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Immersed In Faith: Rediscovering Where Was Jesus Baptized

There was no firm proof of the existence of Jesus through archaeological study, let alone the location of any baptisms he may have received. The only thing that we know is that at least three of the four written gospels—Matthew, Luke, and John—record the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist[1]. These narratives tell us about his baptism in the historical Jordan River.

So, where is the Jordan River? And where precisely on the Jordan River did Christ’s baptism unfold? The Gospels are ambiguous on this topic, and Christians have been frustrated by this ambiguity over the years.

What River Was Jesus Baptized In?

Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River, close to the Dead Sea and about nine and a half kilometers east of Jericho, as recounted in the Holy Bible. We can see here that the attainment of the Old Covenant promise and affirmation of his authority as the Son of God are fulfilled in this place. Further, it is also marked as the starting point of Jesus’ ministry here on earth (Matthew 13:2; Matthew 4:13-22; Matthew 5-7; Mark 4:1–34).

Currently, two locations fight for the honor of “where John baptized Jesus:” The first is Yardenit, located just south of the point at which the Jordan runs into the Sea of Galilee.

The second is Al-Maghtas, a location that spans the river with a portion in Jordanian territory and a portion in Israeli land and is about 100 km south of Yardenit. The Dead Sea is only a short journey north of Al-Maghtas. In the past, Bethabara (which means “place of crossing”) or Bethany (beyond the Jordan) were other names for Al-Maghtas.

Where Is The Jordan River?

On top of playing a meaningful role in Israel’s rich history and the Holy Scriptures, the Jordan River, or Ha-Yarden in Hebrew, is an essential topographical part of the Middle East. The Jordan River travels roughly 251 kilometers from Mount Hermon, nestled on the border of present-day Syria and Lebanon, to the Sea of Galilee in the north of Israel.

The town of Nazareth (a part of the Holy Land), where historical Jesus Christ was raised (Matthew 2:19–23), is just a day’s journey from Lake Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1), the Sea of Galilee (Northern Israel), or Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). Where he executed his miracles (Luke 8:22-25; Mark 5:21-43; John 6:16-21; Luke 9:10-17).

After leaving Lake Tiberias, the Jordan River, supported by the Yarmouk and Jabbok rivers to the east, meanders across the Judean countryside (Genesis 32:22) until it joins the Dead Sea. At this point, it comes to an end. Before reaching the Dead Sea, the Jordan River forms a boundary between the West Bank of Israel and modern-day Jordan.

The Jordan River is very shallow and simple to cross in most places. Still, the current may be rapid and potentially hazardous in some spots. It has a lush, sandy shoreline and high, rocky cliffs. However, the Jordan has several minor tributaries and shallow pools found off the main river stream. On the river’s eastern bank, one of these small ponds or inlets is likely where John baptized Christ and other people.

oil painting depicitng a typical day at the jordan river

Where Was Jesus Baptized In The Jordan River?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the accurate location of Jesus’ baptism, knowing that all four gospels mention that it took place on the Jordan River’s banks in the care of his cousin John the Baptist (Mark 1:1–11; John 1:6–34; Luke 3:1–21; Matthew 3).

On the other hand, historical literature, archaeological evidence, and gospel accounts lead to a location on the Jordan River’s southern side, around nine kilometers north of what is now the Dead Sea and a little over six miles southeast of Jericho.

Ideal Place For The Ministry

Historically, this site proved to be a good location for John the Baptist to preach and minister because it was likely to receive a lot of traffic from visitors from the Judean countryside, the Judean hill country, Jerusalem, and Jericho.

In Bethany Beyond the Jordan, John the Baptist taught a message of forgiveness and admission of sin, represented by water baptism. At the same time, he urged his hearers to await the coming of the Messiah, uttering, “After me, comes the one more powerful than I, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit as opposed to the water I used to baptize you.” (Mark 1:7-8)

Most Probable Location Today

Although many in contemporary Israel contend that Qasr el Yahud, located on the west side banks, is the accurate site, Al-Maghtas, which means “immersion” or “baptism” in the language of Arabic, is currently thought to be the most likely exact location of John the Baptist’s work and the baptism of Christ.

We may never know where Jesus was baptized, but the controversy over which bank of the river He was baptized on could have something to do with two countries (Israel and Jordan) competing for tourism more than anything else. However, most evidence suggests that Bethany beyond Jordan, the location of John’s ministry and Christ’s baptism, really lies on Jordan’s eastern, or Jordanian, bank.

Who Baptized Jesus In The Jordan River?

The prophet John the Baptist, who was sharing the word that Israel’s promised Messiah was on the way, is presented to us in John 1:19–28. He was being questioned by the religious leaders, who asked about his identity. The Pharisees requested to understand by what power John conducted the baptisms because he was baptizing people.

John said that he had only been sent by the Lord to clear a path for him. Jesus would soon enter the scene and start his ministry on earth by getting baptized. Here, Jesus traveled from the place of Galilee to be christened by John based on the Old Covenant prophecy and John’s word (Mark 1:9; Matthew 3:13). John the Baptist baptized Jesus when he was about 30 years old.

John wished for his audience to understand the origin of Jesus’ entire work and earthly ministry here on earth to strengthen Christian faith. Jesus went to the east bank of the River Jordan, as described in John’s Gospel, and received baptism from him.

person being submerged underwater for a baptism

Conclusion

Because of the road linking Jerusalem and Jericho, the place was known to be highly traveled during the early times. Further, the Jordan River has a historical past and messianic significance (Joshua 3:14–17; Joshua 1:1–6; Ezekiel 43:2-4; 2 Kings 2:1–12).

The spot of Jesus’ baptism would forever link the Lord’s promise and message to the Jews and their aspirations for a prophesied Savior. According to the New Testament, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he arose from the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him…” (Matthew 3:16–17)

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