Please open your Bibles to Matthew 3:13-17.
Matthew has introduced us to the birth and announcement of the King of kings. He has brought us through the prophecies that have heralded his coming and introduced us to the forerunner that is making all paths straight for his appearance. In this section of scripture, Matthew records the heavenly pronouncement of Jesus monarchy as testified to by John the baptizer, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The King has come! His kingdom will soon be at hand.
Vs. 13 – The verse literally reads, “Then came Jesus from Galilee, upon the Jordan, toward John, to be baptized by him.” The prepositions, though translated similarly in the Authorized Version are different in the Greek. They are, in order: APO, EPI, PROS, and hUPO. Each has a little different flavor of meaning in the verse.
Jesus comes to the Jordan river from his home of Galilee where his family has lived the majority of Jesus’ life. The people in Galilee knew Jesus and his family (Matthew 13:55-56). The Jordan was so situated from Galilee that one merely had to travel down the length of the valley to whatever portion of the river on which John was baptizing.
The purpose of Jesus coming is stated specifically, namely, “to be baptized of him.” Jesus intended, in coming to John, to be baptized. For a discussion of the mode of baptism in this context, see comments on Matthew 3:5,6.
Vs. 14 – John did not want to be the one who baptized Jesus because John did not consider himself worthy to baptize Jesus. He “was trying to prevent” it. This is the imperfect tense. It is presented to us as John making a persistent effort at not allowing Jesus to be baptized by him. John’s statement, in that regard, was the instrument of prevention.
In John’s statement he said that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. Did John mean by this that he needed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Or did John simply mean that he needed to be baptized in the current medium of water by Jesus? While it is true that John prophesied that Jesus was to baptize in the Holy Spirit (vs.11), when John refers to this kind of baptism, he specified the medium. John makes no such specification here, leaving us to the natural conclusion that John was merely referring to his baptizing in water. In other words, in this verse, John simply says he needed to be baptized by Jesus. Hence, the emphasis here is not upon the mode of baptism as much as the one who is doing the baptizing. Whatever the mode of baptism might be, it was John who needed to be baptized by Jesus, not Jesus by John. That must be the only point that we take out of this verse.
It is a great mark of humility and respect on the part of John the baptizer that he recognized his inferiority to Jesus. It is also at least one reason why Jesus honored him by stating that there was, prior to the kingdom, no greater prophet born among women (Luke 7:28).
Vs. 15 – Jesus answer to John was simple, yet profound. In this answer Jesus’ doesn’t disagree that John needed to be baptized by him. In that regard, Jesus doesn’t argue with John. Jesus simply tells John to now allow it for one simple reason: to fulfill all righteousness.
For Jesus’ part, John’s baptism was the “counsel of God” (Luke 7:30), and thus, Jesus, while being the sinless person that he was (Hebrews 4:15), needed not to be baptized in reference to His sins (as were all others who were baptized of John, see vs.6), but merely for the purpose of obeying God. Had Jesus not been baptized, then he would have been no different than the Pharisees (Luke 7:30), at least, in respect to John’s baptism. However, Jesus, being the obedient Son that He was, sought John out and purposed to be baptized so as to complete within Himself the will of the Father in His life (John 8:29). God’s ways are always righteous (Psalm 145:17). John’s baptism was part of God’s ways (Luke 1:15-17). Hence, to be baptized of John was necessary for Jesus to fulfill righteousness.
It is interesting in this verse to note that Jesus doesn’t say, “thus it becomes me” but rather, “thus it becomes us.” It was part of God’s plan that John participate in Jesus’ fulfilling all righteousness. Jesus thus reflects this thought in his statement with the word “us.” This is a comforting verse for those in service to God. It is comforting from the standpoint that if John, in all of his weakness and sin, could fulfill God’s purpose in being the agent to baptize Jesus, so also the rest of us in all of our weakness and sin, can fulfill God’s purpose for our life as well in whatever role God expects of us. God’s demands that we serve Him in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is not the rare occasion that we feel unworthy to do the things which God expects of us. However, that did not stop God from expecting John to do his job. So also it won’t stop God from expecting us to do ours. And when we do what God expects us to do in His service, then we too can fulfill our purpose in God’s plan. Like John, we need to be willing to submit to the Lord in this regard. We need to be like John instead of like the one talent man, who, only focusing upon his failures, could not take any of the abilities that God had given to him and do something with it in service to God (Matthew 25:14-30).
This verse also defeats forever the often touted excuse: “Nobody’s perfect.” Well, so what if you’re not? That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect one to live the way that he ought to live. Jesus didn’t allow John to use such an excuse for not doing God’s will. Why ought we to expect that he will so accept the same excuse from us? No, the “nobody’s perfect” excuse isn’t going to cut it on the Day of Judgment.
Both Jesus and John “fulfilled all righteousness” in this verse, each by doing what God expected both to do. When we, in our lives, do what God expects us to do and submit ourselves to His righteousness, then we can be counted as righteous before God as well (Romans 10:3) not merely because our doing it constitutes righteousness, but because God said we would be righteous if and when we do His will (1 John 3:7).
Vs. 16 – After Jesus baptism, he literally came up out of the water. The mode of baptism that John used is clear. It was immersion.
The heavens opened to Jesus in that those who inhabit heaven (Isaiah 66:1) testified concerning Jesus immediately after his baptism.
Much has been made out of this passage particularly in regard to the Holy Spirit’s role. We should also note that it was the Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus here, not a dove. The dove was the form or shape that the Spirit took. We need not think of this as anything more than Divine testimony that Jesus was, in fact, God’s Son.
Some have suggested that prior to this point Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit. Such a suggestion would deny the deity of Christ. The Holy Spirit was as much a part of Jesus prior to this point as after. This, however, doesn’t mean that the Spirit could not manifest Himself in some other way. He is omnipresent and shares in all of God’s attributes (Psalm 139:7-12).
Vs. 17 – The words spoken in this verse would be uttered yet again in the transfiguration as recorded by Matthew (17:5). What greater words could one expect from one’s father than these? How much more great are they when they come from The Heavenly Father? The Father was well pleased with Jesus because Jesus always did those things that pleased Him (John 8:29).
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all present in this passage. The Bible does indeed teach the doctrine of the trinity. It is an article of faith that we must accept as true as our finite minds simply cannot grasp the totality of the concept. But if we can believe a triangle has three sides, corners, and angles and yet still believe it to be one shape, certainly we can accept that the Godhead is composed of three “persons” and is yet one God. It is within Jesus that the fullness of the Godhead thus came to dwell in a man’s body (Colossians 2:9). Not only did the Holy Spirit dwell in Jesus, but the Father as well (John 14:9-11).