St Cyril of Jerusalem comments on the high position John the Baptist is accorded: higher than Elijah and Enoch who were taken up to Heaven, and even than Moses, who talked with God and received from Him the Commandments. St Ambrose points out that since repentance avails naught without grace, and grace naught without repentance, repentance must first condemn sin, so that grace can blot it out. John is a type of the law, and he comes preaching repentance – and then Christ comes to offer grace. St Jerome adds to this by pointing out that John, as the Law, decreases in comparison with the Gospel which Christ brings. St Augustine explains that John is greater than any man born of woman because where all the prophets had foretold Christ, to John alone was it granted that he should both foretell him and see him in the flesh.
Chrysostom tells us that John does not baptise for forgiveness, but rather for repentance, and he is filled with the gift of prophecy when he tells os the power of Christ and the gift he brings to us all. The disciples of the Messiah baptise with water; He baptises with the Spirit and fire.
St Basil compares the baptism of Moses with that of John. That of Moses did not pardon all sins, and it required sacrifices and laid burdens on the people in terms of rules and regulations; it appointed the observation of days and seasons, and only then could baptism be received as the seal of purification. The baptism of John was more excellent: it covered all sins, neither did it require sacrifices and rules: indeed, with no delay, and to all who confessed their sin, it gave access to the Grace of God. But the baptism of the Lord surpasses both. It contains a glory beyond all that humanity could have hoped and prayed for. As St Jerome points out, the only baptism which is perfect is that which depends on the Cross and the Resurrection.
St Gregory Nazianzen tells us that as man, Jesus received baptism, and as God he gave absolution. In his baptism we see the beginning of the reconciliation of Heaven and earth, the celestial orders rejoiced, and the diseases of the earth began to heal, and the dove of God descends, and we are introduced to the wonder of the Holy Spirit. As Tertullian says, He came in the form of a dove that we might see the utter purity and innocence of the Spirit; as it was after the flood, so too was it then, that the olive branch was brought by the dove. This, Chrysostom points out, reminds us of God’s wrath and of Noah, and of God’s forgiveness after his wrath. This dove is not for sale in the Temple – God’s Grace is freely to given to all who will receive Him. In the Jordan we see the Trinity manifest: the Father bore witness; the Son received witness, and the Holy Spirit gave confirmation.