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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The (Hebrew Bible) background to the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3

The OT (Hebrew Bible) background to the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3

If you hear filmgoers talking about 'Easter eggs', they are referring neither to chocolate nor the Christian festival. In films, Easter eggs are images, ideas or information that are 'hidden in plain sight' and make reference back to earlier films. They can just be a form of entertaining in-joke for series fans—but they can often do a lot more, actually provide key insights into the plot and meaning of the film.

Three years ago, I went with my family to see the final episode of the nine main instalments of the Star Wars saga, the Rise of Skywalker. I wanted to enjoy it, but after an hour caught myself wondering 'When is this going to end?' It didn't feel as though there was an engaging plot; I wasn't that caught up with the characters; and as the film went on I realised I had a constant feeling of déjà vu. Just about every interesting scene appeared to be lifted from one of the previous films!

It appears that I am not the only one to have noticed it; this list offers 23 'Easter eggs' which even includes some punctuation on the opening scrolling text, whilst this site lists 31 references to earlier episodes and related computer games based on the franchise. It is interesting to note how this is a feature of the many film sequences that now dominate cinema. 

This Sunday's lectionary reading in Year A is the baptism of Jesus from Matt 3.12–17. It is a short and compact reading, and needs careful reading in its own right. But it only fully makes sense if we know something of the Old Testament backstory and can, as 'insiders', spot the key allusions to it.

Our reading begins by announcing that 'Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan...' Matthew has so far only indicated that John the Baptist has drawn followers from 'Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan' (Matt 3.5); we need to cross-reference with the Fourth Gospel, and meet John's disciples from Galilee in John 1.35–51, to know that his ministry reached further. But Matthew gives the impression that this is a determined decision by Jesus, crossing territories from Galilee through the Decapolis and Perea, to join John's eschatological renewal movement that is looking for the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.

Matthew is alone in recording the exchange between John and Jesus, in which John is reluctant to baptise Jesus. In the compressed narrative, we are not told why or how John recognises who Jesus is, but his objection is rooted in his earlier sayings about 'the one who is to come after me' in Matt 3.11. John appears to be saying 'It is I who need your baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, rather than you who needs my baptism in mere water!'

The post The OT background to the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3 first appeared on Psephizo.

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