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.”Matthew 3:16-17
Jesus goes out to the Jordan River in order to be baptized in water by John the Baptist. And yet, instead of one baptism, we witness here three kinds of baptism (or a trifold baptism) that Jesus experiences before His public ministry.
The first is a baptism in water representing repentance, cleansing, and forgiveness of sins. Jesus didn’t really need this baptism because He had never sinned, but He does it anyway to set the example for us. When John the Baptist protested, Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness“(Matthew 3:15).
The second baptism happens just as Jesus comes up out of the water. Heaven opens up and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. This passage is the only time the translators translated the Greek word “erchomenon” as “alighting.” Every other time it is used in the New Testament they use the simpler translation “coming.” So the Greek phrase used here (erchomenon ep auton) literally means “coming upon him.” The Holy Spirit in this moment did not “dwell within” Jesus, it “came upon” Him. I believe Jesus already had the Holy Spirit dwelling within Him (see Luke 1:35; Luke 2:40 & 42-47). Here at His water baptism we see Jesus also baptized in the Spirit as it rests upon Him.
The third baptism is the baptism of the Father’s love. After the Holy Spirit descends and rests upon Jesus, the Father’s voice from heaven speaks words of identity, words of love, and words of favor and blessing over the life of Jesus. The baptism of the Father’s love is when a person encounters the love of the Father (not just the love of Jesus) in such a tangible way that it forever transforms how they see themselves and the people around them. They become forever marked by love.
If you want to hear a great testimony of the baptism of the Father’s love, watch this video of Leif Hetland (a former Baptist pastor, now international minister, who was born in Norway). He has experienced all three of the baptisms mentioned above at different points of his life.
So Jesus experiences a baptism of water, a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of the Father’s love. After this experience at the Jordan River, Jesus will soon undergo a fourth baptism of sorts–a baptism of testing–as He is tempted in the wilderness by Satan. After Jesus’s first three baptisms (or trifold baptism) scripture says that He was “full of the Holy Spirit“(Luke 4:1). Yet, it wasn’t until after his fourth baptism, when He returned from the trial in the wilderness, that scripture says Jesus walked “in the power of the Spirit“(Luke 4:14).
If Jesus experienced all four of these baptisms before His public ministry, it seems to me that we all need each of these baptisms as well. If we are going to be followers of Jesus who also walk in the power of the Spirit, we’ll need to be refined by these encounters as well.
The baptism of water is a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It is the baptism of Jesus. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of power. The baptism of love is the baptism of the Father. It’s a complete immersion in liquid love.
D.L. Moody describes an experience he had (sometime at the close of 1871 and beginning of 1872) that completely transformed his ministry. This experience seems to be a combination of a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of love:
Well, one day, in the city of New York—O, what a day! I cannot describe it; I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to me. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say, God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went on preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you would give me all of Glasgow.D.L. Moody
The great evangelist Charles Finney had a similar experience of encountering both the baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of love on Wednesday, October 10, 1821.
…the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more”; yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know…Charles Finney
Both of these men experienced these encounters many decades before there was any such thing as a “Pentecostal” or “charismatic” Christian (for Moody it was nearly a full century before). There was no such thing in their day. Those labels are 20th-century creations, often used to stigmatize the work of the Spirit.
If these baptisms were available to them, they are available to us now!
How many baptisms have you experienced?