Why Was Jesus Baptised?


‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:13-17

Before we try and answer the question at hand, let me point out some significant facts that I believe are relevant concerning Jesus’ baptism.

The Lord’s baptism was an important event in His life.

We need to understand that it wasn’t something that He accepted casually, on the contrary, it was an act about which He had clearly given a deep thought. How do we know this? We know this because He made a special journey in order to be baptised.

Matthew 3:13 reveals that the Lord travelled ‘from Galilee to Jordan’ to John, for a specific purpose, namely, ‘to be baptised by him’. This means that His baptism was an event which He obviously regarded as of deep significance. Indeed, it isn’t too much to say that His baptism was only equalled in its importance by His later Transfiguration.

Matthew reveals, that when Jesus took Peter, James and John ‘apart’ to the high mountain this, too, was a deliberate and purposeful act. He had chosen these three apostles to become the witnesses of a very special event, as He was ‘transfigured before them’, Matthew 17:2.

They were meant to hear the Voice which said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ Hear Him’, and, as we know, this was the Voice which, at His baptism, had said, ‘this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. Matthew 13:17.

The climax of John’s personal ministry.

The timing of the Lord’s baptism was deliberate. Luke tells us that it was after ‘all the people’ had been baptised that Jesus came to John to be baptised, Luke 3:21. John had come as the ‘forerunner’ of the Messiah, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, Luke 1:7.

His task was ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’, and the baptism of Jesus marked the culmination of John’s own ministry, and he was able to say, ‘this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, and I must decrease’. John 3:30.

Its special message to John the baptiser.

In a lesser sense, the baptism of Jesus also carried a more personal significance for John the Baptizer because it was the manner in which the identity of the Messiah was revealed to him. John said, ‘I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptise with water said to me, he on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ John 1:33.

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to John, he already knew Jesus as a relative because of the relationship that existed between their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, Luke 1:36, and he was aware of the sinless character of Jesus. How otherwise, when Jesus asked to be baptised, could John have said, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Matthew 3:14.

This surely indicates prior acquaintance. My own view is that this, from John, wasn’t so much a question as an exclamation of surprise, of amazement! That one whom he knew to be so holy should request to be baptised by him. But, although John knew Jesus, he didn’t know Him as the Messiah, until the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism.

What is meant by to fulfil all righteousness?

Although He lived as a Jew, faithful to the Mosaic law and all its requirements, Jesus wasn’t baptized ‘to fulfil the Law’, because baptism wasn’t commanded by the Law of Moses. When John issued the call to his fellow Jews to ‘repent and be baptised’ this message was unique in Jewish history, and it was this new message that brought about the confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and elders about which we read in Matthew 21.

‘Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ So, they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ Matthew 21:24-27

This passage tells us that Jesus challenged the religious leaders to say where John’s baptism originated. Was it from heaven, or from men? But, of course, had there been prior provision in the Law of Moses for such a baptism as John’s, the discussion would not even have taken place.

It was this very uniqueness of John’s baptism that was the cause of the debate. The Jewish religious leaders didn’t accept John’s baptism because it wasn’t a requirement imposed by the Mosaic Law and, therefore, they refused to submit to it. They were probably contemptuous of those who were influenced by John and regarded them as ignorant and foolish.

As for it being ‘from God’, the religious leaders couldn’t accept the baptism commanded by John as a new revelation from God, because it hadn’t come through themselves. After all, they were the authorities who determined what was permissible in Judaism! They were the arbiters of true and false revelations!

And, again, these priests, scribes and Pharisees would have argued that they, as ‘children of Abraham’ and members of a nation that was in a covenant relationship with God, didn’t need baptism.

‘But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.’ Mathew 3:7-9

In Matthew 3:7-9, we find that this is precisely what John accused these men of saying. They believed in the ritual washing of both their persons and their possession, as Mark explains.

‘(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)’ Mark 7:3-4

They saw baptism as a rite intended only for non-Jews who wished to become proselytes of their religion. The strict rule was that any male Gentile who wished to embrace the Jewish faith must undergo first circumcision, then be baptised and then offer sacrifice, whilst the law for a female declared that she must first be baptised and then offer sacrifice.

This is because the act of baptism was regarded as the means of cleansing from the old, ‘heathen’ life and its sins, and the beginning of a new life in the Jewish faith. The converts were then said to be received, ‘under the wings of the

Divine Presence’, the expression that was used to describe proselytism. These rules meant that no devout Jew would have considered himself as a subject for repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, Luke 3:1. For this reason, John’s message fell on the ears of the people as both utterly new and startling.

In the light of the discussion between Jesus and the Jews on the subject of John’s baptism, we have to say that ‘to fulfil all righteousness’, means ‘to do everything commanded by God’, because the Lord made it clear that John’s baptism was commanded by God.

Why was Jesus baptised?

This is an interesting question because many people have come up with all kinds of theories and explanations over the years to try and explain why Jesus was baptised.

Jesus wasn’t baptised to please His mother.

There is an ancient document known as ‘the Gospel of the Nazarene’, sometimes called ‘The Gospel of the Hebrews’, but never regarded by the early Christians as divinely inspired, which claims that Mary and His brothers said to Jesus, ‘Behold, John Baptist baptises to the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptised by him. Jesus replied, ‘How have I sinned that I should go and be baptised by him? Perchance this very thing, that I have said is ignorance.’

The story continues to claim that Jesus was compelled, unwillingly, by Mary to go to John to be baptised. Is it any wonder that the early Christians rejected a document, which heard such unlikely tales?

Jesus wasn’t baptised for the forgiveness of sins.

Unlike the multitudes who flocked to John from all quarters, confessing their sins, Jesus had no sins to confess.

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.’ Hebrews 4:15

Jesus was baptised to mark the commencement of His own ministry.

As the ministry of John ended, the ministry of Jesus began. After recording the descent of the Spirit and the message of the heavenly voice, Luke 3:23 reveals that AFTER His baptism, at about thirty years of age, Jesus commenced His own public ministry.

As a boy, in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus had revealed that He was aware of having a mission to fulfil, Luke 2:47, and through many years had waited for the moment to arrive when His work should commence.

The ‘forerunner’ had come as promised by the Scriptures, Matthew 11:10, with a message which had disturbed, convicted and prepared the people for the coming of the longed-for Messiah. They were ready, and Jesus knew that His time had arrived.

When He asked John to baptise Him, John had protested but Jesus had insisted, ‘let it be so now’, Matthew 3:15. The ‘now’, is emphatic and it means ‘at this time’.

Therefore, the baptism of Jesus was both an act of identification with the repentant people whom He had come to save, and an act of commitment to the task the Father had laid on Him.

‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.’ John 1:11-12

John records, ‘He came to His own, (‘idia’, His own things, that which belonged to Him) and His own, (‘idioi’, His own people) ‘they who belonged to Him’ did not receive Him. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become children of God’ John 1:11-12.