Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to undergo John the Baptist’s “baptism of repentance” if He was sinless? Jonathan Pennington responds to this question in “Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?”
John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).
Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15)....
Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God)....
The call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17) is an urgent invitation to reorient our values, habits, loves, thinking, and behavior according to a different understanding, one rooted in the revelation of God’s nature and coming reign. In short, repentance means, “Become a disciple!” Jesus repents not in the sense of turning from sin (our repentance necessarily includes this where his does not), but in the sense of dedicating himself to follow God’s will fully on earth.
Thus, the qualms we (and John) may have about why Jesus would undergo John’s baptism dissipate. Even as a virgin-born, divine-incarnate, unique person in the world, the Son desires to be wholeheartedly obedient to the Father (i.e., righteous). Thus, he must submit to the God-ordained message of life-dedication preached by John.
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