John’s baptism was for repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Why, then, did Jesus, the one who was without sin, need to be baptised?
The concept of baptism didn’t start with John. Ceremonial cleanliness and ritual washing had been part of Jewish practice for generations. All Jewish people were familiar with it. At his consecration as a Priest, Aaron and his sons were washed with water (Leviticus 6:8). It was an act of cleansing for both men and women. By the time of Christ there had developed a practice of washing the whole body as part of an ‘initiation’ when someone converted to Judaism. It symbolised transformation. Purity. A new start. A new beginning. (The Mikvah – Chabad.org)
Obviously, this was a huge moment for Jesus. Here he was, about to step out of the shadows, into the final phase of his ministry. There is a sense of consecration at the start of his journey. A ‘new beginning’. A new start.
That’s all fine, passingly interesting, and there’s much more we could say about all that, but I think the true reason may be rather simpler. The question was, remember why did Jesus need to be baptised? I believe that the simple answer is that he didn’t. I believe that he consciously chose to be baptised. Why would he do that? Because he knew that this was God’s will for him.
‘Behold,’ says John, when he first sees Jesus approaching. ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ (John 1:29). There is no question. John knows that this Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. No wonder he is hesitant about baptising him. But Jesus steps into the water. ‘It I right that you baptise me to fulfil all righteousness.’ (Matthew 3:14). This act of extraordinary humility by the Son of God was part of God’s plan for Jesus. His acceptance of John’s baptism was an act of obedience at the start of Hs journey.
And so Jesus is baptised. An act which fulfilled all righteousness, unquestionably. An act of extraordinary symbolism, undoubtedly. An act which His heavenly Father wanted him to be a part of, absolutely. An act of obedience, self evidently.
‘As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove ad alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘You are my Son. With you I am well pleased. ’(Mark 1:11)