The Baptism of Jesus – Part 2
When John saw his godly cousin, Jesus, coming out to join that rogues’ gallery of repentant sinners, John was incredulous. John says, if one of us should be repenting to the other, it should be me repenting to you Jesus. John wasn’t calling Jesus the Messiah. He was simply saying I have more sin than you do, so I need you to baptize me. Of course John was both right and wrong. On the one hand, John was right that he had more sin than Jesus. In fact, John didn’t realize how right he was as John had infinitely more sin than Jesus because Jesus was perfect, sinless, God incarnate.
But John was also wrong to think that Jesus shouldn’t be baptized. Because Jesus wasn’t coming to receive a baptism of repentance. Jesus had no need to repent. He was coming to John to serve a different purpose. Jesus was obeying the command of His Father and ensuring that John would likewise obey his calling. Specifically, Jesus says this moment was fitting to fulfill all righteousness. The Greek word translated “fitting” literally means to be clearly seen. In other words, Jesus is saying “in doing this we will be displaying righteousness as we obey the Father.” Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance, but He did need to receive John’s baptism to be obedient to the Father. And that meant it was required to fulfill all righteousness. But if the baptism of Jesus by John wasn’t a baptism for repentance, what specifically did John’s ministry of announcing the coming Messiah accomplish?
John was raised up by God as the voice crying in the wilderness declaring the Messiah was soon to arrive. For the past 6 months or so John had been obeying that call, baptizing all those who believed his message. And now that the Father was ready to reveal Jesus as Messiah, John’s ministry was coming to an end. It was time for John to step aside, to retire so to speak and hand-off to Jesus. That hand-off would take place through a baptism moment. So the act of John lowering Jesus into the water and raising Him up symbolized John passing the baton to Jesus.
Secondly, the baptism of Jesus served as the moment the Father unveiled Jesus as Messiah empowering Him to begin His public ministry. In verse 16 Matthew says that as Jesus came up out of the water and the heavens opened. And at that moment John saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Jesus. The resting of the Spirit of God upon Jesus is the moment Jesus obtained supernatural power. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to accomplish the miracles He used to authenticate Himself to the crowds. This is the mystery of God taking on flesh. Paul describes it this way…
Philippians 2:5-7 New King James Version (NKJV) **
The Humbled and Exalted Christ
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery (did not regard equality with God to be a thing to grasp) to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation (emptied Himself), taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.
** All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Before coming to Earth, Christ existed in a form of God. God’s form is a mystery to us, but whatever that form is, Jesus had it. He had equality with God, or as John says Jesus was the Word, was with God, and was God. Yet Jesus did not consider his position something to grasped or to cling to as He was willing to forgo His form as God and His position of equality with the Father. To do that, Christ had to empty Himself, literally in Greek it means Jesus made His form void or putting it aside. And in the place of the form of God, Jesus assumed the form of a man, a servant of God. Can a man walk on water? Can a man heal disease with just his word? Can a man raise people from the dead? No, only God can do those things. And when Jesus emptied Himself, giving up the form and power of God, to take on the form of flesh, He gave up the ability to do these things. Jesus never gave up His identity…He was always God. But when He became man, Jesus did give up His form as God and His power as God. In other words, Jesus didn’t just look like a man, He was a man. The writer of Hebrews, quoting the Psalms, puts it this way:
6 But one testified in a certain place, saying:
“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
7 You have made him (for a little while) a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands.
The Father made Jesus a little lower than angels for a while. Who is lower than an angel? Mankind. This is what it meant for Jesus to become man…it meant entering into the very Creation He made. And by entering into it, He chose to become limited by it. So if Jesus were to perform miracles to authenticate His ministry and message, where would the power for those miracles come from? The answer is the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Godhead came upon the Second Person of the Godhead at His baptism to empower Him for His ministry on earth.
By the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus validated His claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God foretold in Scripture. So every time Jesus performed a miracle before the people, it
was actually a work or testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit testified that Jesus was the Messiah. We can see multiple examples in scripture confirming this understanding. First, the Gospels make frequent mention of the Spirit’s role in directing and empowering Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 4 we see Jesus led into the wilderness by the Spirit. In Matthew 12 we see Jesus Himself crediting the Spirit for His power to cast out demons. In that same chapter Jesus says that when the Pharisees tried to discredit Jesus’ miracles, they were guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Also Luke reports that Jesus’ communion with the Father while He lived on Earth was made possible by the Holy Spirit. It was as if the Spirit served as a conduit connecting Jesus with the Father in Heaven. And this conduit operated in both directions. Because in Acts we’re told that God revealed His will to Jesus and the apostles by means of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, it’s notable that there is no record of Jesus performing any miracles prior to His baptism. Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. That event happened not long after His baptism with John. So in taking on flesh Jesus voluntarily relinquished His form as God along with His power. Therefore, Jesus required the power of the Holy Spirit to perform the miracles He would do in His earthly ministry. And the moment the Holy Spirit arrived to begin that work was when Jesus received His baptism. Jesus’ water baptism provided a picture to the onlookers around
the river, a symbolic representation of the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
So just as Jesus’ physical body was immersed in water so was Jesus’ spirit immersed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s arrival was portrayed as a dove landing on Jesus. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is not a dove, so this was a vision God created to communicate the Spirit’s arrival. But the choice of dove was significant. The first mention of the Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2 uses a Hebrew verb translated fluttering. It is commonly used to describe a mother bird hovering over her nest. Jewish rabbis had concluded that the Spirit took the form of a dove as it fluttered in Genesis 1:2. So to a Jew, the dove was a clear symbol of the Spirit. And then to make sure John got the message, the Father spoke from Heaven testifying that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. He was the One in whom the Father is well-pleased. To be well-pleased is typical biblical understatement…the Father is saying He couldn’t be more pleased than He is in His Son. This is the first of three times the voice of the Father is spoken audibly from Heaven in support of His Son.
But remember this vision and the voice were only witnessed by John. John alone was told to look for such a vision as confirmation of the Messiah. No one else in that moment was privy to this vision. Notice in verse 16 the text says “he” (singular) saw the heavens open and the dove descend, not “they.” And in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that he saw this sign and He testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. In other words, the crowds were expected to receive John’s word as the prophet of God. The word of the prophet alone was to be sufficient, and the baptism of Jesus moment served as the moment for that testimony. Only John needed supernatural confirmation to ensure he understood the truth he was to proclaim.
That’s still true today generally… God reveals Himself to His people by the word of His prophets in our Bible. Those men received supernatural manifestations of God in many
cases to validate they were hearing from God. But we’re expected to receive their testimony on the basis of faith.
So the very next day, John the Baptist was declaring Jesus was the Lamb of God. But John still didn’t fully grasp all that was coming for his cousin. He knew Jesus was to be a sacrifice for sin, but John didn’t immediately appreciate that Jesus would also reign as King.
NEXT: The conclusion of the Baptism of Jesus in Part 3
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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