Why did God say that He was pleased with Jesus at his baptism?

Q. Why was God pleased with Jesus at his baptism? What had Jesus done at that point? Jesus had only been baptized, he had not started his ministry, but the heavens opened and God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

I don’t think we should completely rule out the possibility that God the Father was saying that He was pleased with who Jesus had become to that point in his earthly life. Luke tells us that in Jesus’ youth and young adulthood, he grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.” So the Father could have been expressing His pleasure in Jesus’ godly character and spiritual maturity; Jesus had prepared well for the ministry he was just about to begin.

However, it’s important to realize that the language of being “pleased with” someone is actually the language of choice or selection in the Greek of the New Testament and the Septuagint (a  Greek translation of the Old Testament that was widely used in the time of Jesus and the apostles). For example, there’s actually an extra psalm in the Septuagint. It’s considered Psalm 151 and it’s attributed to David, although its authorship is actually uncertain. But in it, the character of David describes how he became king. He says that the Lord’s messenger (that is, Samuel) “took me from my father’s sheep and anointed me with his anointing oil.” He adds, “My brothers were handsome and tall, but the Lord was not pleased with them.” This doesn’t mean that that the Lord didn’t like them. Rather, David is saying, “The Lord didn’t choose them instead of me.”

And so we should understand that when the Father says  He is “well pleased” with Jesus at his baptism, He means in the same way, “This is the one I have chosen to be my Messiah.” As Gottlob Schrenk writes in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “What is meant is God’s decree of election, namely, the election of the Son, which includes his mission and His appointment to the kingly office of Messiah.”

We find confirmation of this understanding later in the gospel of Matthew when the Father’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism is echoed in a quotation from the book of Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

Here the idea of being delighted in (i.e. having someone pleased with you) is used in exact parallel with the idea of being “chosen.” We also see again that the use of this phrase is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit for mission, just as in the case of Jesus’ baptism.

So while the Father was no doubt pleased by the way Jesus had matured into godly character in preparation for his ministry, the phrase “with him I am well pleased” actually indicates how God has chosen Jesus to be the Messiah.

“The Baptism of Jesus” by Brojoe Joseph, a Christian artist in India. Paul Neeley comments about this image: “The place in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by his cousin became, for a short time, a very holy place , a very sacred space. So it seems fitting that a Christian artist of India would include the visual element of the mandala to visually ‘establish a sacred place.’ It’s almost as if the sky itself brightened with more intense beauty, and this baptismal foretaste of ‘being born again into newness of life’ is seen, at the scene, by those who have eyes to see the spiritual landscape. Further, the mandalas behind Jesus and the Holy Spirit dove are reminiscent of halos, albeit halos that are enormous and brightly colored. I think that these halos also have a role in visually ‘establishing a sacred place.'” https://tmblr.co/ZVz2Ix2Gx2YNa

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

2 thoughts on “Why did God say that He was pleased with Jesus at his baptism?”

  1. Could there be more than God just being pleased that HE had chosen Jesus or have chosen Jesus.
    What was the real reason for Jesus baptism> was it not “to fulfill all righteousness”. This is what Jesus told John the Baptist, so what is unrighteousness> SIN> What is righteousness? NO SIN.

    The picture reflecting Jesus baptism, is it not predicting the wrong message> If we look at Mathew Mark Luke we see that the Holy Spirit rested upon when Jesus left the water onto dry land? The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus when HE left the water?

    Your comments appreciated

    1. Regarding Jesus fulfilling all righteousness, see this post. As for the image of Jesus’ baptism, it’s simply the artistic license of the designer to depict the dove of the Holy Spirit above Jesus while he is still in the water. A painting isn’t supposed to be as realistic as a photograph; it’s an interpretation of its subject matter. It’s actually the standard composition over the history of sacred art to have Jesus in the center in the water, John on the right with his hand raised above Jesus’ head, angels on the left, and the dove above Jesus. See this image for example (Verrocchio, “The Baptism of Christ,” c. 1475, with some details by his pupil Leonardo da Vinci):

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