The Jordan river is frequently mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, highlighting how important it is and the symbolism of it.
In particular, events that took place at the Jordan river prefigured the sacrament of Baptism, preparing the way for the spiritual cleansing that would take place.
Crossing the Jordan river
First of all, when the people of Israel cross the Jordan river to the “Promised Land,” this action points to what happens spiritually in baptism, as the Catechism points out.
Baptism is prefigured in the crossing of the Jordan River by which the People of God received the gift of the land promised to Abraham’s descendants, an image of eternal life. The promise of this blessed inheritance is fulfilled in the New Covenant.CCC 1222
Naaman and cleansing in the Jordan river
Elisha the prophet instructs the leper Naaman to wash in the Jordan river, cleansing him of his leprosy.
Elisha sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10)
So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times, according to the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, andhe was clean. (2 Kings 5:14)
This event prefigures the cleansing power of the waters of baptism, which clean the soul and purifies it from every stain of sin.
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river
With these Old Testament stories in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jesus would choose to be baptized in the Jordan river by St. John the Baptist.
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.Mark 1:9-10
God carefully prepared the way for the sacrament of baptism, inaugurating it at the Jordan river, a river that has been connected to the Promised Land and the idea of complete purification.