This chapter gives us a glimpse into the ministry of John the Baptist and a moment when he and Jesus crossed paths – at the baptism of Christ. We then get a second version of Jesus’ genealogy.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
One of the more remarkable things about this passage is that Jesus got baptized at all. If anyone had zero need for a baptism of repentance, it was Jesus. Matthew 3:15 adds the detail that Jesus said it was “to fulfill all righteousness,” but I confess I do not find it easy to say what that even means under the circumstances.
But I do see that many people were being baptized and they certainly saw that they needed a baptism of repentance, even if Jesus didn’t. At least some of Christ’s earliest disciples were first followers of John, who in turn saw himself as Christ’s forerunner. Finally, we also know from a later verse, Luke 7:30, that many Pharisees and lawyers did not receive the baptism of John.
Under the circumstances, we might at least see that Jesus did not want to be confused with self-satisfied Pharisees and lawyers. If there was to be any confusion, let it be that the sinless Son of God and Messiah went all the way in his identification with sinful humanity. A baptism of repentance? He submitted to it, just like so many of his followers. John, who was some kind of blood relative, saw Jesus outwardly and obviously supporting his ministry. Christ did everything he could to be “one of us.”
And isn’t that the great thing about him? God the Son emptied himself and he began his public ministry getting baptized by John.