Question: What is the relationship between baptism and the Holy Spirit? Why did the Holy Spirit descend after Jesus was baptized?
All four Gospels record the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove immediately following His baptism. Each Gospel also shows how this was connected to a prophetic statement from John the Baptist:
Matt. 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The Gospel of John clearly tells us why the Holy Spirit visibly descended. Notice especially the words highlighted and underlined in the quote below:
John 1:32-33 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
The visible descent of the Spirit like a dove upon Jesus was especially for the benefit of John the Baptist! God had told John ahead of time that this is how he would recognize the promised Messiah.
Notice also how this visible descent of the Spirit was God’s confirmation that Jesus Himself would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit.
The fact is, the Holy Spirit indwelt Jesus at conception in Mary’s womb:
Luke 1:35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Jesus was born fully human, yet He was (and is) also God incarnate—God in a human body from conception, fully human, fully divine. The visible “descent” thirty years later at His baptism was a sign to others that Jesus was the Spirit-filled Messiah of Old Testament prophecy (Is. 61:1-2).
So how does this relate to our baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit?
Jesus’ Great Commission to the church is to make disciples and then baptize them (Matt. 28:19). Water baptism is a public declaration that we have become followers of Jesus Christ. This was the challenge of Peter’s evangelistic message on the day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
As Peter explained, receiving the Holy Spirit is promised for all who repent and receive forgiveness in Jesus’ name, declaring that faith in Jesus publicly through baptism in water. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that regenerates us (Rom. 8:11); it is baptism in water that identifies us as belonging to Jesus after receiving Christ and new life in the Spirit (Acts 10:47).