Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
John the Baptist did not know Jesus was the Son of God until after he saw Christ come up out of the water and the Spirit descend on Him. John 1:29-34:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel. Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins so they knew each other a long time. But John did not know who the Messiah was until God revealed it to him. John tells us that he would not have know except that God told him, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” John did not see this confirmation until after Jesus was baptized and He came up out of the water! It was Christ’s baptism that revealed that Jesus belonged to God.
So why John’s reaction to Jesus when He came to be baptized? At the point Jesus came to him for baptism, John still did not know Jesus was the Christ. After all, this was John the Baptist who feared no man, who ate locusts and wild honey and defied a king. He wore camelhair clothes and a leather belt and lived in the wilderness. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees snakes and vipers to their faces. He loudly denounced king Herod as an adulterer. He was not one easily impressed.
And yet of Christ, he says that he was not fit to untie His shoes. And even before it was revealed to him John is so impressed by Jesus that he tries to tell Jesus that Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, but instead he needs to be baptized by Christ.
Jesus must have led an unbelievably righteous life even at that point to cause such a stirring reaction from John—a life that could only be led by the sinless Lamb of God:
“But John tried to deter Him, saying” I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?
But Jesus would not be deterred…
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. –Matthew 3:14-15
Now if Christ-- who was without sin, insisted on being baptized, then we, who are His sinful followers-- and are to follow His example, need to be baptized as well. For anyone to teach that one does not need to be baptized in light of Christ’s own baptism is missing the fact that following Jesus entails following Him in this action as well.
The reasons Jesus was baptized was:
a.) to “fulfill all righteousness”
b.) to set us an example that we should follow
c.) to reveal Himself as to belonging to God and being the Christ
If there ever was anyone who should not have needed baptism, it was Jesus Christ. But Jesus himself submitted to baptism. And so should we.
John taught a baptism for the forgiveness of sins (See Baptism for the forgiveness of sins). There are those today that deny this teaching of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Even though Christ was sinless, He insisted on being baptized by John. You might say also that this was Jesus putting His “stamp of approval” on what John taught.