Baptism in/with the Holy Spirit is not explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament. However, John the Baptist spoke to the people about this experience as if it were something they would understand. This means that the concept must be congruent with what the Old Testament promises about the Holy Spirit.
The relationship between the Holy Spirit and human beings in the Old Testament begins in creation. Adam was formed from the dust of the earth and then God breathed into Adam the breath of life (Gen 2:7). So the Holy Spirit is rightly called the Lord and Giver of Life (Nicene Creed). This is not the baptism in the Spirit, but simply the giving of life in a physical sense. The Holy Spirit continues to give life to all human beings. None can escape his presence (Ps 139:7). But this is not the baptism in the Spirit either. Something more is meant by the expression “baptize with the Holy Spirit” than the relationship which the Spirit has with all humanity.
The Old Testament people of God did not experience the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Only a few people had the Holy Spirit come upon them, such as some prophets and kings. Most people experienced little of the presence of the Spirit. Even for the few who were anointed by the Spirit, the presence of the Holy Spirit was not permanent and could therefore not be called the baptism in the Spirit. However, there were some promises that God would first put his Spirit on the Messiah, his anointed one, and then pour out his Spirit on the people of God en masse.
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (Isa 11:1-5).
One who is in the line of David will be the one on whom the Spirit of God will rest. The Spirit does not anoint him fleetingly but rests on him in the long term. This is different to the impermanent anointing of prophets and kings. The presence of the Holy Spirit upon this person will enable him to judge rightly. He gives justice to the poor and deals with the wicked. Slaying the wicked with the breath of his mouth is akin to the fire of judgement spoken of by John the Baptist.
These promises are reiterated later in Isaiah. “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” (Isa 42:1). “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, (Isa 61:1-2).
The one anointed by the Spirit will not just bring good news and justice for the poor, he will bring the day of vengeance of our God. This passage connects Spirit and judgement as John the Baptist did in his saying about baptism in Spirit and fire. It is interesting that when Luke mentions Jesus quoting this passage (Luke 4:18-19) he does not include the part of verse 2 which mentions vengeance. As I mentioned last week, Jesus would bear the vengeance of God himself upon the cross, thus making possible the enduring year of the LORD’s favour for those who trust in him.
There are also Old Testament promises which encompass the entire people of God.
“For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isa 44:3). The Messiah will be anointed with the Spirit first (42:1) but the people of God, whom he has chosen, will also receive the Holy Spirit. The people are like thirsty land and the Spirit is like water which quenches that thirst (see also Isa 32:15).
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek 36:25-27). This is part of the great promises about return from exile. The ones who return will be cleansed, which is part of what baptism means. They will receive the Spirit of God and be transformed so that they will be obedient to God’s law. The stony, disobedient, rebellious heart will be removed and a heart which loves God will replace it.
“And it will come about after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days”(Joel 2:28-29). This is a promise for those who are called by the Lord and saved by him because they call on him (2:32).
These promises of the Holy Spirit poured out on all God’s people give the background to what John the Baptist meant when he said that the Messiah would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism with the Holy Spirit was a promise that applied to people who meet certain criteria, those who call on the name of the LORD. The wicked can only experience the baptism with fire, but the repentant will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. However, before the Holy Spirit is poured out on the people of God he must first be poured out on the Messiah. This is the Old Testament expectation and it is the order of the New Testament.
There is no explicit mention of Jesus being baptised in the Holy Spirit. But there are theological reasons for saying that Jesus received the baptism of the Spirit at the Jordan. Since Christians are defined by being “in Christ”, what belongs the Jesus belongs to his body: redemption, justification and sanctification. This is the New Testament pattern – first Jesus and then the Christian. E.g., Christ died and was raised and his people have died with him and are raised with him (Rom 6:3-4). Consequently, it is important to examine the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Prior to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, he did no miracles or ministry (The canonical Gospels record nothing of these.) What was Jesus’ experience of the Holy Spirit prior to the Jordan experience? Of course as the eternal Son of God he would have experienced continual infilling of the Holy Spirit and an intense relationship of intimacy with the Spirit prior to coming to earth as a human being. (This is the doctrine of the divine perichoresis.) However, the person Jesus Christ is also human and it is his human experience which is of significance to us as human beings, since our human experience will parallel his human experience. What is true of Jesus in his humanity is true of us as Christian believers by virtue of our union with him. Therefore, it matters what Jesus Christ experienced of the Holy Spirit as a human being, rather than as the divine Son of God in eternity.
The Holy Spirit was active in the life of Jesus from the beginning. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Apostles’ Creed). Matthew records, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). According to Luke, the angel told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:32-34).
The conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit meant that he would be called the Son of God and the holy one. Since God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3) then he had the fallen nature of Adam. But the Holy Spirit regenerated his sinful flesh at his conception and sanctified that flesh. Thus Jesus is the holy one and the human Son of God. This is the basis of all human regeneration. Now through Christ it is possible to be a son of God and a holy, sanctified, regenerate person. This is probably what Paul means by the statement that Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15), that is, the first of the new creation which is made holy and fit for dwelling with God forever.
Although Jesus must have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit since his conception, just as John the Baptist did (Luke 1:15; 2:40 alluding to Isa 11:2), he had not been anointed by the Spirit to perform his God-given ministry to the world. It was following his baptism by John in the Jordan that he began his ministry and started on the path to the cross. His experience there might be called Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit.
There are four different accounts of Jesus’ baptism.
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matt 3:16-17).
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).
“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,” (Luke 3:21-23).
“The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34).
All four mention the fact that the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and stayed on Jesus. This fulfilled the Old Testament promise that the Spirit would rest on the Messiah. John’s Gospel makes plain that the Holy Spirit did not come temporarily as in the Old Testament anointing of prophets. Jesus is the man on whom the Spirit remains. His anointing with the Holy Spirit is permanent. The Spirit came in visible form like a dove. There was no doubt in the minds of those who actually saw this event that Jesus is the anointed of God. However, it appears that not everyone did see it. Matthew and Mark mention that Jesus himself saw the Spirit. John’s Gospel tells us that John the Baptist was aware of this. Luke’s Gospel does not say who saw it. However, Luke does tell us that the Spirit descended on Jesus while he was praying.
Secondly, all four accounts affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. Although Jesus is most certainly the divine Son of God, eternally at the side of the Father, when Jesus is declared Son of God at the Jordan, it is because he is the only human Son of God who has God’s favour. If we are in doubt about this idea then Luke connects the dots for us by placing the genealogy of Jesus straight after his baptism. The genealogy begins with “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” (3:23) and then takes us all the way back to “Adam, the son of God” (3:38). Adam, the son of God lost the glory of God through sin (Rom 3:23) and hence lost his place of favoured sonship. Jesus is the one in whom human sonship is restored to its rightful place of favour with God. God himself declares from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). (This declaration from heaven fulfils two Old Testament passages – Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1).
In the miraculous ministry of Jesus which follows his baptism (in water and in Spirit) there is not much by way of indication as to how he does his miracles. It is not stated each time that Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit. But this does not mean that the anointing with the Spirit was simply for show and the rest of his life he lived as God. This would imply that what Jesus did has nothing to do with our humanity at all. Rather, the anointing with the Spirit at the Jordan was a genuine anointing of the humanity of Jesus so that he could bring God’s love and justice to the earth as a human being. The life he lived was a life lived in the power of the Spirit. Let me demonstrate.
Jesus went on to the temptation in the wilderness empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome those temptations. Without that empowerment he would have failed. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2). This is the fulfilment of Ezek 36:25-27 in the life of Jesus, before it can be fulfilled in believers.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:14-20).
When Jesus read these words in the synagogue, he announced to all that his ministry was one which would be conducted in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is implicit in the rest of the Gospel that this is what is was doing as he healed the sick, taught the people and set people free from sin.
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28). Jesus was the one who ushered in the kingdom of God in his own person. But he is clearly said to do this “by the Spirit of God”.
The empowering of the Spirit enabled Jesus to walk the path to the cross. The connection between his baptism for repentance and his anointing by the Spirit suggests that as Jesus began his path to the cross in his vicarious repentance for our sake, he was given the power to walk that path at the same time. From then on, his mind was made up to go to his death. The Gospels do not explicitly mention the Spirit empowering Jesus to go to the cross. However, Heb 9:14 tells us that Jesus offered himself there through the Holy Spirit. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
The baptism of the Spirit in the life of Jesus thus worked out in several ways: he was empowered to do the will of God, even in the face of severe temptation; he healed the sick and cast out demons; he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught the people; he called people to repentance; he set people free from sin and turned them to God; he was a prophet who spoke the truth to people and knew their hearts. Ultimately Jesus was able to offer himself to God on the cross because he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In these ways he fulfilled the Old Testament promises about the Spirit and the Messiah.