He Baptizes in the Spirit

At his baptism, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus to equip him for his messianic mission – He is the one who baptizes in the Spirit

At the Jordan River, John proclaims a baptism in water for the remission of sins,” and announces the arrival of the Coming One.” He is the forerunner of the Messiah, just as promised in Isaiah: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face… The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.”

And John summons the whole nation of Israel to repentance, including the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he warns of the coming judgment that will befall them if they refuse to repent - (Matthew 3:7-10).

The Pharisees and Sadducees typify the leadership of Israel. They, too, must reorient their lives before the arrival of the Messiah.

The baptism of John is an invitation for all members of Israel to repent in preparation for the arrival of the kingdom and its King, and this includes even its most rigorously religious members.

  • (Matthew 3:11-12) – “I indeed baptize you in water for repentance: but he that is coming after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.


In the passage, John contrasts himself with the “coming one” in three ways - might, worth, and especially, mode of baptism.

His baptism in water is preparatory, not final. Both he and Jesus “baptize”; however, John baptizes in water, but the Messiah “baptizes in the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The gift of the Spirit is an expectation of the “last days” and foundational to the New Covenant promised in the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. By His Spirit, God will write His laws on the hearts of His people - (Isaiah 44:1-4, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:38-39).

The phrase, “in Holy Spirit and fire,” indicates two aspects to the superior “baptism” offered by the “Coming One.”

In the Greek clause, “spirit and fire” do not refer to two separate events or baptisms. Only one preposition governs both nouns, namely, “in” (en), and “spirit and fire” are both direct objects of the single verb “baptize.” Both aspects characterize the one “baptism” provided by the Messiah.

In this context, “fire” can only refer to judgment, whether for the purgation or destruction of the individual. The reference to “spirit and fire” is part of John’s response to the “Pharisees and Sadducees,” the very ones he warns about the “axe” that is about to cut down fruitless trees. Moreover, the “fire” points to the “chaff” that the Messiah will “burn up with unquenchable fire.”

John’s words are addressed to Israel, including the nation’s leaders based in Jerusalem. In the Greek sentence, the pronoun “you” is plural (i.e., “He will baptize YE”) - the words are addressed to the entire nation.

All who respond and prepare for the Messiah will experience the “baptism in the Spirit.” Those who refuse will experience the other side of the coin. This warning is applicable to individual Israelites and to the nation as a whole.


When Jesus does arrive, John baptizes him. Upon leaving the river’s waters, audible and visible signs “from heaven” confirm his status as the Messiah, the one who now possesses the Spirit - (Matthew 3:13-17).

In the passage, the “opening of the heavens” means his arrival at the Jordan River is an event of cosmic import. In him, access to the realm of God is being opened, and a new era is dawning.

The Spirit descends “upon him like a dove.” This marks the commencement of his messianic mission. From here on, Jesus is separated and anointed in order to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to Israel.

The preposition applied to the descent of the Spirit stresses movement “into” or “onto” something (eis), and the Spirit comes to rest upon him. The description is metaphorical. The descent is “like” the gentle descent of a dove.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit anoints certain men temporarily to carry out specific tasks. But according to the gospel of John, when the Spirit comes upon Jesus, it remains on him from that point forward - (John 1:32, 3:34-36).

And at his baptism, the voice from heaven acknowledges Jesus as His “Son.” In doing so, it combines words from two messianic passages:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me, You are my Son, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (Isaiah 42:1) - “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.”

Taken together, these two passages define the identity and mission of the Messiah. He is God’s royal “Son” destined to reign from the messianic throne. But the Spirit is given to the Suffering Servant of the book of Isaiah.

Jesus came to the Jordan River “from Galilee.” After his baptism, anointed and equipped by the Spirit, he returns there and begins to proclaim the gospel – “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But first, the Spirit must “drive him into the wilderness” where he is tested by the Devil.

Only after his resurrection and ascension, as God’s designated Davidic king, does he begin to baptize his followers in the Holy Spirit, beginning on the Day of Pentecost.


Suffering Servant

The Living Word