Jesus is now 30 years old in this passage, and it ends a period of 16 years of silence. The point of this passage is to transition us from the ministry of John, which was preparing the way of Jesus, to the ministry of Jesus. This passage also makes it clear that although John was the greatest prophet ever to live; that Jesus is far superior and even God from the heavens declares it to be so. In our lesson today, we take questions that arise from this difficult passage and answer them.
Why was John reluctant to Baptize Jesus?
This is because John’s baptism had been signifying repentance and confession of sin as we discussed earlier. Whether John knew Jesus well, we do not know. It is, however, inconceivable that his parents had not told him of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth some three decades earlier. At the very least, John must have recognized that Jesus, to whom he was related, whose birth was more marvelous than his own, and whose knowledge of Scripture was extraordinary even as a child, surpassed him.
John the Baptist was a humble man; conscious of his own sin, he could detect no sin Jesus needed to repent of and confess. Therefore, John thought that Jesus should baptize him. Matthew does not tell us when John also perceived that Jesus was the Messiah; Matthew focuses on Jesus’ sinlessness and the Father’s testimony, not on John’s testimony. John’s consent was won because Jesus told him, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Carson, 1995, p. 107)
Why did Jesus, who is sinless, have to be baptized?
This is a good question and we get the answer in Mt. 3:15. Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Therefore, the first reason why Jesus was baptized was because God called Him to be baptized. In scripture, the word righteousness frequently signifies the observation of the law. And in that sense, we may explain this passage to mean that since Christ had voluntarily subjected himself to the law, it was necessary that he should keep it in the observation of the law. And in that sense we may explain this passage to mean that since Christ had voluntarily subjected himself to the law, it was necessary that he should keep it in ever part.
Basically, Jesus makes clear that He did not come to rule over people, but to submit to God’s law and to serve others. The general reason why Christ received baptism was, that he might render full obedience to the Father; and the special reason was, that he might consecrate baptism in his own body, that we might have it in common with him. Jesus is setting the example of what it looks like to be a humble servant of God, seeking to glorify God. (Calvin, 1999)
The second reason why Jesus was baptized was to confirm John’s mission. The Pharisees and the Sadducees had come out to the river to challenge what John was teaching in the wilderness. Now God is confirming to everyone that what John had been doing was in preparation for the coming messiah.
The third reason why Jesus was baptized was to foreshadow his death and resurrection. Jesus as the suffering servant will be a reoccurring theme as we go through the Gospels. Mainly because it fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1, but it also prepares us for the events that occur on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The servant’s first mark is obeying God: Jesus fulfills all righteousness since he suffers and dies to accomplish redemption in his assigned work. Jesus must demonstrate his willingness to take on his servant role, entailing his identification with the people. Therefore, we can assume that Jesus knew His role as the suffering servant from the beginning of His ministry. (Carson, 1995, p. 108)
Not only are the authors setting up the theme of the suffering-servant, but there is something deeper going on in this passage that we would have to be sensitive to the Old testament scriptures to catch. “To fulfill all righteousness” seems to allude to the fact that Jesus came to set right what Israel and Adam had done wrong; he was coming successfully to obey, in contrast to Israel’s former disobedience. By his baptism, Jesus affirms his determination to do his assigned work as God’s servant in restoring Israel and being a light to the nations.
Likewise, this passage relates to the Old Testament because it is setting up another exodus. Just as Israel was led by Moses and had to go through the sea at the exodus to enter the promised land, and just as the second generation had to do the something at the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership, as a miniature second exodus, so again, now that Israel’s restoration is imminent through Jesus, true Israelites must again identify with the water and the Jordan and their prophetic leader in order to begin to experience true restoration.
The same pattern occurs with Noah. Noah’s family had to go through the floodwaters on an ark in order to live on the dry land again. Could the dove descending over the water at Jesus’s baptism even echo the dove over the waters of the flood, which indicated also that waters were dividing from dry land, so that the new humanity could dwell on it and fulfill the commission originally given to Adam?
The fourth reason why Jesus was Baptized was to be a forerunner to what we should do. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is clear that baptism is something that was important to Jesus and was something that he wanted us to continue doing in the future.
Why is the Holy Spirit just now descending on Jesus?
Basically, this was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” In other words, this is declaring to all those witnessing this event that Christ’s preaching ministry in now beginning and that he will be proclaiming liberty not just to the already religious, but those held captive and his words will release them from their bondages. (Calvin, 1999, p. 203)
We also should be catching onto a theme that is going on that God wants us to see. Luke continually emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. So far we have seen that the Holy Spirit was involved in the birth of John the Baptist (1:15), the conception of Jesus (1:35), the Spirit bears witness to Jesus (1:41-45), and now at His baptism we see that Jesus is anointed by the Spirit in a powerful way in verse 22. And this is not the last that we will see of the Holy Spirit so keep your ears tuned to what keeps reoccurring because if it is important to repeat then it is something that God is wanting us to make sure that we get. (Stein, 1994)
It is important to note that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit does not change Jesus’ status, He was the Son of God before this, nor does it assign him new rights. Rather it identifies him as the Promised Servant and Son and marks the beginning of His public ministry. (Carson, 1995, p. 110)
Why did the Holy Spirit appear in the shape of a dove rather than fire?
We just learned last time that John baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the spirit and fire. So why did the spirit that is going to purify us, come down as a gentle bird? The word “dove” occurs on Jesus’ lips one time in the gospels, namely, Matthew 10:16: “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The dove suggests to Jesus purity, meekness, innocence. It was not majestic like the eagle or fierce like the hawk or flamboyant like the cardinal. It was simple, common, innocent, the kind of bird poor people could offer for a sacrifice (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8).
The main reason for this is because God wanted to depict Christ as one that you could approach because of his love for you. If God had rained down fire from heaven then the people would have seen Jesus’ full power and would have been afraid to approach him. Therefore, Jesus is powerful, but He is still meek towards us. (Calvin, 1999, p. 204)
So in summary, what Luke is doing in verses 21 and 22 is setting Jesus’ ministry off from John’s, demonstrating that he has God’s fullest approval and blessing, and revealing the kind of ministry he will have—namely, a dove-like ministry. (Piper, 1981)
Often people get meek and weak confused. Weak is not being strong enough to do something, but meek is withholding strength. For example, a father wrestling with his son. The father has the strength to overpower the child into submission, but uses meekness in order to bond with his son. That is what he is going on here, Jesus is powerful enough to annihilate all of us, yet comes as a lowly carpenter son to serve us and then to die for us.
How did John see the Holy Spirit?
As we have discussed before, we do not all have individual Holy Spirit’s so how does Jesus have a dove descend to him? Well, since we know that the Holy Spirit is everywhere present, and fills the heavens and the earth it is not the literal Holy Spirit, nor is it Jesus’ personal Holy Spirit, kind of like tinker bell. What it is, is what God made manifest. Just like the bread is not actually Christ’s body and just like the blood is not literally Christ’s blood, the dove was not actually all of the Holy Spirit, but that which was made manifest in order to display Christ as the messiah, superior to John, and marking the beginning of His ministry as we discussed earlier. (Calvin, 1999, p. 205)
What is the significance of the voice of God?
First of all, to fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah 42:1: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Second, to display that Jesus is clearly the messiah and greater than John the Baptist, the greatest prophet that ever lived. God here refers to Jesus as “my Son”. Third, these words from heaven link Jesus with the suffering servant at the very beginning of his ministry and confirm our interpretation of Matthew 3:15. (Carson, 1995, p. 109)
Fourth, it is the first of only two divine testimonies given during Jesus’ ministry (the other being at the transfiguration account in Lk 9:28-36). Much as a political party puts its stamp on a presidential candidate, so here God has shown who will accomplish his plan. (Bock, 1994) Fifth, it transitions us from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Remember as we have discussed in the past that the Bible has an overall theme of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation.
At the center of this storyline has been the Nation of Israel. We see this in Exodus 4:22 when God says to Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” God now makes it clear that Jesus is His Son and that we will continue redeeming a people that identify themselves with Him and are adopted into His family. (Goldsworthy, 1991, p. 85)
Seven Main Points that you need to take away from these passages:
- Jesus’ baptism is the inauguration of his public ministry.
- Jesus’ baptism identified him with sinful humanity. Jesus came to provide salvation for sinners. He would accomplish this by his perfect sacrifice when He died on the cross.
- Jesus’ baptism was preeminently a public declaration of his submission to the will of the Father. Jesus is the Suffering Servant of the Lord predicted in Isaiah 42:1.
- Jesus’ baptism was an occasion for a revelation of the triune God. The Son was immersed in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit came down upon him, and the Father spoke from heaven.
- Jesus’ baptism was an opportunity for God the Father to honor his Son. His voice from heaven gave assurance to his Son of his love and pleasure in Him and what He was about to do.
- Jesus’ baptism was when the Spirit of God anointed him for his public ministry.
Jesus’ baptism defined and set the course for the type of Messiah he would be as the Suffering Servant. (Akin, 2007)