Why did Jesus get baptized?
You can find the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:29-34. Jesus comes to John the Baptist, one of his relatives, and asks to be baptized in water. John preached a baptism of repentance for the people to prepare for the Messiah.
So it doesn’t make much sense on the basis of that information to understand why Jesus, who was the Messiah, would want to be baptized by John. Mark and Luke skip over the beginning of the water baptism and only talk about the end when the Father speaks over him and the Spirit shows up as a dove.
In Matthew, John protests that Jesus should be baptizing him because he has an idea of who Jesus is (Matthew 3:14). Jesus responds with one of the reasons he wants to be baptized by John, to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
In the book of John, John the Baptist seems to know who Jesus is, for he declares him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John the Baptist knows his place as the forerunner of Jesus, rather than him being the Christ (John 1:30-32).
He only knew who Jesus was because the Father revealed it to him (John 1:33-34). But the Gospel of John does not actually record the baptism of Jesus. He only speaks of it.
There might be several reasons why Jesus wanted to be baptized at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus says it’s to fulfill all righteousness, possibly referring to a sort of checklist of things he had to do before he could start ministry.
For example, he is filled with the Spirit right after he has water baptized. This was absolutely necessary for him to operate in the Power of the Spirit throughout his ministry. To fulfill all righteousness may refer to fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about him.
He was following all of the steps that were in place for him to begin his public ministry. It especially may be a foreshadowing of his death on the cross, in which he died to bring righteousness to all who believe in him.
This would mean that he had to know this before he began his public ministry, but he probably knew what was coming. Especially in the book of John, he is constantly referring to the hour that is coming, his death. But it may also simply be to show that he was righteous for ministry.
Another possibility is that this was an example of showing his glory to all of the people. After he is baptized, when he comes out of the water, the Father and Spirit join him, and the Father voices his approval of Jesus as his son. It was a way for the people to see who Jesus was.
At least in one other place, the raising of Lazarus, the Father speaks, not on Jesus’ behalf, but so the people can understand who Jesus is. It’s a sort of stamp of authority and approval on Jesus before he begins his public ministry.
In the Gospel of John, it is through this event and John baptizing Jesus that John is able to bear witness about him, a huge and very important part of John’s Gospel. It’s only after Jesus is baptized that John can explain that he now knows that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 1:33-34).
A third possibility is that Jesus was leading by example. John the Baptist was baptizing for repentance of sins, and Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15). Just because he was sinless doesn’t mean he didn’t lead by example.
His willingness to be baptized by John shows the people the importance of John’s baptism. John baptized in preparation for Jesus as his forerunner. His baptism was all about repentance, turning away from sin, and turning to God. This is a positive theme that Jesus could fully endorse.
Repentance is a necessary step before we can truly engage in the kingdom of God. Today, water baptism takes on an entirely different significance. When you are baptized into the name of Jesus, it shows everyone else that he has changed your life and you are saved.
We are not saved through water baptism, but we witness to the salvation Jesus has already given us. For Christians, water baptism becomes a means of evangelism as we share with our family and friends the life-changing power of Jesus through proclamation of his saving grace.