John’s reaction to this does him considerable credit; he seemed to be surprised that one so much greater than he would want to submit to his baptism. Rather, John knew that he needed what Jesus could offer; not the other way around. That is when Jesus speaks for the very first time in Matthew’s Gospel; for the time being anyway, it was right and proper that Jesus submit Himself to John’s preparatory baptism so that all righteousness could be fulfilled.
It seems clear, at least to me, that Jesus wasn’t making any sort of legal argument, for there was no Jewish Law that said He had to be baptized, there wasn’t any specific prophecy that had to be fulfilled or anything like that, rather it was righteous for Jesus to submit to the baptism of John to prepare Him to step forth from the shadows into the bright lights of His own ministry as the Messiah, the Son of God, for you see, Jesus was not there to do His own will, but to submit to the Father’s will and purpose. Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus in obedience submitted to John, John immediately submits to His request to be baptized?
So then, why did God want this little scene to happen?
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Jesus submits to John’s baptism, John submits to Jesus’ request to be baptized, Jesus is immersed… and as soon as He comes up out of the water, heaven was opened. It seems to me that this is one of those “wow” moments…
“Heaven was opened” is used several times in Scripture to signal a divine revelation (cf. Ezek. 1:1; Is. 63:19; Acts 7:56; Rev. 4:1) and this time is no different; God has a little announcement to make. First, the Spirit descends upon Jesus “like a dove” and alights on him. Some have suggested that this is when Jesus actually became God’s son, but to me that seems unlikely, particularly considering the great pains Matthew has gone to already to show the Sonship of Jesus from the time of His conception. What seems more likely to me is that this anointing of the Holy Spirit is done in conjunction with His commissioning, which follows immediately when the voice of God speaks forth from Heaven pronouncing His pleasure with His Son.
It isn’t every day that you see all three Persons of the Godhead manifested together in one place at the same time; thus began the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Messiah.