Why is Noah’s Dove at Jesus’ Baptism?
Most Christians are familiar with the scene when Jesus is baptized and the Spirit descends “like a dove” and rests upon Him. What is being communicated by the presence of this dove in the scene? Why is the Spirit appearing as 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17 ESV)
I offer that it is communicating that Jesus, the anointed ruler of God’s restored people, is the ruler over God’s new creation, and as such His rule brings it about. The new creation is the promised restoration of all things. Everything being made new (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Cor. 5:17), a restoration that will culminate in the return of the King.
The Spirit and the Waters
At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit came upon Jesus just as He came out of the water. We don’t have to read far into the Bible to find the Spirit upon the waters.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:2 ESV)
It becomes evident in the creation account that the Spirit was awaiting God’s Word and would actively bring about its effect. Every time “God said,” “it was so.” It was the work of the Spirit upon creation that transformed it from chaos, emptiness, and darkness into a life supporting and sustaining environment.
The recent flooding in Middle Tennessee echoes a theme that we find in Scripture. When waters cover the earth, death, chaos, emptiness, and void all come back upon the earth. In other words: uncreation. However, in God’s redemptive way, that uncreation is always followed with a path toward recreation, or new creation. The first scene that reveals this uncreation-recreation theme is found in the great deluge, the flood of Noah’s time.
When waters cover the earth, death, chaos, emptiness, and void all come back upon the earth.
A Dove and the Waters
The world became so filled with violence and corruption that God had to intervene and start over (Gen. 6:11-13). The description of the flood waters coming on the earth makes clear that the earth (all except those in the ark) were returning to the state of waters covering the earth as in Genesis 1:2; uncreation.
The separation of waters above (where rain came from) and waters below was dissolved (Gen. 7:11). Everything was under the flood waters (Gen. 7:19). There was no longer the division between the waters and the dry land, darkness once again covered the surface of the earth as it was covered by water!
The wind of God (the word for wind and Spirit are the same in Hebrew) was blowing over the face of the deep (Gen. 8:1), which separated the water and the dry land again. It is then that we have a little story about a dove (Gen. 8:8-12). Three times Noah sends forth a dove to see if the “new creation” had begun. The first time, it returns empty handed (okay, empty beaked); the second time, with an olive branch which informed Noah that it had begun; the third time, it didn’t return. This was firm evidence that the new creation, the restoration of new life on earth, had begun. This “new creation” was now ready for them to open the ark and come out.
Three times Noah sends forth a dove to see if the “new creation” had begun.
If we follow Matthew’s gospel from its beginning to the baptism scene, we’ve already seen that the world is filled with violence once again, that darkness has covered the earth, even Judea (Matt. 2:16-22). Jesus enters into the waters of baptism (which, at least in Christian baptism, is a picture of burial—death). Peter connects these waters to the flood of Noah’s time (1 Peter 3:19-20).
The waters of baptism, we could say, represent the return of the earth into a state of chaos and darkness (burial), in order that the Spirit might blow on us again and bring about resurrection and new life… new creation! Christ as our forerunner in baptism, entered the waters of death and the “flood.” When he came out of the waters, the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove, which symbolizes that the new creation is “ready to be inhabited” in Him!
When he came out of the waters, the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove, which symbolizes that the new creation is “ready to be inhabited” in Him!
Christian baptism is into Christ’s burial and resurrection. He is the first-born of the new creation.
This is what happened in the resurrection (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5). All who are joined to Christ by faith are joined to Christ in baptism and become a part of this resurrected new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus is the Ruler of the New Creation
“This is my Son whom I love…” is declaring Jesus to be God’s enthroned King— the Messiah or Christ. It alludes to Psalm 2 which describes the conflict between the kings and rulers of the earth that stand against God and His Anointed King (Psa. 2:1-3). God’s answer to the rebellious rulers is to enthrone His King with the declaration “You are my Son” (Psa. 2:6-7).
“This is my Son whom I love…” is declaring Jesus to be God’s enthroned King
The next phrase which the voice from heaven spoke (“with whom I am well pleased”) is taken from Isaiah 42 and identifies God’s King with the suffering servant of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1). This speaks to the extremely unusual and unexpected way that God’s king would bring about his kingdom.
Putting it all together, Jesus is the locus, the place, which is the start of the new creation and out of which that new creation grows, and He is the King who rules that new creation. All who submit to His rule become a part of that new creation. In the act of submitting to His rule, doing his will on earth as it is in heaven, that new creation manifests itself in miniature. “The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus is God’s restoration ruler. When we come under His rule, He sends forth His Spirit upon the church in the midst of the dark world. When the Spirit is upon the church making God’s Word effective in us, the dove is upon the church as well… indicating new creation. Is the Spirit like a dove on us? Is the Spirit blowing upon the church in such a way that it is a sign of the new creation? If not, this is truly a time to cry, “Revive us again, O Lord” (Psa. 85:6).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,