I saw the heavens opened:
The significance of Christís baptism

God is here

"Let us go to Jordan and see the Trinity." (Augustine). How and why were all three persons of the Godhead present at the Baptism of Jesus?

The first expression of the subsistence of three persons in one divine essence is intimated in Matthew's gospel, on the occasion of Christ's baptism, where the three persons are mentioned severally. But, I think, Augustine was overstating the matter when he said that at the Jordan we see the Trinity. For though the three persons are mentioned, and in close association with each other, the fact of the unity of God we gather elsewhere. To see the Trinity we have to assess the whole of Scripture testimony.

The Father makes his presence known by declaring his approbation of his Son; being invisible, only his voice is heard from heaven.

The Spirit is made known as he descended upon Jesus for the purpose of enduing him with special power at the beginning of his public ministry.

The Son is present in human flesh. The baptism was a crucial point in Christ's lifetime. He was being inaugurated as the Messiah, the bringer of God's salvation, the fulfiller of all prophetic utterances.

How fit and proper it was for the Father to set his seal thus upon his Son, and for the Spirit to anoint him with unction as the prophet, priest and king of God's elect.

The triune God is for us; redemption is his work, and here we are spectators of his divine acting at its very inception.

Why was Jesus baptised

Since Jesus needed neither regeneration nor repentance, why was He baptised?

Jesus, the Son of God, is the One who merited for us the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, whose initial operation in sinners is regeneration. Again, repentance and forgiveness of sins are proclaimed in Jesus' Name (Luke 24), according to his own commission. Jesus gained for us the gift of repentance; he himself needed no repentance.

Now Jesus, being the federal head of his own, had to identify himself with his people, and this included his baptism and death, his anointing with the Spirit, and his victory over temptation. He insisted that John must baptise him; this became him since in his role as Messiah, "born under the law" (Galatians 4:4), Jesus had to submit to all God's requirements for Israel. He had to be one with all those whose sins he had come to bear and take away. His baptism therefore is appropriate: it proclaimed that he had come to take the sinner's place under God's judgement. It is in this sense that he was baptised "to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15; cf. Isaiah 53:11).

Jesus not only taught us the perfect righteousness that God requires; he also secures God's righteousness for sinners - He himself is their righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). All this is pointed at during his baptism: it signified that his death was "a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28), and shows the perfect obedience in which he fulfils all righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5,6).

A unique baptism

"Such a baptism never will be again, so long as the world stands" (J.C.Ryle).

Virtually anything associated with the Lord Jesus Christ is unique, whether it be his conception in his mother's womb, his circumcision, his baptism, his teachings, his passion, and his resurrection as the first-fruits of them that sleep in him.

As the Representative of God's elect in the covenant of grace, he was under obligation to undergo all things necessary for their salvation, for just as by Adam's one act of disobedience all became sinners, so by Christ's one act of righteousness the many are counted as righteous.

The lives and destiny of all the saints are wrapped up in his: "Because I live ye shall live also." Our standing before God is wholly dependent on his standing: we are "accepted in the Beloved," not on our own, but solely by Him and his merits. The faithful are to be found in him, not having a righteousness of their own, which is by the law, but having a righteousness from God through faith in his Son (Philippians 3).

So all his active obedience, whatever he did, he acted on our behalf. His baptism was one such act of righteousness, not for himself, but for our sake. He became one of us: He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Now since his life was on a level all its own, whatever happened during his lifetime, is unique, including his baptism.

It is unrepeatable, and nobody else could in some fashion imitate him. Christians are baptised as saved sinners, in identification with the Holy Trinity, pledging obedience to the one living and true God. The purpose of Christ's baptism was wholly different.