14 June 2022

In Spirit and Fire

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

Fire - Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash
the Baptist proclaimed a baptism for the remission of sins” and announced the imminent arrival of the Messiah. He was the forerunner promised in Isaiah:Behold, I send my messenger before your face… Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” - [Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash].

John summoned all of Israel to repent and prepare for the Messiah. This included the Pharisees and Sadducees. He warned of the coming judgment upon 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).
These two groups represented the main 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. No one was exempt.
  • (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 the mode of baptism. His baptism in water was preparatory, not final. Both he and Jesus “baptized” penitent men. However, while John baptized them in water, the Messiah would do so “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 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).


There is a twofold aspect to the “baptism” administered by the Messiah. In the Greek clause, grammatically, “spirit and fire” do not refer to two separate events or baptisms. Only one preposition governs both nouns, and “spirit and fire” are both direct objects of the verb “baptize.” Both aspects must be due to the one “baptism” administered by Jesus.

Baptism of Jesus
[Baptism of Jesus]

In this context, “
fire” can only refer to coming judgment. His reference to “spirit and fire” was part of John’s response to the “Pharisees and Sadducees,” the ones he warned that the “axe” poised to cut down their fruitless trees. And the “fire” would result in the gathering up the “chaff, which he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

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 the entire nation.


When Jesus arrived, John baptized him in the Jordan. Upon leaving its waters, audible and visible signs “from heaven” confirmed his status as the Messiah:
  • (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 fulfill 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” meant the arrival of Jesus was an event of cosmic import. In him, access to the realm of God was opened, and a new era dawned.

The Spirit descended “upon him like a dove,” marking the commencement of his messianic mission. Jesus was set apart 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 of God 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’ described in Isaiah. In other words, he would fulfill his messianic role as the ‘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 arrived “from Galilee.” After his baptism, anointed and equipped by the Spirit, he returned there to begin proclaiming the Gospel – “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But first, the Spirit must drive him “into the wilderness” to be tested by the Devil.

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