“…He Saw The Spirit of God Descending Like A Dove…”

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16 – Scripture of the Day (February 7, 2014)

We’re going into deep waters in our study of today’s Scripture of the Day.  Undoubtedly those of us who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God wish we could have witnessed his immersion in the Jordan River by John, the heavens opening and the Holy Spirit descending upon him “in bodily form, like a dove” (Matt. 3:16; cf. Luke 3:22).  Scripture reveals how the Holy Spirit did several things of great significance when he came to rest upon Christ on that day.  By careful study and proper handling of everything the Scriptures reveal about this topic, we can get proper insight into this particular mystery of Christ (2 Tim. 2:15; Ps. 119:160; Eph. 3:4) and increase our knowledge about the third member of the Godhead (2 Cor. 13:14), of whom there is much confusion and error taught.

 Fulfillment of Prophecy

When the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus, two prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled which were given by a man long before who, like many other prophets, “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet. 1:10-11).  Isaiah, who lived about seven hundred years before Jesus was born, wrote, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…” (Is. 11:1-4a).

Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in many ways.  He was a descendant of David, the son of Jesse (Matt. 1:1-17).  He taught his followers to fear the Lord (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5).  His enemies who tried to entrap him with trick questions and the crowds who listened to his teachings marveled at his wisdom, counsel, and understanding (Matt. 7:28-29; 22:22; John 7:15).  He did not judge according to appearance, but with righteousness (John 7:24) because he “knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  All of this was due to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when “the Spirit of the Lord” – also referred to by Isaiah as “the Spirit of wisdom and understand…of counsel and might…of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” – came to rest upon Jesus at his baptism.  Jesus recognized this fact, and acknowledged it when he came to Nazareth, read a similar prophecy of Isaiah which said, in part, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:16-10; cf. Is. 61:1-2a), and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

 “…And It Remained On Him.”

 When John testified about what he witnessed when he baptized his cousin, he declared, “…I saw  the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:32-33).  While it is true that all the gospel accounts describe the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove (cf. Luke 3:22), the fact that it “remained on him” does not refer to the dove continually resting upon his person from that time onward.    In order for us to fully understand what it meant for the Holy Spirit to “rest” upon Jesus or “descend and remain” upon him, we must study something else John the Immerser said about Christ:  “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).  What did it mean for God to give to Jesus “the Spirit WITHOUT measure”?

Definition of “measure.”   The Greek word for “measure” in John 3:34 is metron, and one of Thayer’s definitions of this word is:  “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit” (blb.org).  Therefore, John was saying that God gave the Spirit to Jesus without any determined extent, without any portion measured off, without any measure or limit.  This is significant, especially when we read that after the church began God gave the Spirit to the followers of Christ WITH various determined extents, portions measured off, measures and limits.

“…to each one individually as he wills.”  In his discussion of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul informed the saints in Corinth that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).  The fact that the Corinthian brethren had “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” shows that none of them had the Spirit given to them “without measure” as was the case with Jesus.  Paul would go on to write that some of them had the spiritual gift of wisdom, some had the spiritual gift of knowledge, some had the spiritual gift of faith (cf. Matt. 21:21-22), others could perform miracles, miraculously heal others, prophecy, or distinguish between spirits (cf. 1 John 4:1), while still others of them could miraculously speak in other languages or interpret what was being said in that language (12:7-10).  The Holy Spirit distributed each of these gifts to each of the saints at Corinth as he saw fit (12:11), something in direct contrast to Christ receiving the Spirit “without measure.”

Paul later wrote to them, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts…” (12:28-31a).  These rhetorical questions ending with Paul’s plea for them to earnestly seek after “the higher gifts” also show that not every saint in Corinth possessed all or even the same spiritual gifts.  Later, Paul would again encourage the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts,” especially the gift of prophecy rather than the gift of miraculously speaking in foreign languages(14:1-5, 39), and would also encourage the one who had the spiritual gift of speaking in other languages to also “pray for the power to interpret” (14:13).  This also shows that God gave the Spirit to these saints in portions, with some determined extent in mind, in a manner different than what he did with Jesus when he gave him the Spirit “without measure.”

The cessation of the miraculous measure.  What I find most significant in this comparison between Christ’s reception of the Spirit “without measure” and the Corinthians’ measured, proportioned reception of spiritual gifts is Paul’s prophecy that the Corinthians’ spiritual gifts would eventually cease (13:8-10).  This would happen when “that which is perfect has come” (13:10, NKJV).  The term “perfect” comes from the Greek word telios.  Several of its definitions include “brought to its end, finished” and “wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (blb.org), thus showing that the Corinthians passage would be better translated as “that which is complete has come,” or “that which has been finished has come.”  The same word is used elsewhere to describe God’s Word as “the perfect (telios, complete, finished) law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25).  Therefore, Paul is basically stating that when God’s Word was complete or finished, miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.

A study of how Christians received various measures of the Spirit, including miraculous spiritual gifts, reveals when miraculous spiritual gifts passed away.  On Pentecost, the twelve apostles received the Holy Spirit in a way similar to how Jesus received it at his immersion, with the difference being that the Spirit seems to have appeared as “divided tongues as of fire…rest(ing) on each one of them” (Acts 2:3-4) rather than taking the form of a dove.  Acts would reveal that as a result of this, the twelve seemed to have all the spiritual gifts Paul would later list to the Corinthians, thus indicating that they too received the Spirit “without measure” (cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:12-15).  They were able to miraculously speak in other languages (2:4-12) with miraculous wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy (2:4, 14-36).  They were able to miraculously heal (3:1-10) and perform other miracles (5:12), including the gift of discernment of spirits (5:1-11; cf. 1 John 4:1).  On that same day, they promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to any who repented and were immersed in Jesus’ name for forgiveness of sins (2:38).  This promise would apply to those listening to them on that day, their children, “and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (2:39).  Therefore, everyone who obeyed the gospel from then until now has received the Holy Spirit and is led by him via his sword, the Word of God which came from him (cf. 2 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 8:9-11, 14; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 3:16; 6:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

However, was the Spirit given “without measure” to those who obeyed the gospel?  No, as 1 Corinthians 12-14 have already revealed.  In addition, Acts records only the twelve apostles doing anything miraculous for several chapters after Pentecost until the day when the Jerusalem congregation chose from among them seven men, including Stephen and Philip, who were already “full of the Spirit” to feed Hellenistic widows (6:1-5).  They were already “full of the Spirit” because they had obeyed the gospel (2:38-39).  However, upon being chosen the apostles “laid their hands on them” (6:6).  After this event, we then read of Stephen and Philip also performing miracles in Jerusalem and in Samaria (6:8; 7:55-56; 8:5-7).

When the Samaritans believed Philip’s message confirmed to them by his miracles (cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4), they were baptized (8:12).  According to the promise given on Pentecost (2:38-39), they received “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  However, Acts then records how two apostles had to travel to Samaria to pray and lay their hands on the Samaritan converts so they could “receive the Holy Spirit” (8:14-18).

This tells of something of great significance about when the miraculous measure of the Spirit would cease to be given.  God gave the Spirit to Jesus and to the apostles “without measure,” and as a result they miraculously had full wisdom, knowledge, faith, discernment, and could work various miracles.  Those whom the apostles converted also received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38-39), but not “without measure” since they still needed to be taught by the apostles (2:42) and could not perform miracles until the apostles laid their hands on them (6:1-6, 8; 7:55-56; 8:5-7, 12-18).  Therefore, the miraculous measure of the Spirit would cease to be given upon the deaths of the apostles and all those upon whom they laid their hands.  Historically, this took place around the same time when God’s Word – “that which is perfect (telios, complete, finished) has come” (I Cor. 13:8-10; James 1:25) – was finished with the completion of the New Testament writings.

“…he will give you another Helper to be with you forever…”  In making this promise (John 14:16-17), Jesus was promising the apostles that the Spirit basically would “remain” on them, just as he “remained” on Jesus after his immersion (John 1:32-33).  He, and apparently they also, received the Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34).  This explains the wisdom, knowledge, and miraculous discernment and power both Christ and his apostles displayed during their ministries.  It also makes more distinct the contrast between how the Spirit was given “without measure” to them and how it was given with various degrees of measure to those converted by their message.


Any topic concerning the Holy Spirit is certainly worthy of our continued study and meditation.  My only goal in this particular study is to present nothing but what God’s Word says, and I pray I have done so for the benefit of all who read, including myself.  May we all strive to do nothing more or less, with humility, love, and patience with each other.

Jesus certainly was led by the Spirit, in some ways in a more direct fashion than us.  We also are to let the Spirit lead us through the Word he inspired.  May we do so each and every day!

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