Mt. 3:13-17 - The Baptism of Jesus


Today, I will deal with the question, Why Was Jesus Baptized? Jesus Himself told us why (Mt. 3:15) He was baptized. We will focus on His words and what they mean for us. In order to understand His words better; let's think briefly about the context of what He said.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. According to his father, Zacharias, John would go before the Lord (Luke 1:77) "to give His people the knowledge of salvation." When John grew up, this prophecy would be fulfilled in his ministry.

Matthew reports on the ministry of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea on the bank of the Jordan River. Like the prophets before him, John preached a message of repentance. This message had been needed throughout history, but something new was about to take place. Jesus, the Son of God was about to begin His ministry.

John proclaimed (Mt. 3:2), "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (NAS) When Jesus came to earth, the kingdom of God was present in a new way. The presence of the kingdom, in the person of Christ, made it even more urgent to repent.

John the Baptist was not only preaching, he was baptizing as well. The people were coming from Jerusalem and all Judea to confess their sins and be baptized by John in the Jordan River. When the Pharisees and Saducees came to his baptismal meeting, he rebuked them for their wickedness.

Then John declared (Mt. 3:11) "I baptize you with water for repentance." Mark (1:4) calls John's baptism "a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins." Through John's baptism, people publicly acknowledged their sins, their repentance, and their reception of forgiveness.

While John was speaking, Jesus arrived on the scene. His arrival is described in Matthew 3:13-17. We will read the entire passage to understand the context of what Jesus said in verse 15. Apart from what Jesus said in the Temple when He was 12 years old, these are His first recorded words. We read:

13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan {coming} to John, to be baptized by him.
14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?"
15 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.
16 And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, {and} coming upon Him,
17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (NAS)

Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was taken back by this and tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized. John spoke humbly about his own need to be baptized by Jesus. He felt out of place as the baptizer of Jesus.

Why, then, did Jesus come to be baptized? Jesus declared that "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." We note that Jesus said "for us." Thus, John had a part in fulfilling righteousness on this day. Together Jesus and John fulfilled righteousness. John was the baptizer, and Jesus was the baptized.

Jesus was sinless. He had no need to repent, confess, and receive forgiveness of sins. However, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Why was He baptized? The answer lies in the fact that He wanted to identify with this baptism in several ways. We will deal with these ways now.

Jesus Identified with John the Baptist

John and Jesus together fulfilled all righteousness in the baptism of Jesus. We will begin with a look at the special role of John the Baptist and the fact that Jesus identified with him.


John the Baptist was the bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He was the last of the OT prophets, yet in a special sense the first of the NT. Jesus (Luke 16:16) said, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached." In a sense the gospel began with John (Acts 1:21-22), but the focus of the transition is on Jesus. The focus is on the things that Jesus did "after" the baptism, which John proclaimed (Acts 10:37).


One way that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness was by identifying with John the Baptist, his message, and his baptism.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came out to see John. They represented the most revered religious traditions of Jewish society. Even though they were coming for baptism, John the Baptist, recognizing their hypocrisy said (Mt. 3:7-8), "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? "Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance." (NAS)

By aligning with John, Jesus recognized his role and scriptural authority. Jesus recognized John's place in God's plan and in the history of salvation. Also, Jesus acknowledged that the ministry of John was in harmony with the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus put Himself squarely in the Biblical tradition.


Many voices, including religious voices, are calling for your allegiance. As believers in Christ, we submit ourselves to the Word of God. The entire history of salvation is contained in the Word. This is our anchor.

A few days ago, an official service was held in Littleton, Colorado in memory of those who died in the Columbine High School tragedy. Franklin Graham was one of the speakers. The temptation would have been for him to speak in general terms about God, but He gave a clear presentation about Christ. He presented His message in Biblical terms. He called for the people to accept Christ and to have peace with God through Him. He had every right, as a Christian, to present this case. He did it beautifully.

When we witness to others, we must be clear about this. We must stand on the only ground that is saving ground. We must present Christ as the only Savior of the world. Jesus Christ came that we might have salvation. This truth cannot be toned down.

Some of you may not be believers in Christ. We commend Him to you. He is the unique Son of God. He alone was worthy to die for your sins. He alone can bring salvation. And that salvation comes through repentance, confession, and faith in Christ.

Jesus Identified with Righteousness

Jesus did not stay aloof from the message of John the Baptist. John's preaching was stirring the country. Realizing that this was a part of God's plan, Jesus immediately identified with righteousness.


John the Baptist preached repentance and forgiveness for sins. He upheld righteousness in his message and in his deeds. The boldness of John the Baptist would cost him his life. He even challenged Herod the king--Mt. 14:3-12.

3 For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.
4 For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."
5 And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they regarded him as a prophet.
6 But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before {them} and pleased Herod.
7 Thereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.
8 And having been prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist."
9 And although he was grieved, the king commanded {it} to be given because of his oaths, and because of his dinner guests.
10 And he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.
11 And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl; and she brought {it} to her mother.
12 And his disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus. (NAS)


Jesus identified with righteousness. All that He did, in a broad sense, was on our behalf. However, He was not baptized, in a specific sense, for us. That is, He did not take our place. He was not baptized vicariously for us. He Himself was baptized to declare His stance for righteousness.

Later, Jesus would die vicariously for us. He died for our sins. He took upon Himself the sins of the world. Because of this, we are made righteousness in the eyes of God. The apostle Paul declared (2 Cor. 5:21) "He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (NAS) We are righteous because we are in Christ!


In the light of all this, what must we do? We must acknowledge that God is holy, just, and righteous. Outside of Christ, we can never be righteous, but in Him, we are righteous.

As redeemed believers, we should identify always with righteousness. We should be on the side of God's holiness. We should not have a legalistic attitude, but we should recognize what Godliness means and live in harmony with what Christ has done for us.

Jesus Identified with His Own Mission

John the Baptist set the stage for Jesus. Jesus would soon announce His mission and identify with God's purpose for His life. Others would soon know who He was and why He was here.


John the Baptist was the forerunner. He knew that Christ was the Son of God. He must be subordinate to Him. Although John preached salvation, he said (Jn. 3:30), "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease."


Jesus not only preached salvation, but salvation would come through Him. His mission was to bring victory to the world over sin and death. Here at Jordan, by being baptized, He identified with the mission that was uniquely His. We see this clearly in what followed. Matthew, in 3:16-17, writes:

16 And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, {and} coming upon Him,
17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (NAS)

This declaration draws together Psalm 2:7-8 and Isaiah 42:1-4. The Psalmist emphasizes the royal kingship of Jesus, while Isaiah emphasizes His Servanthood. Paradoxically, as we know, the servanthood of Jesus leads on to His kingship. Let's take a moment to read these two passages.

First, Ps 2:7-8:

7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.
8 'Ask of me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the {very} ends of the earth as Thy possession.
9 'Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware.'"(NAS)

Second, Isa 42:1-4:

1 "Behold, My servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one {in whom} My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 "He will not cry out or raise {His voice,} nor make His voice heard in the street.
3 "A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 "He will not be disheartened or crushed, until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law." (NAS)


As for us, we must be grateful for the mission of Christ. Because of His mission, we have salvation. Our lives are abundantly blessed. He has made it all possible.

In addition, we must join Him in the mission. Jesus has commissioned us to be a part of the mission. At times things may look discouraging, but the ultimate victory is ours. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus Identified with Us as Sinful Men

Now, we come to a very heart-warming truth in this passage. Jesus identified with us as sinful men. Jesus was without sin, but He wanted to stand alongside us in the story of redemption.


John the Baptist knew that men were sinful. He knew that all men need a Savior. This message is crystal clear in the Bible. His message was strong. He powerfully persuaded men to repent and be baptized. Moreover, he yielded to the request of Jesus to permit His baptism.


The baptism was an instance of the way in which He would fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was not a sinner, but he wanted to identify with us as sinful men. At Jordan, He stood alongside us in solidarity with us. Later (Mk. 2:16), He identified with man by eating with tax-collectors and sinners.

Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus identified with man. President Clinton became known for his expression, "I feel your pain." It is not possible, however, for any politician to feel our pain as Jesus did. The writer of Hebrews declared (4:15-16):

15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin.
16 Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (NAS)

Jesus was tempted in all points as we are. He walked the earth. He understood having no place to lay His head. He knew what it was like to be mocked and tested. He understood what was in man. Here, at Jordan, he identifies with us by being baptized.


Because Jesus identified with us, we can come to Him in confidence. We can repent of our sins, believe in Him, and be assured of His forgiveness. Jesus will lift us from sorrow and suffering. Our new life will begin.

As believers, we can continue to rest in Him. He feels our pain. He identifies with all aspects of our lives. He knows our joys and our sorrows. He is not surprised by any difficulty. He will walk with us step-by-step.

Moreover, we must take every opportunity to identify with Christ. One of the girls at Columbine High School lost her life when she declared that she was a Christian. Sometimes identification is costly, but it was a price that Christ was willing to pay. We must be willing too.


Why was Jesus baptized? In the baptism of Jesus, John and Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. John submitted to the request of Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John.

Through baptism Jesus expressed a fourfold identification. One, Jesus identified with John the Baptist and the Word of God. We must identify with Christ and the Scriptures. Two, Jesus identified with righteousness. We must acknowledge the holiness of God and identify with righteousness. Three, Jesus identified with His own mission. We must be grateful for His mission and join in it. Four, Jesus identified with us as sinful men. We must make certain we identify with Christ and come in confidence to God.

Some of you may not have accepted Christ. Your life with Christ begins in repentance, faith, and forgiveness. One of the first steps in your new walk will be to be baptized in water. Through baptism, you will identify with Christ just as He did with you. Accept Him today!