Gibbs, Jeffrey A. “Matthew 3:13-17: Jesus, God’s Son, Is Baptized.” St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006, pp. 175-186.
Matthew presents Jesus’ baptism in a relatively short passage for such a momentous event. Gibbs finds care in the arrangement, as Matthew 3:13-17a forms a chiasm (Gibbs 2006, 177). Gibbs observes that the center of this chiasm places our focus on John’s unworthiness to baptize Jesus and Jesus’ insistence that he do it. Immediately after the structure ends, in 3:16b, Matthew leads the reader ahead with two “look” statements, moving us into the Old Testament passages which he uses to teach more about Jesus and his baptism.
In 3:13, the name “Jesus” is used after some time of absence. Gibbs reminds us of the name’s significance, God with us, who saves his people (Gibbs 2006, 177). The contrast between John and the one who is “God with us” is very plain, and would be to Matthew’s original audience as well. Gibbs makes it clear that Jesus could not have been present as a repentant sinner or as someone who is converting from unbelief to faith (Gibbs 2006, 178). Gibbs therefore treats Jesus’ explanation, at the center of the chiasm, in considerable detail.
Jesus’ statement, “allow it,” is seen as a concession. In his state of humiliation, Jesus asks to receive baptism, normally applied to sinners, since he is being identified as the one who bears sin (Gibbs 2006, 179). The baptism is applied “now” rather than in the last day, when Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Righteousness is fulfilled “for us” rather than “for me” since the baptism has an importance for all of God’s people. It is “proper” and has to do with “all” righteousness. Gibbs describes this event as something which speaks to the entirety of righteousness, that which the Old Testament describes and Jesus fulfills (Gibbs 2006, 180). Gibbs further builds a case that when the Old Testament speaks of God’s righteousness, it is making reference to God’s saving work. Again, Gibbs sees the passage pointing to an eschatological fulfillment, brought to pass in Jesus’ baptism.
After the baptism of Jesus, which Gibbs suggests would be a sufficiently important event, Matthew points out two additional events. First, there is an appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Gibbs sees this as a highlight of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Servant Songs of Isaiah 42:1-4 and 61:1-9 (Gibbs 2006, 182). Second, there is a voice from heaven, declaring Jesus not as the Davidic king but as God’s son, “the summation of God’s entire people Israel” (Gibbs 2006, 183). Gibbs sees this as another move by Matthew to portray Jesus as the one who stands in the place of the people of Israel (Gibbs 2006, 184).
Gibbs observes that it is common to make a move from the baptism of Jesus to an interpretation of Christian baptism. This has gone back as far as Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century (Gibbs 2006, 184). The interpretations have routinely said that by being baptized Jesus consecrated water for baptism. Gibbs, however, suggests that Jesus’ baptism points forward to his death for sinners, and that Matthew 3:13-17 does not speak to Christian baptism (Gibbs 2006, 185).