The Baptism of Christ -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:491 (Jul 1966)
Article: The Baptism of Christ
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


The Baptism of Christ

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor, New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

From its opening stages to the eve of its close the cross casts its shadow over the ministry of Christ. This has been tellingly caught in the great painting of Holman Hunt, “The Shadow of Death.” The day is fast ebbing away, and the golden rays of the setting sun are slanting in through an open door. The weary toiler at the carpenter’s bench, having just straightened Himself from His stooped and cramped position, stretches Himself for a moment. The sun, catching the outraised arms, throws on the wall behind Him the dark lines of a cross. It is Hunt’s forceful way of stressing the fact that even in the hidden years of obscurity His decease at Jerusalem was inevitable.

The baptism of Jesus Christ, with its vision of the dove and the heavenly voice in the words traceable to the great Servant of Jehovah section of Isaiah, also points on to the baptism of His death (cf. Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50). The accents are not so heavy as they shall become later, but they are definitely there. Ultimately the cross shall so possess Him that it can be said that “his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53), a text which Sangster used for a sermon so movingly entitled, “His Destination is on His Face.” Yet the lineaments are already forming at the baptism.

The narrative of the baptism, as that of the temptation, created acute difficulties for the early church. It seemed to say, at first glance, that Jesus underwent a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Were they not, then, His sins? How could He, the Son of God, occupy a position such as this? Furthermore, as Edersheim points out, “Nowhere in Rabbinic writings do we find any hint of a Baptism of the Messiah, nor of a descent upon Him of the Spirit

in the form of a dove.”1 The embarrassment is itself the strongest evidence of the genuineness of the accounts. The church surely would not invent an incident which raised so many questions about its Lord. It is most likely that the complete account of the incident is to be traced to our Lord Himself.2

The Hidden Years

The baptism, the second crisis in the Greatest Life, is referred to in all four of the gospels. Intervening between the birth and the baptism are the so-...

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