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.
Matthew chapter 3 begins with John the Baptist preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John is described as being clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and a diet of locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, Judea, and the region around the Jordan went to him, and he baptized them in the Jordan. John said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In the Matthew account, when Jesus came to John, it says that John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” Jesus said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
When Jesus had been baptized, as He came up from 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.'”
Mark chapter 1 basically repeats the information found in Matthew, but in its rendering, differs in that it says that when Jesus came up out of the water, “He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.” The only other difference in Mark is that God said, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Luke’s account also coincides with Matthew and Mark. In chapter 3, the only notable difference is in the description of the Holy Spirit, which “descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him.”
John chapter 1 does not record the actual baptism event. This account does record Jesus coming to John, and John’s words, not found in the other gospels. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “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.’ Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
The record in Matthew states that “the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending…” This suggests God’s personal recognition and affirmation of His Son, Jesus, not a public confirmation. There is no indication that anyone other than John the Baptist saw the same thing that Jesus saw, or heard the words that Jesus heard.
It is beautiful that God would express His pleasure in His Son even before Jesus’ ministry began. Nonetheless, all the gospel writers agree that God spoke to confirm His Son, Jesus, and this began Jesus’ public ministry. For Christians, the teaching in Romans 6:3 and 4 brings the baptism of Jesus Christ to a present day reality.
“Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”