Why did Jesus choose water element in baptism?

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By BibleAsk Team


Jesus’ choice of water as the element for baptism holds profound significance, both spiritually and symbolically. Water, as an essential element for life, carries rich theological and historical meanings that align with the purposes and messages of baptism. By choosing water, Jesus connected His ministry to various themes from the Old Testament, fulfilled prophetic symbols, and provided a tangible means for His followers to enter into a covenant relationship with God. Here, we will explore the reasons for Jesus’ choice of water in baptism, supported by references from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

1. Water as a Symbol of Purification

In the Old Testament, water frequently symbolizes purification and cleansing. The Law of Moses includes numerous rituals involving water for purification purposes. For instance, Leviticus 15:13-14 states:

“And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean. On the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and give them to the priest.”

These purification rites underscored the necessity of being clean before approaching God. Jesus’ use of water in baptism aligns with this symbolic tradition of cleansing. Baptism represents the washing away of sin and the start of a new, purified life in Christ. This concept is echoed in Acts 22:16, where Ananias tells Paul:

“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

2. Water and New Beginnings

Water is also associated with new beginnings and creation in the Bible. In the Genesis account of creation, the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2):

“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

This imagery of water is connected to the concept of new creation and the birthing of life. Jesus’ baptism in water signifies the beginning of His public ministry and symbolizes the new creation that believers undergo when they are baptized. 2 Corinthians 5:17 highlights this transformation:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

When a believer is completely immersed in the water, this symbolizes the burial with our Lord; one is baptized into His death on the cross and is no longer a slave to self or sin. When a believer is raised out of the water, he is symbolically resurrected to new life in Christ to be with Him forever, born into the family of our loving God (Romans 8:16). Thus, water baptism represents the joining of the life of the believer in such close union with the life of Christ that the two become, as it were, one spiritual unity (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 27; Galatians 3:27).

As burial (or total immersion) in the baptismal water is followed by total emergence, so death with Christ to sin, which that immersion symbolizes, is to be followed by resurrection with Him to a new way of life (Romans 4:25). The Lord is not mainly concerned with forgiving a man’s sinful past, but with transforming him in the future. Justification is not only forgiveness, it is also obtaining of a new relationship with God, an experience of being set free from sin. Such an experience is possible only by faith in the Christ, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25, NKJV).

3. Water and the Flood

The story of Noah’s flood is another significant event involving water, symbolizing judgment and salvation. In 1 Peter 3:20-21, Peter draws a direct parallel between the floodwaters that saved Noah and baptism:

“who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Just as the floodwaters cleansed the earth of sin and saved Noah’s family, the waters of baptism signify the believer’s salvation and cleansing from sin through Jesus Christ.

4. Water in the Exodus

In the Exodus narrative, the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites is a crucial moment of deliverance and new beginnings. Paul references this event as a form of baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2:

“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

The passage through the Red Sea represents a transition from slavery to freedom, from death to life. This typology is mirrored in Christian baptism, where believers pass from the bondage of sin into the freedom of new life in Christ.

5. Water and Prophetic Fulfillment

The use of water in baptism also fulfills prophetic symbolism. Isaiah 44:3 connects water with the outpouring of God’s Spirit:

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring.”

This prophecy points to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is closely associated with baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16):

“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.”

This event underscores the connection between water baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.

6. Water and Jesus’ Own Baptism

Jesus’ own baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River is a pivotal moment in the New Testament. Matthew 3:13-17 describes this event:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'”

Jesus’ baptism served several purposes: it identified Him with sinful humanity, set an example for His followers, and marked the commencement of His public ministry. By choosing water, Jesus also connected His baptism to the themes of purification, new beginnings, deliverance, and the fulfillment of prophecy.

7. Water as a Universal Symbol

Water is a universal symbol, understood across different cultures and religions. Its use in baptism makes the ritual accessible and meaningful to diverse peoples. Water is essential for life, sustenance, and growth, mirroring the spiritual life, sustenance, and growth that come from a relationship with Jesus. In John 4:14, Jesus speaks of Himself as the source of living water:

“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

This metaphor extends to baptism, where water symbolizes the new life and eternal sustenance provided by Jesus.

8. Water and the Great Commission

In the Great Commission, Jesus commands His disciples to baptize new believers. Matthew 28:19 states:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

This command underscores the importance of baptism in the mission of the church. The use of water in baptism serves as a tangible, physical act that signifies an inward spiritual reality—entrance into the community of believers and the new covenant relationship with God.

Conclusion

The choice of water in baptism is deeply rooted in biblical theology and rich symbolism. Water represents purification, new beginnings, deliverance, prophetic fulfillment, and the essential sustenance of spiritual life. By choosing water for baptism, Jesus connected His ministry to the overarching narrative of Scripture, fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and provided a universal, accessible means for believers to enter into the covenant community.

The act of baptism with water continues to serve as a powerful symbol of the transformative power of the Gospel, uniting believers with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through water baptism, believers are cleansed from their sins, reborn into a new life, and initiated into the community of faith, all while anticipating the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in the new creation. As such, water remains a profound and enduring symbol of God’s grace, love, and redemption in the Christian faith.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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