Reading Jesus’ Baptism in the light of the Old Testament
Many scholars have observed that the words from heaven during Jesus’ baptism are rooted in the Old Testament. This is Mark’s account:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
Though these words have meaning on their own, they come alive when set in their Old Testament context. Briefly, Christopher J. H. Wright draws out their significance:
This is/you are my son:
This is an echo of Psalm 2:7 which was originally a Psalm about King David and then any king descended from him. He need not fear the posturings and antagonism of his enemies because it is God himself who has anointed him king and protects him. The declaration: “you are my son; today I have begotten you”, which was probably said at the coronation or enthronement of Davidic kings as God’s way of endorsing their legitimacy and authority. However, the fall of Jerusalem and exile in 587 BC was the end of the line for the Davidic kings. So this Psalm was given a future look and applied to the expected, messianic, son of David would reign when God would restore Israel. The heavenly voice at his baptism identified Jesus as that very one.
My loved one, in whom I delight [am well pleased]:
This is an echo of Isaiah 42:1 which is the opening verse of a series of ‘songs’ in Isaiah 40 – 55 about one called the servant of the Lord. He is introduced rather like a king, but as the song develops (42:1, 49:1-6, 50:4-10, 52:13-53:12) it becomes clear that this servant will accomplish his calling, not by kingly power as we know it, but through frustration, suffering, rejection and death. By willing to pay that cost, however, the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but also be the instrument of bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.
My son, my beloved son:
Many scholars find in this phrase a third echo from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22:2, where God told Abraham, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”, and sacrifice him to the Lord. In the end, Isaac was spared, but Abraham was commended for his willingness to trust and obey God even to that ultimate end. This story, known in later Jewish lore as “the binding of Isaac”, was deeply studied and reflected on for double theme of Abraham’s willingness as a father to sacrifice his son, and Isaac’s willingness as a son to be sacrificed.
Lastly, Wright highlights the meaning of this last phrase in light of Romans 8:32:
Paul probably had this story in mind when he wrote Romans 8:32, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And almost certainly it was in the mind of God the Father as he identifies Jesus at his baptism as his only Son whom he loved, but whom he was willing to sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Only this time it would be for real. There would be no ram to substitute at the last minute. -Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 106-107
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