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The First Luminous Mystery

The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan

Background notes for discussion at Our Lady of the Rosary: Thursday, February 6

The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan


Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)


1. Inauguration of the Mission of Jesus Christ — His infinite love for the Father


The public life of Jesus Christ begins at His Baptism in the River Jordan, when He was about 30 years old.  Jesus’ Baptism prefigures the salvific act of His Death and Resurrection and reveals His infinite love for the Father.


In those days, John the Baptist had been baptizing people in the River Jordan with a “baptism of repentance,” telling them to repent and prepare the way for the Lord — John’s was a baptism for sinners. By going down into the water used for the “baptism of repentance” preached by John, Jesus voluntarily submits himself to a baptism intended for sinners in order to restore humanity’s divine image.


He surrenders Himself completely to His Father’s Will, accepting this “Baptism of death” for the remission of our sins, accepting and beginning His mission as the Father’s suffering Servant.  Jesus “lays down His life in the water, not out of desolation and defeat, but out of love and obedience to the Father.” God the Father receives Jesus’ acceptance by expressing His delight in His Son.


Here Jesus is already the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Three years later, through His Death (and our baptism into it), Jesus restores our capacity to live with Him in Paradise.


2. “God with us” — Revelation of the Holy Trinity


Through His Baptism, Jesus reveals Himself as “Emmanuel” and “Messiah of Israel” and reveals God in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.


The Old Testament prophets made many predictions about the Messiah and Emmanuel.  The word “messiah” means “one who has been anointed with oil.”   At His Baptism, Jesus Christ, the Son, is anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit.  The word Emmanuel means “God with us” and this becomes clear at Jesus’ Baptism.


John, his disciples and others present experienced Christ’s baptism in a supernatural light.  The Father’s voice announces that the same Jesus emerging from the Jordan’s waters is the Son of God.  Those present could also see that the relationship between the Father and the Son is a bond in the Holy Spirit, represented by the Dove, the same Spirit that Christ receives in His Baptism and has come to bring to the world.


3.  Transformation of Human Repentance into Divine Grace


Our Holy Father says the mystery of Jesus’ baptism is this — that Jesus came to the Jordan to give birth to a new order — to transform human repentance into divine grace with the “baptism of revelation.” The transformation is shown to us in the revelation of Christ’s divinity by the Father — at the moment of His Baptism, Jesus transforms the baptism of repentance preached by John into the baptism of revelation, pointing the way to the baptism of grace that He will establish at His Death.


Through Jesus’ participation in John’s baptism of repentance (intended for sinners), we are inwardly transformed by Him, of whom the Father stated, “This is my Son,” but Jesus also becomes outwardly similar to us.  Jesus asks John to pour water on Him so that, in identifying with our sinful condition, He could begin to eliminate the alienation caused by sin that keeps us separated from God and our true selves, created in the image and likeness of God.  Despite the suffering involved during His public life and ultimately His Passion, Jesus does not give up — He persists until His death on Calvary.


The Pope relates the baptism of repentance preached by John to the suffering, abandonment and loneliness that many of us experience in our everyday lives.  Willing acceptance of suffering is a form of doing penance. While penance involves punishment, it first and foremost is a means of conversion. Thus, while divine providence leads us often on paths of suffering — we also find God on these paths.  In this way, the “baptism of repentance” — our suffering — is transformed into the baptism of revelation and grace.  The sick and suffering, with Jesus at His Baptism, transform human repentance into revelation and grace, not only for themselves, but for the entire Church, as we are all united as the “mystical body of Christ.”


4. “The heavens were opened — the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed”


Bethany, in the present Kingdom of Jordan, where Jesus is believed to have been baptized, has also been identified with:



All of these events of the Old Covenant prefigure Christ’s Baptism and are fulfilled through Christ.


Crossing of the Jordan — The Israelites enter the land promised by God to Abrahams descendants.  Many consider the crossing of the Jordan as symbolic of death — prefiguring Christs death and our death in Christ through baptism.  The Promised Land represents eternal life — this promise is fulfilled by Jesus in the New Covenant.


Last Days of Moses — Moses led the Israelites to the banks of the Jordan River but was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. He died on Mt. Nebo overlooking this land that represents heavenly paradise.  Jesus, the perfect Son, fulfills the mission of Moses and extends it to the entire world through His mission to bring all people to eternal life.


Ascension of Elijah — Elijah, through Gods power, parted the Jordans waters and walked across it with his successor, Elisha, then ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:5-14).  The heavens opened up to take Elijah, then closed again.   At Christs baptism, the heavens opened again, but this time Jesus brought heaven down to earth with the inauguration of His mission to bring the Spirit to the people.


Heaven opening also signifies that the power of baptism comes from God above, and those who are baptized have the road to heaven opened up for them, a road which original sin had closed.  “At His Baptism, the heavens were opened — the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed — and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit... The Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church


5. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10: 39)


This teaching, given to us by Christ later in his public life, summarizes the meaning of the Mystery of His Baptism.  Jesus’ submission to the baptism of John “shows us how much we need to go out of ourselves if we are to find ourselves.  The incomparable beauty of Christ’s gesture compels us.  We cannot find the secret of the world in ourselves.  It is found only in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.”

“Through Baptism, the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection.  The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and ‘walk in newness of life’:

“Let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with him; let us go down with him to be raised with him; and let us rise with him to be glorified with him.  Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church

Main sources relied on:

January 2003 issue of Magnificat, including editorial of Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Navarre Bible (St. Luke)

The Word Made Flesh, by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)