Jesus baptized by JohnThis is how Jesus responded when he approached John the Baptist for baptism. John had been preaching the coming presence of a greater teacher.
John's Jordan River baptisms and sermons brought large crowds of people wishing to hear from this teacher of wisdom. Though the text emphasizes John’s humble statement regarding Jesus, it is apparent that John the Baptist was a respected spiritual teacher, renowned throughout Judea.
The texts describe John as a devoted and dedicated preacher. He wore clothing from camel’s hair. His diet consisted of wild locusts and honey. His teachings were critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He called them a “brood of vipers!” (Matt 4:7) In other words, he was not a preacher of the established organized religion of that time and era.
Yet at the same time, we can tell that John the Baptist taught the Truth as passed down through Moses and Abraham. In his sermon to the Pharisees and Sadducees, he comments about Abraham as their father - a term often used to describe one's teacher.
In Mark, John the Baptist’s close relationship with God is confirmed. Here it details that Isaiah the prophet wrote of John from God’s voice: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way….a voice of one calling in the desert” (Mark 1:2-3).
Certainly John the Baptist was not only a glorified teacher but was the student and son of another glorified teacher. Luke details John’s father, Zechariah, and how John’s birth came to be. Zechariah was a priest “who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5).
Luke goes on to say that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth “was also a descendant of Aaron” (Luke 1:5). Luke then clarifies their devotion to God by saying:
“Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6)
Elizabeth visited by Gabriel
As Zechariah and Elizabeth were older and Elizabeth was thus far barren, the birth of John was preceded by the visitation of Angel Gabriel, who identified himself, declaring that,
“I stand in the presence of God,” (Luke 1:19).In this visitation, Gabriel proclaimed that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a child. Gabriel spoke of this child, John the Baptist:
“... for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).
John was also Jesus' teacher
It is obvious from this statement that John the Baptist was more than the provider of Jesus’ baptism. He was a teacher and messenger for God. He brought people back to God. This means he was qualified to teach the same message of love for God that Jesus taught:
“They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:21-23)Thus John humbly described himself. Though Gabriel may have proclaimed to John’s father the greatness of John the Baptist, John saw himself humbly, as a simple messenger for God. As far as his statement “Make straight the way for the Lord,” it is assumed this was a manner of speaking to make preparations for the coming of Jesus.
However, the phrase “make straight” - translated from the Greek term εὐθύνω (euthynō) meaning "to lead or guide straight" as a "helmsman" might- is about ones personal life. John certainly was not involved in governmental affairs or crowd control. “Make straight” is a personal process of preparing oneself.
“The way for the Lord” has been assumed to be some sort of path or road relating to Jesus. But since John was not speaking to a road construction company, we would better understand this “way” - from the Greek word ὁδός (hodos) meaning "a course of conduct" according to the lexicon - to be a personal choice or decision, with "the Lord" relating to the Supreme Being.
In other words: John wanted to encourage people to have a change of heart and decide to return to their relationship with God.
These are the teachings common to all of the prophets. Every prophet, from Abraham to Ezekiel, requested from his students that they turn to the Supreme Being and learn to love and serve Him.
Now when Jesus approached John for baptism, John immediately recognized Jesus, and indicated Jesus' position:
“I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me? (Matt 3:14)It is obvious from this statement that John felt inferior to the greatness of Jesus’ position.
“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” was how Jesus responded.
What is the purpose of baptism?
We might stop to consider carefully the meaning and purpose of baptism. While many modern Christian sects might consider baptism to be the process of cleansing the sins away from a person, there is certainly another intention involved in the process.
We might notice that baptism is conducted specifically by a priest or minister, who has himself become baptized by a priest or minister at some point. The process of baptism also involves the person being baptized giving authority to that spiritual leader.
Giving authority means the person being baptized in effect becomes that priest or minister’s student or disciple. Once the baptism is completed, the person then attends to the teachings of the minister. This process of accepting a teacher, who him- or herself has accepted a teacher and so on, is a process accepted in all faiths and sects that pertain to the teachings of God.
Moses, Abraham, Isaiah and so many others who were shown to have authority in the Gospels all themselves were students of great teachers within the same lineage of teachers. This creates what is termed a succession or lineage of teachers. It might also be considered a succession of students because before each became a teacher, each had to be a student or disciple of a teacher who also was once a student or disciple of their teacher.
If we consider that John the Baptist was a teacher who was the son of a teacher from the priesthood following from the descendants of Abraham, we can see that although Jesus had no need to accept the position of John’s student, he did so to illustrate the process of this student-teacher relationship, and the passing of the teachings from teacher to student.
Jesus later took on his own disciples
Once Jesus received the baptism from John he began taking on his own disciples. If Jesus were to gather his own disciples and baptize them prior to his baptism by John, we would probably not see the importance of accepting a bonafide teacher.
However, Jesus did indeed accept not just any teacher—not just any Pharisee from the local synagogue. He did not just walk into any church and take the baptism as a mechanical process. He approached a specific person, a dedicated preacher and the student of an esteemed priest named Zechariah, “who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5).
Thus we can understand that not only was Jesus telling us that the righteous act is to undergo student-ship or disciple-ship, but it was important to find a teacher who fell within an appropriate lineage of teachers.
A lineage of teachers
When we consider not only Jesus’ decision to be baptized by John, but his statement “to fulfill all rightousness,” we can appreciate how important it is for us to accept a living teacher who is in the empowered lineage of teachers. What do we mean by empowered?
Consider again that John’s father and teacher, Zechariah, who was “upright in the sight of God” (Luke 1:6). Zechariah was not only a priest, but was empowered enough to be visited by the Angel Gabriel. Thus we can see that Jesus chose one who was within an empowered line.
Much of the teachings of the Old Testament were presented and handed down through the generations of the teaching lineage of Abraham. Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Josiah and other saints and teachers who were all students of Abraham’s teachings. Some were related as in the same family, and some were not.
This is also confirmed by the fact that Jesus chose someone who was not his father to take baptism.
It should be pointed out that Joseph did not take up the priesthood or become a teacher. Yet because both Zechariah and John were students then teachers, and Zechariah took his training in the lineage of Abijah, we see that the lineage from teacher to disciple was not necessarily a family thing.
As we look deeper into the Old Testament, we find that many of the descendants of Abraham were kings or leaders of their day, but a priestly lineage was present yet often separate from the family. Though we find Jacob, Lot and Isaac were students of Abraham during the time of Elijah, we find instructions were “in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.” (1 Kings 17:1)
We also find many other cases where a descendant of Abraham’s family did not “walk in the ways of the Lord” as did others, while many, such as David and Solomon, certainly did walk with God. This confirms it is not simply a bloodline - but a spiritual family.
Were the teachings of Moses and Abraham lost during these times when the Abraham bloodline did not worship the Supreme Being? Certainly not. The teachings were carefully being passed down through the priestly lineage. And it was such a lineage that Jesus decided to take baptism from.
This bears discussion regarding the current state of affairs among ecclesiastical Christian institutions. Though we know that Jesus took on and baptized students, and he instructed them to go out and preach the gospel and take on their own students, the lineage coming from Jesus has been given up by ecclesiastical institutions that appoint and elect their teachers much as politicians are elected. Thus the lineage has been effectively abandoned by these organizations.
We know one thing is clear: It is not about a particular “church” or other organization. Jesus did not walk into the synagogue and be baptized by the local ecclesiastical official. That certainly would have been much simpler.
Jesus wasn't indoctrinated
No, Jesus chose a teacher who was not necessarily part of any organization or “church.” John was somewhat of an outcast, teaching the Truth in the desert, where people had to travel to hear him speak. In fact, John appears to be somewhat critical of the local organized church as he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to where he was baptizing:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matt 4:7-8)These words obviate that John was his own man - serving the Supreme Being - and not part of the establishment. The fact that he instructed them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” is clear. He was obviously requesting that they give up their pride and become devoted to God.
“And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’” (Matt 4:9) John said. He made it obvious that producing fruit is connected to devotion to God and not related to belonging to any particular family, club or group.
Jesus chose a particular teacher of the Truth, not an organization to join. Jesus never went around saying he was part of a particular church or organization either, just as John did. Herein lies the “righteousness” of the situation. Jesus was teaching us by example not to join a club or organization, but to carefully choose a teacher who keeps the Truth close, and focuses on devotion to God.
Today much of the sectarian world chooses their teachers quite haphazardly. The emphasis is put upon the organization or denomination itself, and whoever happens to hold the position as “priest” or “minister” for the local branch of the denomination will likely inherit the position of the teacher of those who attend that church.
This has little to do with empowerment. It has nothing to do with such a priest's devotion or ability to represent the Supreme Being. The “righteousness” that Jesus spoke of in accepting becoming a student of John through baptism has effectively been abandoned by these organized ecclesiastical Christian institutions.
This is confirmed by the “fruit” - as John mentioned. This "fruit" is apparent today when we consider how it came to be that many Catholic priests were accused of, and many eventually admitted to, molesting young children and adolescents who were theoretically their students. How is it that these priests were able to continue to teach despite the church becoming aware of their molestation? "Fruit."
Jesus' purpose was to serve the Supreme Being and please God with his activities. He didn't make up his own system or just appoint himself. He didn't set up an electoral college or a council of deacons to pick the teacher. Before he began preaching and taking on students, he accepted a bonafide teacher as a student, stating:
“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)