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Jesus' Baptism and the New Isaac

by Brant Pitre February 21, 2020 0 Comments


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…and there’s one more that’s very important. It’s the image of Jesus as the new Isaac. Well, where do we see that? It’s in the very last line of the account of the Baptism here, when God says:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Any first century Jew, again, familiar with the book of Genesis, which was very popular...the books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—were as familiar to first century Jews as the four Gospels are for us as Catholics, practicing Catholics, because that’s what they would read every Sabbath, every Saturday in the synagogue. So if you go back to the Old Testament, if you think about the image of a beloved son, the first person that’s going to come to mind is Isaac in Genesis 22, the famous story of the sacrifice of Isaac. When Father Abraham is told by God in Genesis 22:2:

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori′ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So what’s happening? As we know, Abraham obeys. He takes his son Isaac. Isaac carries the wood of his own sacrifice up the mountain of Moriah. And then just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his son to slay him, the angel of the Lord comes and stops him. And instead of sacrificing his son, he points him to a ram caught by its horns in the thicket and says to sacrifice the ram. But the response to Abraham’s willingness to offer his son, in Genesis 22:15, it says this:

...the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore.

And then in verse 18 it says:

...and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

So notice what happens. Through Abraham’s obedience to God, his willingness to offer his only beloved son in a sacrifice, somehow all the nations of the Earth are going to be blessed through that. Now it’s not immediately apparent how that’s fulfilled in the life of Abraham. But in the New Testament, as we’ll see, that promise for all the nations—which means Israel and the Gentiles to be blessed—is not going to come through the sacrifice of Abraham’s beloved son, because he wasn’t actually even sacrificed, right? God didn’t intend for Abraham to actually go all the way through with it. What he intended for is for Abraham to perform an act that would prefigure what the heavenly Father would do with His own beloved Son, Jesus, in His passion and His death on Calvary, on the cross.

So when Jesus comes up out of the water in Matthew 3 in the Baptism, and God says:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

...this reveals to us that Jesus isn’t just inaugurating a new exodus. He’s not just the beginning of a new creation. He’s also the new Isaac, the new beloved Son, who will actually lay down His life so that all the nations of the world—not just Israel, but the Gentiles as well—can be blessed by the forgiveness of sins, by the ransom for sins that His death will bring about on Calvary and on the cross.

So...a lot going on there. All of that is swirling around underneath the surface of the Baptism of Jesus. And it’s very important, because it helps us understand: Why does the Church have an entire Sunday just dedicated to the Baptism of the Lord? It’s because the Baptism of Jesus isn’t just the end of John’s ministry and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The Baptism of Jesus is a sign. It’s a revelation that points back to the Old Testament and the way Jesus is beginning to fulfill the hope for a new exodus, the hope for a new creation, the hope for a new sacrifice that would bring about the forgiveness of sins. But it’s also pointing forward to the way He’s going to do that. Because the way He’s going to do that is not through the waters of His Baptism in the river Jordan, primarily, it’s through His Baptism in blood on the cross at Calvary.

And you’ll see this elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus will refer to the crucifixion—His crucifixion—as His Baptism. So for example, when James and John come up to Jesus, and they say, “We want to sit at your right and left hand in Your kingdom.” What does Jesus say to them? “Can you drink the cup that I drink, and can you be baptized with the Baptism with which I am baptized?”

Now you might think James and John are scratching their heads thinking, “Well, yeah. We were baptized with the Baptism with which you were baptized. We were disciples of John the Baptist. We received his Baptism.” (There is some speculation about that. There’s a debate about that, so don’t take that too literally.) But it’s can see how they might have thought He was referring to the Baptism of John. But He’s not talking about the Baptism of the past. He’s talking about the Baptism of the cross, because to drink the cup and to be baptized are images for the suffering He’s going to undergo on Calvary.

So in other words, the Baptism of Jesus is an anticipation of what He will accomplish in His crucifixion as the new Isaac, the new beloved Son of God the Father, whom God will offer and who will offer Himself as Son for the salvation of all the nations of the world, for the blessing of all the nations of the world.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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