November 2013 •
Volume XIV, Issue 19
The Dove-Like Spirit at Christ’s
Some six weeks or so after
baptizing the Lord Jesus Christ at the River Jordan, John
the Baptist’s testimony regarding that highly significant
event included the following: "I saw the Spirit descending
from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him" (John 1:32).
All four evangelists speak of the Holy Spirit descending
upon the Messiah at His baptism "like a dove" (Matt. 3:16;
Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Why a dove?
First, a dove is a bird. God
chose as the sign of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism not an
animal which moves on the land or a fish which swims in the
sea but a bird which flies in the air (Gen. 1:20). The point
is a simple one to grasp. The Spirit is God who dwells in
heaven; birds fly above us in the heavens. The Spirit of
God, represented by a bird of heaven, issued a heavenly call
to office and equipped the Lord Jesus with divine gifts in
His human nature for His public work as Messiah. John the
Baptist, in his testimony concerning Christ at His baptism,
declared that the Spirit, like a dove, a bird, "descended"
(John 1:32, 33) from "heaven" (32).
Second, God chose a dove as the
sign of the Spirit at the Lord Jesus’ baptism because doves
are harmless and innocent (unlike, say, a magpie). In a
phrase that has since become proverbial, Christ told His
disciples that they must be "harmless as doves" (Matt.
10:16), for He was "holy, harmless, undefiled,
separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). By the power of the
dove-like Spirit, the Lord Jesus was harmless, innocent,
pure and holy in His human nature and in His office as our
Saviour. Here we see the unity of the dove symbolism and the
voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism: "This is my beloved
Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17; Mark
1:11; Luke 3:22). God is well pleased with His Son for He is
as harmless and innocent as a dove.
Third, God chose a dove as the
sign of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism because doves are
lovely, loving and beloved (unlike, say, an old, mangy
vulture). Here one thinks especially of the dove imagery in
the Song of Solomon which presents them as soft, with
beautiful feathers and eyes, and affectionate and faithful
to their mates (e.g., 1:15; 2:14; 4:1; 5:2, 12; 6:9). The
lovely, loving and beloved dove from heaven and the voice of
God from heaven say essentially the same thing: "This is my
Fourth, the Holy Spirit, in the
form of a dove, not only descended from heaven upon Christ
at His baptism but also remained upon Him. This
struck John the Baptist, who announced that the dove-like
Spirit "abode upon him" (John 1:32) and remained on Him
(33). The idea is that the Spirit calls and equips the
Messiah for His public ministry permanently, bestowing upon
His human nature divine gifts and graces as the harmless and
lovely Son of God. With the abiding Spirit resting upon Him,
Christ began both to preach and to perform miracles, neither
of which He did prior to His baptism, His installation as
God’s great prophet, priest and king.
Remember, too, the frequency
and significance of "remaining" and "abiding" in the Gospel
According to John. It speaks of inward, enduring and
personal communion. The Triune God, by His dove-like Spirit,
abides in inward, enduring, personal, covenant communion
with His harmless and beloved Son. Isn’t this beautiful!
Fifth, God chose a dove as the
sign of the Spirit at the Lord’s baptism because, in the
Bible, doves are, above all, birds for sacrifice (Gen. 15:9;
Lev. 1:14-17; 5:7-10; 12:6-8; 14:22, 30-31; 15:14-15, 29-30;
Luke 2:24; John 2:14, 16). It is easy to see why harmless
and innocent doves were chosen by God as sacrifices
prefiguring the removal of sin.
In connection with His
testimony that the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove
upon Christ (John 1:32), John the Baptist proclaimed,
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world" (29). The Spirit, in the form of a sacrificial dove,
called and equipped the beloved and harmless Messiah to be
the sacrificial lamb who bore the punishment due to us for
Sixth, God chose a dove as the
sign of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism because a dove,
better than any other bird, symbolizes the new world. At the
first creation, "the Spirit of God moved [or hovered, as a
bird] upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). At the flood,
a harmless and lovely dove was sent out of the ark three
times and did not return the third time (Gen. 8:8-12)! The
message is clear: God’s wrath is now past; the new world
awaits! This is the biblical association between the dove
and the new creation.
The "world" (John 1:29) for
which the Lamb of God died is the "world" of believers whose
sins Christ propitiated and for whom He intercedes as
advocate (John 3:16; I John 2:1-2). It is not the "world"
which God judged at the cross and for which the Lord Jesus
does not pray (John 12:31; 17:9).
Since the Lamb of God died for
"the sin of the world" (John 1:29), redeeming His people
"out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation"
(Rev. 5:9), the brute creation will also be "delivered from
the bondage of corruption" (Rom. 8:21). Because man is the
head of the creation, when man fell, the creation fell with
him. With man’s redemption and renewal in Christ, the world
has been redeemed and will be renewed as the new heavens and
the new earth. The Spirit, in the form of a lovely and
harmless dove, descended and abode on the Lord Jesus at His
baptism so that, through the Lamb of God’s sacrifice, the
new creation will come—a gloriously beautiful and perfectly
safe world in which the lion will lie down with the lamb
(Isa. 11:6-8; 65:25). Rev. Stewart
Fire From Heaven
A reader has submitted the
following: "In II Kings 1, Elijah calls down fire from
heaven to consume two bands of fifty men and their captains.
In Luke 9:54-56, James and John were forbidden by Jesus to
do the same thing to a Samaritan village where He had not
been received. The Lord’s explanation was, ‘Ye know not what
manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come
to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’ Their desire does
seem very vindictive but surely they were of the same spirit
This question is a rather
interesting one and underscores, in my judgment, a truth
that is still applicable today.
Briefly, as far as the question
itself is concerned, the answer is that the two events took
place under entirely different circumstances.
The two bands of soldiers that
were burned to a crisp were sent by wicked Ahaziah, king of
the Northern Kingdom. King Ahaziah had fallen through a
lattice in his upper chamber (II Kings 1:2) and had
apparently hurt himself so seriously that the possibility of
death, because of his injuries, was real. But, although he
knew that Elijah was Jehovah’s prophet who brought the Word
of God to the Northern Kingdom, he did not send messengers
to Elijah to learn God’s will but sent men to Baalzebub, an
idol of the Philistines. This was an intolerable sin, a
calculated insult to the Most High and a defiant rejection
of Israel’s God, Jehovah.
Ahaziah knew that Jehovah was
God alone. He knew Israel’s history. He knew Elijah, for he
was the son of Ahab and knew what had happened on Mount
Carmel (I Kings 18:17-46). He knew that Jehovah was a
jealous God who visited the iniquities of the fathers upon
the children, as the second commandment says. And he knew
God’s judgments in all their horror, for he had lived
through the years of famine (I Kings 17:1; James 5:17). But
he rejected all this and blatantly told his people that the
god of the Philistines was wiser and more knowledgeable than
the God of Israel.
But his sin was yet greater.
When his plan to inquire at Baalzebub was frustrated, he
resolved to kill Elijah who was reminding him of his calling
before Israel’s God. Ahaziah sent soldiers to capture Elijah
and bring him to the palace to be slain. His sin was the
measure of the terrible apostasy in the Northern Kingdom,
begun by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,
and culminating in the captivity that destroyed forever the
The sin of the Samaritans in
Luke 9 was quite different. They were not Israelites. They
were people from other nations who had been put in the land
of Canaan by the general of the Assyrian armies, which had
destroyed Israel. They did not know Jehovah, although they
had learned something of the religion of the Jews (II Kings
17:24-41). So Samaria was populated with people who had
never, in all their generations, been in God’s covenant.
Their sin was far less than the sin of Ahaziah (Matt.
In fact, when in the new
dispensation God ordained that the gospel would now be
brought to the Gentiles, Samaria was the first country to
which He would turn (Acts 1:8; 8:5-24).
God works in the salvation of
His church in an orderly way. Israel was His covenant
people. They rejected Jehovah their God and worshipped the
golden calves. God’s judgment comes upon a nation that knew
Him, confessed His name and then rejected Him in their sin.
God had determined judgment on Israel. Elijah, whose name
means, "My God is Jehovah," stood alone in the nation to
proclaim by his work and name that though all Israel might
say, "Our God is Baal," he would insist, "My God is
Jehovah." If Israel rejected that, they would be destroyed.
Let us not forget that God does
not return again and again to a nation that has rejected
Him. Europe and America had the gospel, confessed it and
held to it. Now they are rejecting it with monstrous sins
and with bitter hatred against God and His Christ and
people. Prayers for revival are hopeless whistling in the
wind, made in ignorance of God’s organic working. God is
turning to the Orient where many doors are opening to the
preaching of the gospel. After all, not only election, but
also reprobation is in the line of continuing generations.
There is a time when God puts a roof on His temple, which is
built on the foundation of the prophets, Jesus Christ being
the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20-22).
After Pentecost, the gospel
went from Jerusalem and even away from Jerusalem to return
there never again. It went to Judaea, then to Samaria and
then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In its progress,
it has moved westward. It conquered Europe and America. But
now these nations are rejecting Christ. It will soon move to
the ends of the earth, and is doing so already. But the
judgment of the fury of God’s wrath that burns to a cinder
the disobedient will not come on these nations until they
too have received the gospel and then rejected it.
When Jesus and His disciples
were on earth, Samaria could not yet be destroyed, for the
elect had yet to be saved. The time would come—as it has
come before our day, when Samaria would become ripe from
destruction. But also Europe and America! Do Europe and
America think, in their haughtiness, that they are better
than Israel? They do! Judgment, they reckon, will never
come. But fire will pour from heaven and burn them as surely
as it did Ahaziah’s captains and their fifties.
But the elect are safe and will be delivered as Lot was,
for Jehovah God is our refuge and hiding place in Jesus
Christ. Prof. Hanko
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