26 September 2022

He Baptizes in the Spirit

At his baptism, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, equipping him for his messianic mission – He “baptizes in the Spirit.” 

Waterfall with Rainbow - Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash
At the Jordan, John
proclaimed a baptism in water for the remission of sins,” and announced the arrival of the Coming One.” He was the Messiah’s forerunner 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.” -[Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash].

John summoned all Israel to repent, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he warned of the coming 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 an invitation 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.


In the text, John contrasts himself with the “coming one” in three ways - might, worth, and especially, mode of baptism.

John’s baptism in water is preparatory, not final. Both he and Jesus “baptize”; however, John baptizes in water, but the Messiah “baptizes in the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The gift of the Spirit is an expectation of the “last days” and foundational to the New Covenant prophesied in the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. By His Spirit, God will 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).

In Holy Spirit and fire.” There is a twofold aspect to the superior “baptism” administered by the Messiah. In the Greek clause, “spirit and fire” do not refer to two separate events or baptisms. Only one preposition, namely “in” (en), governs both nouns, and “spirit and fire” are both direct objects of the single verb “baptize.” Both aspects characterize the one “baptism” that Jesus gives to his people.

And in this context, “fire” can only refer to judgment, whether for purgation or destruction. The reference to “spirit and fire” is part of John’s response to the “Pharisees and Sadducees,” the ones he warns about the “axe” that is about to cut down fruitless trees. Moreover, the “fire” points to the “chaff” the Messiah will gather into his barns and “burn up with unquenchable fire.”

Baptism of Jesus

John’s words are addressed to Israel, including the religious leaders based in the Temple. In the Greek sentence, the pronoun “you” is plural (i.e., “He will baptize YE”). That is, the words are addressed to the entire nation.

All who respond to the call and prepare for the Messiah will experience the “baptism in the Spirit.” Those who refuse will experience the other side of the coin. This warning is applicable in the passage to both individual Israelites and the nation.


When Jesus arrived near the Jordan, after some hesitation, John baptized him. Upon leaving the river’s waters, audible and visible signs “from heaven” confirmed his status as the Messiah, the one who now possesses 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 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.

Here, the “opening of the heavens” means the arrival of Jesus is an event of cosmic import. In him, access to the realm of God is opened, and a new era has dawned.

In the passage, the Spirit descends “upon him like a dove.” This marks the commencement of his messianic mission. From here on, Jesus is 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). In the picture, the Spirit comes to rest upon him. That description is metaphorical. The descent is “like” that of a dove - its gentle descent is analogous to the flight of a dove.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit anoints 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.

And at his baptism, the voice from heaven acknowledges Jesus as His “Son.” In doing so, it combines 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, these passages define the identity and mission of the Messiah. He is God’s royal “Son” destined to reign from David’s throne. But the Spirit is given to the ‘Suffering Servant’ found in the book of Isaiah. In other words, he fulfills his royal role as the “Servant of Yahweh.”

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

Jesus arrived at the Jordan River “from Galilee.” After his baptism, anointed and equipped by the Spirit, he returns to Galilee to commence 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 Satan.

Only after his resurrection and ascension, as God’s designated Davidic king, does he begin to baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit, beginning on the Day of Pentecost.

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