This question was originally asked in a comment on my post, “Why did John the Baptist later question whether Jesus was the Messiah?” I thought the discussion would make for an interesting post of its own.
Q. What was the real reason why Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist? “To fulfill all righteousness.” If unrighteousness is sin, then righteousness is no sin. John the Baptist twice called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The Old Testament tabernacle was a mirror image of how Jesus would save us. The high priest would lay his hands on a goat and transfer all the sins of Israel onto it, and then the goat was led into the desert. Now John the Baptist being in the line of Aaron and being the greatest person to have arisen before the coming of the kingdom, what if John the Baptist laid his hands on Jesus and transferred all the sins of the world onto him, and then Jesus was also led into the desert?
The goat did not become a sinner, it only carried the sins; likewise Jesus carried the sins, but he did not become a sinner. Scripture says that Jesus “came by water and blood” and that “the Spirit, the water, and the blood” testify to who he is. So at Jesus’ water baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him, and later he shed his blood when he died on the cross.
No death on the cross—no salvation. No resurrection—no salvation. Jesus without being baptized—righteousness not fulfilled—no Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Does this mean that if Jesus had not been baptized by John the Baptist, there would have been no salvation?
I think you have an interesting idea here and I have reproduced your comment at length in this post so that readers can consider it. However, I understand the meaning of Jesus’ statement about fulfilling all righteousness a bit differently.
When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John asked, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” John agreed and baptized Jesus.
I think Jesus was saying, “You’re out here in the wilderness saying that God is breaking into our world to do a new thing and that anybody who wants to be part of it should be baptized to show how they want to join in what God is doing rather than follow sin. Well, I’m ‘all in’ with what God is doing, so I’m here to show that by being baptized.”
This doesn’t mean that Jesus had any sin that needed to be washed away. But our duty to God is not just negative (don’t sin), it’s also positive (obey God and take our part in what God is doing). I think Jesus was saying that even if he didn’t need to be baptized for the negative reasons (to wash away sin), he still wanted and needed to be baptized for the positive reasons.
In other words, Jesus would “fulfill all righteousness” by doing positively what God was asking people to do at that point in redemptive history. John agreed to let Jesus demonstrate his commitment to God’s purposes in that way. And in response, God revealed, through the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit, that Jesus was the Messiah (the Anointed One) through whom his purposes would be accomplished. This opened up for Jesus a whole series of positive duties to fulfill in obedience to God as he fulfilled his vocation as the Messiah.
7 thoughts on “Why did Jesus say it would “fulfill all righteousness” if he were baptized?”
Interesting observations, thank you.
What had Jesus done at this point, Jesus was only baptized, Jesus had not started his ministry BUT God was so pleased with His son Jesus, as the heavens opened God said “ This is my beloved son whom I am well pleased.” Why was God pleased with Jesus at his baptism? Would the baptism by John not have meant a greater thing than just our duty to be follow Jesus and stop sinning as this was Israel’s law from the beginning (do not sin and know that I am your God)?
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21). When did God make Jesus to be sin?
Why did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his Baptism while John the Baptist received it at his birth? How was the Holy Spirit transferred to others? By the Apostles laying hands on them.
These are all excellent further questions and I will plan to answer them in future posts.
See this post: “Did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism?“
I believe that was to put an end to water baptism. We are baptized in to the body of christ through the spirit, not water. And the book of Eph. tells us that there is only one baptism. There are not multiple baptisms.
This seems unlikely, since Jesus himself told his followers to go and make disciples and to baptize them.
I believe that the reason Jesus told John to baptize him that all righteous might be fullfilled was for us. The same reason he fullfilled all the requirements of the law thru obedience on our behalf. So we could be presented spotless before the Father thru his obedience and our faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf.
See Isaiah 4:4 — “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion…” We know that Jesus was meticulous in adhering to and carrying out (and, after his resurrection, spelling out to his followers) all the Old Testament signs and symbols prophesying him as the Messiah. John was carrying out this prophecy, and Jesus necessarily had to participate. This is what he meant by saying they had to “fulfill all righteousness”, or in other words satisfy the requirements stipulated by God through the OT prophets.
The same passage in Isaiah also references baptism in the Holy Spirit.
God bless you for bringing this to people’s attention.