Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him 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, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
For three weeks, we are reflecting on how Jesus’ baptism helps us understand his identity. Last week, we saw how John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River brought forward God’s eternal plan, launched with Abraham and through the nation of Israel and now focused on Jesus, to reconcile the entire world back to Himself. In particular, we saw how Jesus’ baptism connects him tightly with the history of Israel, including the purification codes, the crossing of the Jordan, and the crossing of the Red Sea.
This week, we will see how Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan is also the moment of his anointing as the Christ, or Messiah. The descent of the Spirit as a dove helps us better understand the nature of his Messiah-ship by connecting the baptism with the Biblical Flood and the beginning of Creation.
First, we must recognize that Jesus’ baptism involves the full Trinity. Through the descent of the Spirit from the Father to the Son at the moment of his baptism, “God anoints God with God.” This is the ecstatic answer to many prophetic pleas:
Oh that you would rend the heavens the heavens! That you would come down! Isaiah 64:1.
For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:24-27, 30.
And it shall to come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. Joel 2:8.
What is completed in Pentecost , where the Spirit truly is poured out upon all flesh, began with the baptism of Jesus. He is anointed as the King who will accomplish God’s promises. The nature of this accomplishment is revealed by further investigating the Spirit that alights over him.
The descent of the Spirit “as a dove” immediately brings to mind certain Old Testament associations–namely, the dove Noah sent out from the Ark during the Flood, and the Spirit of God “hovering” over the waters of Creation.
In fact, 1 Peter 3:18-21 invites comparisons between the waters of the Flood and the waters of baptism:
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
After the Flood, Noah sent a dove to see if the waters had receded, but the dove returned to the ark after finding no place to rest its feet (Gen. 8:7-9). Eventually, the dove returned with an olive leaf (v. 11). This is where we get the idea of the “olive branch” as a symbol of peace–God’s Judgment had receded, and those in the Ark were saved to enter into God’s peace. The olive leaf is also significant because the olive would become a sacred fruit for the Israelite priestly ministry, especially because it produced olive oil. Olive oil was used in the Temple Menorah and in the ceremonial anointing of kings, priests, and prophets. (See e.g., Exodus 30:25).
The Spirit that hovers over Jesus is similar to the dove that hovered over the Ark. Just as the dove announced peace with man through the olive leaf given to Noah, the Spirit announces God’s Peace to all who are in the anointed Jesus. Jesus is the true Ark who saves humanity from God’s Judgment over Evil.
The imagery of the dove shows us that Jesus is not only the true Ark, but also the new Adam, Captain of the New Creation. In Genesis 1:2, we read:
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
The Spirit of God that hovered over the waters of nothingness before God’s creative act now hovers over Jesus on the Jordan. God birthed the first creation out of the waters of chaos, and now will birth a New Creation out of the waters of the Jordan.
Jesus launches God’s New Creation–this is the sum total of His life and work. This new creative act will be accomplished through His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. But the Spirit of God now hovers over the baptism of the incarnate God to signal the beginning of this new era, the final phase of the Father’s redemptive project.
Taken together with last week’s post, I hope I have made a case that Jesus’ baptism was his anointing as the promised priest-king who can finally fulfill Israel’s mission to re-found the world by establishing an everlasting peace with God. Next week, we will see how the Father’s words reveal that the Christ is also the eternal Divine Son.