The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus begins his public life after being baptized in the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist (cf. Mat 3:13). He left Nazareth, until he reached Bethany, across the Jordan River, and went to John to be baptized. Being pure, free from all sin, he wanted to be baptized voluntarily with a baptism that was destined for sinners to “fulfill all justice” (Mt 3, 15) and as a gesture of solidarity, so that following in his footsteps we would do the same. John, however, objected to baptizing Jesus saying, “I am the one who needs you to baptize me!” (Mt 3, 14); but at the continued insistence of Jesus, John consented and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. This gesture of Jesus in the Jordan River is a manifestation of his annihilation.
The Spirit that hovered over the waters in the first creation, descends on Jesus, as a prelude to a new creation, the heavens were opened and the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove that descended on Jesus and right there in the Jordan River the Father manifests that Jesus is his “Beloved Son” (Mt 3, 16-17). So in the Jordan River Jesus immersed in the water pointed out the initial spiritual path. From this moment with the person of the Son of God, the Jordan River is not just any river since they acquire the character of sacred water, thus anticipating the water of our baptism that is pure and full of the Spirit that revives and gives new life to the souls of people in every place and time.
Later from Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan River, Jesus declared the good news of God, saying: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is near! Then repent and believe the good news of God! “(Mk 1, 15).
They came to John from all over Jerusalem, from Judea and the entire region around the Jordan River to receive the baptism of conversion, thus preparing the way of the Messiah and the new baptism with water and spirit: “after me comes one who baptizes with Holy Spirit and Fire ”(Mt 3, 11). After Baptism, Jesus began his public life, the people received him warmly and many flocked to him from the surrounding cities and towns. The sick were brought to him, he cured them and many people believed in him.
Then Jesus retires across the Jordan t River o the desert, above Jericho, forty days to fast and pray. He later returned to Jerusalem where he lived his Passover and the events of his passion, death and resurrection would follow.
1. Before Jesus
It is clear that God has given the land of Jordan a salvific look and full of special blessings
In the steppes of Moab, in the prairie of the Jordan River, while the Israelites were camping, God ordered Moses a census and between Moses and the priest Elazar they calculated who they were and what the distribution of the Promised Land would be like. (Cf. Numbers 26, 63). The lands of one part of the Jordan River were distributed, without crossing the other part of the river: To Reuben the south, to Gad the center, to the middle of Manasseh in the north of the country of Basaan.
The soldiers hoped to cross the river to conquer the other part of the land in battle; after instructing the soldiers and giving Joshua the blessing, Moses climbed Mount Nebo and from the top saw the Promised Land: To the north the white crown of Mount Hermon that is covered with snow almost all year round, below you see the Jordan River that flows into the Dead Sea; across the river you could see Jericho, you could see Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other mountains and sparkling waters everywhere. (Cf. Deut 32, 48-50; Deut 34, 1-5).
In this same sacred story, it is shown how the Ark of the Covenant with its shadow makes a sign of salvation for the people in the Jordan and the Israelites crossed this River on dry land, thus giving it a salvific and liberating meaning:
“When the people left their tents to cross the Jordan River, the priests carried the ark of the covenant at the head of the people. And as soon as those who carried the ark came to the Jordan River, and the feet of the priests who carried the ark touched the shore of the waters, and the Jordan River came down to the brim all the time of harvest, the waters that descended from above stopped and formed a single block at a great distance, in Adam, the city that is next to Sartan, while those that descended towards the Sea of Arabah, or Sea of Salt, separated by complete, and the people passed in front of Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of Yahweh stood firm, dry, in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed dry, until all the people had finished crossing the Jordan. “(Cf, Josue 3, 14-17).
4. Elijah and Elisha
The north of the country can boast of being the homeland of the prophet Elijah, who before being taken to heaven crosses the Jordan River on dry foot with Elisha: “they both stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the waters, which divided from one side to the other, and they both passed on lean foot. “(2 King 2,7-9); right there in the Jordan it was manifested that the Spirit of God accompanied Elisha after Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 2, 13-15).
5. John the Baptist
So the Jewish in Jerusalem sent some of the scribes and Pharisees to ask John, and John said to them, “I am not the Messiah, I am just a voice crying out in the desert and saying, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah announced. ” (John 1: 23-24).
How did it get lost?
This tradition continued until around the 14th century. With the power of the crusaders defeated and the Byzantine weakening, the site was neglected and the area returned under the control of the local tribes. East of the Jordan was no longer a safe place to go, and with no guarantee of safety, the pilgrimage to the site became less and less frequent, then practically stopped.
The discovery of the Madaba map
A Jerusalem scholar discovered the Madaba Map [in present-day Madaba Jordan] in 1897. This map was a 6th century mosaic depicting a map of the Middle East in the 6th century. The discovery and subsequent analysis of the map led to a renewed interest in the exact location of the Baptism Site. The pilgrims began returning to the area east of the Jordan River in hopes of finding clues to the location of the site
The 20th century and our days
A local Bedouin, Shaykh Salih Yacoub, remembers Christian pilgrims visiting the area in the 1920s (while the area was under Ottoman rule) and the building of a church.
World War I, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, World War II, and then the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973 made the Baptism Site a forbidden area for most of the century.
In our time thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to its waters moved by faith and with the desire to have a high spiritual experience: some receive the sacrament of baptism, others renew their vows and many others come with the desire to receive its purifying, healing and liberating attributes.
The 20th century and our days (continued)
Shortly, the Jordan River is a sacred river for the Abrahamic religions: Jews, Muslims and Christians, since its sacredness is given not only by its quotations in the sacred texts, but also because it represents the last stage to conquer the Promised Land, it was seen in such a miraculous way as the same crossing of the Red Sea, in recent times Jesus was baptized there and after Him the first Christians to our times.
For many years it was used as a militarized border environment on the Jordanian border, however, its visit is again possible due to the peace talks and a signed treaty that allows the visit of pilgrims, archaeologists, photographers and tourists.