Read this: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22
Spiritual awakenings are rare, thus remarkable. People typically drift from God rather than toward Him — unless He kindles their desire to know Him.
When “all the people” from Judea and Jerusalem rush out to hear John the Baptist’s preaching, it signals God’s involvement. It also reveals how compelling John’s message was. He described the coming Messiah as being so much greater than himself, he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s slave.
In response to John’s preaching, multitudes confessed their sin and acknowledged their own unworthiness to be part of the Messiah’s kingdom. That’s why John baptized them. “Baptism” was a ceremonial metaphor for being washed or cleansed. These people wanted to be cleansed from their sin and accepted by God. They wanted to surrender to His authority and submit to His standards. Yet, none can achieve total righteousness and submission. We’re fallen, we sin, and we wander. The only way to be acceptable to God is for God Himself to make us acceptable.
So that’s what He did. He came, as Jesus (“God is salvation”), to perfectly fulfill the law by living a human life without sin. Then He, as the perfect sacrifice, bore the consequence of our sin by dying in our place. And because He was perfect, God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf and released Him back to life (the resurrection).
Jesus’ baptism, which symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection, foreshadows all of this. And it’s such important business, God didn’t let it slide by unnoticed. He created a scene.
Throughout biblical history, “the heavens” were the domain of God and His angels. Only a handful of witnesses had ever caught glimpses of the heavenly realm — Jacob, Elisha, Balaam’s donkey, etc. But now God throws open the heavens to reveal and authenticate what’s happening here. The text actually says He parted, rent, or tore open the heavens. Then His Spirit visibly entered the picture and settled on Jesus in the form of a dove.
People saw this. They heard God’s Voice identifying and accepting Jesus as the the perfect sacrifice. And they watched as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.* This is where Jesus was revealed to be the Christ, or Messiah — which means the anointed one.
* In his commentary on Matthew 1-7, John MacArthur puts it this way: “[Jesus] was here being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry. The Spirit anointed Him for His kingly service, as Isaiah had predicted: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61:1).”