When did Jesus take our sins upon him?

Hi friends,

I received this question by email. With their permission, I’m sharing it here:

[I’m talking with some family members about] when Jesus took our sins.

They believe that Jesus took our sins when he was baptized by John the Baptist because there was no reason for Jesus to be baptized. Jesus wasn’t being washed of any sins so that was him taking on our sins.

I tried to explain that he took our sins at the cross. Because that is when he says, “Father why did you forsake me?” God had to turn away from him in order for him to take our sins, to be our scapegoat. This is because God is perfect and is without sin so he had to separate himself from Jesus in order for Jesus to take on our sins.

However, they aren’t convinced. How can I help them understand? I know technically this doesn’t change their salvation, they still are true believers, and they’ve truly accepted the Lord as their savior. But I just hate for them to be so confused about what the Bible says about Jesus giving his life for us.

What are your thoughts?



But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:7 NLT

In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:22-‬28 NLT


As I’ve reflected on this question, here are a few thoughts:

First, when talking with family members, it’s important to remember how many different motivations we can bring into the conversation. We want to avoid the temptation to “win” a theological debate. Even if our logic is impeccable, our scholarship is extensive, and our argument is profound, it’s all for nothing if we lack love.

It’s important to ask ourselves: what’s at stake in this conversation for me? And for them? Perhaps discussing those issues is more important than the theological discussion.

Second, once a conversation is a “debate,” I find that most people dig into their positions. It’s important to evaluate: Am I genuinely curious? Am I listening well? Am I exploring the truth - or trying to push an agenda? It could be far more valuable to spend time understanding their perspective so that we can love them better than to try and convince them of “our” position.

Third, what is “our” opinion? Hopefully, we continue to revise our understanding as we continue to engage with God’s word. As we study it over time, we will gain an increasingly mature interpretation.

Fourth, whatever others believe about the passage, we have permission and invitation from Jesus to apply this teaching to our lives so that we grow in faith and faithfulness.

With this attitude in mind, how might we approach this question?

We could answer the question from any of the places where Jesus’ baptism is recorded.

For now, I’ll look at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”

Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John allowed him to be baptized.

When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

It also helps to read Matthew 3:1-12 so we have more context for understanding John’s ministry.

Four questions come to mind:

1. What did John’s baptism represent?

2. Why did John try to stop Jesus?

3. Why did Jesus say his baptism would fulfill all righteousness?

4. Why did God so dramatically affirm this baptism?

Let’s look at each of these questions in turn.

1. What did John’s baptism represent?

R.T. France explains the significance of John’s baptism:

His practice of baptizing those who responded, just as Gentiles who wanted to join Israel had to be baptized, marked them out as the ‘remnant’ who now represented the true people of God.

It would make sense, then, for John to baptize Jesus: it would be an emphatic way for John to point to Jesus as the representative of God’s people.

Leon Morris also notes,

Matthew depicts John’s whole ministry as a calling on people to repent of their sins in preparation for the coming of God’s Messiah (who would save them from their sins, 1:21).

Initially, this is a bit confusing because Jesus doesn’t need to repent of any sins.

But if Jesus is going to represent us to God, then he needs to fulfill all righteousness. That includes acknowledging before God that our sins are wrong and we are to turn away from them.

2. Why did John try to stop Jesus?

So if it made sense for John to baptize Jesus, why did John resist?

I think the answer is, again, in Matthew 3:1-12.

We’re told that John prepares the way for Jesus (v. 3). John rightly understands Jesus to be greater than him (11-12).

So John could reasonably have felt that if he baptized Jesus, it could appear that he was superior to Jesus or held some authority over him. It is a significant act to baptize someone.

(As an aside, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, under God’s authority).

Leon Morris explains,

John sets himself over against Jesus and says that any baptism should be the other way around: he should be baptized by Jesus and not Jesus by him. He points to his need; it is not a question of what he wants (or what Jesus wants) but of need. This is a further illustration of John’s humility and of his recognition of his own sinfulness, for a baptism like John’s was for penitent sinners, not for people who needed no repentance.

John Nolland offers:

His point is that his own baptism is by its very nature provisional and anticipatory. By John’s reckoning the presence of the one coming after him should mean that the provisional gives way to that which it anticipates: baptism with the Holy Spirit (and also fiery judgment).

However, John realizes an important point: if he is to be under the authority of Jesus, and Jesus asks John to baptize him, then what is John to do? Baptize Jesus!

3. Why did Jesus say his baptism would fulfill all righteousness?

Nolland points out that these words have extra significance as the first words of Jesus in the gospel. This hints that we should look for other ways in Matthew that Jesus’ ministry fulfills all righteousness.

Nolland summarizes a few ways in which this baptism fulfills all righteousness:

  1. Jesus is identifying himself with God’s people
  2. Jesus is acting in humility
  3. At his baptism, Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit; this is the prerequisite for Jesus baptizing by the Holy Spirit.
  4. At his baptism, his identity as God’s son is affirmed.

To put it together in another way: this baptism shows us that Jesus perfectly represents humanity to God. And Jesus is approved of by God to represent God to humanity (which makes sense in light of all that we know from the Scripture, that Jesus is fully God).

4. Why did God so dramatically affirm this baptism?

As I sort through the commentaries, a common thread is that Jesus is affirmed to represent humanity to God and God to humanity by two voices: the voice of John and the voice of God.

So a final question: when did Jesus bear our sins before God?

A few passages point us to the cross as the event when Jesus paid the price for our sin.

First is Isaiah 53:4-6,

Yet he himself bore our sicknesses,
and he carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the LORD has punished him
for the iniquity of us all.

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Galatians 3:13

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written,*Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.

In this sense, Jesus’ baptism anticipates the cross, and the cross shows that the baptism was an important step in Jesus fulfilling all righteousness.

What difference does it make?

A few suggestions:

  • Jesus’ willingness need to be baptized shows us how far Jesus went to identify with us. When God feels far away, remember that Jesus got baptized to identify with you and with us.

  • As God delights in Jesus (who is God), God delights in us. Jesus is representing us to God, and the response is delight!

  • Jesus has fully paid the price for our sins. Let this motivate us to repent of our sins and enjoy the gift of righteousness.

I look forward to learning from other perspectives on these questions.


I really like how @michael1 and @Carson have explored this question.

This is such a good point! In other words, Jesus’ baptism signalled the beginning of his ministry that would draw to the climactic moment on the cross at which point he took our sins. If he had taken our sins at the start of his ministry, there would have been less need to spend time preparing his disciples for what was to come.

The very words, ‘it is finished’ in John 19:30 affirms this , I believe.

Just one more thought - this video by Gospel Coalition is less than 2 minutes long but gives a nice succinct reason why baptism doesn’t make us a believer (or wash away our sins) but that it’s an outward sign of what our faith in Jesus death on the cross did for washing away our sins.