The Lamb of God Was Baptized

George Reynolds, Janne M. Sjodahl

The evangelists tell us that John the Baptist, at the time of the maturity of Jesus, appeared in the wilderness of Judea and proclaimed that the kingdom of God, of which the prophets of old had spoken (Is. 40:3-5; 14) was at hand. His appearance caused a tremendous sensation. Large crowds from Jerusalem and Judea, and especially from the region round about Jordan, came to hear John, who urged them to repent and prepare themselves to receive the Messiah. Many believed, confessed their sins and received baptism for the remission of sins.

Even some Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism. There is reason to believe that they came privately (like Nicodemus to Jesus, because they did not wish to mingle with the common herd of sinners), wherefore John rebuked them with words that must have penetrated their very souls:

"O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits of repentance ... And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (John 1:19-28)

The main topics of the discourses of John were repentance, confession of sin, forgiveness, and the coming of the kingdom of God. But those were also the chief subjects that occupied the thoughts of the Jews when they were preparing themselves for the new year, the ten days of repentance between New Year's day and the day of atonement ("yom kippur"), and that great fast day, itself, wherefore it has been thought probable that John began his ministry during that time of preparation.

To this day, the Jews, in their synagogues, as part of their services on the day of atonement, confess their sins and pray, in unison:

"Thou hast chosen us from all peoples, thou hast loved us and taken pleasure in us, and hast exalted us above all tongues; thou hast sanctified us by thy commandments, and brought us near unto thy service, O our King, and hast called us by thy great and holy Name. ... And thou hast given us in love, O Lord our God, this day of atonement for pardon, forgiveness and atonement ... We have trespassed, we have been faithless, we have robbed, we have spoken basely, we have committed iniquity, we have wrought unrighteousness," etc. ... "Our God and God of our fathers, pardon our iniquities on this day of atonement; blot out our transgressions and our sins, and make them pass away from before thine eyes; as it is said, I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins."

Some such confessions and prayers were undoubtedly said by the multitudes by the Jordan, who came to be baptized, as a preparation for the coming of the kingdom of the Messiah. And now, the Messiah, himself, came and prayed. Not secretly, but openly, among the people. That is clear from John's reply to the Pharisees, "There standeth one among you, whom ye know not" (Luke 3:21)

Now we understand why the angel calls attention to the condescension of God as manifested in the baptism of his beloved Son. For Jesus actually took part, with the people, in the services of John. It "becometh us," he said, "to fulfil all righteousness." That is, all the ordinances instituted for the furtherance of righteousness. He had been circumcised, and became an heir to all the promises to Abraham. He observed the passover and the other festivals. He fasted and prayed, and now he accepted the initial rite of John, in the same spirit.

He had no sins of his own to confess, but, as the Lamb of God, the sin of the world had been laid upon him. It was for the entire world he acted, when he confessed and prayed for forgiveness, and then was baptized. That is clear from what John says on that occasion: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) That is what baptism was to Jesus.

In the form of a dove. Different opinions have been held regarding this phrase. Did the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove, literally speaking, or is that only a figure of speech? Matthew, Mark and John say that he descended "like a dove," which may mean in the manner of that beautiful bird, but Luke seems to give ground for the opinion that the Spirit had assumed the form of a dove, for he says, "descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him." But there is really no contradiction in the inspired accounts. The Prophet Joseph explains that the meaning is that the Spirit descended "in the sign of the dove." The Prophet says:

"The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of a dove, but in sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem, or token, of truth and innocence." (Hist. of the Church, vol. V, p. 261).

In all probability the Spirit appeared to our Lord "in bodily form" as he appeared to Nephi at the beginning of this vision (v. 11), but invisible to the multitude and even to John. However, John and the people, probably, saw a dove, as it descended and hovered over Jesus. The people paid little or no attention to the incident, but to John it was the sign by which he recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

The additional manifestation, the voice: "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (13)

Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1