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, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (vv. 14, 15).
What does it mean that both John and Jesus “fulfill all righteousness”? John was endued with prophetic power; yet as last OT prophet he was not fully read-in to God’s end time program of salvation (Mt. 11:3). Jesus remarks, “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John]” (v. 11). Kingdom greatness lies in being baptized into a death like Christ, and dead to sin (Rom. 6:3, 4), enlightened in the wisdom of the Resurrection.
JB called Jews, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). No doubt the visual was off-putting; a boisterous man in camel hair subsisting on roasted bugs. And yet “all Judea” (v. 5) responded, even Jerusalem’s religious elite (v. 7); what was it about his message that drew?
The capsulate message of God’s prophets in every age warns of man’s mire into faithlessness idolatry. In Baptism we seek repentant hearts captured by something or someone other than Jesus; preoccupying our thoughts and delight; claiming our interest and loyalty for a contrary service; and generating fear or ennui.
Sin is not principally about morality, as some would have it; rather immorality is the false worship of another god, by which the nominal “Christian” has “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) than the One elected by God (Isa. 42:1, Mt. 3:17).
Isaiah established JB’s bona fides (Isa. 42:3; Jn. 1:23); the people and religious leaders dared not ignore God’s imminent arrival and an urgency for spiritual conversion through John’s baptism.
Every Israelite hoped for the Lord’s coming, bearing on his shoulder the government of heaven and earth; whose Name itself would be divinity, “Wonderful-Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
John’s preaching kindled remembrance of Israel’s first communion with God, face to face, on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:9-11). Implicit in his preaching was the culmination of Israel’s historic faith and practice. Pointedly, JB did not direct the Jews to their temple, its priesthood and sacrifices for making one presentable in the presence of the coming King.
Instead JB invited Israelites to something new; a washing reminiscent of their exodus out of Egypt and entry through the Jordan into the Land; a re-dedication of putting-off idolatrous accretions by conversion to God’s new Servant.
Jesus’ coming would replace old Israel to be God’s New Israel; the old-time religion no longer sufficed for means of heaven’s gracious access to earth. First, it was necessary that “all righteousness be fulfilled” at which old Israel failed by playing the harlot in an idolatrous world. Together John and Jesus would occupy new offices for ushering-in “all righteousness”; Herald and Redeemer of God’s salvation.
Unlike Gentile nations, OT Israel was a peculiar people. God said to Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son… Let my son go that he may serve me” (Ex. 4:22, 23). Israel came out of captivity as son, to be a “redeemer” and blessing to nations, proclaiming God’s “righteous” salvation, releasing from idolatry, and reconciliation in revealing his gracious intention toward men.
The world is filled with idol worship. Without putting-on too fine a point, all sin is sourced in self-idolatry that services our flesh charging an obeisance for the things of the world.
Israel was to render fidelity to Mosaic Torah as means for leading the nations out of idolatry, lusts, and violence; and turning to God revealed in his Law. Instead Israel became as the nations, faithless and worse, shaming God in bearing his Name. Old Israel failed its mandate to establish God’s “righteous” Presence in the world.
Centuries earlier YHWH gave Israel notice of their discharge for failure in its divine office. In place God would anoint the Virgin’s firstborn son (Isa. 7:14) New Israel and Redeemer in her flesh, to do “all righteousness” of the Father’s will for man’s salvation.
Isaiah prophesied of Christ, “And now the LORD God has sent me, and his Spirit. Oh, that you had paid attention to my commandments!” (48:16d, 17, 18a); also, “I have called You in righteousness… I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (42:6).
With Jesus’ Baptism we behold the change’s fulfillment; a New Covenant, good news for Israel’s infidelity; and by JB’s absolution for restored faith, revelation of our new Torah Teacher whose lessons converge at the cross; the sign-post of its content, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
Still, at the moment, John does not comprehend Jesus’ command for Baptism; what repentance; what conversion of God’s Chosen? Certainly, there cannot be personal conversion; Jesus is the Righteous One, the One to whom others must be converted come for anointing as God’s New Israel and Servant.
But this is precisely the point, unlike the John’s baptism of others, Jesus’ Baptism is rather an ordination into Office, standing in our place and bearing before God the sin of the world.
Jesus directed JB they “fulfill all righteousness”. How; up and over the hill there was the temple, where on the Day of Atonement, its high priest offered sacrifice for sin. On that Sabbath month he that entered the temple Holy of Holies, heaven’s sanctuary.
Two goats were stationed at the Altar of Sacrifice; one killed for the priest’s sins, its blood brought into the cloud of incense in the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat and floor. The priest then returned to the Altar of Sacrifice, laid hands on the second goat transferring the sins of the nation. The Scapegoat was sent into the desert, savaged by beasts; so too Jesus as New Israel was “driven” into the desert (Mk. 1:12, 13).
JB was born into Israel’s OT priestly line (Lk. 1:5, 8, 9); yet standing in the Jordan was counter-point against the temple priesthood. When Jesus, over John’s objection, directed his Baptism, JB entered his ordination to the high priestly mantle; transitioning to God’s New Covenant. Henceforth the God’s covenant with Israel would exist, not in the blood of bulls and goats, but the sacrificial blood of his righteous Lamb.
Thus, Jesus describes JB, “more than a prophet” (Mt. 11:9), a participant in “all righteousness”. JB anointed Jesus: Christ of God, New Israel, New Sacrifice; in the Resurrection destined to be New Temple and High Priest through whom Christians now offer their sacrifice of Thanksgiving. By Baptism we are attached to Jesus’ blood and death for a priesthood of “all righteousness”, an atonement from faithless idolatry. Amen.