Short Meditations in John 3: 21. With his disciples
Jn 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.
Now this verse doesn’t say what I expected it to say. I expected it to say that Jesus went into the Judean countryside and preached and taught the crowds – but it doesn’t! Now we do find something similar to that in Matthew: “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee,” (Mt 11:1) but even there, in that quote, we see first of all Jesus instructing his disciples.
It is easy to forget, as we observe all the teaching ministry of Jesus and then his healing and deliverance ministry that attracted great crowds, that one of his primary roles to was draw to him “disciples”, those who he would teach to be like him (for that is what a disciple is, one who is taught and becomes like the master). To achieve this he had to spend time with them. So Jesus spent much of his time with these men (although women did accompany him) and during the course of their time together they would get to know Jesus, and get to know how he thought and how he worked.
We see his thinking, for instance, in the time when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest:“They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mk 9:30-35)
Do you see in that passage Jesus shares his future with them and shares the nature of discipleship – servant-heartedness and humility. But note he does it privately with them and not with the crowd. This was the benefit of being a disciple who travelled with him all the time. So we find, “he spent some time with them, and baptized.” Now the context is clearly Jesus just with his disciples so I would suggest that the reference to baptizing must have meant baptizing the disciples.
If part of their future ministry was to be teaching and baptizing people, then it would be essential for them to have each been baptized. Thus on these times away together, one of the things Jesus picked up on with them was that each one had been baptized.