There were several events that took place during the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist even though he had no sin. There was a voice heard from heaven. The Holy Ghost descended in the form of a dove. These events lead to many questions. Why was Jesus baptized? Why did God speak from heaven? Why was the Holy Ghost seen as a dove? The baptism of Jesus is often used to demonstrate a ‘tri-unity’ of God. Is the voice and the dove proof of ‘persons’ within the Godhead, do they demonstrate multiple Gods, or are they manifestations of God?
Matthew 3:16-17 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Mark 1:9-11 9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Luke 3:21-22 21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
John 1:29-34 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Why was Jesus baptized?
Jesus was not baptized for the remission, or forgiveness, of sins as we are (Acts 2:38). Jesus had no sin (1 Pet. 2:22). He had no need of remission of sins. Also, John’s baptism was a baptism unto repentance (Acts 19:4). Jesus had no need to repent, since he never committed sin. Jesus was not born into sin because God was his father. So then, why was he baptized?
Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.
Matthew 3:15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Jesus was baptized as an anointing to the priesthood. This is how Jesus manifested himself to Israel.
John 1:31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
This began his ministry.
His baptism also revealed to John that Jesus was the Messiah, because John was given the sign of the Holy Ghost descending on Jesus as a dove.
The voice from heaven and the descending dove
The Deity of Jesus was omnipresent. Even though all the fullness of the Godhead dwelled in Jesus bodily (Col. 2:9), the omnipresent Spirit of God still filled the universe. This means that Jesus was on earth and in heaven at the same time.
John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Through his omnipresent Spirit, it would be no problem for Jesus to speak from heaven and send a manifestation of his Spirit in the form of a dove while his human body stood in the Jordan River (Bernard, p. 172). The voice and the dove do not require ‘persons’ within the Godhead any more than a theophany in the Old Testament. Just because God manifested himself in theophanies did not mean that heaven was left empty of the Spirit of God. God spoke through hundreds of Holy Ghost filled believers at the same time on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). It is not difficult for God to hear and answer all of our prayers at the same time. Nothing is too difficult for God.
The voice and the dove were manifestations of the one God.
God is omnipresent. The Spirit of God was filling the universe at the same time that God was manifest in flesh and standing in the Jordan River. God was speaking from His omnipresence as a voice from heaven. The purpose of the voice from heaven was to show the people that were present that Jesus was the Messiah. The voice revealed the identity of Jesus.
The dove was a sign to John the Baptist.
John 1:32-34 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
This was for John’s benefit so he would know that Jesus is the Christ. John could not see the Spirit of God, so God revealed to John the Spirit of God symbolically.
The dove was also symbolic of the anointing of Jesus. In the Old Testament, priests were anointed with oil when they began their priesthood.
Exodus 28:41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
1 Kings 19:16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
Priests were even washed with water along with the anointing oil.
Exodus 29:4 And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.
Exodus 29:7 Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.
In this same manner, and for this same purpose, the dove is symbolic of Jesus being anointed as a priest by the Spirit of God.
Jesus is ‘the anointed one’– the Messiah.
The baptism of Jesus is often used to teach a Trinitarian concept of God. There is nothing in this event that requires God to be divided into ‘persons’. God can speak to a million different people, while answering the prayers of another million people, while at the same time speaking through another million people. This does not require three million ‘persons’ within the Godhead. All this requires is an omniscient, omnipresent God. The Jewish believers that were present did not all of a sudden start teaching a new revelation about the Godhead. They were still just as monotheistic as they were before. They still believed in one God- the one God, Creator, and Father that would be their savior and redeemer- their Messiah.
The baptism of Jesus does not teach a Trinitarian view. Those who wish to use the baptism of Jesus to teach the trinity have no defense against tri-theism. Those who use this to teach tritheism are teaching against the thousands of verses that teach strict monotheism. Both, Trinitarians and tritheists, find themselves in direct contradiction to scripture. Many Trinitarian scholars teach that the baptism of Jesus is in reference to the authoritative anointing of Jesus as the Messiah (Bernard, p. 175).
The key to understanding the baptism of Jesus is his dual nature. As a man, Jesus was being baptized and anointed as a priest. As the omnipresent God, he was speaking from heaven and manifesting his Spirit in the form of a dove for the benefit of those present and as a sign for John the Baptist.
Bernard, David (2001). Oneness of God, The
Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press