The Holy Spirit: The Synoptic Gospels, Part 2

The baptism of Jesus

(Mat 3:15-17 ESV) 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

(Mark 9-11; Luke 3:21-22).


Richard Lusk has written an extraordinary article in Theologia on the meaning of this event, and I heartily recommend it. I’ll only hit a few independent thoughts and tie Jesus’ baptism to the Spirit — and leave the reader to study Lusk’s work.

The dove

Why was the Spirit in the form of a dove?

(Gen 8:11-12 ESV)  11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

(Mat 10:16 ESV) 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

The dove has been a symbol of peace with God since the time of Noah. The dove carrying an olive leaf symbolizes that God’s time of wrath is over and that man is at last in right relationship with God.

Mat 10:16 tells us that doves were a common metaphor for innocence. And so, the Spirit descends as a dove, telling us that Jesus is bringing peace with God — because he is innocent.

It’s also true that the Spirit “hovered” over the face of the deep as God began his creation — and “hover” is a word used to describe a mother bird hovering over her hatchlings. It’s a subtle comparison of the Spirit’s actions with a bird caring for its young.

Therefore, the image of a dove was rich with meaning for the Jewish audience. They might have seen God making an offering for his Son. They might have seen a fresh creation. They might have seen a symbol for innocence. And most likely, they saw a sign of peace, goodwill toward men.

Fulfilling all righteousness

Lusk concludes,

In baptism, we have solidarity with our Savior and King. In Jesus’ baptism he identified himself with us, just as in our baptisms we become identified with him. In fact, in our baptisms, we come to share in his baptism, and its rich, variegated connections with every other facet of his life and ministry. Jesus’ baptism was efficacious: it accomplished something. In his baptism, his identity was revealed. He officially entered into his public calling as the Royal Priest of God’s people. And his mission of rejoining and reconciling God and man, the Creator and his creation, was initiated.

We must derive our understanding of Christian baptism first and foremost from Jesus’ own baptism. Since his baptism was efficacious, ours must be as well. Christian baptism is not an empty sign. It is not a dramatized picture of things that happen apart from the rite. Rather, in baptism, we are given a new identity. We are now children of God. The Father adopts us. His heavenly voice sings and shouts over us: “You are my dearly loved and chosen child! I rejoice in you!”

In baptism, we enter into our calling as members of the royal priesthood of the new covenant. We are ordained into the order of Melchizedek. Just as Jesus lived his whole life under the sign of baptism, so we are to live our whole lives under this sign as well. The anointing of baptism is to flow over every aspect of our lives, leaving nothing unconsecrated or untransformed. In baptism, heaven is opened to us, for we now have sanctuary access in Christ.

We become servants in the Lord’s house, with liturgical, communal, and missional responsibilities. In baptism, we find peace between ourselves and God. The dove of the Spirit alights upon us in the water, revealing the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Holy One of Israel. Finally, in baptism we find ourselves swept up into God’s glorious new creation. We are given a new name, a new status, a new family, and a new life.

[paragraphing modified]. Jesus didn’t need the baptism to be saved, but he had to be baptized to fulfill his mission for us. He modeled for us the baptism we all receive. When we are baptized into Jesus and thus into his baptism — we receive the same Spirit and the same heavenly proclamations. We emerge from the water, the Spirit descends upon us, and God declares us his beloved child and that he is well pleased with us.

Jesus’ baptism is a vivid picture of our baptism and, in a sense, is our baptism.

The temptations in the wilderness

(Mat 4:1 ESV)  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

(Luk 4:1 ESV) And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness

(Compare Mark 1:12 ff).

Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by his being led by the Spirit — a concept we’ve already seen in the Old Testament. Being led by the Spirit means that Jesus was made a leader for God’s people — and it means he had a mission to fulfill.

It’s a bit puzzling that the Spirit quite literally led Jesus into temptation! Why would God lead Jesus to be tempted? There are plenty of theories. D. A. Carson, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, notes the comparison to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. God led him into the desert for 40 days (like Israel’s 40 years) and he suffered many temptations — but unlike Israel, which succumbed to temptation, Jesus prevailed.

But while God has a taste for parallels and types, there must have been more to it than that. Perhaps the purpose is to show us not only that Jesus overcame temptation by relying on the scriptures, but that Jesus overcame the temptation to be an earthly king and to use his power for his own good. And these are important lessons that church needs to learn even today.

Jesus shows that even in the most extreme circumstances, his gifts are to be used for others. He is the ultimate servant king — and the prototype of how the church — his body — is to live.

Jesus’ ministry

(Luk 4:14-15 ESV) 14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.  15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

Notice how Luke emphasizes that Jesus was not only “led by the Spirit” but also “full of the Holy Spirit” immediately before his fasting and temptations. Luke then emphasizes the “power of the Spirit” in Jesus immediately afterwards.

To readers familiar with the Old Testament, being filled with the Spirit would indicate that Jesus is at least a prophet and perhaps even a king. Certainly, it shows both that Jesus was on a heavenly mission and equipped for that mission by God.

Less obvious is the lesson that Jesus’ followers are also promised the Spirit — and thus Luke illustrates for us what the Spirit can do, and here the emphasis is not on the ability to do spectacular miracles, but on the ability to resist Satan and to teach the gospel.


5 Responses

  1. Jay,

    Another great post (but the link to Richard Lusk’s article did not work).

    In Mark’s (abbreviated) account of the temptations, he introduces it by saying then the Spirit is εκβαλλει (ekballei Jesus into the wilderness. This is literally throwing Him out into the wilderness.

    This is a little stronger than leading Him. Jesus was literally thrown out into His temptation – and Mark also says temptation lasted the entire 40 days.

    A friend, whom I had baptized several years before, once reminded me of something I had said to him just after his baptism. Apparently I had told him that just as Jesus was tempted after 40 days, temptation would come to him as well – that it is human nature to start something with great enthusiasm, but after about six weeks to wonder why we ever got into this in the first place. I likened this to Jesus’ temptation. He said that it had happened to him exactly as I had warned him.

    Today that brother is a faithful elder. Maybe we fail to warn our converts at the time of their baptism that temptation will come – so they can be fore-warned and fore-armed to resist it.

    The activity of the Holy Spirit of God in all of this is evident.

    God bless you.

    Jerry, CommittedToTruth.WordPress.Com

  2. Jay asked, “Why was the Spirit in the form of a dove?”

    Well did it come in a bodily form as Luke said? (by the way the only one to say this) ? or did it descend in the manner of a dove in flight?

    Lets look at what John said ” I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. ” “AND IT ABODE UPON HIM” In other words it stayed there, it lived there , it made it’s domicile there. I don’t recall anyone ever saying Jesus walked around with a bird on his shoulder or head, no the spirit descended in the manner of a dove landing, from flight.

    Mat 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
    Mar 1:10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
    Luk 3:22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
    Jhn 1:32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

  3. Jerry, very good example. Please allow me to state what you know already know that two of Jesus’ temptations were for power and pride; if not all three.
    What stands out for me is that none of these promises for pride and power by the adversary, inspite of claims by some preachers and teachers, were given to Jesus later on as “reward” for not accepting them from “the wrong source”. That interpretaion allows a person to find them in the church, the “right source”. But Jesus was led into the desert by God to find nothing…nothing but God.

    This is a difficult concept for the average evangelical. To be indwelled by God, led by God into the desert to find nothing. The leading of God, when we listen, takes us to and through losses, sometimes stripped of everything we think makes us somebody; whether they be secular or religous. Our time in the desert is necessary. For those who have not yet been there, who have not reached that point of having nothing, whether through the assault of those around you, or from yourself, which is usually the case, once you find yourself in the desert the indwelling and movement of God becomes for you something other than a special Sunday feeling….it becomes the awakening that God is all you have.

  4. Jesus already had the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit manifested His presence at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus went to John to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law. Jesus did not come to John to become a child of God, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He was already the Son of God, water baptism did not make Jesus the Son of God, He was born the Son of God.

    Matthew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”

    Matthew 1:20 “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

    Luke 1:35 “And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

    Jesus at age twelve was speaking the words of God teaching the teachers in the temple who were amazed by Him, John 3:34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.”

    Luke 2:42-49 “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

    Jesus is God.

    Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    Genesis 3:22 “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

    Psalm 110:1 “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

    Isaiah 6:3 “And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

    Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

    Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

    Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

    John1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

    John 8:57-58 “Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

    Romans 8:9-10 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

    Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

    Romans 9:5 “Of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

    The people were called to repent, John and Jesus baptized disciples who had repented, baptism symbolized the people’s repentance, John 4:1-3 “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.”

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