Matthew alone of the Gospels records the exchange between Jesus and John regarding Jesus’ baptism. Here are three translations of the text:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. NIV
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized there by John. John didn’t want to do it. “This isn’t proper,” he said. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.” But Jesus said, “Please do it, for I must do all that is right.” So then John baptized him. TLB
Then Yeshua came from the Galil to the Yarden to be immersed by Yochanan. But Yochanan tried to stop him. “You are coming to me? I ought to be immersed by you!” However, Yeshua answered him, “Let it be this way now, because we should do everything righteousness requires.” Then Yochanan let him. CJB
Righteousness is a key word to understanding this text. It appears 213 times in the NIV Bible and righteous another 493. Clearly, God believes in righteousness. As God’s human on earth, Jesus understood that he had to be righteous.
So, why baptism? Jesus had many promises to fulfill, one of which was to be King in the line of David. God chose David to be king and told Samuel to anoint him. With that anointing, the Holy Spirit hovered over David.
For Jesus, the anointing was baptism. John used the same method as the Jewish mikveh. Before presenting one’s self before God in the Temple, a man (or woman) would immerse himself under the flowing water of the mikveh. John used the flowing water of the Jordan for the immersion.
The act is about cleansing one’s self of sin. That is why John said, “I should be baptized by you.” Remember that Jesus and John were cousins only six months apart in age. They knew each other. John knew that his job was to prepare the way for King Jesus; that is, the Messiah. John knew he was not perfect and that the Messiah was perfect. To him, baptizing Jesus made no sense.
But it made sense to God. The Messiah, Jesus, the source of fire baptism and the source of Living Water, accepted the shame and humiliation of a sinner’s baptism. And God used that act as an anointing of Jesus.
At that moment heaven was opened, he saw the Spirit of God coming down upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with him.” CJB
Just as happened with David.
Be righteous and do good.