John, a throw-back to the prophets of the First Testament, came preaching the gospel of an apocalyptic Messiah who would establish God’s reign of Goodness on earth, banishing all evil. In order to prepare for this Messiah, John baptized people into a repentance and a new obedience to God. While he baptized with cleansing waters of the Jordan (the unifying waterway of the people of Israel), he anticipated the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with fire. While water might cleanse the surface, fire would cauterize the inner being.
We don’t know what motivated Yeshua to come to John’s baptismal liturgy. His decision to do so, however, signaled the beginning of a new era in human history. Something new was afoot, brewing in the inner being of Yeshua. His descent into the waters of baptism was likely similar to that of all the others who came to John — some combination of curiosity, a sense of incompleteness, a desire for change and renewal, a longing for deeper connection with God, and/or hope for the restoration of Israel. His ascent out of the water, coupled with his wilderness experience, could best be described as one of the “hinges of history.” The world would never be the same again. As he came out of the water he experienced the beginnings of a shaping of his calling, an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps.
Yeshua’s experience was three-fold: First, he experienced the tearing open of God’s very being. God was now vulnerable to human experience. Secondly, Yeshua encountered the presence of Spirit (God, mystery, divinity) as an inner reality (a shift from heavenly realms to the human psyche). Third, his discernment affirmed a calling to a messianic vocation (though not the apocalyptic Messiah that John was awaiting.) It is likely that there was great intra-psychic conflict within Yeshua at this point. It was that conflict that led / drove him to the wilderness where the shape of his messianic vocation would be completed.
Today’s scientists tell us that humankind is the universe’s capacity for consciousness and self-reflection. Prior to Yeshua’s baptism / wilderness experiences, God had been perceived as the dynamic power of the universe that acted upon human beings – a mysterious Other that interposed itself in and through the nations of the world (with a special perceived relationship with Israel). Beginning with Yeshua’s baptism / wilderness experiences, a theological, spiritual quantum shift occurred. God was now to be experienced within the depths of human consciousness — Yeshua being the first fruits of this mutational shift. God now had consciousness — a shift from awesome (magnificent and terrifying) power to a weak, vulnerable force best described as ‘love.’ God was the ‘Thou” which is to be experienced within and in relationship with others (especially the poor, distressed, and suffering).