THE COMMISSIONING OF JESUS TO PUBLIC MINISTRY INCLUDED BAPTISM TO IDENTIFY WITH SINNERS, ANOINTING WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE PUBLIC APPROVAL OF GOD THE FATHER
Walter Wilson: The . . . final segment of chapter 3 both dramatizes Jesus’s role as God’s faithful Son and suggests that such faithfulness represents the means by which God’s plan of redemption will be accomplished. Among the many people drawn by John’s preaching is the Messiah himself, who travels all the way from Galilee to the river Jordan. When John demurs at Jesus’s request for baptism, the latter explains that he must be consecrated to his messianic vocation by joining the sinful multitudes in this rite of renewal, thereby fulfilling the righteousness that this vocation will embody. During the performance of the rite itself, the investiture of Jesus with the Spirit is presented both visually, in the dove-like descent of the Spirit upon him, and verbally, in divine words of commendation that allude to several biblical texts and concepts. With his identification as God’s Beloved Son, the readers have their most definitive answer to the question of Jesus’s identity, a question to which the entire opening section of the gospel has been devoted.
G. Campbell Morgan: These few verse reveal the relation of the King to heaven, as they tell the story of His attestation and anointing.
Grant Osborne: There is tension in the fact that Jesus at one and the same time transcends John’s baptism as the Messiah and yet submits to that baptism. “The baptism of Jesus, indeed, serves as a kind of transition between the work of preparation and the appearance on center stage of the one who brings fulfillment.” [Hagner] Moreover, there is also a Trinitarian thrust—both the Father and the Spirit participate in the anointing of the Son. There is an incredible aura of the power of God in this scene, and in fact the shaking of the heavens (a major apocalyptic image) occurs as Jesus comes up out of the water (v. 16), and God himself tells the onlookers who this Jesus really is, the very Son of God.
John MacArthur: This is, as it were, His coronation. This is His commissioning, the beginning of His ministry. It’s a rich and a blessed section of Scripture. The King comes out of 30 years of seclusion, 30 years of obscurity, 30 years of being hidden, as it were, finally to manifest Himself to the world. John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, has made ready the path. The way is prepared. The path is straight, and from the quiet seclusion of Nazareth, the Lord Jesus comes to inaugurate His work, to assume His office, and He is commissioned. He is crowned, as it were, in a very wonderful way right here as we begin in this paragraph.
Now, I want us to see three aspects to the commissioning of Jesus Christ.
- First, the baptism of the Son.
- Second, the anointing of the Spirit.
- Thirdly, the word of the Father, and you will notice that all the Trinity is involved. . .
And so, beloved, what do we see in the commission here? He is chosen to be a king, but His, but His throne is gonna be a cross. He’s chosen to be a king, but He’s gonna die, a sin offering. And so He is commissioned. By baptism, He identifies with sinners and pictures His death. By being anointed with the Spirit, He is empowered to minister a ministry that ultimately will make Him a sacrifice. The dove of sacrifice. And by the Father’s word, He is said to be the worthy sacrifice. What an introduction. What a beginning. What a ministry was His.
I. (:13-15) APPROPRIATENESS OF BAPTISM OF JESUS BY JOHN
A. (:13) Intentionality of Jesus – He Came to Be Baptized
“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan
coming to John, to be baptized by him.”
Dr. Justin Imel: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to receive John’s baptism. Mark informs us that Jesus came from Nazareth (Mk 1:9)—the distance could have been some 60 to 70 miles. This tells us the value that Jesus placed on being baptized by John. He traveled a considerable distance by foot to receive John’s baptism.
Scott Harris: John’s message was one of repentance, and as previously pointed out, this was a very strong message. Some in our day have tried to soften the tone and make the message more palatable to American society. They say that repentance is simply changing your mind about Jesus. They then present the gospel to try to get you to change your mind about Jesus the same way as you might change your mind about what brand of soap you like best. They market Jesus. Such a message is a distortion of the gospel. Repentance is not just a change of mind. It is a change of mind that radically changes the life! John’s message was the same as the prophets before them. He called the people to conversion. He implored the people to turn back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for them to trust the Lord alone, and for them to forsake anything and everything in their lives that was ungodly. This was the Herald’s Message.
B. (:14) Objection of John – You Are Sinless and Don’t Need a Baptism of Repentance
“But John tried to prevent Him, saying,
‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’”
Scott Harris: John knew from childhood who Jesus was. This was the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would sit on David’s throne, this is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John recognizes that Jesus is without sin, for He will be the one that will remove sin from the world. This being true, John is very reluctant to baptize Jesus with a baptism of repentance. The grammar of the verb, “prevent” here is one of continual action. John kept trying to prevent Jesus from being baptized by him. John is as strongly opposing baptizing Jesus as he was opposing baptizing the Pharisees and Sadducees, but for opposite reasons. Jesus was sinless and had no need of this baptism. The Pharisees and Sadducees were still in their sins and had not repented. In addition Jesus is the one who is to “Baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (vs 11). John tells Jesus that Jesus should baptize him, not the other way around. This leaves us with a question as well. Understanding the nature of John’s baptism as being one of repentance, one in which the person confessed their sins and were then immersed in the Jordan as a sign of the washing away of their sin, why is one who is without sin coming for this baptism?
Leon Morris: John is surprised at finding Jesus among his baptizands. It does not seem right and therefore he does not want this baptism to proceed. The Fourth Evangelist tells us that the Baptist did not know Jesus until he saw the Spirit descend on him like a dove (John 1:33), which may mean that he did not know Jesus or that he did not know him to be the Messiah. But Matthew does not address himself to this question. He simply tells us that John recognized his inferior place without going into the question of how he came to know it or for that matter how he understood it. Since John does not speak of Jesus as Messiah, he may have meant only that he knew that Jesus had greater authority than he or was morally superior to him.
D. A. Carson: John tried to deter Jesus (imperfect of attempted action) from his baptism, insisting (the pronouns are emphatic) that he stood in need of baptism by Jesus. Earlier John had difficulty baptizing the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were not worthy of his baptism. Now he has trouble baptizing Jesus because his baptism is not worthy of Jesus. . .
At the very least, John must have recognized that Jesus, to whom he was related, whose birth was more marvelous than his own and whose knowledge of Scripture was prodigious even as a child (Lk 2:41–52), outstripped him. John the Baptist was a humble man; conscious of his own sin, he could detect no sin Jesus needed to repent of and confess. So John thought that Jesus should baptize him. Matthew does not tell us when John also perceived that Jesus was the Messiah (though that may be implied by vv.16–17); Matthew focuses on Jesus’ sinlessness and the Father’s testimony, not on John’s testimony (unlike the fourth gospel, where the Baptist’s witness to Jesus is very important).
John MacArthur: Now, John’s statement — this is an incredible statement, and I want you to see how rich it is. His statement is one of the most clear and one of the most powerful and one of the most forceful declarations of the sinlessness of Jesus Christ ever given in the Scripture. When anybody wants to argue about the sinlessness of Christ, whether Christ was really without sin, this is a great place to start. Virtually, John is saying, “Look, You can’t be baptized with my baptism, because mine is a baptism for sinners.” And what is he, in effect, saying? “You’re not a sinner.” “You’re not a sinner.” He is declaring, on the other hand, that, “I have need to be baptized by You. I am a sinner. You and I are opposites. I,” he says, “am in the class of the people I’m baptizing. You are not.” And he is saying, “Not only are You sinless, but You are beyond even the very prophets of God.”
C. (:15) Explanation of Jesus – This Act Fulfills All Righteousness
“But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time;
for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’
Then he permitted Him.”
John MacArthur: In the book of Isaiah, in chapter 53, it says, “He was numbered with the” – What? – “transgressors” – sinners. I believe the supreme element – listen – in the baptism of Jesus was the identification of the sinless Son of God with sinners. And I think the first thing Jesus ever did when He stepped out of obscurity and He stepped into the limelight was declare the very primary reason for which He came, and that was to identify Himself with sinners. He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness. He who was without sin went down into a baptism that was only for sinners, and He was saying as loud and clear as ever He could say, “I take My place with sinners.” And let it be clear from the start that this Jesus is the friend of sinners. Let it be clear that Paul was right. “He who knew no sin became” – What? – “sin for us.” His ministry began that way. How fitting. He didn’t come to just teach. He didn’t come just to set an example. He didn’t come to be a moralist. He didn’t come to be a revolutionary. He came to identify with sinners, and He was numbered with the transgressors; and there in His baptism He identified with sinners. Even in His birth, He identified with sinners. He was the Child of Mary, who was a sinner.
In His death, He identified with sinners – two, one on each side – and He bore the sins of every sinner who ever lived. Listen, in order to bring sinners to righteousness, He had to go to the depths of the waters of death. He had to bear sin. He had to identify with sinners. There was no other way to fulfill all righteousness.
And in Isaiah 53:11, it says, “My righteous servant shall make many righteous” – How? – “He shall bear the sin of many.” Isaiah 53:11, “My righteous servant shall bear the sin of many.” Jesus submitted to John’s baptism as a symbolic act of identifying with sinners who were seeking salvation; and I’ll go a step further. I believe that His baptism was a symbol of His death. I believe it was a symbol of His dying as He went into that water, and a symbol of His rising as He came out.
You say, “Apparently, you believe he was immersed.” True, and I will defend that in a moment. And I think it was, it was the same picture, really, as Christian baptism. I think Jesus was showing His identification with sinners. I think He was previewing His death and His resurrection.
Walter Wilson: Jesus submits to John’s baptism of repentance (3:2, 8, 11), an act that expresses his solidarity with the people (3:5–6), in contrast to the people’s religious leaders (3:7). This act can also be understood as a further instance of “fulfillment” (3:15) insofar as it reveals a critical aspect of Jesus’s person and ministry, namely, his role as servant (3:17), a role that complements his role as eschatological judge (3:11–12). John’s struggle to recognize this fact (cf. 11:2–6) illustrates the practical difficulty of reconciling these two aspects of Jesus’s identity.
G. Campbell Morgan: In Isaiah liii. we read, “He . . . was numbered with the transgressors.” There, in baptism as in incarnation and birth, and finally and for consummation, in the mystery of His Passion, we see the King identifying Himself with the people over whom He is to reign, in the fact of their deepest need, and direst failure.
Grant Osborne: The best way to understand it is to combine two nuances:
(1) there is a salvation-historical thrust as Jesus identifies with his people (Isa 53:12) in preparing for the saving activity of God (his saving work is the will of God = “righteousness”).
(2) Jesus obeys his Father’s will (= all righteousness) by assuming the role of suffering Servant (Isa 53:11) and so endorses John’s ministry.
In this there is also a moral element, for Jesus’ action is a moral conduct that obeys God’s will, and so Jesus is fulfilling Scripture by doing it God’s way. In short, he “fills to the full” the “right” requirements of God in “the OT pattern and prediction about the Messiah.” He does not need to repent, but by submitting to baptism Jesus begins his messianic work by identifying with the human need and providing the means by which it can be accomplished.
D. A. Carson: John’s baptism had two foci—repentance and its eschatological significance. Jesus affirms, in effect, that it is God’s will (“all righteousness”) that John baptize him; and both John and Jesus “fulfill” that will, that righteousness, by going through with it (“it is proper for us”). The aftermath, as Matthew immediately notes (vv.16–17), shows that this baptism really did point to Jesus. Within this framework we may recognize other themes. In particular, Jesus is indeed seen as the Suffering Servant (Isa 42:1). But the Servant’s first mark is obeying God: he “fulfills all righteousness” since he suffers and dies to accomplish redemption in obedience to the will of God. By his baptism, Jesus affirms his determination to do his assigned work. Thus the “now” may be significant. Jesus is saying that John’s objection (v.14) is in principle valid. Yet he must “now,” at this point in salvation history, baptize Jesus, for at this point Jesus must demonstrate his willingness to take on his servant role, entailing his identification with the people.
Bob Deffinbaugh: While believer’s baptism looks back to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11), our Lord’s baptism by John looks forward, anticipating His death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of guilty sinners. Our Lord’s baptism cannot include his repentance and confession of sin for He had no sin (as His temptation and subsequent conduct will verify). It may be that He was baptized in order to identify with sinners, but not to identify Himself as a sinner. Based on our Lord’s own words to John, it seems not to have focused as much on sin as on the righteousness that would be accomplished by our Lord’s ministry, in which John the Baptist was a partner.
II. (:16) ANNOINTED WITH GOD THE SPIRIT FOR MINISTRY
“And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water;
and behold, the heavens were opened,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him,”
G. Campbell Morgan: The dove therefore is the bird that signifies patience, gentleness, harmlessness; and is the type of sacrifice possible to the lowliest of the people. . . The dove is the emblem of weakness; but the Spirit of God in the form of a dove is an emblem of power in gentleness – Deity submissive to sacrifice for the salvation of men. This was an anointing for death, for atonement. It was not simply an anointing for preaching, but for living in order to dying. He had consented to death; and Heaven crowned Him with power for that death.
Grant Osborne: There have been many suggestions for the imagery of the dove here, but the best is probably to see a combination of Gen 1:2 (the Spirit of God hovering over creation), thus signifying a new creation; the Spirit as a symbol of Israel (Hos 7:11), with Jesus as the ideal, true Israelite; the dove returning to Noah’s ark (Gen 8:8–12) with the imagery of a new world being inaugurated; and the dove as a messenger signifying to Jesus the divinely commissioned role set for him. Putting them together, the descent of the Spirit signifies a new age being inaugurated in the coming of the Messiah, God’s very Son.
D. A. Carson: The Spirit’s descent in v.16 needs to be understood in the light of v.17. The Spirit is poured out on the servant in Isaiah 42:1, to which v.17 alludes. This outpouring does not change Jesus’ status (he was the Son before this) or assign him new rights. Rather it identifies him as the promised Servant and Son and marks the beginning of his public ministry and direct confrontation with Satan (4:1), the dawning of the messianic age (12:28).
R. T. France: The significance of the baptism hinted at in vv. 14–15 is distinguished from the revelatory event which follows it, which takes place after Jesus has come out of the river. Three elements are combined in vv. 16b-17, the opening of heaven, the descent of the Spirit, and the divine proclamation. The opening of heaven is familiar elsewhere in the NT as an expression for a visionary experience (John 1:51; Acts 7:56; 10:11; Rev 4:1; 19:11). There is a significant OT parallel in Ezek 1:1 where Ezekiel, standing beside a river, also sees heaven opened and receives a theophanic vision and hears God’s voice commissioning him for his prophetic role and giving him the Spirit (Ezek 2:2). Isa 63:19 (EVV 64:1) asks God to tear (LXX anoigō, as here) the heavens and come down to redeem his people. The opening of heaven is the prelude to the divine communication which follows and especially to the visible descent of the Spirit.
Dr. Justin Imel: The Spirit came upon Jesus. It was vital that the Spirit come upon Jesus in order for Jesus to begin his ministry. Jesus’ ministry was carried out with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Lord “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). Therefore, the Spirit played a vital role in Jesus’ being a merciful high priest by suffering temptation. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to carry out the great miracles he performed: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).
Not only did the Spirit enable Jesus to carry out his ministry, but the Spirit demonstrated that Jesus was indeed the Christ. The Greek christos literally means “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil as a demonstration that they were chosen by God. E.g., about David’s coming king, we read: “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13).
The Spirit came upon Jesus in this context to anoint him as the Christ, to demonstrate that he was God’s chosen One. Lest you think that I’m making too much of the literal meaning of “Christ,” the Old Testament refers to the Messiah’s anointing with the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Is 61:1). Therefore, the Spirit comes upon Jesus and anoints him, demonstrating that he is, in fact, the One whom God has chosen.
III. (:17) APPROVED BY GOD THE FATHER AS WORTHY SACRIFICE FOR SIN
“and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying,
‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”
David Platt: The Son obeys, the Spirit anoints, and in verse 17 the Father speaks.
S. Lewis Johnson: Incidentally, this statement, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased,” does not really mean, primarily, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am delighted.” But the meaning of the Greek word is, rather, this is my Son in whom and upon whom my pleasure rests, or whom my plan for the salvation of both Israel and the Gentiles is centered. So what it means then is not, I’m very pleased with him, I’m happy over him. It means he is the one in whom I am going to accomplish my purposes. It is a word that has to do with the plan and purpose of God.
Leon Morris: Matthew’s This is my Son makes the words relevant to the bystanders; they are an open testimony to the Father’s approval of his Son (cf. 17:5), and we should view “Son” as a messianic title. The heavenly voice points to a relationship shared by no other. Beloved tells us of the strong affection the Father has for the Son; it is probably (as Allen thinks) “an independent title = ‘the Beloved’ = the Messiah” (see further the note on the same expression in 17:5). It is reinforced with in whom I am well pleased. The verb has the meaning “to think it good, give consent” and thence “to be well pleased, take pleasure in”; the latter is, of course, the meaning here. The divine voice gives approval to Jesus as he begins his public ministry. The words are reminiscent of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1; they show us that right at the beginning of his ministry Jesus was identified with both the Messiah and the Suffering Servant, “and this strange combination exactly describes the nature of the Lord’s ministry soon to begin” (Melinsky). We should perhaps notice the mention of the three Persons of the Trinity in this passage; Matthew has a certain trinitarian interest (cf. 28:19).
Warren Wiersbe: On three special occasions, the Father spoke from heaven: at Christ’s baptism, at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3), and as Christ approached the cross (John 12:27–30). In the past, God spoke to His Son; today He is speaking through His Son (Heb. 1:1–2).
R. T. France: From this point on Matthew’s readers have no excuse for failing to understand the significance of Jesus’ ministry, however long it may take the actors in the story to reach the same christological conclusion (14:33; 16:16; 26:63–64). It will be this crucial revelation of who Jesus is which will immediately form the basis of the initial testing which Jesus is called to undergo in 4:1–11: “If you are the Son of God…” (4:3, 6). And there, as in the account of the baptism, Jesus’ sonship will be revealed in his obedience to his Father’s will.
Dr. Justin Imel: This passage is an enthronement text for Jesus. It is here that the Father declares to the world that Jesus Christ is indeed his Son. The voice from heaven serves as undeniable proof that Jesus is the Son of God and the great King of all. As the great King, Jesus deserves the praise of all: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17). Are you giving the “king of ages” glory and honor in your life?