There’s Baptisms and Then There’s THE BAPTISM
Before Jesus, baptisms were performed in local Synagogues for converts or proselytes. It was an initiation ceremony which identified a person with Judaism. When John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness—away from organized religion—he offered a different type of baptism, and predicted still another baptism by the Holy Spirit made possible by Jesus. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance according to the message he was preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. His audience needed to have a change of mind that bore fruit in a changed life. John’s audience was looking for the Messiah to come and set up the kingdom. This is what John proclaimed as being “at hand”. John was baptizing them so they would be identified with this change of mind which involved confessing their sins and preparing for their Savior. They needed to be separated from the religious systems of that day. John also predicted in Matt.3:11 that “He who is coming after me is mightier than I…and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. This is the spiritual baptism taught by the N.T. authors that occurs at the time of your salvation. You didn’t necessarily know it or feel it, but when you first truly believed in Jesus as your Savior you were baptized(indwelt) by the Holy Spirit with all the ramifications that this includes(see 1 Cor.6:19; 12:13, Eph.1:13; 2:18; 1 Peter 4:10, Rom.8:26). All these baptisms are to be differentiated from the sacrament of baptism now practiced by the church. When Christians receive water baptism, we are primarily making an outward profession of an inward faith. The practice is based on Jesus’ command in Matt.28:19 and the practice of the early church in the book of Acts.
There was a baptism in Matt.3:15-16 that was a one time unique event never to be repeated by anyone. Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist. This surprised John as you might imagine, and he tried to prevent it saying, “I have need to be baptized by You”, meaning Jesus has no need to repent or confess or be identified with John’s ministry to sinners. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. I ask you the question then—WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
Jesus answered John saying, “Permit it at this time…to fulfill all righteousness”. After being baptized, the Spirit of God descended visibly and came upon Jesus, and God spoke from heaven confirming that “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. Knowing that it is unwise to argue with God it is certain that this was a necessary and very important event.
Keep in mind that this is the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry so first of all, Jesus is being introduced to the world as the Son of God. After an eternity of glory in heaven and some 30 years of living in obscurity on earth, the Messiah is revealed publicly for the world to see. Secondly this event has a purpose “to fulfill all righteousness” which is puzzling because the Law included no requirements about baptism. Therefore this must have something to do with John’s ministry, and Jesus’ purpose in coming into the world. Remember that baptism is all about identification. In each of the different baptisms the recipient was identified with something. If Christ were to provide righteousness for sinners, He must be identified with sinners. This baptism then was the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save. As Jesus would say, “I came to seek and to save the lost”, and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”.
Thirdly this baptism was His initiation to be the sin bearer. Jesus was being introduced as the person who would bear or take on our sins.
Therefore, Paul would write years later in 2 Cor.5:21—“God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
In one more important event similar to His birth, His life, His ministry, and His death; Jesus humbles Himself and submits to God’s will. In this way God’s love was poured out on us who did not deserve it.