He Baptizes in the Spirit

At his baptism, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus to prepare him for his messianic calling, for he will “baptize in the Spirit”Matthew 3:7-17

Yosemite River - Photo by Pablo Fierro on Unsplash
At the Jordan River, John the Baptist proclaimed
a baptism in water for the remission of sins,” and also announced the imminent arrival of the one who is mightier than I.” He was the forerunner of Yahweh’s Messiah, as promised in Isaiah:Behold, I send my messenger before your face; he will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” - [Photo by Pablo Fierro on Unsplash].

John summoned all Israel to repent, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he warned of the judgment that would befall them if they did not repent:
  • You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees: every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” – (Matthew 3:7-10).
The Pharisees and Sadducees represented the religious leaders of Israel. John’s baptism was a summons to the entire nation to repent and prepare for the arrival of the kingdom and its King.
  • (Matthew 3:11-12) – “I indeed baptize you in water for repentance: but he that is coming after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.
John contrasted himself with the “coming one” in three ways: might, worth, but especially, in mode of baptism. His baptism in water was preparatory, not final. Both he and Jesus “baptized”; however, John baptized in water, but the Messiah would “baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The gift of the Spirit was an expectation of the “last days” and foundational to the New Covenant prophesied by Ezekiel and Jeremiah. By His Spirit, God would write His laws inwardly on the hearts of His people - (Isaiah 44:1-4, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:38-39).

In Holy Spirit and fire.” There was a twofold aspect to the “baptism” administered by the Messiah. In the Greek clause, grammatically, “spirit and fire” do not refer to two separate event or baptisms. Only one preposition, “in” (en), governs both nouns, and “spirit and fire” are both direct objects of the verb “baptize.” Both aspects must be due to the one “baptism” that Jesus would give to Israel.

In this context, “fire” can only refer to judgment, whether for purgation or destruction. The reference to “spirit and fire” was part of John’s response to the “Pharisees and Sadducees,” the ones warned about the “axe” poised to cut down fruitless trees. Moreover, the “fire” would result in the gathering up the “chaff, which he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

John’s words were addressed to Israel, including its leaders. In the Greek sentence, the pronoun “you” is plural (i.e., “He will baptize ye”). That is, the words were addressed to the entire group, to the nation.
All who responded to the call and prepared to welcome the Messiah would experience the “baptism in the Spirit.” Those who refused would experience the other side of the coin. This warning was applicable both to individual Israelites, and to the entire nation.

When Jesus arrived, after some hesitation, John baptized him in the Jordan. Upon leaving its waters, audible and visible signs “from heaven” confirmed his status as the Messiah, the one who now possessed the Spirit:
  • (Matthew 3:13-17) –“Then comes Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized of him. But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and you come to me? But Jesus, answering, said to him, Suffer it now: for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The “opening of the heavens” means that the arrival of Jesus was an event of cosmic import. In him, access to the realm of God was being opened, and a new era was dawning.

The Spirit descended “upon him like a dove.” This marked the commencement of his messianic mission. From then on, Jesus was separated and anointed to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to Israel.

The preposition applied to the descent of the Spirit stresses movement “into” or “onto” something (eis). The Spirit came to rest upon him. The description is metaphorical. The descent was “like” that of a dove. It does not say the Spirit was a dove or shaped like a dove; instead, its gentle descent onto Jesus was analogous to the flight of a dove.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit anointed certain men temporarily to carry out specific tasks. But according to John’s gospel, when the Spirit came upon Jesus, it remained on him from that point forward:
  • (John 1:32) - “And John bore witness, saying, I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it remained upon him.”
  • (John 3:34-36) - “For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for he gives not the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and He has given all things into his hand. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; but he that obeys not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

The voice from heaven acknowledged Jesus as His “Son.” In doing so, it combined words from two messianic passages:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, You are my Son, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “Behold, my servant whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

Together, they define the identity and mission of the Messiah. He is God’s royal “Son” destined to reign from David’s throne. But the Spirit was given to the ‘Suffering Servant’ from the book of Isaiah. In other words, he would fulfill his royal role as the ‘Suffering Servant of Yahweh.’


The descent of the Spirit signified the equipping of Jesus to carry out his mission. The heavenly voice demonstrated divine approval of his messiahship, and in this context, of his submission to the baptism of John. His ministry began with an act of obedience to His Father.


Jesus had arrived at the Jordan River “from Galilee.” After his baptism, anointed and equipped by the Spirit, he would return to Galilee to commence proclaiming the Gospel – “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But first, the Spirit would “drive him into the wilderness,” where he was tested by Satan.


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