Chapter 4 of the Gospel of John opens with an interesting report, one that seems to assert Jesus’s growing popularity. However, it is qualified with an editorial comment that made me take notice of it. From John 4:1-2, here is the brief report:
Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did).
This made me stop and think. I come from a church group that places significant emphasis on baptism, which I participated in myself and teach the importance of baptism in the life of one who believes and wants to be saved. And as I read this passage in John, I was at first pleased to see the emphasis on disciples of Jesus being baptized, but then I was taken aback by the qualifying statement that Jesus didn’t do the baptizing himself… why not?
Now, this report is positioned as a transition from John the Baptist claiming the superiority of Christ, especially in his statement, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” and the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well which started a religious revival in her town. All of this to indicate that Jesus’s disciples were growing. This seems to be the point of John’s statement that Jesus’s followers were overtaking the followers of John the Baptist. For the writer of the gospel, baptism was an indicator of becoming a disciple, and so the statement combining baptism and making disciples makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is that Jesus was not baptizing people himself. The issue is with the Pharisees, because while they were threatened by John the Baptist’s religious movement, they will be even more threatened by Jesus’s following. The Pharisee’s fear caused them to interrogate John the Baptist in the preceding narrative, and their response to him might be what caused Jesus to travel through Samaria, out of Judea. However, the issue with Jesus baptizing people comes into play if some person wants to argue that Jesus was simply an imitator of John the Baptist, carrying on his movement. Thus, one could claim that Jesus is not the original leader of his own following, but was inferior to John the Baptist who started it from nothing and helped secure a place for Jesus to build.
Therefore, the qualification of Jesus not baptizing himself does three things. First, it helps argue against the idea that Jesus is a follower of John of the Baptist and places the emphasis back on John the Baptist as the one who prepares the way for his superior, that is the Messiah, the Son of God. Second, it backs up the witness of the gospels in that Jesus is never recorded as baptizing anyone, but instructing his disciples to baptize. Third, there can be no claim that someone was baptized by Jesus, thus making them superior to other believers who were merely baptized by other disciples. This allows every disciple of Jesus to be baptized into Christ Jesus instead of being baptized by Christ Jesus. Anyway, it is interesting how a little qualification in scripture can contain such interesting implications.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.