Monday, November 24, 2008

Did Jesus Need the Holy Spirit prior to His Baptism?

No, Jesus Christ did not need to get more of the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He had the Spirit from the moment of his conception. He is the Son of God who pre-existed from all eternity.

Conversely, in the early church there was a man who taught that Jesus was not eternal. His name was Paul of Samosata. He taught that at Jesus’ baptism He became anointed with the divine logos. This meant to Paul of Samosata that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. This teaching is also known as adoptionism. Adoptionism teaches that Jesus is not equal to God but became adopted as the Son of God at his baptism. Adoptionism was declared to be a heresy in the early church because it did not do justice to the Scripture’s testimony concerning who Jesus is. Adoptionism is still being taught today. For example, Gene Hutchins at the Unitarian Chapel in St. Louis believes that Jesus is not God and he uses the baptism of Jesus to show that Christ did not have the Holy Spirit prior to His baptism. Unitarians do not believe in the Trinity and also reject the deity of Jesus Christ.

To understand the baptism of Christ it is important to distinguish between two different ways of approaching the person of Christ. One is called a Christology from above and the other is called a Christology from below. Let us start with a Christology from above. A Christology from above approaches Christ from His eternal pre-existence. The Gospel of John approaches the person of Christ this way by stating that Jesus is God who created the world. This approach to Christ begins with Christ’s eternal pre-existence and moves forward. The reason why you and I have difficulty with the baptism of Christ is because we often approach his person from this eternal perspective. We ask: How is it that Jesus is receiving the Spirit when He is God? Didn’t He receive the Spirit in Mary’s womb from conception? Perhaps we need another approach. And that approach is called a Christology from below.

A Christology from below approaches Christ from his life, ministry, and work on this earth. For example, this is how the Apostle Peter described the person of Christ when witnessing to Cornelius. He said: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Notice that Peter affirms that Jesus was anointed. If we only approach the person of Christ from his eternal pre-existence then we may commit the same error as the Docetists who believed that Jesus only seemed to be anointed. The Docetists also believed that Jesus only seemed to die on the cross. What we want to do then when analyzing the baptism of Christ is to approach this event with a Christology from below while also avoiding the adoptionist heresy. This means that we must affirm that something happened at Christ’s baptism while at the same time affirming Jesus was and is fully God prior to His baptism.

In Isaiah 42:1, God the Father says: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” This is the Scripture that is echoed by the Father at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Consequently, we can affirm that Jesus became the Servant of the Father at his baptism. This is confirmed because God the Father’s voice validated and inaugurated His public ministry. After His baptism in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus affirms his anointing with the Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus was anointed at His baptism and this began His ministry. Jesus is then the Bearer or Possessor of the Spirit. However, what significance does the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus have for the church? Let us take a look at the Gospel of John.

John the Baptist in 1:33 declares that God the Father said to him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” How does this baptism of the Spirit happen? Continuing in John we see John the Baptist testify again: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (3:34). And in John 6:63 after Jesus declares that He is the Bread of Life He says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” Imagine Christ speaking His Word to you. As He is speaking, two things are coming out of His mouth: words and breath. His words are God’s Word, and His breath is God’s Spirit. Keep that image in your mind because it will be relevant once we get to the resurrection in John’s Gospel.

Continuing in John’s Gospel we see that Jesus had to be glorified before His Spirit could be given. In John 7:37-39 He said: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Then John, who likes to give us commentary said: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus had not yet been glorified. When does Jesus’ glorification begin in John’s Gospel? Right before Jesus’ death in John 17:1, He says: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” The death of Christ is the beginning of the glorification of Christ. After Jesus died on the cross, John says: “He bowed his head and gave up his Spirit” (19:30). John continues: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (19:34). In John’s Gospel, blood is Jesus’ death while water is Jesus’ Spirit.

After the resurrection of Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (20:23). Remember the image of Jesus speaking and out of His mouth comes words and breath! Christ is not only the Bearer of the Spirit, but He also is the Giver of the Spirit. What Christ experienced in the Spirit so also the Church experiences in the Spirit. Let us go back to the beginning of His public ministry when He was baptized. Just as Christ was baptized and anointed with the Spirit, so also the Church is baptized with water and the Spirit. Just as Christ died and was raised up, so also in our baptisms we were buried and raised as new people in Christ. God adopts us as His sons and daughters of God. Paul says: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father’” (Gal. 4:6)! Jesus gives us His Spirit and adopts us into His family. Additionally, the Scriptures say that we are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Just as Christ was holy, so also the Church is holy. Just as Christ prayed in the Spirit, so also the Church prays in the Spirit. Just as Christ fought against Satan, so also the church fights by praying: “Deliver us from the evil one.” And just as Christ proclaimed good news to the poor, so also the Church proclaims the forgiveness of sins to all creation. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so also Jesus sends the Church to proclaim forgiveness. Christ was anointed to be the Servant of God the Father at His baptism. Everything He experienced, so also the Church now experiences. He is the Bearer of the Spirit and He baptizes us with the Spirit so that we might proclaim His forgiveness to a lost world.

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