Q: #417. Why did Jesus get baptized?
A: Jesus clearly tells in (Mt 3:15) why He asked John The Baptist to baptize Him, saying, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (NASB) He was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” However, what this means is a matter of some debate. I will share my interpretation below. In addition to that, there are other possible reasons that scholars have come up with for Jesus’ baptism. I will list some of these as well. It seems likely to me that this key event was done for a combination of these reasons. I will list these in the order of most likely (as I see it).
#1. First, we must go with what Jesus Himself said, “to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean? First. let’s explain why we need the righteousness of Jesus. In short, the Bible tells us that we are ALL sinners (1 Jn 1:8,10)(Rom 3:23)(Eccl 7:20)(1 Kin 8:46). We are “unrighteous.” The wages of our sin is death (Rom 6:23) or Hell. Only God is truly righteous (Rom 10:3)(Rom 3:5)(Ps 11:7)(Ps 97:6)(Ps 145:17)(Ps 35:28). However, Jesus lived the sinless life we could never live while on Earth (2 Cor 5:21) (1 Pet 2:22)(1 Jn 3:5)(Heb 4:15)(1 Pet 1:19)(Jn 8:46). When we place our faith and trust in Him, and come through His shed blood, His blood covers our sins. The righteousness of Jesus (who is God) becomes our righteousness when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior (Rom 3:21-22). His sinless, perfect life is “imputed” or credited to us. (2 Cor 5:19,21) says it like this, “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them… (21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (Also see: Rom 4:5-8,24-25).
The baptism of John the Baptist was a “baptism of repentance” (Mt 3:11) “for the remission of sins” (Mk 1:4). Clearly, since Jesus was sinless (and righteous, since He was fully God), He did not need baptism for this purpose. However, perhaps the reason why Jesus asked to be baptized anyway is because His baptism was to fulfill OUR righteousness. In other words, only Jesus “fulfilled” the righteous requirements of the Father. In submitting to baptism, He was pointing to that reality; that only through Him can we be righteous enough to go to the Father. We must be “baptized” into Christ.
#2. Secondly, it is interesting to note the parallels between the ceremony that priests went through in the Old Testament to begin priesthood, and what happened with Jesus at His baptism. We can find this ceremony in (Ex ch. 29) and (Lev ch. 8). First, they could not enter priesthood until 30 years old (Num 4:3,35,39,43,47). Jesus was “about 30 years old” when He was baptized (Lk 3:23). Second, the priest was to be “washed with water” (Ex 29:4)(Ex 40:12)(Lev 8:6). Jesus was in essence “washed with water” in His baptism. Third, the priest was “anointed with oil” (Ex 29:7)(Ex 30:30)(Ex 40:13,15)(Lev 8:12,30). All through the Old Testament, oil was symbolic of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus came up out of the water after being baptized, He was “anointed with the Holy Spirit,” described as “descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him (Mt 3:16)(Mk 1:10)(Lk 3:22). This was a special anointing to equip Him as He began His ministry (See: Isa 61:1-2, Lk 4:16-21).
#3. Thirdly, when the Father spoke to Jesus (Mt 3:17)(Mk 1:11)(Lk 3:22), He used parts of two Old Testament verses which pointed to (prophesied) the coming Messiah (Ps 2:7)(Isa 42:1). When the Father spoke these words, He was affirming that Jesus was the fulfillment of these prophecies.
(***Note: The Father spoke audibly two other times in the Gospels: at the Transfiguration (Mt 17:5)(Mk 9:7)(Lk 9:35), and just before Jesus went to the cross (Jn 12:28).)
#4. Fourth, for Jesus to affirm that John’s ministry and baptism was a fulfillment of prophecy which pointed to Him. The ministry of John The Baptist as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” (Mt 3:1-3)(Mk 1:2-4)(Lk 3:4-6)(Jn 1:22-23) to “make straight the way of the Lord” (or to “prepare the way” for the Messiah) was prophesied in (Isa 40:3).
These 4 reasons seem to me to be the primary reasons for Jesus’ baptism. However, let me add 3 other possible reasons that have been offered.
#5. Fifth, to picture His (Jesus’) future death, burial, and resurrection (See: Lk 12:50).
#6. Sixth, as an example to Christians that we should be baptized. (Noting that Jesus’ baptism was by immersion; a portrayal of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection [See: Rom 6:3-6, Col 2:12].)
#7. Seventh, to publicly identify with man in his humanity.
Finally, while not necessarily a reason for Jesus’ baptism, another important aspect of it was that it clearly gives us a picture of the triune God. We see the Son being baptized, the Father speaking from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove to land upon Jesus.