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Jesus and John the Baptist

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Head of John the Baptist

John the Baptist's story
with gospel texts and Bible study activities

Elderly woman with newborn baby

Elizabeth, John's mother

 Herod Antipas, the 'fox'

Herod Antipas

Map of the Jordan River

The Jordan River

Bible text for this story

  Execution of John the Baptist, Duc de Berry Book of Hours

Execution of John





Jesus comes to the Jordan River 

The baptism of Jesus by John is a key moment. Jesus is named by God as Servant, Messiah and Son of God. 

John the Baptist was a well-known teacher in Galilee. 
He urged people to repent their sins Painting of John the Baptist pointing towards a figure of Jesus approaching

  • first by a personal repentance, where they acknowledged their sins to God

  • then in a ceremony which literally washed them clean in the River Jordan. 

This ceremony was a symbolic replaying of the Exodus from Egypt, where the people crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.

Jesus would certainly have heard of John and listened to his teachings. 

Now he approached the spot on the river bank where John taught, and offered himself as a candidate for the cleansing ritual, the baptism. John reacted with surprise.  

Read the blue text at end of page

John argues with Jesus

He immediately sensed he was dealing with someone extraordinary. Probably he had heard of Jesus and his teachings. In any event, he saw that this was no sinner in need of repentance, and he said so, emphatically. He pointed out that it was he who should have been coming to Jesus for baptism, not the other way round.

He also called Jesus the 'Lamb of God', an extraordinary thing to do, and said that instead of having his sins taken away by baptism, Jesus would be the one who took away the sins of the whole world. John saw no point in baptising such a person.

Photograph of the Jordan RiverJesus calmly corrected him. He wished to be baptised, and it was fitting that John should be the baptiser. John immediately gave in, acknowledging that it was Jesus who had authority, not him.

The people who witnessed this extraordinary scene must have been astonished, but it was only a prelude for what followed.

Read the green text at end of page


The Spirit descends on Jesus

All four gospels agree on what happened next. This was the moment when John realized who Jesus was. 

A dove or white bird hovering above, with blue sky As Jesus came up out of the water (the same word is used when describing the Exodus and the entry into the Promised Land), the heavens opened - the original Greek word means something like 'torn or ripped asunder', so that those below had a glimpse of heaven. Remember that at the time the gospels were written, people believed that the sky was a dome that covered a flat disc, the earth.

In the form of a dove, God reached down into the world of Jesus. People could see it happening: God  'in bodily form'. The gospel writers wanted their readers to remember the dove in Genesis, hovering over the dark waters of the Deluge, bringing hope to those trapped in the Ark below. 

Then God's voice was heard. He called Jesus 'Beloved Son', words that signalled a unique relationship between the two, Father and Son.

  • Jesus submitted to the baptism of repentance

  • he received the Messianic gift of the Spirit

  • and was declared the Son of God. 

These three things revealed the secret of who Jesus was: 
  • the Servant

  • the Messiah

  • the Son of God.

Because of what happened that day, John and the people around him realized who Jesus was, and the work he had come to do. 

Read the red text at end of page

What happened next? See Wedding at Cana

The Baptism of Jesus, modern photograph of reconstruction of the event


A most unusual icon dated at about 1300AD, showing Jesus stripped of all clothing as he moves down into the waters of the Jordan to receive his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. This is part of a four-piece panel showing the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ and the Transfiguration, four of the major events in the cycle of the Christian Church's year.


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What  the  Gospels say

1.  Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptised. Read the blue text

2.  John argues with Jesus.  Read the green text

3.  The Spirit descends on Jesus.  Read the red text

Matthew 3:13-17  13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Mark 1:9-11   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 opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; 11 and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."

Luke 3:21-22   21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."

John 1:29-34   29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' 31 I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

Image of Jesus rising from the water, with John the Baptist standing beside him


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Bible Study Guide:  The Baptism of Jesus Christ:  John the Baptist baptizes Jesus of Nazareth in the River Jordan; God speaks

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Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher