The Bible says Jesus was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness." Since Jesus was sinless, what does this mean?

Matthew 3:15 describes Jesus' baptism at the hands of John. Yes, Jesus was sinless, so his immersion did not forgive his sins. Jesus insisted he came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). He was circumcised; he observed the fasts and feasts of Judaism; he honored the Sabbath; he was thoroughly Jewish. Immersion was an integral part of Judaism (see Leviticus, for example). John's baptism was less new or radical than we may be tempted to think. After all, people came from Jerusalem and Judea to be immersed (Matthew 3:5). Even Pharisees and Sadducees found nothing out of order with the practice (Matthew 3:7) -- not that they were always willing to humble themselves and repent (Luke 7:30).

In distinction to the levitical purification rites, John's baptism conferred forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). Jesus did not shy away from the ritual cleansings required by the law. He was a faithful Jew.

To understand better, ask the question, Why did Jesus observe the Passover (recorded in all four gospels)? He observed Passover to fulfill all righteousness. Why did he visit the Temple? Because he sought cleansing from sin? No, to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness because he came to fulfill and uphold the law. His baptism is best understood in this light.

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