Announcing the Messiah
Why did Jesus need to be baptized?
Who said what to who?
This is My Beloved Son
1. God’s Words
2. Did Jesus become the Son?
Expectation was running high when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, baptizing as many as came to him in repentance and with a desire to begin a new life, acceptable to God. As I noted on the previous page, there had been a long prophetic silence in which time there had been no national prophet arise to speak God’s word to Israel so that, when God began once again to speak to His people, the nation held John in very high regard.
Therefore, priests and Levites were sent to John in the wilderness to question him as to who he was (John 1:19) - not that the religious leaders felt that they needed to get right with God, of course, they just wanted to know who John considered himself to be!
OT passages led to the possibility that a priest may rise from the line of Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest at the time of the return from exile in Babylon when Zechariah the prophet appeared to proclaim that he was ‘the Branch’ (Zech 6:12), a title of the Messiah who was expected to come (see my notes on this passage here for a further discussion).
John the Baptist was from priestly stock - his father had been assigned to the division of Abijah and so served in the Temple at the appropriate time in the year, his mother being descended directly from Aaron himself (Luke 1:5). The Scriptures do not specify whether their genealogical line passed through the high priest, Joshua, but, if there was to arise the Messiah from a priestly line rather than a Davidic one, then the religious leaders needed to know whether, perhaps, this was he.
This appears to be the burden of their minds when they come to John and ask him who he is for, without even mentioning the possibility that they thought he might be the Messiah, John replies to their vague question by announcing (John 1:20)
‘I am not the Christ’
Interestingly, he also denies being both Elijah (John 1:21) who Jesus identified him with in Mtw 17:10-12 (and which I will deal with when I get around to that passage - I can’t even begin to think what the URL will be so please forgive the lack of a link here!) and the prophet (spoken of by Moses in the Law - Deut 18:15-19). Very simply, he identifies himself with the messenger of Is 40:3 as we’ve previously seen (here).
That raises quite a puzzling question recorded for us in John 1:25 in which the religious ambassadors question the validity of the baptism that John is performing on those who come to him. They ask (John 1:25)
‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’
a question that seems almost irrelevant to their enquiries. But the point seems to be that, whereas the religious leaders would have respected the authority of the Christ, Elijah or Moses’ prophet (which, in fact, they didn’t when the former of these appeared on the scene probably just a few days later), John seemed to be operating outside their jurisdiction by performing a religious ‘ceremony’ that had not originated with themselves and which they had neither given him sanction for.
Johnhen sees in Ezek 36:25 a justification for baptism to take place if John could have proven himself to be either of the three great leaders reputed still to come but he misunderstands the passage there, seeing as it deals with the sprinkling of water rather than the full immersion of recipients into a large body of water as here (John 3:23).
The real point of the ceremony, though, is more in keeping with Johnmor’s understanding of proselytising which occurred amongst the Jews at this time in their history. Gentile converts, once they had committed themselves to Judaism, were fully immersed in water and the males of the household all circumcised along with the entire household, both men and women, being immersed in water.
‘The novelty in John’s case and the sting behind his practise was that he applied to Jews the ceremony which was held to be appropriate in the case of Gentiles coming newly into the faith. All Jews were prepared to accept the view that Gentiles were defiled and needed cleansing. But to put Jews in the same class was horrifying’
If John was inferring that the Jews needed to become part of something new, that undermined their authority of the old and, if all Israel went after this prophet, they would soon be left with no one to have jurisdiction over.
Perhaps this is also why the religious leaders never submitted to John’s baptism - because they would have had to have submitted their authority to the authority of John the Baptist and so have lost their authoritative position that they held over the people.
Whatever, because John can show that he is neither the Christ, Elijah nor Moses’ prophet, he can have no justification for what he is doing and therefore the relevancy of their question.
Announcing the Messiah
The events of Mtw 3:1-12 have already taken place and John the Baptists’ ministry has already been established before we read (Mtw 3:13) that
‘...Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him’
Jesus was, at this time, living in Nazareth (Mark 1:9) though very shortly he was to move to Capernaum as His ministry began (Mtw 4:12-13).
John tells us that, for the purpose of identifying the Messiah to Israel, he had come into the wilderness to baptize all who came to him (John 1:31) though this was not the only reason that he came.
There is a problem with the two texts in John 1:29-34 and Mtw 3:14-15 that needs to be resolved here. John plainly says that the positive identification of the Messiah could not be made until he witnessed the Spirit descend and remain on that certain individual (John 1:33) and we know that this event took place after the water baptism had taken place (Mtw 3:16) and while He was praying (Luke 3:21).
Therefore, although He knew that sooner or later there would come One who would be He who had been called to baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33), John could not be sure who that Person would be until he witnessed the Spirit descend upon Him and rest there.
Some commentators have, unfortunately, not been too careful when they’ve come to Matthew’s account of the events in 3:14-15 where we read that
‘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 thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” Then he consented’
asserting that John knew Jesus to be the Messiah and so tried to refuse Him water baptism which was an outward demonstration of a change of heart to follow wholeheartedly after God having confessed any known sin. John’s objection that he had need to be baptized by Jesus (Mtw 3:14) being turned into a statement that the Baptist knew he needed the Messiah’s baptism in the Holy Spirit rather than for him to baptize Jesus in water (as Matfran) - however, John was already filled with the Spirit from the day of his conception (Luke 1:15).
Mathen assumes that John the Baptist’s mother had already told her son concerning the things she’d learned about Mary and Joseph’s firstborn Son and that
‘...the Baptist surmises that the person who had now stepped forward to be baptized was the Messiah about whom he had already spoken’
so that, when John says that he only knew the One when the Spirit was to descend upon Him, he is actually only saying that it had to be ‘divinely disclosed to him’ before he could be certain and announce it to the multitudes.
Mathag states that
‘The implication...is that John recognised Jesus as the one whose way he was preparing’
and goes on to discount Mattask by stating with little justification
‘The suggestion that John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus is the result of his intuition of a high degree of righteousness in Jesus, rather than the recognition of Jesus’ messianic identity...has little to commend it’
This does, indeed, sound reasonable but John didn’t know who the Messiah was until after the baptism in water had taken place and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove had descended upon Him.
The passage in John 1:33 is very plain, John being recorded as saying (my italics)
‘I myself did not know Him’
as Johnmor notes
‘The “I” is emphatic. John had been looking for the Messiah but he did not know who He was’
However much we would like to accept that John the Baptist had some sort of insight into the Messiahship of Jesus before baptism took place, he is recorded as categorically denying that this was the case. We need, therefore, to understand the record in Matthew’s Gospel from an entirely different perspective.
Matmor comments that
‘Since John does not speak of Jesus as Messiah, he may have meant only that he knew that Jesus had greater authority than he or was morally superior to him’
but the former position is one that springs out of some sort of recognition by John of Jesus’ call by God and needs John to be aware of the historical occurrences at the time of the conception and delivery of Jesus for it to have any justification.
This may, indeed, be the case but John’s belief that the One whose way he had come to prepare, that same One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire and who was none other than God’s Messiah and Son (John 1:34), was Jesus cannot be accepted because of the testimony he gives recorded for us in John’s Gospel.
Although Mattask is discounted by Mathag, his explanation still appears to be the best option open to the interpreter. He writes
‘As he “interviewed” Jesus, he seems to have felt instinctively that He was wholly different from everyone else who had come to be baptized...He may well have felt that Jesus was wholly different from the sinners who flocked to him, without yet knowing that He was the One for whose coming he was preparing’
Matmor noting that
‘This is a further illustration of John’s humility and of his recognition of his own sinfulness, for a baptism like John’s was for penitent sinners, not for people who needed no repentance’
If we realise that John’s baptism was to prepare the people to receive the Messiah (Luke 1:17), he is actually saying to Jesus that He is ready and has no need to do anything other than that which He is already doing. But John’s recognition that he had need to be baptized by One who he felt was better than himself does not need to imply that, in Jesus, he saw the Messiah.
Why did Jesus need to be baptized?
The question is a valid one seeing that Jesus, the sinless Son of God (Heb 4:15), had no need for the baptism of John in the sense that there was nothing that it could effect in His life or demonstrate that He had already done (that is, he had not repented of some sin or other).
We know that John had come into the wilderness and was baptizing people to make them ready to receive the Messiah (Mtw 3:3) and that the end or fulfilment of this ministry was to be in his identification of the Messiah through the sign of the Spirit descending and remaining on Him after water baptism had taken place (John 1:31,33).
But why choose the sign in the first place? Why not use some other such declaration or some other religious rite to show John who the Person was that he was the Forerunner to?
Firstly, the sign was most definitely the Lord’s will and purpose. Not only does John tell us that the One who’d sent him was to give this sign to him after the baptism of the individual, but Jesus insisted upon submitting Himself to water immersion by saying (Mtw 3:15 - my italics) that
‘...it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness...’
That is, that it was an important aspect of Jesus’ relationship with God that proved His ‘right-standing’ with the Father by demonstrating His commitment to do all that He had commanded Him to do.
But why did God expect Jesus to be baptized in water when the misunderstanding that it could cause would certainly be difficult to counter and may well have presented a point of ‘valid’ criticism to Jesus’ most vehement enemies?
Some commentators have seen in the baptism, the point that Jesus is taking upon Himself the sin of Israel in order that He might deal with it at a later time through His death on the cross. This seems tied in with an understanding of Jesus’ use of the word ‘fulfil’ (Mtw 3:15) as being indicative as pointing towards a fulfilment of some prophetic Scripture or other that is, at this precise moment, finding its completion and final outworking.
Matmor asserts that
‘...in this Gospel, “fulfil” is often used of the fulfilment of prophecy and this is surely in mind here’
but the problems that it raises are how to envisage Jesus as taking upon Himself at that time the sin of the nation of Israel and still maintaining a perfect relationship with God before the time was to come when He would pay the price for all sin by His death on the cross.
Levertoff in Mattask follows this theory, however, and speaks of Jesus (my italics) as
‘...accepting His destiny. As one with His people and with humanity, He takes upon Himself their sins...’
Mathen also, in considering why Jesus ever needed to be baptized, states that because Jesus was sinless, he had no need of it, answering this objection with the statement that
‘...He did, after all, have sin, namely ours’
But did Jesus, in fact, take upon Himself our sin at this point in His life and so ‘carry it’ for the next three years of His ministry before finally paying its price on the cross at Calvary? That Jesus was made to be sin is clear from Scripture (II Cor 5:21) but I Peter 2:24 states plainly (my italics) that
‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed’
pointing towards Jesus taking upon Himself our sin on the cross and not before. This is also the apparent interpretation of the darkness which spread itself over all the land (Mtw 27:45), that God the Father could no longer look upon His own Son because of the sin He’d taken upon Himself. Also, in the ceremony of Yom Kippur when the nation’s sins were dealt with once every year, the goats that were selected to deal with and to bear sin were imparted with the nation’s wrongdoings at the time that they were to be sacrificed and were not considered to bear sin until the time of their sacrifice when atonement took place (see my notes on Yom Kippur here section 6c and d).
That Jesus will take upon Himself the sins of the world and deal with them is not in doubt but it is wrong to envisage Jesus as bearing the sin of the nation from the moment of His baptism onwards - but this still doesn’t answer the question as to why it took place!
The main reason (we are not told of one apart from it being the Father’s will) seems to be one of association. Mathag cites Beasley-Murray and states that he
‘...correctly argues that Jesus...shows His solidarity with His people in their need. The Messiah is a representative person, the embodiment of Israel...As such, He identifies with His people fully...’
Therefore, when the writer to the Hebrews tells us (Heb 2:17) that
‘...[Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in every respect...’
he must also have in mind his water baptism in which, instead of pointing the finger at people and commanding them to be baptised by Himself (a rite which Jesus never did perform - John 4:2), He stooped down to be one with the people that He was about to minister to and die for.
In contrast to the Pharisees and Sadducees, then, He was willing to go through what His people did in order that He might be a true representative both of the people and for the people.
As Matmor says
‘Jesus might well have been up there in front standing with John and calling on sinners to repent. Instead He was down there with the sinners, affirming His solidarity with them, making Himself one with them in the process of the salvation that He would in due course accomplish’
There is, however, one final reason that Jesus may have submitted to water baptism and that is that He knew that it would prophetically state what His death and resurrection would achieve.
Mathag states correctly that
‘...it is...unlikely that we are to see in this pericope - in the baptism of Jesus - a reference to the sacrificial death of Jesus...’
when viewed from the present hour at which it took place but, if we look back on the incident and consider the reason that Christian baptism now takes place on new believers, Jesus’ action becomes a prophetic illustration of the work on the cross.
Certainly, John’s baptism did not symbolise being buried with Christ in death and then re-emergence through the resurrection into the beginning of a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit - such a concept was lacking until at least the day that Jesus rose from the dead. But, looking back at the incident, it can be seen to prophetically shadow what was to take place some three years into the future (Rom 6:3-4 - see also my notes on Baptism here).
Matthew, although not obscuring the meaning of the ‘dove’ (a Greek word that could mean either ‘pigeon’ or ‘dove’ and may refer to a number of species then present in the land of Israel) which descended upon Jesus, doesn’t - along with Mark - give us a full picture of what actually happened shortly after the time that Jesus was baptized in water.
Both writers note (Mtw 3:16, Mark 1:10) that
‘...the Spirit of God [descended on Him] like a dove’
where we could read that what was in mind was the way the Holy Spirit actually descended (‘the Spirit descended as a dove might’ - Mathag) rather than the form or shape that He took upon Himself. John also notes such a similarity (John 1:32)
Luke, however, is much more detailed at this point and the writer notes (Luke 3:22) that
‘...the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove...’
We can’t pull away from Luke’s words here for it’s plain that he means us to understand by his words that the Holy Spirit took upon Himself a shape similar to a dove when He descended to be and remain upon Jesus.
Luknol notes that
‘Where the Markan text could be taken as speaking of the Spirit “incarnated” as a dove, Luke stands over against this possibility...”bodily” and...”form” are indicators of the language of appearances and...can only be understood as language of approximation, not of identification’
It may puzzle readers to learn that the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit is unknown throughout the OT and well into NT times - even though the bird is mentioned significantly at the time when Noah was attempting to come out from the Ark after the Flood (Gen 8:8-12) - so that any symbolism we might like to attribute to the shape is difficult to substantiate.
As Morris notes here
‘In modern times it is often urged that the dove was an accepted symbol of the Holy Spirit, but this is not supported by the evidence’
We buy doves for our cars and as broaches; we buy bookmarks that contain the image of the bird and many a religious place has ‘acquired’ (somewhat miraculously) white doves that sit on the roof and give the place an air of holiness (even if God the Holy Spirit has long since left!) - and yet we don’t realise that the dove has no relevance as being a symbol of God’s Spirit until, apparently, the event which transpires here.
Just why all four Gospel writers should say that the form resembled a dove is mysterious and has not yet been successfully shown to have any relevance in the context of the day in which it happened.
However, in November/December 1991’s Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), there appeared a translation of a Dead Sea Scroll (DSS) fragment entitled ‘A Messianic Vision’ on page 65 (unfortunately, no scroll fragment number appeared along with the translation so I can’t cite it here) which contained the line (line 6)
‘And over the poor will His Spirit hover and the Faithful will He support with His strength’
In a subsequent edition of the magazine (March/April 1992), Dale C Allison in an article entitled ‘The Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll’ dealt with the problems of the Biblical interpretation of the dove (and began with an assertion that the form of a dove never actually happened but was a fabrication of the early Church!) and included in his account the conjecture of many commentators that the symbolism of the dove was indicative of the new Creation which Jesus came to initiate by His death and resurrection, paralleled in the Spirit which hovered over the waters in Gen 1:2.
Now, in the DSS fragment published earlier the following year, there is justification for seeing in the phrase ‘over the poor will His Spirit hover’ an allusion back to Gen 1:2 where, before the initial Creation began
‘...the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters’
Here, then, in a DSS fragment is an indication that the Holy Spirit was considered as having the function of ‘hovering’ or ‘brooding’ over a section of mankind around the time or slightly before the incident recorded, rather than only having this role at the beginning of the first Creation.
As Allison says
‘Before publication of this fragment, the interpretation of the dove in terms of Genesis 1:2 could not cite any specific Jewish precedent...Furthermore, there was no clear example of the image of the Spirit hovering over human beings as opposed to hovering over lifeless material as in Gen 1:2...’
Of course, there is quite some way to go to be able to equate the dove which alighted upon Jesus with the Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters but there is a pointer here which would, at least, give an indication of how the early Church may have understood the symbolism.
When Jesus, the author and beginner of the new Creation comes, therefore, God gives His intention to begin reCreating in Christ by allowing those present to see the image of the bird as coming to rest upon the One who would inaugurate that work.
This imagery comes across in other NT passages - devoid of any reference to a dove, however . Of that new creation that has been brought in through Christ’s death and resurrection and in which believers now participate, Paul writes (II Cor 5:17) that
‘...if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come’
picturing Jesus (Col 1:18) as
‘...the beginning, the first-born from the dead...’
that is, the One who begins all things and from whom all things originate.
Even more significant is that Jesus is seen as the new Adam with all the implications this must have portrayed as being the originator of a new order and from which all the new Creation would be generated. Paul notes (I Cor 15:45) that
‘...The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’
But there is one more similarity in the comparison of the baptism of Jesus with the first Creation. Not only is the Spirit of God present in both incidents and spoken of in bird terminology, but He is pictured in both places as being over water - in the first occurrence, brooding over the waters from which spring the new earth and, in the latter, as settling over the One who has just been baptized into the water of the Jordan river (Mark 1:9)
Finally, what did the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus actually symbolise or was it just a piece of stage management designed to grab attention?!
In the OT, the anointing of the Holy Spirit which came upon believers was that which set them apart for a specific ministry to the Lord, earmarking them for some special service. In simple terms, this anointing was seen to be an influence on the life of the individual concerned so that, what took place both in and through the person upon whom the Spirit had come, could be seen to be none other than the work of God Himself.
Therefore we read of Moses having some of the spirit which was upon him removed and transferred to seventy men of the Israelites who were to share in the burden and oversight of the Lord’s people (Num 11:16-17), the anointing being a necessary requirement for the service that they are about to render not only to the Lord but to His people as well.
When this event took place (Num 11:24-29), it is specifically recorded that
‘...when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied’
and that two also who had not come outside the camp to receive the anointing
‘...prophesied in the camp’
much to Joshua’s annoyance and Moses delight! Balaam also, who tried all he could to curse the children of Israel, found that the Spirit came upon him and he prophesied prosperity to the nation much to king Balak’s dismay (Num 24:2-3). Also when Elijah had been taken up into Heaven and Elisha, his successor, began moving in the same sort of authority as his master had, the sons of the prophets noted (II Kings 2:15) that
‘...The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha...’
Samson, too, found great strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him (for instance, Judges 14:5-6)
The OT is littered with instances of the Spirit coming upon people either for a one-off ministry (such as Balaam), on successive occasions throughout a person’s life (such as Samson) or resting upon them for a lifetime of service and ministry (such as Elijah, Elisha, Moses and the seventy elders).
Therefore, we should not think of this anointing of the Spirit of God upon Jesus as being anything unusual for it was at this time that Jesus was about to start His ministry (after a period of forty days in the Wilderness of Judea - Luke 3:23, 4:1-15) and the provision of the Holy Spirit was necessary in order that Jesus would be able to operate in the same way as any man or woman could do.
This raises problems in many people’s minds. After all, wasn’t Jesus God incarnate - that is, God in human form? Why did He need the provision of the Holy Spirit when He could do everything He needed to do as God rather than as man reliant upon the provision of God?
There is indeed a mystery here but we need to envisage God the Son as allowing Himself to be totally dependent on the Father in everything in order that He could show mankind that this way of life was possible to live and so be perfectly obedient to God with all the provision mankind had at his disposal.
Jesus, then, was God in human form but He didn’t use the provision or authority of His deity to perform or do any of His works. Rather, submitting to the will of the Father, He followed the moving of the Holy Spirit as a man, lived life as a man and died on the cross as a man in order that as a man He might redeem mankind.
For God dying for man is not a payment of like for like whereas man for man is, even though it was God who was living out His life as a man that He might put right and redeem all that man had messed up.
Therefore the anointing of the Holy Spirit is an important event to occur for, without it, Jesus could not have been God as man, moving on earth and operating out of His manhood rather than His deity.
I know that this is hard to grasp - and, perhaps, it’s not something that we need to get our heads round too intricately - but, when seeing Jesus walk upon the earth and live as He did, we should always consider Him primarily from the viewpoint of a man, listening to God, dependent upon God and obedient to God.
Who said what to who?
Two questions need to be answered here. Firstly, who saw the Holy Spirit descend from Heaven in the form of a dove (Mtw 3:16) and, secondly, who heard the voice call from Heaven (Mtw 3:17)?
This may be glossed over by many readers but it seems to be a necessary consideration seeing as the Gospel writers have not made their writings obvious and unambiguous.
Firstly, then, who saw the Holy Spirit?
In John 1:33 it plainly says that the sign of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus was given for John the Baptist to be able to positively identify the One who he had been preparing the way for, the verse before informing us in the Baptist’s own words that he witnessed its descent.
Mtw 3:16, however, reads as if Jesus Himself also saw the Spirit descend upon Him for the identity of the first use of ‘He’ ties in with the other uses and makes it read this way. If the first ‘He’ is naturally referring to Jesus, then the following words imply that we should interpret its use in the same manner, reading
‘And when Jesus was baptized, [Jesus] went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and [Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on [Jesus]’
Therefore, Matmor states that the author
‘...is putting his emphasis on the experience of Jesus’
and Mathag that
‘Only Matthew explicitly writes that Jesus “saw the Spirit of God” coming upon Him’
Although the natural way to read the context of the Greek words is that Jesus witnessed the Holy Spirit descending, the English is rather clumsy which goes on to say that it ‘alighted on Him’ for it would have been better to refer to the incident as the dove ‘alighting on Himself’ (though my grasp on Greek is quite poor and the original text may actually say this!).
Therefore, along with Mathen, I take the second ‘he’ to refer to John the Baptist and, as sometimes does happen, a personal pronoun is meant to be taken not in its obvious context but as interpreted by another passage or the context around itself - in this case John 1:32-33.
The sign of the Holy Spirit’s descent was given to John and, though there is the possibility that Jesus may have seen it (though how could he have seen it coming to rest upon Him unless He had a mirror?), it is unlikely that the crowds witnessed anything.
John was given the responsibility of announcing to the nation who it was that was to follow after him (John 1:33) and it was not relevant for the phenomenon to be revealed to those standing around. Indeed, no other people are said to have witnessed it and the early disciples who followed after Jesus did so because they believed the word that John spoke, not because they saw the things that he saw (John 1:35-37).
It would seem logical, therefore, that the ‘heavens opened’ was also a sign given exclusively to John though, again, in Mark, the text reads as if it’s Jesus who is witnessing the event. This is quite possible as John’s testimony is only that he was to see the Holy Spirit descend and remain upon the One who was to follow him - he actually says nothing about needing to witness the heavens being opened (whatever that may have meant).
Secondly, who heard the voice?
If I read the text correctly, in the Synoptic Gospels, there is no mention of who the voice was heard by - neither John, Jesus nor the crowds are specifically joined to the statement (Mtw 3:17) that there was
‘...a voice from heaven’
and John doesn’t state that he heard any voice in the passage in John’s Gospel - certainly, he didn’t want to bear witness to the voice even if he did hear it.
Both Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22 begin the quote with ‘You are’ indicating that the voice was heard by Jesus while here in Matthew the words begin ‘This is’ which would point towards John hearing the voice. Probably the best understanding of the passage is that both John and Jesus witnessed the voice and that the Gospel writers each chose to represent the quote in the form that would show who heard it - Matthew demonstrating that John bore witness to it, while Mark and Luke that God the Father spoke directly to Jesus.
Again, it seems unlikely that the crowds heard the voice - the disciples certainly hear God’s voice on the mountain of Transfiguration in Mtw 17:5-6 and, in John 12:28-29, the crowds heard another utterance that came from Heaven though some ‘said that it had thundered’. Here, though, judging by what’s recorded for us, we would do best to limit those who heard the voice to just John and Jesus.
This is My Beloved Son
I don’t believe that too much needs to be written here about the proclamation from Heaven. I have suggested above that only Jesus and, perhaps, John heard the voice and that the crowds went dumb to its contents.
Commentators often take quotes such as the one recorded for us here and insist that the person uttering them is quoting from an OT passage that they want to bring to light as concerning the situation in which they find themselves.
Therefore, when Jesus utters the heart rending cry (Mtw 27:46)
‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’
the danger, I feel, is to undermine the feeling of what’s happening in the incident and simply tie down the utterance to Jesus thinking through His situation and then the OT Scriptures for a verse or two that fits! In the verse quoted, this is far from the truth.
It seems best to understand such allusions to OT Scriptures as the overflow of the life which has meditated upon the written record of God’s dealings with mankind and so, from out of that depth of knowledge, a word comes that matches the situation which may even, on occasions, be out of the general context in which it originally sat.
When Jonah found himself in the belly of the whale, he responded with a passage (Jonah 2:2-9) that was almost entirely made up of pieces of Scripture from older manuscripts that seemed to well up from within him to find expression in his circumstances - the reader need only take a look at some of the cross references in this passage to see the validity of the argument.
When we come to a quote such as this, then, we may be going too far to say that God the Father chooses two verses from the OT, runs them together and then delivers them to illuminate the situation that Jesus finds Himself in - the truth appears to be that the Father was ‘well pleased’ with the ‘Son’ and so expressed it in terms which echo two OT passages - passages which do actually point towards two aspects of the Messiah that we will go on to briefly consider.
The reason for God saying what He did here may be slightly different than when it happens on the lips of men and women, but to simply say that God is ‘quoting’ tends to belittle His genuine feeling for His Son that He is here expressing.
1. God’s Words
So, onto the Father’s words. He proclaims (Mtw 3:17)
‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’
in a situation where we witness the presence of both the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mtw 3:16) and the Voice of the Father, indicating the unity of purpose with which these three act.
There appear to be two Scriptures being alluded to here - Ps 2:7 which reads
‘...You are My Son...’
and Is 42:1 where God calls His servant the One
‘...in whom My soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon Him...’
the second part of this quote speaking of the anointing of the Holy Spirit which has just taken place following Jesus’ baptism in water.
Firstly, Psalm 2. The reader has only to consider the entire Psalm to see how the words relate specifically to the King who was to come who would take possession of the nations of the world and begin to rule over them. Even though the psalmist begins by questioning the attitude of the nations in their rebellion against the Lord’s chosen King (Ps 2:3), it is not long before He points out that God in Heaven will move against them to undermine their position and so bring authority over them back into the hands of the Anointed (Ps 2:4-6).
The psalmist goes on to consider the position of this Anointed One by quoting the Lord as proclaiming that His King is His Son and that sovereignty will be given as a gift to Him, the fulfilment of which is no further away than that the King needs simply to ask God for the authority (Ps 2:7-9). Finally, the appeal goes out to all the rebellious throughout the world that they get themselves right with the Lord’s Anointed lest there comes a time when He will turn towards them and exercise wrath against them (Ps 2:10-11).
The Psalm, therefore, is predominantly one of Kingship and can only realistically be said to have been written about a time when the Lord’s King would be made known and would rule over the nations of the earth.
Is 42:1 presents a different picture to the reader, however. Here we read of a Servant of the Lord who is humble and almost shy to promote any authority that He might have been bestowed from Heaven. We read that this Person (Is 42:2-3)
‘...will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench’
even though His work amongst the people of the earth (Is 42:4) is to
‘...[establish] justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law’
A different type of Person is seen here - One who goes about the Lord’s business with quietness and calmness, who doesn’t allow His head to droop, becoming discouraged by either the task that’s set before Him or of the response of mankind amongst whom He is establishing the Lord’s justice.
These two aspects, then, of Kingly power and Authority (Ps 2) and of Servile humility (Is 42:1-4) are perfectly united in the Person of Jesus Christ. There are indications of both aspects throughout the NT but perhaps the best passage for seeing these twin characteristics united in Christ is Phil 2:6-11 which I quote at length here
‘...though [Jesus] was in the form of God [that is, before the Incarnation], [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’
In the speech from God, coming from Heaven itself, we see an allusion both to the Servanthood and the Sovereignty of Jesus - the Servant in that He does for mankind what no other person can through His death and resurrection on the cross and the Sovereign in that, having been fully obedient to the will of the Father, He is exalted into a position of unequalled authority and power to begin to reign over the nations of the world (Mtw 28:18, Heb 2:8).
And this all from one man - that is, it is as a man that Jesus perfectly obeys the will of the Father and as a man that He is exalted to the right hand of God, the supreme place of command over the Created order. It’s is important - as I’ve previously noted above - that we see Jesus as operating from His humanity rather than out of His divinity for, what mankind lost in Adam (Gen 1:28 Cp Gen 9:7 where the word ‘subdue’ no longer is used as a command of God to man. See my notes here part 2 section 3) has been regained in the man Jesus Christ by a life of perfect obedience to the will of God the Father.
When God speaks of His Beloved in Mtw 3:17, then, we are seeing a proclamation of Jesus as being both the ultimate Servant and the ultimate King.
2. Did Jesus become the Son?
Just as in other passages, this experience of Jesus is often thought of elevating Him into a condition in which He was not before it took place. Some commentators have envisaged that Jesus only became the Son of God here - perhaps embarrassed by the incomprehensibility of trying to understand how Jesus might have been conceived in the womb of Mary and grown through infancy to manhood, still fully God and fully human.
As Matfran comments
‘...there is no suggestion that Jesus became Son of God at His baptism. It was a pivotal experience, not in that it made Jesus anything which He was not already, but in that it launched Him on the mission for which He had long prepared, and defined that mission in terms of Old Testament expectation’
Even passages such as Mark 1:1 which announces that this is
‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’
and Luke 1:32 (see also 1:35) where the angel says to Mary that
‘...[He] will be called the Son of the Most High...’
can be interpreted to mean that this was something that He became at some future time to his conception and so pull away from the clear inference in the Gospel texts that Jesus was, is and always will be the Son of God.
Perhaps the best Scripture for confuting such an error (though, if my experience is anything to go by, most of the people who hold on to such a belief want to believe it rather than having arrived at a conclusion based upon the evidence of the Scriptures) is Luke 2:41-51 where, at the age twelve, Jesus stays behind in the Temple at Jerusalem and, when finally discovered by Joseph and Mary, replies (Luke 2:49) by saying
‘...Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’
a saying which shows that, even at this age, Jesus understood Himself to be a - if not the - Son of God. If here, then, Jesus is seen to already be the Son of God, the previous passages which speak of Him in the future tense as being God’s Son must be equally relevant.
It is not possible, therefore, that Jesus became the Son of God at His baptism but that He was always the Son and always God.
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