When John the Baptist began his mission, preaching the baptism of repentance in all the country round about Jordan, people began to wonder if he was not the expected Messiah. He declared plainly, however, that he was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. He further declared, "I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire."Luke 3:16;
Although the Old Testament refers occasionally to washing as a sign of religious purification and consecration, John the Baptist introduced the concept of baptism as a process of repentance from sin and of the purification of thought and life. He evidently found it necessary to typify this mental transformation by the ceremony of immersing the body in water.
When Jesus came to John to be baptized in Jordan, John in deep humility asked instead to be baptized by him. Jesus, however, discerned the wisdom of conforming to the people's beliefs in the outward ceremony and so allowed John to baptize him. This incident culminated in one of the exalting experiences of Jesus' career—the declaration from on high of his divine sonship and the heavenly Father's blessing on His beloved Son. In keeping with the deep symbolism of the Bible, this was outwardly manifested as a dove descending upon him.