“immediately as he was stepping up.” The words in many versions, “coming up out of the water,” do not make it clear that the Greek text of Matthew and Mark do not refer to Jesus breaking the surface of the water of the Jordan, but rather to him walking out of the water, up the bank, and away from the river after the baptism was completed. The Greek text of Mark reads, anabainōn ek tou hudatos (ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος), “coming up out of the water,” where the word “ek” means “out of,” in the sense that he was getting “out of” the water, not standing in it. The water was below the level of the bank, as it is in all rivers, so in order to get out of the water, Jesus had to “come up” out of the Jordan. We need to become clear about the fact that someone standing waist deep in water is not “out of” the water, but very much in it. However, the text says that Jesus was coming “out of” the water.
The Gospel of Matthew makes the action of Jesus crystal clear, especially when combined with Mark. Matthew 3:16 reads, anebē apo tou hudatos (ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος), “he came up away from the water.” This is the same basic vocabulary as Mark but inflected differently, except Matthew uses the preposition apo, “away from,” not ek, “out of.” Thus while Mark says Jesus was coming “out of” the water, Matthew emphasized that he was moving “away from” it, walking up the bank and away from the Jordan River.
The Greek word anabainō (#305 ἀναβαίνω) means “to go up,” “to come up,” and so saying, like many English versions, that Jesus “was coming up” out of the water is a very literal translation, and the REV could have used the translation “coming up from” in Mark, and “coming away from,” in Matthew. However, these translations are too often misinterpreted to mean that Jesus was still in the Jordan River with John when the heavens opened, so given the context, saying he “was stepping up” out of the water is a very acceptable translation, especially in light of the fact that it exactly describes what he was doing. It is also the translation preferred by Hendrickson (New Testament Commentary). The noted commentator R. C. H. Lenski writes:
“The descent of the Spirit occurred after the baptism had been completed, while Jesus was walking up onto the bank of the river. We should not picture it as the artists do, as though it occurred while Jesus was being baptized or while he was standing knee-deep in the water. Matthew 3:16 has apo, Jesus went away from the water; Mark has ek...Jesus stepped out of (ek) the water onto the bank and walked away from (apo) the water up the bank” (The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel).
But why is it important to know that John’s baptism was finished and Jesus was walking away on the bank of the river? After being baptized by John, Jesus was truly ready to start his own ministry as the Messiah apart from the ministry of John or anyone else. By making it clear that the baptism of John was over and Jesus had left John, we can clearly see that the heavenly vision and voice were not connected with John, but were specifically and individually to Jesus (cp. notes on Matt. 3:16 by W. Davies, and D. Allison, The International Critical Commentary). It is appropriate that God would put holy spirit upon Jesus just as he started off to do his own ministry, and not as he was standing in the water with John, as if the two ministries were somehow related. The work of the Messiah could only have been done by the one man, the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Another time people stepped up and out of the Jordan was in Acts 8:38-39, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts makes the getting into and out of the water of the Jordan River a little more clear because it speaks of them both getting in the water and coming back up from it. We can mentally picture them as they “went down into the water,” getting out of the chariot, walking down the bank into the water, and then Philip baptizing the eunuch. Then Acts 8:39 says they “came up out of the water” (“stepped up out of the water;” REV) coming up the bank and back toward the chariot, at which point Philip was miraculously transported away from there to Azotus (the Ashdod of the OT). [For more, see commentary on Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:39].
“he saw...the spirit descending.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the “he saw” can refer to Jesus or John, the pronouns are unclear. But in any case, this was an event visible to anyone there and John did actually see it (John 1:32).
This teaching details the order of events before, during, and after the baptism of Jesus and explains how this shows that there is a distinction between John the Baptist’s ministry and the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Verses: Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:10
Teacher: John Schoenheit