Why did Jesus partake in the "baptism of repentance"?

Why did Jesus partake in the "baptism of repentance"?

Question

Jesus partook of the baptism of repentance. So, Jesus considered himself a sinner?

Answer

John’s baptism is described as being accompanied by repentance (Matt. 3:2) as well as people confessing their own sins (Matt. 3:6). It was also seen as the means by which to flee the coming wrath (Matt. 3:7). And yes, Jesus was indeed baptized by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:13, 16-17; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-33) and so partook of this "baptism of repentance" (Luke 3:3; Acts 19:4).

However, Jesus didn’t consider himself a sinner, so when baptized by John he didn’t confess any of his own sins. Why? Because he never sinned and so didn’t have any to confess (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 13:8; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5; cf. 1 Pet. 3:18). John also indicated he knew this when he said, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie" (Mark 1:7). John was aware that Jesus was someone special and so confessed, "I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?" (Matt. 3:14). (Please see "Could Jesus Sin?" below.)

So, if Jesus wasn’t a sinner then why was he baptized by John? This was, after all, the baptism of repentance. That's answered by Jesus when he said, "Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). The keyword in this verse is "righteousness." Jesus saw his life as the fulfillment of all righteousness. Jesus understood Isaiah 53:11 which says, "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities." He knew that many (not all) would be made righteous by his perfect and complete sacrifice. Jesus desired to identify with them in his baptism.

Christians aren’t made righteous by anything they do or say; our righteousness is worthless, like a filthy rag (cf. Isa. 64:6). We are made righteous by Jesus alone – both by his life and death. As Paul stated, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:8-9).

Being righteous, Jesus had to be absolutely obedient. In submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus showed himself to be the obedient Son who perfectly does the Father's will. He would later say, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38; cf. Matt. 26:39, 42; John 4:34; 5:19, 30). And this perfect obedience is reflected in God the Father’s baptismal statement regarding Jesus: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). So, his baptism is also a model of what it means to be obedient to God the Father and perfectly dedicated to him. It’s a model for us to follow.

Hebrews 5:8-9 tells us, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him." In other words, Jesus’ qualification for being Savior was made possible by flawlessly obeying every one of his Father’s commands (John 17:4; John 4:34). On the cross Jesus declared, "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Jesus did it all. He obeyed everything God the Father told him to do. And if you believe in Jesus, then he did it all for you! If you haven’t believed in him yet, then please obey him now and "Confess him as Lord with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Rom. 10:9-10).

We would love to hear back from the writer of this question or from any reader who does this.

Related Topics

What is repentance?
Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51
Could Jesus Sin?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).