BY Pastor Otis Wasson
Have you wondered why Jesus was baptized? The Lord Jesus was perfect and needed no cleansing, yet He was baptized. Was it necessary for Him, as the sinless Son of God, to be baptized for a good testimony?
What does God’s Word have to say regarding these questions?
“But John forbade Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so NOW: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then He suffered him (Mt. 3:14-15). Did John understand these words of the Lord? What did Jesus mean by “all righteousness”? Does “all” mean “all” without exception wherever the word is used? If so, how would one explain Acts 13:29? “And when they had fulfilled ALL that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulcher.” Of course, “all” was not fulfilled concerning Him when He was taken down from the Cross, ONLY the “all” things of prophecy concerning His suffering. So, the “all righteousness” in Matthew 3:15 does not mean “ALL” without exception. It concerns a specific righteousness which Christ came to fulfill. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to FULFILL.” The Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit tells us, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5). In Luke 2 we learn at least five times that “all things” were done “according to the Law” (Lk. 2:22-24, 39, 43).
There are at least four appointed events in the life of our Lord. Why are ONLY four ages of the Lord mentioned in His earthly life? Surely the Bible student wants to learn WHY these four ages.
Circumcision on the eighth day
Presentation at forty days
Confirmation at twelve years
Baptized at thirty years
Circumcision on the Eighth Day
“And when the eight days were accomplished for the circumcision of the child, His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Lk. 2:21).
We must learn the origin of this ceremony. In Genesis 17:10-12 we read, “This is My covenant…EVERY man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is EIGHT days old shall be circumcised among you…” (emphasis author). Here the Law was incorporated into the Law of Moses. We read in Leviticus 12:2-4, “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the EIGHTH DAY the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (emphasis author).
So Jesus was circumcised “according to the righteousness of the Law of Circumcision.” Paul, by the Holy Spirit, said in Galatians 5:3, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law.” So in circumcision, Jesus bore about in His very flesh the seal of a voluntary obligation to do the whole Law, possibly ONLY by Him since the fall of Adam. In His circumcision He was brought under a palpable pledge to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” But what did His circumcision mean to us? We read in Colossians 2:11, “In Whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”
Presentation of Forty Days
In Luke 2:22 we read, “And when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses was accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord.” This is according to the Law of Moses written in Leviticus 12:2-7. Then in Luke 2:23-24, it is written, “(As it is written in the Law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” This was a “fulfilling the righteousness of the Law” written of in Leviticus 12:8. Don’t we see now, that these ages of Jesus and all that was done at those ages was to “FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW”?
Twelve Years Old
In Luke 2:41-42 we read, “Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem AFTER THE CUSTOM OF THE FEAST.” At twelve years of age every Jewish boy became “a son of the Law.” Since they had performed everything according to the Law of Moses, Joseph then paid the five shekels of redemption money according to numbers 3:46-47 and 18:16. This gave Joseph the legal right to be “reckoned” as the father of Jesus and registered thus in the Temple (see Lk. 3:23). The Lord commanded this ascent to Jerusalem at the Passover (cf., Lk. 2:41-42 with Deut. 16:1-2). So all this was done “according to the Law of the Lord.” But there were also laws established for another age, and that was the age of thirty years.
Thirty Years of Age
In Luke 3:23 we read, “And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being [as was SUPPOSED] the son of Joseph which was the son of Heli” (emphasis author). We read in the preceding verse that Jesus was baptized. To the sincere truth-seeking child of God, the thirty years of age when Jesus was baptized must raise questions in the mind. Surely, these thirty years of age must follow the very same principle of right division as the other three ages, that is “according to the Law of Moses.” Several reasons have been given for the baptism of Jesus, such as (1) “that He might be numbered with the transgressors”; (2) “set apart to His Messianic Ministry”; and (3) “taking His supposed lot with the remnant.”
No doubt, these are all included, but they are not the whole or the greatest. Why not be satisfied with Jesus’ own answer. “Hear ye Him. It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Now to the sincere truth-seeking mind, the logical procedure is to search and diligently try to find out WHAT RIGHTEOUSNESS He is fulfilling. Since all the others were in fulfillment of the Laws of the Lord, so this one can only be according to His laws. Let us first see Romans 10:5. “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law,” etc. You might ask, “What does this baptism of Jesus have to do with the Law of Moses?” Read again Matthew 3:13-15 with Romans 10:5.
Righteousness brought to Him where sin had brought Israel, that is, to John’s baptism. Was this baptism universal? Not according to the Scriptures. In whose name did John baptize? According to Acts 19:4, he “baptized in the name of Him Who was to come.” Then, did John baptize Him in His own name? NO, for He was that One Who had come. Was He baptized in the Triune Name? NO, for “in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
What was John’s baptism? Let the Word of God answer. Mark 1:4, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance FOR the remission of sins.” But Christ had no sins to repent of or to be remitted, so His baptism could NOT be for repentance or remission of sins. Then why was He baptized? How would you like to have been in John’s position?
Little wonder he cried out, “…I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me” (Mt. 3:14)? John knew he could not baptize that sinless One with John’s baptism, for on that day he looked and said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). How could He be baptized “for repentance for the remission of sins” when He had no sin? Then Jesus’ baptism MUST be for a different purpose. He tells us what the purpose is: “It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” “For Moses speaketh of the righteousness that cometh by the Law (Rom. 10:5). But what law? There were established laws concerning water baptism. Let us go back to Exodus 19:5-6: “Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto Me a Kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” Here we have the promise to that nation to be a “Kingdom of priests.” Read 1 Peter 2:9. Surely no Bible teacher would confuse this with the Body of Christ. But Israel did not keep the statutes of the Lord, so God chose ONE TRIBE out of the twelve tribes as priests unto the Lord to represent the entire nation of twelve tribes.
This was the Tribe of Levi. Then the Lord gave certain laws for the induction into this priestly office. “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt WASH them with water” (Ex. 29:4) (emphasis author). The Hebrew word for “wash” is rachaz, which is one of the ceremonial washings referred to in Hebrews 6:2 and rendered “baptisms.” We see here the “origin” of water baptism – also the reason for it. It was an induction into the office of priesthood for the Tribe of Levi.
But there was another Law of the Lord concerning baptism. He who served in the tabernacle of the Lord MUST be thirty years of age. We read in Numbers 4:3, “From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.” Now read Luke 3:21-23, “…and Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age….”
Thus, we see the full force of His words when He said, “It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” i.e., “the righteousness that Moses describeth in the Law.” Was this not the Law of baptism? But you may answer, “Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and the Law spake nothing of this tribe serving as priests.” Indeed, Hebrews 8:4 says, “For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the Law.” John came preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand.” The Twelve Apostles went forth preaching the same message. What Kingdom was at hand? Isn’t this the Kingdom which Jehovah promised the nation Israel as a Kingdom of priests?
So then, Christ in His baptism was not representing ONE tribe, Judah or Levi, but He was representing the entire nation, the twelve tribes, since they are to be a priestly nation to all nations. Isaiah 61:6 reads, “But ye shall be named the priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” Compare this with Revelation 1:6 and 5:10. When Peter preached at Pentecost, his message was “Repent, be baptized for the remission of sins, and God will send Jesus back and the times of the restitution of all things which God spoke by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
What about the restitution of the judges (Isa. 1:26; Judg. 2:18)? Didn’t Jesus promise in Matthew 19:28, “And Jesus said unto them, verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Israel will be inducted into that priestly office in the future by water baptism, with Jesus Christ their King and Messiah. Since no other public ministry prescribed its age limits, it is reasonable to conclude that the baptism of Christ had to do with His consecration to the priestly office into which He was inducted by water baptism.
But in this Dispensation of Grace, we are not instructed to be baptized into the office of the priesthood but into the Body of Christ. How? 1 Corinthians 12:13 reads, “For by ONE SPIRIT are we all baptized into one body…” (emphasis author). Also 1 Corinthians 1:14, “I thank God that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name.” Again in verse 17, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
By right division of the Word of God, we rob no one of any blessing but leave each of the programs of God in its respective place. How blessed to know the “one-Spirit baptism” (Eph. 4:5), which blesses us with ALL spiritual blessings in the heavenlies” (Eph. 1:3-4). “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, Who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).