The Jordan River
The Jordan, or the Yarden, as it is known in Israel, is one of the most important rivers in the Old and New Testaments.
Running approximately 156 miles, the Jordan River is located in the land promised by God and separates Israel from Jordan and the West Bank—both of which have names relating to the river.
Uniquely, the Jordan River feeds not only the Sea of Galilee, but flows through it and into the Dead Sea—a virtually lifeless body of salt water at the lowest point in the world. That the fresh water of the Galilee and the salt of the Dead Sea could be connected AND fed by one river is astounding…
The Jordan River connects the dead to life, not only physically, but spiritually…
As crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land brought new life; as Elijah and Elisha went to the Jordan to transfer the old to the new; and as Jesus was immersed into His new season to bring us life.
It is a place chosen by God.
The Jordan in the Word:
In the book of Genesis, we read that Jacob wrestles with God by the ford of Jabbok—a place he renamed Peniel or Penuel—which flows into the Jordan River, making Jacob one of the first people recorded in the Word—besides possibly Lot—to have been in the land of Jordan and known those waters.
“So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.”—Genesis 32:30-31
This early connection to the elders of the Word and people of Israel is special, yet, the river would continue to play an important role in many biblical accounts. The next of which would involve coming to the Promised Land.
“But I must die in this land, I must not cross over the Jordan; but you shall cross over and possess that good land.”—Deuteronomy 4:22
Moses and Aaron, along with a generation of those who fell into fear, doubt and unbelief may never have gotten to cross over the Jordan, yet, the generation to follow, led by Joshua, would. The Ark of the Covenant went before the people, leaving dry land for them to cross, and on that temporarily dry land twelve stones were placed. One for each of the tribes of Israel…
“…the children of Israel… took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.”—Joshua 4:8-9
These twelve stones, and this specific location of crossing would play an important role many generations later when Jesus went to be immersed in the river… Yet, even before that time the river continued to play its part in the history of the Word.
The half-tribe of Manasseh, the tribe of Reuben, and the tribe of Gad—while sending their armed men across the Jordan to help take the land—remained in the edges of the Promised Land; the east side of the Jordan River. Thus, for them to go to the Tabernacle for the appointed times and for certain events, they would have had to cross the Jordan, but further still, many enemies would also have to cross the Jordan to reach God’s children.
“Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.”—Judges 10:9
The river was a source of life for Israel, but a barrier to be crossed for many of their enemies, and of course, a sign of the changing of seasons… when the generation of Moses was not allowed to cross over, but the generation of Joshua was.
This theme of transition and changing seasons continued to the time of Elisha. For Elijah, trying to encourage Elisha to stay behind, continued on his journey to the Jordan… There, to ascend to Heaven, and leave behind his mantle and a double portion for Elisha.
This transition of leadership, the change in season and the interplay between life on earth and death to it, all occurring at the Jordan—for though Elijah did not know death of flesh, he died to the life he knew.
“Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.’
“But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!’ So the two of them went on… Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided… so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
“And… Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?’
“…‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’
“So he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you…’ Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two… and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
“…Elisha saw it, and… cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’ So… he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went… by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah… struck the water, and said, ‘Where is the Lord God of Elijah?’ And when he… struck the water, it was divided… and Elisha crossed over.”—2 Kings 2:6, 8-14
The transitions that took place at the Jordan, the crossing into the Promised Land, all played a part in why Jesus was immersed in those waters… why He did not go elsewhere.
Because it was there that death and life were exchanged, purposes set in motion, and seasons changed.
“To everything there is a season,a time for every purpose under heaven.”—Ecclesiastes 3:1
Jesus went to the Jordan to be immersed by John the Baptist (known to his contemporaries as Yochanan the Immerser). He traveled through a dangerous area—what would have essentially been the Valley of the Shadow of Death—and went to the very place where the Israelites crossed over into their promise… their new season, purpose, and life. He went to the twelve stones. The foundation.
This place was not chosen by chance. Jesus did not go there simply because John was there—though there are many reasons why He chose to be immersed by John specifically. He went because it was a place of transition. And it was time. He had to be immersed into His calling. He was 30 years old; He was ready to take up His mantle as Rabbi; and in God’s law, He had to be immersed. Further still, because of who Jesus was and is, He had to be immersed by the High Priest.
Now, John was not the High Priest in the eyes of those in power—for the position had been sold. Yet, John was legally—in God’s eyes and ordinances—the High Priest. He was of the lineage of the priesthood.
Jesus knew this—as did those who went to John to be immersed—not only because He was the cousin of John, but because God guided Him. God led Him to John and despite John’s disbelief or pride, He did as God willed and was immersed at that place, at that time, and by John.
“Then Yeshua came from the Galil to the Yarden to be immersed by Yochanan. But Yochanan tried to stop him. ‘You are coming to me? I ought to be immersed by you!’ However, Yeshua answered him, ‘Let it be this way now, because we should do everything righteousness requires.’ Then Yochanan let him.
“As soon as Yeshua had been immersed, he came up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, he saw the Spirit of God coming down upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with him.”—Matthew 3:13-17 (CJB)
Jesus knew the importance of doing all God required in His Word. He studied the Word with due diligence to become a Rabbi. He was and is the Son of God and would ONLY do what God did and required.
The Jordan River is a place of transition… A place of turning the dead to life, old seasons to new, and giving fresh purpose.
For us as Believers, the connection with Jesus’ immersion perhaps stands out as having a greater purpose and importance, yet, the happenings in the Old Testament laid the foundation. Crossing over to the land God promised—changing the season for His people—put in place a foundation and pattern for Jesus to follow; because God laid it. God ordained the stones to be set in the river. God led Elijah to cross the Jordan before he ascended to Heaven. Nothing God did or does is by chance. The connection between death and life, the transitions that took place there, they are all a part of God’s grand design.
Today, while many of us may never physically see or touch the waters of the Jordan, there is still much that can be learned from it. There are still patterns that apply to our lives today… transitions that we can come to understand.
We are reminded that in life there are seasons ordained by God. That things move in a cycle, progressing forward, and that we—each in our own lives—have times where we must cross over. Elisha would not have received a double portion had he not crossed over. The children of Israel would not have received their promise.
We must trust our Father and cross our own Jordan River to transition into the life He has called us to live!
We must follow the patterns of God.