Does the Bible tell us that John's baptism of Jesus fulfilled the law, and that it was completed by Jesus' baptism? What does it mean that Jesus' baptism fulfilled “all righteousness”?
In Matthew 3:13-15 we read,
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. (NASB) Matt. 3:13-15
The key phrase in this passage says that Jesus wanted to be baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” The Greek word for “fulfill” is PLEROO which means “to fulfill” or “to complete.” Now why would Jesus want to be baptized? What does this reveal about Jesus’ heart attitude? Before we answer that question, we need to see a few things.
First, John the Baptist’s baptism was for those who sin. That is, his baptism was for every man and woman who has ever believed and will live on this earth. Baptism symbolized a man’s and woman’s sorrow over his or her sin and the desire to stop sinning.
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (NASB) Mark 1:4
. . . and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (NASB) Matt. 3:6
John’s baptism was not for Jesus. Jesus was sinless and He did not need to be forgiven. So then why did Jesus want to be baptized?
Some believe that Jesus came to fulfill some Old Testament law or prophecy. But this is difficult to accept, since religious washing symbolized the cleansing of sin from the one who was being washed. Jesus was sinless! Did Jesus want to be identified with John’s ministry? This is true, since John was the forerunner for Jesus (Luke 1:17). Was this a handoff of ministry from John to Jesus?
Sign To John
The first reason that we can confidently give for Jesus to be baptized was to prove to John that Jesus was the Messiah. God had promised to show John who the Messiah was by giving him a sign.
And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'” (NASB) John 1:32-33
Some have said that John already knew that Jesus was the Messiah. But that is not true, or maybe John had doubts and he wanted to be absolutely certain. So Jesus needed to be baptized as a sign to John.
But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. (NASB) Mark 10:38-39
But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! (NASB) Luke 12:50
Jesus’ baptism symbolized His coming ministry to “fulfill all righteousness.” It symbolized His future death. That is why Christians are encouraged to be baptized. For the Christian baptism symbolizes the death of our old life and our new holy life.
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (NASB) Romans 6:3-4
Jesus’ baptism symbolized His commitment to die for our sins. The commitment to fulfill or complete The Father’s divine plan had begun. Jesus’ baptism was proof to John that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. It was no longer Jesus’ word. He would have proof. This simple act of dipping God the Son into some water revealed His heart. It revealed His willingness to get his clothes wet as a symbolic act of the passion of His heart to rescue every man and woman from the disaster of our sins .