The Baptism of Christ was originally celebrated on Epiphany, which commemorated three events: the arrival of the Magi (the wise men), Jesus’ baptism and the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine. Over time, the Baptism of the Lord feast was separated from the other events of Epiphany.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, January 6 is the day designated to celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It is also called Theophany, meaning manifestation of God, especially by the Eastern Orthodox Christians, who believe that at the time of Jesus’ baptism, God revealed Himself as the Holy Trinity, that is, God the Father spoke from the heavens, the Son of God was baptized, and the Holy Spirit descended in a form like a dove.
For the Roman Catholic Church and the churches in the Anglican Communion, the Baptism of the Lord feast is observed on the first Sunday after Epiphany. Most Protestant Christian groups acknowledge Jesus’ baptism as a significant event and even as a basis for the practice of baptism, though it is not a specially recognized feast day or celebration on the church calendar.
In part two of this study, all of the Scriptures will be considered. Here, the scriptural account is only summarized. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the baptism of Jesus is recorded. In these three narratives, John is preaching repentance and baptizing at the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus comes to John, who at first is reluctant to baptize Him. However, according to the passages written by Matthew, Jesus persuades John to do so “to fulfill all righteousness.”
John immerses Jesus and when He comes up out of the water, “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.'” (Matthew 3:15-17) After this, Jesus goes into the wilderness and is tempted by the devil. Upon returning, Jesus begins His ministry.
In the Gospel of John, there is no mention of Jesus’ actual baptism. John the Baptist twice points out Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Further, the gospel records that John bore witness, and said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:32,33)
Only in the Gospel of John are these powerful words of John the Baptist recorded: “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” (John 3:31-35)