John said to the man he believed to be Messiah, “I have need to be immersed by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).
Why was Yeshua seeking immersion from John? John’s baptism in water symbolized repentance from sin. People came to him, repenting and confessing sins. They took his message of repentance to heart, bore fruit in keeping with repentance, and then they immersed themselves in the Jordan with John’s supervision and approval. If our Master was sinless, why did He seek baptism from John? He had no sins to confess or penitence to accomplish. Clearly this was not just some swim in the Jordan River.
Yeshua replied with a cryptic answer: “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, He did not come seeking baptism from John for reason of repentance. Instead, He intended to fulfill some higher purpose of “all righteousness” through the immersion.
In what sense did John and Yeshua fulfill all righteousness? The book of Matthew uses the same type of fulfillment terminology frequently in regard to messianic prophecy; e.g., “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets.” In this instance, Yeshua seems to use the term “all righteousness” to refer to “the proper way of doing things.” The Scriptures establish a standard of protocol for the messianic expectation, and Yeshua and John must follow that protocol in its proper order.
Part of the righteous protocol requires a prophet to arise and declare the Messiah. Just as the Prophet Samuel anointed David, the Prophet Nathan anointed Solomon, and a prophet from the school of Elisha anointed Jehu, so too, a prophet must identify, declare, and anoint the Messiah. Moreover, the righteous protocol of the Scriptures requires the Prophet Elijah to precede the Messiah and herald His arrival. The time for the literal anointing of the Messiah will not come until the day of coronation when the Messiah takes His throne in Jerusalem. In the interim, John’s ritual of immersion substitutes for the anointing of Messiah.
John consented to follow the protocol. Yeshua stepped down into the water, and John stood nearby as witness to the immersion.
“The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). This refers to the spirit of Messiah, as you read [in Isaiah 11:2], “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him.” What merit will cause him to come? He will come “moving over the waters,” which is to say, He will come in the merit of repentance, which is likened to water, as it is written [in Lamentations 2:19], “Pour out your heart like water.” (Midrash Rabbah)