Fulfilling All Righteousness in the Baptism of Jesus
Matthew 3:13–17 - 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 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
In Advent we read the earlier part of Matthew 3 which addresses John’s ministry and the meaning of his baptism. We saw that John’s baptism involved a renewal of Israel, crossing the Jordan (as before with the Red Sea, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha) to “manifest” the Anointed One, “Christ” (Jn. 1:31, Ps. 2:2). The people needed to recognize the corruption of their system/temple. Thus, John led a remnant Israel “beyond the Jordan” in “a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea” (Colin Brown).
In this section, the focus is on Jesus’ baptism. Why did Jesus need to baptized? After all Jesus did not need to repent and have His own sins washed away, did He? It’s difficult for us to see the multiple meanings in the rite of baptism. We tend to think only about the washing away of sins, which is a very central part of the meaning, but not the whole picture in the Bible. Christ’s baptism was “to fulfill (plaroõ) all righteousness” (3:15). Matthew uses “fulfill” (plaroõ) 16 times. Except for the two cases in which “fill” is in a quantitative sense (13:48 “full net” & 23:32 “fill up your guilt”), every other usage refers to “fulfilled” Scripture. How did this event fulfill Scripture?
The Epiphany of Jesus - His baptism manifests (epiphany) His identity in three ways: 1) Jesus is recognized at the monumental event of a renewing of Israel (e.g., the symbolic exodus across the Jordan), fulfilling all the prophet’s themes of God’s promised action within Israel and return to Israel (Is. 40-66; Ez. 36:24ff). 2) Jesus’ baptism manifests that He was the “Anointed” (Christ/Messiah). This is His ordination. Christ was appointed “by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:10). He “appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb. 7:28). This happened at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21, 4:18). 3) His baptism was the event in which Jesus was identified as true Israel (Mt. 2:15): “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This echoes Is. 42: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” This servant “is either Israel idealized or Israel represented by the ideal Israelite. . . (Grogan, 1986). God is pleased with His Servant, Jesus, who is The Light to the nations and makes His Spirit-filled servants light in the world.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more