Fulfilling All Righteousness

Recently I’ve begin working through Matthew in preparation for a retreat series I am doing for Campus Crusade at Ohio University. I’ll be speaking four times from Matthew 21-28: the triumphal entry (21:1-11), Garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46), crucifixion (27:33-54), and the resurrection & commissioning (28:1-20).

Matthew’s interest in Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT is well-known. But as I was reading Matt 3, I was struck by Jesus’ words to John to justify John baptizing Jesus – “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” When I read this it raised the question, “In what sense does John baptizing Jesus fulfill all righteousness?” So then, what does this mean, and why does Jesus (via Matthew) express it in these terms?

15 thoughts on “Fulfilling All Righteousness”

  1. Good question. I think the context helps us understand the bigger point of the account.

    David Jackman says, “from the beginning [of the gospel], Jesus is introduced as the one who is pleasing to the Father, because he fulfils righteousness in a way that the nation, called as the firstborn out of Egypt (Exodus 4:22), has failed to do.”

    This makes sense with the context but doesn’t quite answer, “Why does baptism fulfill all righteousness?”

    An interesting take on baptism (on the whole) is by Broughton Knox. His take on this passage is that he translates Jesus’ response as “allow it for now, for in this way it is appropriate for us both to fill out all that a person ought to do”. Knox explains, “In other words, Jesus said that it was right for him to identify with John’s messianic movement, for John’s baptism was ‘from God’ (Matt 21:25) and Jesus would not stand aloof from it but ‘while all the people were being baptized’ (Lk 3:21) it was suitable that Jesus too should be baptized. It was the ‘right thing to do’. It was right for John, who was sent from God to baptize with water (John 1:33) to baptize Jesus and so include him in the movement along with all other God-fearing Jews who were awaiting the kingdom, and it was right for Jesus to accept John as the God-sent leader at that time and so accept baptism at his hands. In this way it was appropriate for both of them that John should baptize Jesus and that Jesus should identify with John’s message in the way that God had ordained, i.e., by being baptized by him in water, for God had sent him to baptize with water (John 1:33). That is, the baptism of Jesus was a baptism of discipleship, for at that time John was the leader. When the providence of God removed John from the leadership through Herod shutting him up in prison, then Jesus took over the leadership, preaching the same gospel. However, it would seem that he dropped the rite of baptizing with water, though his disciples revived it on the day of Pentecost.”

    This is definitely a unique take (and translation) of the text. Although, it isn’t so far off from Carson’s view that this account signified Jesus’ servant role (with Matthew’s frequent linking back to Isaiah).

  2. Someone once told me that it had something to do with the ritual cleasing of the levites – not sure if there’s any connection – maybe something worth looking at?

  3. From a sermon by Ray Stedman:
    Jesus’ being baptized was an act of identification. Jesus was associating himself with us. He took our place but he began with his baptism, not the cross. This was the first step leading to that relationship in which he was ultimately to be made sin for us, i.e., actually become what we are. This was the first sign of his intention to do so, when he took the place of a sinner, and was baptized with a baptism of repentance and confession of sin.

    I like the way Dr. H. A. Ironside explained this: He said that we are like paupers who have accumulated so many debts that we cannot pay them. These are our sins. These tremendous claims are made against us, and we cannot possibly meet them. But when Jesus came, he took all these mortgages and notes and agreements we could not meet and endorsed them with his own name, thereby saying that he intended to pay them, he would meet them. This is what his baptism signifies, and is why Jesus said to John the baptist, “…thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” {Matt 3:15b RSV}. He declared his intention to meet the righteous demands of God by himself undertaking to pay the debts of men. So the baptism was clearly an act of identification.

  4. With the studying I have done on baptism, I have found out about it’s importance and need when it comes to our sins.
    I agree with most of what has been said, to some extent, but a firm fact has yet to be mentioned…it’s necessity. In this passage, it may have something to do with identification, or ritual cleansings…etc, but i believe it was a look foward at what was to come. Jesus was constantly giving clues to God’s plan through his short life in the form of parables, stories, or just coming out and saying it. This was a look forward at his death burial and resurection, and how it is important for us to take part in that. Jesus said that baptism was proper for us to do, to fulfill all righteousness. To fulfill something means: to satisfy, to bring to realization, to bring to completion. Righteousness means to be without guilt or sin/ Morally justified. Reading each comment i was thinking to myself, “why cant we just read this verse for what it says? Instead of quoting random men and taking their thoughts and opinions, and other complex and wordy explanations and look at the simple message of the Bible.” God’s word does not create confusion, it is not to be taken differently by many different religious figures or authorities. If you really study, you’ll find that the Bible can actually explain itself.
    I am not a preacher…I’m a simple person who has tried to understand the Bible with a child like mind…the way Jesus would have had us take it.
    Look at the passage in Matthew like this. (in reference to the passage) For a prophecy to be fulfilled it must then happen…for it to come into realization, to be satisfied, to be brought into completion…it must come to pass. In the same way, for righteousness to be complete…baptism must happen. He knew that He had to take part in and it was something we would have to take part in as well. His Death, His Burial, and His Resurection. Baptism was not heard of after that until Acts at Pentecost where Peter said “Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the forgiveness of your sins.” after the men were distraught to find out what evil they had done.
    In Romans 6:3 when we are baptised, we are baptised into His DEATH and in v4 we were actually BURIED with Him through baptism into DEATH so that we might be RAISED from the dead by the glory of the Father to walk in new life. v5 and IF we have been united with him in the likeness of His DEATH, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His RESURRECTION. v6 we learn that “our old self was CRUCIFIED” and v7 states that that “he (meaning us or anyone else) who has died with Christ (refering back to v3) has been freed from sin. WOW! There are many who do not believe in baptism’s importance, and some say it is simply not necessary. Now some of what I used in Romans 6 was paraphrased so be sure and check me out, but the simple understanding of this passage seems to say that when we take part in the DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURECTION, or simply put BAPTISM, we are then a new person and we are FREED from our sins, AMEN!! Now to bring this back home…It is at that point that we are made righteous or “without guilt or sin and we are morally justified. Please dont misunderstand me. I absolutely believe that you first must believe, we must repent, and confess his name. Belief and Faith in God and Jesus Christ is the beginning of righteousness, and baptism is the completion, the fulfillment of righteousness, making us without sin, blameless before the Father, Where we were raised by faith in the working of God(Col 2:12) not of men.

  5. Definitely an interesting question…and i have found most of the comments helpful, especially the last comment. However, there is something i would like to mention, that ties in with what has been said. a couple of those that have posted comments mentioned that Jesus seemed to have done away with baptism and it wasn’t until Pentecost that this practice was started up again by Jesus’ followers. The fact is that Jesus did baptize, or at least his disciples did…take a look at John 4:1. It mentions that Jesus (via his disciples) was baptizing and converting more people than John was. There is no reason to believe that this practice was not fulfilled throughout Jesus’ entire ministry. Now, to deal with the original question, it is helpful to take a look at the end of John 1. We find there that John’s purpose in coming with a baptism of water was to reveal the Lamb of God to Israel. We know that John’s baptism was done with water because of repentance of sin, but the bigger picture was for Christ to be revealed, to mark the beginning of Christ’s ministry. In this way righteousness was being fulfilled, in the fulfillment of Scripture, the OT passages talking about John the Baptist being the voice in the desert, being the one that was to prepare the way for Christ, and then Christ taking that path marked out, the way that had been prepared for him through and by his cousin John. That is my two cents on this subject. God bless you all

  6. Before the salvation that became available to us through Jesus’ sacrifice of himself, righteousness meant simply, adherence to or compliance with the law. Unrighteousness, or sinfulness, was transgression of the law. Jesus lived under the law. (In Romans 3:21ff Paul wrote a radical new interpretation of righteousness, that by faith in Christ, there is now a righteousness apart from the law.) So the implication is that there was a law which Jesus had to comply with, and that his baptism was the necessary step in compliance.
    Hebrews goes to great lengths to point out that Christ was to be an eternal High Priest, but also that, because Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi but of Judah, and “in connection with that tribe, Moses said nothing about priests”. (Num. 7:12) There had to be a change in the law.

    What law? Numbers 8:5ff Moses obeyed the command of God in the selection of the first Levites to be priests, who were taken from among the people and ceremonially cleansed and dedicated to the service of priests. We have no indication that subsequent generations of Levites were similarly consecrated; but Jesus was not a Levite, so it was now necessary according to the law of the selection and dedication of priests, that Jesus be consecrated for this ministry. This is precisely why Jesus was baptized in accordance with God’s command to Moses (Num. 8:7). He had to be “sprinkled with the water of purification”.

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  8. check out leviticus ch 1 – the sacrifice (atonement) had to be washed before it was given up to be burned, as the offering…….Jesus was fulfilling that ‘right thing to do’ as He was the sacrifice!!!!!!

  9. 6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
    7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be aobedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

    From the Book of 2 Nephi Chapter 31 in the Book of Mormon

  10. If we look at the old testiment and understand the tabanacle principles.We see the exact reflextion of Jesus. Looking at the way the bible explains the details of John the baptist birth life and mission as prophasied hundreds of years before he was born, he was appointed for a very important mission I believe that it was an ultermite mission. If we look at Hebrews 8 9 10, we have to get our mind set back to the time were Jesus and john the baptist lived. They new the way the sins were forgiven through the sacrifical lamb without spot or blemish. The high priest would put his hand on the head of the sacrifice lamb and transfer all the sins of Isreal once a year onto the lamb for remission of sins.
    This is were it gets interesting John the baptist saw Jesus comming one day were he was baptising, he immediatelly knew it was Jesus the saviour. He said to everyone “this is the LAMB of god who takes away the sins of the world”.
    He refuseD to baptise Jesus but jesus said it must be done to “fulfil all righteousness”. Unrighteousness is sin. NOW when John the baptit lays hands on Jesus he transfers all the sins of the world on to Jesus, just as the tabanacle. Jesus never ever became sin but he took on our sins at his baptism. Now The wages of sin is death. Jesus now had to pay for our sins, he had to share his blood and be crusifield for our unrighteousness so we could become righteous before God.
    If he had not taken our sins at his baptism, his tempation by satan would mean nothing as he was Devine and God,Peter 2:24 states that “Christ himself took our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness”, here we see that Jesus offence was done before the cross, wages of sin is death, the cross WE MUST understand that was the penalty for sin only. I hope I made myself clear, please read Hebrews 8 9 and 10. Jesus was the sacrifical lamb without spot or blemish. The bible is so simple and we make it troublesome. YES the people of that time understood the way the tabanacle system worked. PLEASE note that only the High priest was allowed to lay hands on the sacrifical lamb, we see that John the baptist was the last High priest of the old testiment, he was in the wilderness being away from the filth of the people and ministered by God for this GREAT MIRICLE to baptise Jesus. God bless us all and the spirit give us revalation on the word of God.PS Jesus took our past present and future sins, if he had not he would have to be crusified over and over again for our sins.

  11. The water baptism of Christ stands as declaration of him having humbled himself before the Father to take on the messianic role as applicable to the salvation of man; it was his prior spiritual baptism that what would empty him of the glory he held in heaven to take on human form for the express purpose of fulfilling his Father’s will to save the lost: The burial signifies the cessation of the glory he held while he was with the Father, and the resurrection signifies the glorification of him in human form; His glorification in the presence of others began with the pleasure of his Father sending down from heaven the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to light upon him and telling them “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3: 16 -17.

  12. The water baptism of Christ stands as declaration of him having humbled himself before the Father to take on the messianic role as applicable to the salvation of man; it was his prior spiritual baptism that what would empty him of the glory he held in heaven to take on human form for the express purpose of fulfilling his Father’s will to save the lost: The burial signifies the cessation of the glory he held while he was with the Father, and the resurrection signifies the glorification of him in human form; His glorification in the presence of others began with the pleasure of his Father sending down from heaven the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to light upon him and telling them “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3: 16 -17.

  13. I really enjoyed reading all the comments. John’s reluctance seems like Issiah’s famous “woe is me”. I see Jesus’ line (fulfill…) as looking forward to his meeting that fundamental need behind this holy fear. John reflects a “Hunger….for righteousness” and Jesus will satisfy that hunger. “Amen” to seeing Jesus’ baptism as identification with us. And ours is identification with him….i.e. the one who knew no sine became sin that we….and I’m sure readers of this page know the wonderful rest. (But its in 2 Cor. 5 if you’d like to read it).

  14. I think the “fulfill all righteousness” clause has to do with the spirits anointing(as preist in the line of Melchesidik). Aron and his descendants hadf to be anointed with oil before serving as priests. The same with Kings(according to Deuteronomy).

    As the Messiah, Jesus was Prophet, Priest, and King. And this was when he was ordained to begin his ministry.

    Besides the definitions we already know, The word dike to the Greeks Also denoted custom or ways of doing things. But I think the former is more likely in view here.

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