“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)
The question of why Jesus got baptized seems to always enter into the mind of a new believer. And for a good reason, because Jesus never sinned; therefore, He did not need repentance. That even took John the Baptist by surprise when Jesus approached him for baptism, for he recognized that he was the one in need of baptism by Jesus.
In reading the passage of scripture, one can easily see John’s feeling of inadequacy to baptize the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John said, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). John is not challenging Jesus; instead, he is genuinely perplexed by the Lord’s desire to be baptized among sinners when He has no sin.
Jesus Himself tells us why He needed baptism when He said to John, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). When we look at the word righteousness in the original Greek language, we learn that it translates to the word “dikaiosune” (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay). The term refers to a condition that is acceptable to God or to satisfy the doctrine concerning how a man may attain a status that meets God’s approval.
That prompts a question: To what condition is Jesus referring? To answer that question, we must turn back the pages of scripture to the book of Exodus. In chapter 29, we learn about the consecration of men who were about to enter into the priesthood to serve God. The LORD said, “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water” (Exod. 29:4). Notice that Aaron and his sons did not wash; instead, they were washed by others at the doorway of the tent of meeting. That doorway was a public setting and, without any doubt, a humbling experience.
“Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him,” said the LORD (Exod. 29:7). Oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and we see that it was to be poured over the head of the new priest – to anoint him. The pouring over the head indicates an abundant amount of oil, and it symbolizes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was about to begin His public ministry and, as odd as this may sound, enter into the priesthood. Therefore, He proceeded to fulfill the legal requirements set forth by God under Old Testament Law that consisted of being washed with water and anointed with oil. We see these requirements fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus, where He first humbles Himself by partaking in John’s baptism, and He did so right along with a crowd of repentant sinners.
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”
“Now hold on,” one might say. “Jesus did not need spiritual cleansing, nor did He need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit for He was God made flesh.” Yes, that is true, but Jesus was both fully God and fully man; therefore, He fulfilled the legal requirements for a man to enter the priesthood. Jesus is the fulfillment of that which King David alludes to in his Psalm, where he said, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). Jesus said that His baptism was fitting to fulfill the righteousness of God. In doing so, we see that God the Father immediately acknowledged His satisfaction with His Son in whom He said He was well-pleased.
So what is the meaning of baptism today? There are two major camps regarding the purpose and intent of being baptized by immersion in water. One supports the belief that this form of baptism is essential for salvation, whereas the other cites it as an act of obedience to what the Lord has commanded as part of the Great Commission.
John the Baptist said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). John’s baptism served as an outward sign of an individual’s inward penitent heart and a sincere desire to be obedient to the Lord. John alludes to the fact that Jesus will baptize believers not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire.
When people accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they are baptized with the Holy Spirit, who then indwells in them to guides them and grow them in their Christian walk. As apostle Paul said, we are “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Then why do we baptize by immersion in water? It is because Jesus commanded it to be so when He issued the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
A new believer in Christ is baptized by immersion in water because this unites that person with Jesus in death to sin and resurrection to new life. It outwardly signifies the person’s submission to the Lord and inward desire to be obedient to God. Water baptism is not a necessity for salvation, for it is only by the atoning work of Christ on the cross, that is the shedding of His blood that can wash away the crimson stain of sin.
Do not be deceived by those who throw out a few scriptures here and there to claim that water baptism is necessary for a person’s salvation. Such claims are not congruent with the context of God’s word. Baptism is an act of obedience to Jesus in whom all authority has been given by our heavenly Father.