The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

2. Testimonies to the Messiah, 2:41-4:30

iii] The witness of Jesus' baptism


In the passage before us Luke records the witness of Jesus' baptism.


We see in Jesus' baptism the hope of redemption, and in the words from heaven, the commissioning of God's servant messiah on our behalf.


i] Context: See 2:41-52. The episode before us, The witness of Jesus' baptism, is the third in a group of six witnesses, or testimonies to Jesus found in the second section of Luke's gospel, Testimonies to the Messiah, 2:41-4:30. Each of the six episodes serve to inaugurate Jesus' mission and tell us something of his messianic character.


ii] Structure: This narrative, The witness of Jesus' baptism, presents as follows:

Jesus' baptism, v21;

Jesus joins with the baptismal candidates, v21a;

The heavens are parted, v21b;

The divine confirmation of Jesus' messianic credentials, v22.

The descent of the Spirit, v22a;

The divine declaration, v22b:

"you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."


iii] Interpretation:

Understandably, Jesus' willingness to submit to John's baptism has been an ongoing bother to New Testament commentators. We need to note, that other than Matthew, both Mark and Luke see no need to apologize for Jesus' willingness to be baptized by John, nor any need to explain the paradox of the one who baptizes with the Spirit being baptized by the one who baptizes with water. Fitzmyer summarizes the usual explanations as to why Jesus may have submitted to baptism as follows:

a) He is aware of his personal sin - "a sinner among a crowd of sinners", Murray. Obviously discounted;

b) Jesus wants to show his approval for John's ministry;

c) Jesus was a disciple of John. There is no evidence for this;

d) Jesus' baptism is symbolic of his sacrificial death on behalf of sinners - expressing the "buried with Christ" idea.

Fitzmyer himself suggests that Jesus' baptism serves to support John's ministry as a basis for his own, and that it demonstrates the necessity of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Some commentators work on Matthew's "it is fitting to perform every righteous act", 3:15, but what does this mean? Jesus could just be saying it's the right thing to do. A.M. Hunter, with his usual clarity (I love the old AM!), probably best expresses the views of the majority of conservative commentators when he states that the sinless Jesus underwent a baptism for the repentance for sins because "he discerned the hand of God in John's mission, and by his acceptance of John's baptism identified himself with the people he came to save." At the beginning of his ministry Jesus was "numbering himself among the transgressors."

This idea of identification has been extended by some commentators to include the substitutionary idea of "buried with Christ." In his baptism Jesus becomes "the one great Sinner who repents", Barth, ie. in his baptism the sinless one set out on the journey to become sin on behalf of sinful Israel, so that sinful Israel might be without sin. Although theologically sound, the gospel writers give no overt hint that Jesus' baptism can be spiritualized in this way. Of course, a lack of comment doesn't mean that there is nothing to comment about, given that the gospel writers are more than restrained when it comes to theological comments, eg. note the little that is said concerning the meaning of Jesus' death in the synoptic gospels.

Although the gospel writers give us few specific theological leads, they do happily employ typology. Jesus' baptism, followed as it is, by the temptation, reflects Exodus typology, something that was very much in the mind of the gospel writers. Jesus, as representative Israel, responds to the divine call to the wilderness (where Israel's sonship will be restored), passes through the water and out into the wilderness. The Exodus motif is of course redemptive, and although unstated in the gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism, is probably the central idea. So, Jesus, as faithful Israel, the son of God, does what Israel must do, he steps forward in faith to play the part of the representative repentant sinner, and as faithful Israel, is declared by God as his beloved son. As Barth puts it, in his baptism Jesus becomes "the one great Sinner who repents."


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:21

The climax of the Baptist's ministry - God's witness to Jesus as the Christ, v21-22. i] Jesus' baptism, v21: The people were coming to John to be baptized and Jesus joined the crowd and was baptized along with them. Jesus certainly doesn't need to undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In accepting John's baptism, Jesus shows his full support for John's mission, and at the same time he identifies with the very people he has come to save. Jesus' baptism is a symbolic act in that it is a visible replay of Israel's escape from bondage in Egypt. The gospel writers are keen for us to see Jesus as remnant Israel, so Jesus passes through the water like Israel of old, but unlike Israel he does not fail his time of testing in the wilderness. In his baptism the sinless one sets out on the journey to become sin on behalf of sinners so that sinners might be without sin

egeneto (ginomai) aor. "-" - it came to pass, happened. "Now it happened that ....", NJB.

en tw/ baptisqhnai (baptizw) aor. pas. inf. "when [all the people] were being baptized" - while were baptized. This preposition with the articular infinitive forms a temporal clause. Note the time sequence with the action that follows: "Jesus was baptized", "was praying", "heaven opened", preceded by "had been baptized", Nolland.

aJpanta ton laon "all the people" - The "all" obviously does not mean everyone, but does serve to indicate the success of John's ministry. John has fully prepared Israel for the messiah's coming. Mark indicates that only Jesus witnesses what follows, Matthew tells us that at least John is able to see what follows, whereas Luke leaves us guessing. It is unlikely that the crowd witnesses what follows, although the Spirit's descent "in bodily form" may indicate otherwise.

baptisqentoV (baptizw) gen. aor. part. "[Jesus] was baptized" - having been baptized. Genitive absolute participle in the aorist tense, establishing the second temporal (time) step, see above. "When all the people had been baptized, Jesus too was baptized", Barclay.

proseucomenou (proseucomai) gen. pres. part. "was praying" - praying. Genitive absolute participle in the present tense, establishing the third temporal step, with the present tense indicating that Jesus' prayer continues while the heavens are opened (although the function of tense in a participle is somewhat unclar as both aspect and time sequence is at play). Humble preparation indicates the importance Jesus gives to what follows. "While he was praying", Barclay.

ton ouranon (oV) "heaven" - the heaven. Possibly Luke is referring to the sky, "the sky parted", but he possibly intends God's domain.

anew/cqhnai (anoigw) aor. pas. inf. "was opened" - to be opened. The infinitive serves as the subject of the verb egeneto "it came about", "the heavens opening and the Holy Spirit descending came about / happened." "An apocalyptic revelation motif, cf. Ezk.1:1", Nolland. The heavens open so that the Spirit may descend and God speak. "The heaven opened."


ii] The divine confirmation of Jesus' messianic credentials, v22. Following his baptism Jesus has a vision. It's as if the separation between heaven and earth is breached and the Holy Spirit, who is in dove-like form, comes to Jesus while God the Father speaks. The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus, anointing him, setting him apart and equipping him for his divine service of healing the brokenhearted and announcing freedom, Isa.61:1. Then, God the Father speaks, authenticating Jesus' messianic credentials. God commissions Jesus as his Messiah-Servant. He does this by quoting scripture. First Psalm 2:7, a quote from the coronation liturgy of God's Messianic King. Then Isaiah 42:1, a quote from the ordination liturgy of God's Suffering Servant. So, although this vision is for Jesus alone, God announces to the heavens and the earth that this Jesus is the glorious coming messiah-king who will soon bring all things into subjection to himself, and that he is also God's suffering-servant who through his suffering and death will save a people unto God.

katabhnai (katabainw) aor. inf. "descended" - to descend. As with the infinitive "was opened", v21, this infinitive functions as the subject of the verb egeneto, "it came about / happened". The Holy Spirit is not usually described as "coming down", although Nolland notes that Exodus typology is possibly at work here, "the Holy Spirit came down from the Lord and led them", Isa.63:14, LXX.

ep (epi) + acc. "on [him]" - upon [him]. Spacial. Note Mark has "into" him. "Upon" aligns with Old Testament usage. The Spirit usually comes "upon" a person, covers a person, to set them apart, lead and support them in a divine task, such that they are "anointed of the Spirit."

swmatikw/ eidei dat. "in bodily form" - in bodily outward appearance. Adj. + noun. The dative is probably adverbial, expressing manner. Both words indicate approximation rather than actual form. The words are not in Mark and so Luke is probably stressing the fact that the Holy Spirit takes "the appearance of a dove", is "dove-like." Of course, it is possible that dove-like describes the descent, not the Holy Spirit; "the Holy Spirit in bodily form came down like a dove [flies down]", Barclay.

wJV "like" - as, like. Comparative.

peristeran (a) "a dove" - a dove, pigeon. "Pigeon" doesn't quite have the same ring to it! The "dove" doesn't actually represent the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit, although Luke describes the incident as a vision, a theophany. In this vision, Jesus sees the Holy Spirit as being dove-like. The Spirit comes to Jesus, the representative Israel, sets him apart, equips him for service, to proclaim good news to the lost, to heal the brokenhearted and announce freedom, Isa.61:1. Like the baptism itself, the descent of the Spirit is all part of the inauguration of messiah's mission. Jesus does not need the Spirit's assistance, but the new Israel does.

fwnhn (h) "a voice" - The "voice" is God's voice, again a theophany. In apocalyptic literature, God is described as speaking, usually for the purpose of instruction, here obviously commissioning.

ek + gen. "from [heaven]" - Expressing source/origin.

su "you" - Emphatic by position and use. Jesus is being singled out, over and above John.

oJ uJioV mou "[are] my Son" - The designation, "son of God", is used as a title for the messiah, although in the Old Testament it could be used of the king, the nation, or even angels ("sons of God"). The term "beloved Son" may actually incorporate the idea of Jesus' unique relationship of sonship to God the Father, but here it is more likely identifying Israel as God's son, his chosen people, encapsulated in the messianic king. This first part of the divine words is a quote from the coronation liturgy of the messianic King found in Psalm 2:7.

oJ agaphtoV adj. "whom I love" - Although unlikely, note the LXX variant "you are my son, today I have begotten you." The word sometimes carries the sense of a particular, or uniquely set-apart association, so "my one and only son who is dearly loved", even "my only son." The adjective functioning as a substantive may be attributive "my beloved son", NRSV alt., or in apposition "you are my son, the beloved", NRSV, as NIV. The latter translation seems best as it better separates the two quotations. The phrase expresses the unique relationship the messiah has with God.

en + dat. "with [you]" - in. Adverbial, reference/respect; "with respect to you."

eudokhsa (eudokew) aor. "I am well pleased" - I have come to delight. The phrase "well pleased" is drawn from Isaiah 42:1. The words were often used with Psalm 2:7 in messianic prophecies circulating in the first century. Some scholars follow an alternate reading which just quotes from Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee." Isaiah 42:1 comes from the ordination liturgy of the Servant of the Lord, the Servant whose journey is one of suffering.


Luke Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]