Then Yeshua came from Galilee to the Jordan to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and you come to me?” But Yeshua, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.
Yeshua, when he was immersed, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mat. 3:13-17)
This passage has confused a lot of people over the centuries: If John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentence” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24, 19:4), then how exactly does it “fulfill all righteousness” for a perfect, sinless Messiah to be ritually immersed in the Jordan by him?
Answers range from this simply being Yeshua’s way of showing continuity with John’s message, to simply carrying out God’s commands in the law of Moses (though nobody seems to be able to find such a command), to him leading by example, and so forth. A few commentaries, like the IVP Bible Background Commentary, get to the correct answer–“Jesus identifies with Israel”–but don’t explain why that is the correct answer.
As we’ve seen in the previous posts in this series, Matthew repeatedly uses prophecy to emphasize a particular central point: The king and his people are one. Yeshua’s personal history mirror’s Israel’s national history, but at each point where Israel fell short, the Messiah King reverses the previous error by getting it right!
Seen in this light, it becomes clear why Matthew, and only Matthew, records John’s objection and Yeshua’s response. No other author has set up Yeshua’s identification with Israel so completely that the exchange would make any sense. But for Matthew, it’s a perfect cap to his introductory chapters.