Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Had it not been for actor Simon Pegg’s loose lips, Daniel Craig’s cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens might still be a secret—a private joke among cast and a personal thrill for Craig, famous for his role as James Bond in Spectre and Skyfall.

Alexander S. Kunz

In May 2015, the seventh “episode” of Star Wars was seven months from its theatrical release. But this was the first Star Wars film in a decade, and the picture had the backing of new rights holder, Disney, which had selected wunderkind JJ Abrams as director. All of these elements combined to generate the highest fan expectations since Jar Jar Binks dashed their hopes in 1999.

Therefore, fans (myself included) lapped up any news related to the film, substantiated or not. I remember one Iowa Walmart employee accidentally set out some Force Awakens toys a week early thereby revealing some plot elements of the film. 

In short, the internet-fueled water cooler talk was ablaze with frenzied anticipation for what fans hoped was a return to the genius of the original Star Wars trilogy.

So still seven months out, Pegg’s accidental (or was it?) revelation that Craig donned the shiny white Storm Trooper suit only added napalm to an already out of control forest fire. At that point Disney had not even made it known that Pegg himself, who plays junk dealer Unkar Plutt, would appear in the film. But streetwise Star Wars gumshoes were hot on the trail. So when a reporter asked Pegg to confirm his role, he diverted attention saying, "I wasn’t a Stormtrooper. Daniel Craig, he was a Stormtrooper.”[1]

Although uncredited, Craig did indeed play the part of a hapless Storm Trooper in Episode VII. He denied it when the rumor first surfaced—"Why would I ever bother doing something like that?”—but Chris Lee from Entertainment Weekly confirmed Pegg’s story with "multiple sources close to The Force Awakens."[2]

Why was this revelation news at all? That Daniel Craig, a big shot actor, would appear in the film meant he had to have a big time role, right? We are all used to seeing him in the lead role, and surely he would have accepted nothing less from Star Wars.

Yet in reality, Craig's part was nothing more than a cameo, lasting all of seventy-eight seconds. And because he never removes his mask you wouldn’t even know it was him if someone hadn’t told you.

How to "Fulfill All Righteousness"

In a similar manner, this kind of irony is what we see at the baptism of Jesus. John had spent his entire life preparing for the messiah’s coming, so when Jesus arrived, he was beyond excited. And yet Jesus, would-be savior of the world, requested that John baptize him. Rather than grabbing the spotlight and boldly announcing his arrival, Jesus instead submitted himself to immersion in the Jordan river, the same river in which countless other sinners had experienced repentance.

Of course Jesus, though, was without sin. John therefore balked at Jesus’s request: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt. 3:14).

Which begs the question, why did Jesus submit himself to baptism?

Prior to John’s emergence in Judea, the practice of ritual immersion had morphed from Jewish cleanliness practice to a rite of conversion to Judaism. The Jews still used mikvehs (ceremonial baths) for removing uncleanliness as prescribed in the Law of Moses, but gentiles wishing to convert to Judaism also had to be “baptized.”

John came and flipped the script, baptizing Jews—a scandalous act in the eyes of the Pharisees. Jews descended from Abraham so they inherited his birthright. They had no need of repentance and baptism. And yet the masses flocked to hear John’s message in part because they were excited at his announcement the Messiah was coming. And at the hearing of John’s preaching the Spirit convicted the hearts of the people, and they repented and were baptized.

Jesus was Jewish, so he had no need of proselyte baptism. And he was sinless, having nothing to repent of.

Yet in response to John’s protest, Jesus replied, saying he must be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” Huh? What was he talking about?

Although the reasons may exceed three, the following are the most compelling:

1. Jesus submitted to baptism as an endorsement of John’s ministry.

Although John’s was a popular movement, the religious establishment largely rejected this scandalous baptism. By submitting to baptism Jesus endorsed John’s ministry and everything he stood for. Remember, John claimed Jesus was the Messiah who would baptize the masses with the Holy Spirit. Had Jesus not endorsed John, some could claim Jesus did not agree with what the Baptist said about him.

2. Jesus submitted to baptism to serve as an example for us.

By humbling himself and taking the plunge, Jesus demonstrated he was not above baptism. In the same way converts to Christianity should follow Christ’s example and submit to baptism.

3. Jesus submitted to baptism to mark the beginning of his ministry.

Shortly after Israel entered into the covenant at Sinai, God gave instructions for building the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altar, and various other elements required for worship. Then he turned His attention to the priests, Aaron’s descendants. He ordered that they be washed in preparation for service, outfitted with the priestly attire, and anointed with oil.[3]

In the same way, the “washing” (i.e. baptism) of Jesus served as an initiation into ministry. Remember the words of David who wrote, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa. 110:4). Jesus not only was a sacrifice and substitution for our sins, but he was also High Priest, offering himself as atonement.

Baptism marked the beginning of the end for Jesus on earth, a righteous initiation into a life of serving his father in heaven. Just as Daniel Craig, a Hollywood star, understood that the Star Wars franchise is much larger than himself, Jesus understood that God’s will trumped personal gain.

It’s not that John or his baptism was greater than Jesus, but John had the anointing of the Holy Spirit—an anointing that would pass to the Christ when the dove descended on him.

In asking this question, Why was Jesus Baptized? we might also ask, “Why was Jesus crucified? He was sinless.” But we know that answer don’t we? To satisfy God’s wrath. The punishment for sin is death, so Christ died in our place—though sinless—that we could be spared from the consequences of our sin.

Praise God.

Much of the context surrounding Jesus's baptism was established long ago in Mosaic Law and foretold through prophecy. If you've never read through the Old Testament, you should do so. It will give you a much greater understanding of the gospels and the rest of the New Testament too.

I put together a guide to, well, guide you through the OT. You can get it free here: How to Read Through the Old Testament without Getting Lost or Dozing Off.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/18/daniel-craig-to-cameo-as-stormtrooper-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens
2. http://ew.com/article/2015/12/17/daniel-craig-makes-cameo-star-wars-force-awakens/
3. See Exodus 29.

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