baptism in the Jordan, which was announced at the time. It happened in the power of the spirit of sacrifice, of which Jesus received a full measure. It also happened through the uprising of the dead because by baptism he symbolized death for his life and his human will.