Study Notes on Matthew’s Gospel: The Commissioning of the King
Matthew 3:13-17 (NIVUK): “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’
Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptised, 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.’”
This is the commissioning of Jesus Christ; the baptism of the Son, the anointing of the Spirit, and the word of the Father. All the Trinity is involved.
The Baptism of the Son
Jesus comes to John to be baptised. This signals the beginning of His ministry and the phasing out of the ministry of John.
As Jesus’ cousin, John knew Jesus and he would have been told by his mother Elizabeth, that Jesus was the ‘Lord’. In Luke 1:42-43, we hear Elizabeth say: “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Clearly, she would have passed her belief on to her son, John.
Jesus came to John for a specific purpose – to be baptised by him. However, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance with the confession of sins. We, are then faced with a problem, Jesus was sinless, so why did He seek baptism?
We know that John was aware of Jesus’ sinless state, in verse 14, we are told John tried hard to deter Him, and he exclaims: “I need to be baptised by you, and (why) do you come to me?”
Jesus came into the world for one important reason – to identify with sinners. In order for Him to fulfil all of God’s righteousness, He had to identify with sinners. In order to bring sinners to righteousness Jesus had to go through the depths of the water of death. He had to bear the sins of us men and women and to do that He had to identify with sinners. There was no other way to fulfil all righteousness.
In Isaiah 53:11, we read: “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”
Jesus submitted Himself to John’s baptism as a symbolic, righteous act of identifying with sinners who were seeking salvation. We can also say that His baptism was a symbol of His death. Jesus going into the water represented His death and His coming out of the water of baptism is a symbol of His rising to life.
In Luke 12:50, Jesus refers to His death as a baptism: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (see Mark 10:38 for a similar reference).
The Anointing of the Spirit
Now, let us look at Matthew 3:16. ” … John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.” This is the second element in Jesus’ commissioning.
As Jesus came up out of the water, God opened heaven and John saw the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him. The Holy Spirit has no body and can’t be seen with human eyes, but to give that physical sign to John that the one on whom he saw the Spirit alight as a dove, that’s the Anointed One. And when John saw this, he knew that God was providing confirmation to him, that Jesus was the Messiah.
It’s worth noting that this is the only place in Scripture where the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. One possible reason for the use of a dove as a visible sign, is that in Jesus’ time, the dove was the most common sacrificial animal. A Jewish person would naturally think of sacrifice when they saw a dove. [A bullock was the animal for the rich; a lamb was for the middle classes, but a dove was the sin offering for almost everybody.]
Jesus is God, but He was also human and the Holy Spirit of God came upon Him in His humanness to empower Him to preach and to anoint Him as the prophet of God. Notice that God anointed ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, that’s His human identification. So His humanness was anointed, He was inaugurated into His kingly office, He was empowered for ministry.
We see this theme in Acts 10:37-38: “You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
The third part of Jesus’ commissioning: the Word of the Father
There is one essential element that is required of a sacrifice – whenever a sacrifice is offered to God it has to be without spot and without blemish. This is what the Father is saying: “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” Of this One who identifies with sinners, of this One who is to be the sacrificial offering, God is saying, in effect: “I am well pleased, I accept Him as the sacrifice.”
In summary, these few verses of Matthew 3:13-17, are informing us of Jesus’ commissioning. By that act of baptism Jesus identified with sinners and pictured His death. By being anointed with the Spirit He was empowered to undertake a ministry that ultimately made Him a sacrifice. And by the Father’s word He was said to be the worthy sacrifice.