I would imagine that, of all the questions and concerns rumbling around in your mind today, this question would not be at the top of the list. If, though, like me, you enjoy studying the Bible, it is a question worthy of consideration.
Consider baptism. In the Baptist belief, it is an outward sign of an inward grace having been applied to the believer's heart. It is a testimony.
Well, Jesus did not need salvation; He led a perfect life.
So....why did He ask his cousin, John the Baptist, to baptize Him?
If you will remember, John at first refused to do it. Take a look at Matthew 3:13-17 (The Message)
Some of you will take exception to my featuring The Message version here when I hone in on verse 15. But, check it out in other versions, if you like.
Now, the Baptist tradition I've always heard was that Jesus was setting an example for us believers to follow. I do believe that was the case. However, I don't believe that was the only reason He submitted to baptism. If that were the only reason, He could have explicitly said for His disciples to "do it" (baptize and be baptized - - - they did, after all), without actually being baptized Himself.
Borrowing again heavily from the work of Biblical scholar, David W. Lowe, I believe something deeper and more spiritually transactional was going on here. Look at Hebrews 7:18-22 (NIV).
18The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
20And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’ ”b
22Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
"The former regulation" referred to in verse 18 is the Levitical priesthood. Is it possible that, through His baptism, Jesus was demonstrating a transfer from the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood to the Melchizedekan?
John the Baptist was six months older than his biological cousin, Jesus. (Mary and Elizabeth, John's mother, were cousins). Both John and Jesus were at least 30 years old (as recorded in Luke 3:23) at Jesus' baptism, which "kicked-off" His earthly ministry. If you go back and read Numbers 4, you will find several occasions where it is emphasized that priests had to be 30 years old before assuming their priestly duties.
John's parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both descendants of Aaron. Very crucial detail in the Scriptures, although it seems relatively meaningless at a first glance. It should have been obvious that Zechariah was a descendant of Aaron; he was serving his turn as priest in the Temple when the angel appeared to him in the Holy of Holies, after all....But, what difference did it make if Elizabeth was a "daughter of Aaron"?! NO detail of Scripture is meaningless.
During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron.
(See also 1 Chronicles 24:10.)
The Levitical priesthood passed from father to son; therefore, John the Baptist was a true Levitical priest.
"So what?", you ask.
"For Jesus Christ to become a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and for it to succeed the Levitical priesthood, there had to be a transfer of the priesthood. For a transfer to take place, a member of both parties must be present. In this case, a member of both the former Levitical priesthood and the new Melchizedekan priesthood were present at the baptism. Notice that Jesus stated the baptism had to take place “now” in order for righteousness to be fulfilled.
The transfer of the priesthood took place in a most extraordinary fashion, after the pattern given to Moses. Under the Levitical priesthood, God set forth the example for the transfer of the priesthood from father to son with Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons. The consecration ceremony, among other things, included the following:
Lev 8:6 So Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.
Lev 8:10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them.
Lev 8:12 He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him."1
Now, read the verses from Matthew 3 again. We have water (water of the Jordan river). The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, representing the anointing oil, in the presence of and with the approval of God the Father. All three Persons of the Godhead were present and manifest at this earthly event. That is a big deal. On this auspicious occasion, Jesus Christ was anointed into the Melchizedekan priesthood; the transfer of the Levitical priesthood to the Melchizedekan priesthood was accomplished.
In addition, the baptism of Jesus marked a turning point in the ministry of John the Baptist. John the apostle alluded to this in his gospel account when he quoted John the Baptist testifying about who Jesus is: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)
Now that I think about it, those are "good words" for all of us who claim the name of our high priest, the High Priest of Heaven, Jesus Christ.
1 Lowe, D. W. (2005). Earthquake Resurrection: supernatural catalyst for the coming global catastrophe. ISBN: 1-4116-3970-7. Place of publication not identified: D.W. Lowe.