Bob Eckblad makes some interesting points about Jesus’s baptism in his subversive and challenging book, A New Christian Manifesto. Noting, as many have done, the obvious parallels between Jesus being baptized and then going into the desert for forty days and the story of Israel and the Exodus, Eckblad notes some crucial differences. In the Exodus, the children of Israel go through the Red Sea on dry land while the Egyptians in turn are drowned in the flood. However, when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, he is immersed. He descends down into the depths of the flood where Israel has never trod.
According to Eckblad this has some fascinating ramifications. According to his analysis, Jesus’s baptism was a “symbolic entry into the fate of the ‘bad guys’—Pharoah, his army, chariots, horses, and riders. Jesus’ acceptance of this baptism and the entire New Testament teaching on baptism is nothing less than a call for all future followers to join in the fate of the enemies of God’s kingdom, the ‘them’ that we may deem worthy of exclusion, punishment, or death” (p. 34).
Interestingly, as Eckblad notes, this seems to shed some light on the description of Christ’s descent into Hell in 1 Peter 3:18-22. There reference is specifically made both to Jesus’s act of preaching to those who died in the flood (clearly also connected with baptism and the Exodus notion of salvation) and his lordship and dominion over “angels and authorities and powers.”
Thus, as Eckblad argues:
Here we see a distinction between human beings who died in the flood, whom he went and preached to, and the angels, authorities, and pwoers that became subject to him through his victory. The fate of God’s enemies is nothing less than death. yet death itself is undone by Jesus’ own death with and for the unrighteous. . . .
All distinctions between insiders and outsiders, the saved and the damned, perpetrators and victims, the righteous and the unrighteous, clean and unclean, Israel and the nations are leveled when insiders go under water, instead of through it on dry ground. Under water we all die totally. Under water, God’s chosen people join the damned. Wee come up dead to the flesh—that is, dead to any distinctions that would mark us as in any way superior, worthy. (p. 36, 37)