A Brief Bible History/Section 2/Lesson 3


The Baptism

Luke 2:40–50

The New Testament tells very little about the boyhood and early manhood of our Saviour. One incident, however, is narrated. Luke 2:41–50. Joseph and Mary, we are told, were in the habit of going up from Galilee to Jerusalem every year in the spring at the feast of the passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, he went up with them. But when they left Jerusalem on the return, Jesus remained behind in the Temple, to study the Old Testament; and when Joseph and Mary found him, he replied to their inquiries, "Knew ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" The incident shows the presence even in the human consciousness of the boy Jesus of a knowledge of the great mission that he was called to fulfill and of his special relation to God.

Luke 2:51, 52

But the consciousness of these great things did not prevent our Saviour from performing the humble tasks of daily life and from being obedient to his human parents. Luke 2:51, 52. Jesus became a carpenter, and since Joseph also was a carpenter, no doubt Jesus learned the trade in early youth. Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55. For many years, till he was about thirty years old, the Saviour of the world labored at the carpenter's bench, and lived as an obedient son in a humble home at Nazareth. Luke 3:23.

At last, however, the time came for the beginning of his public ministry. Before that ministry is studied, it may be well to cast a glance at the condition of the country into which Jesus now came forward.

When Herod the Great died in 4 b.c., his dominions were divided among his three sons. Archelaus received Judea, the southern part of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its chief city; Herod Antipas, the "Herod" who is mentioned in the Gospels in connection with Jesus' public ministry, received Galilee and a district to the east of the Jordan River called Perea; and Philip received a region lying to the east of Galilee and to the north of Perea. When Archelaus was banished in a.d. 6, his territory was placed under the control of Roman officials called procurators. The procurator who was in office during Jesus' public ministry was Pontius Pilate. Herod Antipas, with the title of "tetrarch," continued to rule until a.d. 39; Philip until about a.d. 33. The public ministry of Jesus extended from a.d. 26 or 27 to a.d. 29 or 30. During most of that time he was in the territory of Herod Antipas and of Pontius Pilate, though occasionally he entered the territory of Philip.

Matthew 3:1–12, and Parallels

The beginning of Jesus' public ministry was prepared for by the work of John the Baptist. Matt. 3:1–12, and parallels. John was the last and greatest prophet of the old dispensation, who came just before the dawn of the new age. For centuries prophecy had been silent. But at last a prophet came in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the heart of the people for the promised Messiah.

Even in dress and in manner of life, John was like a prophet of the olden time. His food was locusts and wild honey; he was clothed with a rough camel's-hair garment; and his preaching was carried on in the deserts. The substance of his message is summed up in the words, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matt. 3:2.

The phrase, "kingdom of heaven," or "kingdom of God," was evidently familiar to the hearers of John, and the meaning of the phrase, up to a certain point, is perfectly clear. As the kingdom of Cæsar is the place where Cæsar bears rule, so the Kingdom of God is the place, or the condition, where God bears rule. In one sense, the whole universe is the Kingdom of God, for nothing happens apart from God's will. But evidently John was using the phrase in some narrower sense; he meant by the Kingdom of God the condition where God's will is wrought out to completion, where the sinful disobedience which prevails in the world is banished and God is truly King.

The Jews expected an age which should be under the perfect control of God. But they were surprised by what John the Baptist said about the requirements for entrance into that age. They had supposed that all Jews would have the blessing of the Kingdom, but John told them that only the righteous would be allowed to enter in. It was a startling message, since the hearers of John knew only too well that they did not possess the righteousness which was required. Repentance, therefore, or cleansing from sin, was necessary. And the sign of cleansing was baptism.

Matthew 3:13 to 4:11, and Parallels

Among those who came to be baptized was Jesus of Nazareth. Matt. 3:13–15, and parallels. Jesus did not need to be baptized for his own sake, for he had no sin to be washed away. But his baptism was part of what he was doing for his people. Just as on the cross he received the punishment of sin, though there was no sin of his own, so in his baptism he represented the sinful people whom he came to save.

When Jesus had been baptized, there was a wonderful event which was perceived not only by him but also by John the Baptist. Matt. 3:16, 17, and parallels. The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and there was a voice from heaven which said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This event marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry as Messiah. He had been the Messiah already, and he had already possessed the Holy Spirit; but now the power of the Spirit impelled him to come forward definitely as the promised One.

At the very beginning, however, there was temptation to be overcome. Matt. 4:1–11, and parallels. Jesus was led up from the deep Jordan Valley, where the baptism had taken place, into the wilderness on the heights. And there he was tempted. The temptation was based upon the holy experience which he had just received. The voice from heaven had designated Jesus as Son of God. "If that be true," said the Tempter, "if thou art really Son of God, use thy power to obtain creature comfort, test out thy power by casting thyself down from a pinnacle of the Temple, obtain the immediate enjoyment of thy power by doing obeisance to me." The Devil quoted Scripture for his evil purpose. But Jesus did not need to repudiate the Scripture in order to refute him. The Holy Scriptures themselves contained a sufficient answer to every suggestion of the Evil One. The great victory was won. The Kingdom of the Messiah was not to be a worldly realm, and it was not to be won by worldly means. The path to the Messiah's throne led by the way of the cross. And that path our Saviour was willing to tread for our sakes.


  1. What is known about the boyhood and youth of Jesus?
  2. Describe the physical features and the political divisions of Palestine at the time of our Lord. Where was Jesus born, where did he spend his youth, and where was he baptized?
  3. What was the meaning of John's baptism? Why was Jesus baptized?
  4. What was the meaning of each of the three temptations, and how did Jesus overcome them?