Were John the Baptist and Jesus Cousins?

a stone arch on the beach with the ocean in the background
By Daniel Goodman
Kelli Harris
Edited by Kelli Harris

Updated July 9, 2024.

Painting depicting John the Baptist baptising Jesus Christ

John the Baptist is a prominent figure in our faith, and his relationship with Jesus is highly significant. Not only did John baptize Jesus, but he was also the person who advocated that Jesus was the Messiah. They are thought to be cousins; however, it is unclear whether John's mother, Elizabeth and The Virgin Mary were first or second cousin. Let's take a closer look at their relationship, as well as the baptism of Christ.

We read about Mary visiting her cousin while pregnant with Jesus in the bible. At the time, Elizabeth was pregnant with Jesus' second cousin, John. Both Mary and Elizabeth had miraculous pregnancies. The Christmas story of the virgin Mary is one that we are all familiar with; however, the story of Elizabeth's pregnancy was a miracle as well. Elizabeth and her husband were too old to have children but, by the blessing of God, conceived John. During the days of King Herold of Judaea, the angel Gabriel approached Elizabeth's husband, Zachariah and granted him God's miracle of fertility.

Do not be afraid, Zachariah, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John." Luke 1:13 NKJV

Before they were born, we can see that John and Jesus had a special bond. Even as an unborn child, John reacted joyously to being in Jesus' presence.

... as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." Luke 1:44 NKJV

These are the words that Elizabeth spoke to Mary when they both met during their pregnancy. Elizabeth was already around six months pregnant when she met with Mary, making John slightly older than Jesus. John is said to have been born in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, where today the Church of John the Baptist stands.

Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist

John had become a messenger of God, proclaiming that everyone who hadn't yet, should repent before the coming of the Messiah. Jesus approached John in the River Jordan and requested that John baptize him. John initially refused, not for feelings of doubt in Jesus, but rather for feeling unworthy. He stated that Jesus should be the one to baptize John, not the other way around. Jesus responded to John's initial refusal by saying:

Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15 NKJV

What this loosely translates to is that it is the will of God that Jesus is baptized, and so it will be done. Jesus here explains to John that God has a righteous plan and that this is John's part to play. John consented, and once the baptism was performed, the heavens opened, and God announced;

This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17 NKJV

It is important to note here that Jesus did not need to be baptized in the conventional way we know today. He was pure and free of sin. He was baptized in repentance for the world's sins and to mark the beginning of his ministry on Earth. This happened when both Jesus and John the Baptist were around 30 years old.

Shortly after this, John was executed under orders of the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, for reprimanding him on his divorce and remarriage. John the Baptist died a few years before Jesus was crucified. Many believe that Jesus' rising from the dead was actually that of John the Baptist due to the similarities in their nature as prophets.

The Importance of Jesus' Baptism Today

John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins on their mother's sides, but their relationship went much deeper than that. From before they were born, 
John felt a strong connection to Jesus. He started his ministry on Earth and prepared the world for Jesus the Messiah. The baptism of Jesus Christ is a show of humility and promise of God's mission and is an inspiration to all of us Christians, that even Jesus himself, who is pure and devoid of all sins, was baptized in the name of God, so we should all do the same.