Why was Jesus baptized? John preached a baptism of repentance, yet Jesus had nothing to repent of, so why would he be baptized?
There are several reasons why Jesus went through the process of baptism. We’ll start with the most obvious first. When Jesus approached John to be baptized, John tried to deter him by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him (Matthew 3:14–15).
Notice the reason Jesus gave to John. Jesus needed to be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ acts, from the time he approached John fulfilled the purification laws for a priest given in the Old Testament.
The first priests to be ordained to enter the Tabernacle of God were Aaron and his sons. Before they could enter the Tabernacle, they needed to be consecrated and purified, so only that which was “holy” would be able to minister before God. This started with Moses washing them with water and then anointing them with oil. In fact, several rituals were involved in making Aaron and his sons acceptable to approach God, which included the sacrifice of a bull and the anointing of their garments to make them holy (see Leviticus 8; Exodus 29). But to approach God and act as a High Priest for the people, Aaron needed to be “ritually” pure, and this all started with water.
As Jesus began his ministry, he knew that he would be the final high priest who would intercede for all of God’s children. To “fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus, therefore, followed the laws regarding sanctification. Jesus even talked about how he fulfilled the law.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”Matthew 5:17-18
Notice the last four words of that verse: “till all is fulfilled.”
- By getting baptized, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of a High Priest to be ritually pure.
- When he died on the cross, Jesus became the necessary sacrifice for our sins.
- When he rose from the grave, he fulfilled the entire law, putting to death all 613 laws the Jews were required to follow.
Keep in mind that these laws were given only to the Jewish nation. They were to be a separate people from the rest of the world, charged with showing the world what it looked like to live holy lives. Unfortunately, they failed. Only one person in history fulfilled all the requirements of the Law, and that was Jesus. When John baptized him, he wasn’t baptizing Jesus into a baptism of repentance. But he was preparing Jesus for the priesthood, as Moses did for Aaron and his sons. When the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, it was meant as a visible sign for John that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” the one whose coming he had been warning the people about for some time.
“When John baptized Jesus, he wasn’t baptizing him into a baptism of repentance. But he was preparing Jesus for the priesthood.”
So Jesus wasn’t baptized to signal to the world that he was repenting of his sins (since he had none), but it was to signal to all that the Messiah had just been anointed to begin his ministry of reconciling the people to God.
Why Are We Baptized?
When we are baptized, we are saying to the world, “I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour, and I will now live my life to honour Him.” It doesn’t save us, and we don’t suddenly become new and washed clean when we come out of the water. That happened the moment we accepted Christ as our Saviour.
But consider another reason we should follow Jesus in baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he did it to “fulfill all righteousness.” He followed the purification laws to complete his ordination as our High Priest. So is it possible that when we are baptized in Jesus’ name, we are also fulfilling all righteousness by preparing ourselves for a “royal priesthood”?
First Peter 2:5 says that as living stones, we are building up “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” While baptism is symbolic of how we have turned our lives over to Christ, it is also saying we have a righteous calling as servants of the High Priest.
Therefore, we too must be purified “to fulfill all righteousness” by following Jesus’ example. I realize that Jesus’ blood has already cleansed us, but the act of baptism also reinforces the idea that we are servants of Jesus, a royal priesthood.
As we live our lives day to day, this must be something that we never forget because, ultimately, that is what we are preparing for as sons and daughters of the King: to serve Him for eternity. For now, we are, as the Scriptures remind us, ambassadors here on earth, representing our Lord and Saviour (2 Corinthians 5:20). What we do here and how we react to all the problems life can throw at us will, in essence, prepare us for that great and holy day when we stand before God, ready to serve for eternity. And when does eternity begin? It starts today.