John’s Gospel: The Baptism of Jesus, Part 1

I get emails –

I have a question relative to John 1:16 and divinity of Jesus.

“Fullness” would refer to the complete divinity of Jesus — that is, the fact that he is fully God. Therefore, to be in right relationship with Jesus — in grace — qualifies one for grace from God the Father as well.

In our recent Sunday school class, we are studying the Holy Spirit and the teacher made a comment I’m struggling to grasp.

He said Jesus left His divinity in heaven when He came to earth to be as a man and that His divine powers were received from the Holy Spirit upon being baptized by John the Baptist, and that these gifts of the Holy Spirit for Jesus were the same as those given the Apostles, including raising the dead and forgiving sins.

My research so far has found support both for and against this position.

I have tremendous respect for your knowledge and opinion and I would really like to hear your understanding on this question.

Interesting question. Let’s first consider what John says on the subject. We’re going to go pretty far afield from the question, but for good reason. You see, long before we seek to answer our own questions from the text, we have to ask just what questions the text was intended to answer.

John’s Gospel

(John 1:26-36 ESV)  26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’  31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,  36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Notice that, unlike the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), John’s Gospel never mentions Jesus’ baptism. Rather, the emphasis is entirely on Jesus’ receipt of the Spirit and John’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. This passage is so much about the Spirit ent that water baptism entirely disappears from the account.

Moreover, John declares that Jesus is the “Son of God.” Now, to a Jew in John’s audience, “Son of God” wouldn’t mean “second member of the Trinity.” Rather, it would have been heard as a reference to –

(Psa 2:6-7 ESV)  6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

“Son of God” refers to the king of all Israel, anointed to sit on David’s throne. We also hear echoes of –

(Isa 9:6-7 ESV)  6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

John was, of course, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah of prophecy. “Messiah” transliterates the Hebrew for Anointed One (Hebrew mashiyach). And the prophecies declare that the Messiah would be anointed by the Spirit –

(Isa 61:1-3 ESV) 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;  2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;  3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

Therefore, John’s reference to the Messiah’s receipt of the Spirit refers to the anointing of the Messiah by the Spirit.

Now, the significance of being anointed is not to become divine but to declared king. The language refers back to the Jewish practice of ceremonially designating who is to be king by anointed his head with oil. To be the “anointed one” is to be the person chosen as king.

John, therefore, was announcing that Jesus is God’s chosen king — and more especially, the king of prophecy, the Messiah, on whom God would place his Spirit.

Of course, Saul, David, and Solomon all possessed God’s Spirit. This was true of all the kings of the 12 tribes. But John makes it clear that Jesus had something his predecessors did not have — unlike Saul, David, and Solomon, Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. Jesus would immerse his followers with God’s Holy Spirit.

This language refers to the many prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit to come when God establishes his Kingdom. You see, if God pours out his Spirit, then those receiving the outpoured Spirit would quite naturally be referred to as those immersed in the Spirit. In the language of the day, when water was poured over the hands to wash them, the hands were said to have been “baptized” (Luke 11:38).

Thus, John was referring to such passages as –

(Joel 2:28 ESV) “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

(Isa 32:14-17 ESV)  14 For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;  15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.  16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.  17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

(Isa 44:3-4 ESV)  3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  4 They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.

John was declaring the dawn of the Kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the coming of God’s chosen King,  on whom the Spirit rests. He was speaking in the language of the prophets to an audience very familiar with that language.

He was not declaring that Jesus had become Divine by means of the Spirit. That may or may not be true, but it’s not the point John was intending to make.

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