Did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism?

Q. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Why did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism? (Was the Holy Spirit transferred to him by John the Baptist laying hands on him, the way “the Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands” in the book of Acts?)

First, it is true that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. The angel Gabriel promised this to his father Zechariah when he told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. And we get a very interesting indication of it from when John was still in his mother’s womb: Mary came to visit Elizabeth while she was expecting Jesus herself, and Elizabeth reported, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John knew, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Messiah, still unborn, and his mother had come to visit!

However, I’m not so sure that Jesus himself only received the Holy Spirit when he was baptized. When Isaiah announces the birth of the Messiah—”A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit”—he immediately adds, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” This does not suggest a delay between the Messiah being born and the Spirit coming upon him. The report that Luke gives of Jesus’ early years suggests that God was present in his life in a special way right from the start: “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” One part of the manuscript tradition even says, “The child grew and became strong in spirit.” While this is not considered the most reliable reading, it does reflect the sense of the passage, which conveys that Jesus was filled with special qualities indicating God’s presence from the time he was born.

Indeed, if Jesus did not have the manifest presence of God in his life, it’s hard to see how John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna would have recognized him as an unborn child and as a baby. They were all godly and Spirit-filled, but they “had to have something to work with,” so to speak—their spiritual discernment needed something spiritual to discern! I believe that this was the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life.

So then what was going on at Jesus’ baptism, if it wasn’t the first time the Holy Spirit came upon him and filled him? I think the visible descent of the Spirit from heaven to alight on Jesus was mean to be a sign that showed he was the Messiah. As John the Baptist said, as he bore witness to Jesus’ identity, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

The visible descent of the Spirit, along with the voice from heaven, also provided confirmation to Jesus of his own identity as the Messiah. In one of the churches I served as a pastor there was a man who liked to ask, “What did Jesus know, and when did he know it?” What he meant was that unless Jesus was born knowing everything—in which case he wouldn’t have had a normal human brain and he wouldn’t have shared our human condition—there had to have been a time when he came to know that he was the Messiah. Most interpreters of the gospels agree that Jesus understood definitively at his baptism that this was his role. So it wasn’t so much that Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism as that he received his vocation then, through the Spirit’s manifestation.

As for the connection between receiving the Spirit and the laying on of hands, typically in the book of Acts an apostle or other person commissioned by God will specifically say that they are conveying the Spirit when they lay on hands. For example, Ananias said to the man who would become known as the apostle Paul, as he laid hands on him, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” There’s no record in the gospels of John the Baptist saying any such thing to Jesus at his baptism, so I don’t think we should conclude that this is what happened then.

By the way, I also don’t believe that the laying on of hands is necessary for a person to receive the Holy Spirit. Rather, in the early years of the church it provided a sign that barriers of hostility were being broken down (because enemies usually won’t even touch each other), and as a result of the unity and peace that was created, the Holy Spirit came and made his home in a new extension of the community of Jesus’ followers. Significantly, we see the laying on of hands as the community expands to include Samaritans and Gentiles and when it welcomes its former enemy Saul of Tarsus. Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with laying hands on a person as an expression of support and encouragement while praying for them, even when praying with them for a filling of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

8 thoughts on “Did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism?”

  1. ISV Luk 2:49  He asked them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

    In my understanding, when Jesus says “my Father’s house” this is a messianic claim and is the first such from his life that is recorded. God the Father is called “our Father” in a few places in the OT/Tanakh, but not “my Father”.

  2. IF JESUS WAS GOD, THEN WHY WAS He BORN A BABY, DRANK MOMS MILK, USED NAPPIES, WAS CIRCUMCISED AT 8 DAYS OLD, GREW UP LIKE ALL NATURAL BABIES, learnt to talk, to crawl, to speak?

    IF JESUS WAS GOD, WHY WOULD HE NEED THE HOLY SPIRIT AT HIS BAPTISM? IF JESUS WAS GOD, WOULD THE TEMPTATIONS NOT BE POINTLESS AS SATAN HAD NO CHANCE AGAINST JESUS?

    DID ONLY JOHN THE BAPTIST KNOW THAT JESUS WAS THE CHRIST? AS JOHN WAS THE ONLY ONE GOD TOLD? ALSO INTERESTING IN MATHEW MARK AND LUKE WE SEE THAT WHEN JESUS WAS BAPTIZED, THE HOLY SPIRIT ONLY CAME UPON JESUS WHEN HE GOT OUT OF THE WATER UNTO DRY LAND, THE SPIRIT DID NOT IMMEDIATELY COME UPON JESUS AS HE WAS LIFTED LIFT IMMEDIATELY OUT OF THE WATER BY JOHN. AM I RIGHT??.

    IS IT NOT TRUE THAT JESUS THE APOSTLES AND JOHN THE BAPTIST ONLY PREACHED THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND? ONLY PAUL WAS GIVEN THE SECRET GOSPEL OF “GRACE” MESSAGE AFTER JESUS RESURRECTION? SHOULD WE THEN CONCLUDE THAT JESUS DID NOT PREACH THE “GRACE” message,THERE IS NO RECORD in the gospels of Jesus teaching “GRACE” to the apostles, JESUS TAUGHT THEM THE LAW, should we then conclude that that GRACE did not happen. REPENTANCE AND WATER BAPTISM WAS TAUGHT BY THE APOSTLES FOR FORGIVENESS OF SINS, ARE OUR SINS TODAY REMOVED BY WATER BAPTISM AND REPENTANCE OF OUR SINS? NO ?

    WHAT DID THE LAYING OF HANDS DO? RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT, TRANSFER SINS UPON THE GOAT, HEALING, BLESSINGS, AUTHORITY AND POWER, GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT……

    Thank you for your precious time discussing these matters

    1. These are all excellent further questions and I will try to respond to each one in a future post. You’re getting at a lot of rich material here, so it may take me some time to address it all! Stay tuned.

    2. Great questions! Looking forward to the responses!
      Mind your font size though 😊 it came across as if you were shouting 😂
      God bless!

      1. Thanks for the reminder to come back and answer these questions. I apologize for not doing that sooner. And thanks for the reminder to all of us about making sure we are conveying a courteous tone in our comments.

      2. Jesus baptism by John the Baptist. where do we find that people were fully immersed in water for baptism.

      3. The language of the gospel accounts indicates that people were fully immersed in water for baptism: “as Jesus was coming up out of the water,” “he went up out of the water.” We have another indication of this practice in the question that the Ethiopian official asked Philip: ““Look, here is water. What is there to prevent me from being baptized?” The implication is that a small amount of water such as one could carry around would not have been sufficient. This official saw a pond or a stream and recognized it was sufficient for immersion.

    3. Here are my replies to the questions above.

      Your first question speaks to the mystery of how and why God became human. Followers of Jesus debated for several centuries whether Jesus was both God and human, or only God and had just appeared to be human, or only human but with special access to the divine. In the end the church came down definitively on the side of Jesus being fully God and fully human. Only in that way, it was realized, could Jesus take on humanity and redeem it as the divine Savior.

      In response to your second question, the church also debated whether Jesus was “not able to sin” or “able not to sin.” It recognized that the latter was correct. Jesus was able to obey God perfectly because of his complete submission and obedience and because of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. So the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life was a necessary but not sufficient condition for him to resist the temptations of the devil. His will also needed to be completely submitted to God, so that he would never choose against God’s ways. All of us should be encouraged that we too can obey God through complete submission and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Jesus has set the example for us. He has not done something that we could never do because he was God and we are not.

      In response to your third question, God revealed to John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps others did not have this same insight at the time. But eventually various other people did come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. When Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was, and then who they said he was, Peter replied, “You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” So others eventually did recognize who Jesus was even during his lifetime, and many more after his resurrection.

      Only Matthew and Mark describe the baptism of Jesus in detail. Mark says that the voice from heaven spoke “just as Jesus was coming up out of the water.” Matthew says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” I would take both of these accounts to mean that the voice spoke and the Holy Spirit descended when Jesus came up out of the water after being immersed, but before he went back onto dry land.

      Regarding your question about the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God and the teaching of Paul about grace, please see the four-part series on this blog entitled “How does New Testament teaching progress from Jesus to Paul?” It begins here.

      Regarding whether baptism is necessary for forgiveness and salvation, please see this post.

      Regarding the laying on of hands, please see the last two paragraphs of this post that you are commenting on.

      Thank you.

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