Why Was Jesus Baptized?: insights from Theodore of Mopsuestia

One of the somewhat confusing issues in studying the gospels is the rationale for Jesus’ baptism. In fact, this issue was hotly debated and widely written about in the early church. The question goes like this, “If John’s baptism was a sign of repentance, then why would Jesus, who is described as sinless, undergo baptism?”

While studying for my message on Jesus’ baptism at Eastbrook for this past weekend, “Baptized with Water and Spirit,” I was encouraged and built up by insights from Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodore was a church leader in present-day Turkey during the 4th and 5th centuries. These insights are taken from a fragment of his writings.

Many raise the question, What in fact was the nature of this baptism with which the Lord was baptized? What did it amount to, the baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, for the sake of the salvation of all, became human? As such he was to show himself to be the beginning of a certain paradoxical life on account of which he is called Adam, since for Adam’s sake and for the rest of those who have arisen from Adam he becomes the beginning of everlasting life, in the same way that Adam was the original of this temporary and mortal life.

This Jesus, I say, recapitulated in himself everything that pertains to our salvation. For just as he both died and rose again, we also shall do so, in the same way. Since necessarily we were to be symbolically transferred from this present life by baptism and settled in that life which is to come, he saw to it that this baptism should be fulfilled first of all in himself. In his providential dispensation of things, he had received, before all others, this baptism of adoption which is by water and the Spirit. He thereby showed this baptism to be great and honorable, in that he himself, first of all, truly accepted it. Moreover, he himself identified himself with that part of society outside the law of grace, in which we also take part. For it was fitting the the Lord, in humility of spirit, should become subject both the the prophet and Baptist, like a common person from among the people. He was baptized that he might hallow the waters and bestow upon us, through the basin, regeneration and adoption and remission of sins and all the other blessings that came to us through baptism, prefiguring them in himself. As God, however, he is the One “who takes away the sin of the world,” and as such he has no need of baptism.

[Theodore of Mopsuestia, found in Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 51.]

Baptized with Water and Spirit

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church we explored the brief but highly significant episode of Jesus’ baptism by John in Matthew 3:13-17. This passage caused a lot of debate in the early church, primarily around the question: why did Jesus, who was without sin, need to be baptized with John’s baptism of repentance? While I do address that question in this message, my focus moves from four key theological truths of Jesus’ baptism toward application of that truth for a baptismal spirituality for our life with God.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”  (Matthew 3:13)

Facts of Jesus’ Baptism

  • timing
  • setting

Theological Truths of Jesus’ Baptism

  • Representative Messiah: John’s hesitation and Jesus’ purpose
  • The Descent of the Dove: the coming of the Holy Spirit
  • Jesus the Unique Son of God: The declaration of the Father
  • The Triune God Revealed: The Son’s baptism, the Spirit’s descent, the Father’s declaration

Spiritual Implications of Jesus’ Baptism

  • The pattern of dying and rising in baptism and the spiritual life (Romans 6:1-14)
  • The call to suffering in baptism and the spiritual life (Mark 10:38-40)
  • The joy of God’s delight in baptism and the spiritual life (Matthew 3:17; Acts 2:38)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the significance of Jesus’ baptism in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize the Father’s declaration over Jesus in Matthew 3:17
  • Set aside some time this week to read Matthew 3:13-17 again. Then write, draw, paint, or pray aloud your own response to this series of events in Jesus’ life.
  • Explore the theme of baptism in the New Testament through these Scripture readings:
    • Matthew 21:23-27
    • Mark 10:35-45
    • Luke 12:49-53
    • Acts 19:3-6
    • Romans 6:1-14
    • Colossians 2:9-12
  • Although it is drawn from the Gospel of Luke, you may enjoy watching “The Baptism of Jesus” by the Bible Project

A Call to the Wilderness: What We Need to Hear from John the Baptist Today

John the Baptist’s preaching and baptisms occurred in the wilderness of Judea at the Jordan River near the Spring near Salim (John 3:23).

The wilderness was an evocative place in the imagination of the Jewish people. It likely brought immediate memory of the Exodus. The wilderness was both the place between slavery and promise, but also the place where an entire generation died off because of disobedience to God.

Simultaneously, the wilderness was rich in imagery from the prophets. Again and again, the prophets called the people back to the wilderness for a transforming encounter with God. The wilderness was the place of turning from self to God and stripping away of false gods. The wilderness was the place of judgment, purification, and renewal.

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on brink of Israel’s catastrophic failure and exile, offers these strong words from the Lord:

“This is what the Lord says:
‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest.’” (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

The prophet Hosea, whose very life and message portrayed God’s desire for dedicated love relationship with His people, relates God’s longing to bring the Israelites to the wilderness for a sacred encounter with Him:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” (Hosea 2:14-15)

And so, when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, he calls people into a radical encounter with God. It is a call to turn from the self and turn to God. It is a call to be stripped of false gods and false self and to face reality. It is a call to judgment, purification, and renewal with God.

In these days, I cannot help but wonder if the people of God must once again enter the wilderness. Could it be that we have forsaken our first love, turned aside to other gods, and must be led away from our captivity into the place of judgment, purification, and renewal with God? May God give us grace to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to the church in this hour.

The Threshing Floor: a word from an early church leader

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “The Voice of One Calling Out,” I came across these words by an anonymous church father from homily 3 of an incomplete work on Matthew that I found both illuminating and challenging. They are a commentary on the final words from John the Baptist’s message in Matthew 3:12: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The threshing floor is the church, the barn is the kingdom of heaven, and the field is the world. Therefore, like the head of the household who sends out reapers to mow down the stalks in the field and bring them to the threshing floor that he may thresh and winnow them there and separate the wheat from the chaff, the Lord sends out his apostles and other teachers as reapers. He will cut down all the people in the world and gather them onto the threshing floor of the church, where we are to be threshed at one point and then winnowed.

As the grain of wheat enclosed in the chaff cannot escaped unless it has been threshed, so too it is hard for one to escape worldly encumbrances and carnal affairs while one is enclosed in the chaff, unless one has been shaken by some hardship. Note that once the full grain has been slightly shaken it sheds its chaff. If it is flimsy, it takes longer to escape. If it is empty, it never emerges but is ground in in its chaff and then thrown out with the chaff. In this way, all who take delight in carnal things will be like the grain and the chaff. But one who is faithful and has a good heart, once he experiences adversity, disregards those things that are carnal and hastens to God. If he has been somewhat unfaithful, however, only with great difficulty will he go back to God. As for him who is unfaithful and empty, though he may be sorry of his circumstances, like empty grain he will emerge from the chaff—he will never leave carnal things or worldly encumbrances behind, nor will he go over to God. Rather, he will be ground up with the things that are evil and thus be cast out with the unfaithful like the chaff.

[Anonymous, Incomplete work on Matthew, Homily 3, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 48.]

The Voice of One Calling Out

This past weekend we continued our series “Power in Preparation” at Eastbrook Church by looking at the appearance of John the Baptist near the Jordan from Matthew 3:1-12 and how this sets the stage for Jesus. John is an extraordinary character in the gospels, whose life and preaching is incredibly challenging.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  (Matthew 3:1-2)

John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-4)

  • Repentance
  • The kingdom of heaven
  • The voice (Isaiah 40:3)
  • The prophet (2 Kings 1:8)

The Wilderness (Matthew 3:1, 5-6)

  • Old Testament backgrounds: Jeremiah 2:2-3; Hosea 2:14-15; Ezekiel 20:35-38
  • Turning from self to God
  • Stripping and judgment
  • Purification and renewal

Brood of Vipers (Matthew 3:7-10)

  • Pharisees and Sadducees
  • Fruit in keeping with repentance
  • True children of Abraham
  • The tree about to be cut down

The One to Come (Matthew 3:11-12)

  • More powerful and even greater
  • A baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the life and ministry of John the Baptist in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize John’s message in Matthew 3:2
  • Set aside some time this week to read Matthew 3:1-12 again. Then write, draw, paint, or pray aloud your own response to this series of events in Jesus’ life.
  • Read more about John’s life in the following passages:
  • Luke 1:5-25, 39-80
  • Luke 3:1-20
  • John 1:6-8, 19-34
  • John 3:22-36
  • Matthew 11:1-19
  • Matthew 14:1-12
  • Mark 6:14-29
  • Matthew 17:11-13; 21:32
  • Explore Bible maps related to the life and ministry of John the Baptist here.