John’s Gospel: The Baptism of Jesus, Part 2

The Synoptics

We should also consider the way the Synoptics relate the event —

(Mar 1:9-11 ESV)  9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

“Well pleased” is likely taken from a psalm of David found in 2 Samuel –

(2Sa 22:17-25 ESV)  17 “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.  18 He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.  19 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.  20 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in [Greek: was well pleased with] me.

21 “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.  22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God.  23 For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside.  24 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.  25 And the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.

Now, there are some deep but very subtle points here. John’s words echo Old Testament passages with profound significance.

We’ve already considered Psalm 2, which is repeatedly referred to by New Testament writers. David’s psalm in 2 Samuel 22 speaks of being sinless and obeying the Law perfectly. Surely this is prophetic of Jesus. In fact, consider the ending of the psalm —

(2Sa 22:51 ESV)  51 “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.”

This is an allusion to God’s covenant with David to bring the Messiah through him. It fits very well with the moment of Jesus’ anointing.

“Beloved Son” seems to have been borrowed from —

(Jer 31:20 ESV) 20 “Is Ephraim [Israel] my dear son [Greek: “beloved son”]? Is he my darling child ? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD. …

(Jer 31:33-34 ESV)  33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is the only other place “beloved son” appears in the Greek Bible.

Jeremiah 31 is a central prophecy of the new covenant and Messiah. “Ephraim” is a common metaphor for Israel (compare Jer 31:9; Hos 11:8). God is calling the nation of Israel his “beloved son.”

Why would God refer to Jesus by the same term he uses for the nation of Israel? Well, to recall this passage, in which God promises, due to his love for Israel, to restore them by making a new covenant of grace with them and refusing to punish them for the sins  of their fathers.

On of the recurring themes found in the scriptures regarding Jesus is his place as a substitute for Israel. N. T. Wright, for example, points out how the Suffering Servant of Isaiah is sometimes plainly an individual and other times plainly the nation of Israel. Jesus came to accept the just fate of Israel on the cross. He came to obey where Israel failed. He came to be the light of the world, a role to which Israel had been called.

I have suggested that Isaiah 40-55 as a whole was thematic for Jesus’ ministry and Kingdom announcement, which is to be understood not in terms of the teaching of an abstract and timeless system of theology, not even of atonement theology, but as the historical and concrete acting-out of the return of Yahweh to Zion to defeat evil and to rescue his people from exile, that is, to forgive their sins at last.  Within this notion, in turn, I have suggested that the allusions to Isaiah 53 are not, in fact, the basis of a theory about Jesus’ self-understanding in relation to his death; they may be, rather, the telltale signs of a vocation which he could hardly put into words, that the mebasser of Isaiah 52:7 (and Isaiah 40:9) would turn out to be himself, the Servant, representing the Israel that was called to be the light of the world but had failed so signally in this vocation.  The only way that such a vocation could be articulated without distortion was in story, symbol, and praxis: and all three came together in the temple, and in the upper room, and ultimately on the large and ugly mountain just outside the city gates.

Therefore, when God resurrects and accepts Jesus as king and priest, he offers resurrection, kingship, and priesthood to all Israel.

We miss this because we Gentiles read the Bible with little recognition of the special place and election of Israel. After all, soon after the gospel was announced to Israel and the Kingdom had come, the Kingdom was opened to the Gentiles, to enjoy the blessings of Israel through faith.

But before that could happen, Jesus came to the Jews, as  a Jew, to bring the gospel and Kingdom to the Jews. Thus, God’s words at his baptism/anointing refer to the coming of the New Covenant, but most especially to the substitutionary atonement offered by Jesus — accepting Israel’s fate on their behalves.

Is Israel God’s beloved son? Will God have mercy on Israel? Of course. How? By letting his own son stand in their place, becoming what they were meant to be, and suffering the fate they deserved — all on behalf of God’s beloved sons, the Jews.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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