Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Location of the Baptism of Jesus in Relation to "The Crossing" of the Jordan

There is reliable data from the first four centuries of Christianity that the location of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist was at a spot on the Jordan River just five miles north of the Dead Sea. This spot, near the city of Jericho, is called by the ancient Jews "Bethabara" or "The Crossing," (see map to the left) for it is the precise location that the children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land.

The evidence of "Betharaba" being the site of the Jesus' baptism begins with Origen. He writes "It is said that on the heights of the Jordan there is Bethabara where, it is affirmed, John baptised (Jesus)." The ancient historian Eusebius of Cesarea says Betharaba is the place is known to "many believing brothers who, wishing to be reborn, are baptised there in the living current". Eusebias also wrote that Constantine confided to the bishops gathered at Nicomedia that he desired to be baptized at Betharaba by saying: "Finally time is ripe the salvific seal which I once thought I could receive in the waters of the Jordan, where, we are reminded, the Saviour was baptised as an example for us" (Vita Costantini IV, 62, 1-2). One of the early Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, an anonymous traveller from Bordeaux, France,  identified the site Christ's baptism five miles from the Dead Sea, also wrote about the site and connected it to the Ascension of Elijah "(From the Dead Sea) to the Jordan, where the Lord was baptised by John - there are five miles. There is a place by the river, a little hill upon the further bank, from which Elijah was taken up into heaven”. In the forth century Jerome, while studying in Bethlehem, writes that Betharaba on the Jordan River was a regular stop of the Christian Pilgrims to the Holy Land. He recounts the pilgrimage of his friend Paola whom he had accompanied to Betharaba ("the crossing") and "she stood on the river bank at dawn... she remembered the sun of justice (Jesus)..."

What is the signficance of Jesus being baptized in the same spot that Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land? Well, simply put, the type (Israel) is fulfilled in the anti-type (Jesus). Israel failed in their agreement with God through sin and disobedience, but Jesus did not. He fulfilled where Israel failed. The Old Covenant of Law demanded perfection, but at every turn, Israel revealed themselves imperfect. This is seen by the writing of the prophet Hosea:

1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. 2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images (Hosea 11:1,2).

In verse one, Hosea the prophet says that Israel is God's son and is called out of Egypt. Yet, in the very next verse, Hosea reveals Israel's unfaithfulness. They served Baalim not only at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but after arriving in Canaan, they continued to find themselves falling into idol worship.  The Law of God only revealed the sin and imperfection in Israel. Not so with Jesus. The apostle Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1,2 as he describes Jesus' return from Egypt after the death of Herod. 

15 (Jesus) was there (Egypt) until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son (Matthew 2:15).

The Greek word used in Matthew 2:15, translated "fulfilled,"  is the word "plero-o," which has two chief meanings:
(1).  To make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full, or
(2).  To render perfect, or to complete

The word is used by Matthew in quoting Hosea 11:1 in the second sense. Jesus completed what Israel failed to accomplish. He "rendered perfect", or "to carried through to the end,' what Israel was unable to perform. It is in this sense that Matthew uses the word.  The Israelites picture imperfect righteousness through their attempts to keep the Law, but Jesus fulfills all righteousness for imperfect sinners by perfectly meeting all the demands of the Law.

Until a person sees Old Covenant Israel as simply a foreshadowing of the New Covenant Jesus, there will always be the temptation to imitate the rigors of Old Covenant Law keeping. The question we must ask is simple: To which covenant do I lean? Upon which agreement do I trust? Do I constantly turn to the Old Covenant, looking to yourself to perform "The Law," as did the Israelites? Or, do I trust Him who has fulfilled all the Law in my stead, obtaining for me a righteousness that is not my own? Too many churches, too many pastors, too many Christians have sought to establish their own righteousness by their efforts to keep the Law (either Old Covenant law, the church's Law, or some other Law), when the Scripture reveals to us a perfect righteousness that comes from faith in the Righteous One who Himself becomes our Royal Law.

As the Apostle Paul so eloquently declared:

"I am found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from my obedience to the Law, but that righteousness which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is found by faith" (Philippians 3:9).

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Alisa said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It is truly humbling to see a woman who truly came from the "least of these" of society to be used by God far more than this "good Christian girl" that I am. What a humbling and inspirational example of obedience...

Cindy Hyde said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for taking the time to research it for us. My son asked me a question about the town and your article was enlightening. Again, thank you for taking the time to blog this article.

Cindy Hyde said...

Thank you for the enlightening article on Betharaba. My son asked about it and your research provided more than I expected. Thanks for being so thorough with the information.