And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him…
Descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. Comparing the accounts given by the evangelists, it still remains uncertain whether what was seen by John actually had the form of a dove, or hovered or brooded as a descending bird does. But for our fixed associations, and the familiar comments, we should be more willing to see that the brooding, resting, abiding of the Spirit on Jesus, is the thing intended to be set prominently before us by the figure. It will be safer, perhaps, to fix attention on both the explanations.
I. THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE DOVE-FIGURE. "The gift of supernatural power and wisdom brought with it also the perfection of the tenderness, the purity, the gentleness, of which the dove was the acknowledged symbol" (see Matthew 10:16). "Harmless as doves;" and compare the Baptist's figures, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Seeley says, "There settled on his head a dove, in which the Baptist saw a visible incarnation of that Holy Spirit with which he declared that Christ should baptize." "According to the symbolism of the Bible, certain mental characters appear expressed m several animals, as in the lion, the lamb, the eagle, and the ox. In this system of natural hieroglyphics the dove denotes purity and sincerity, and hence the Spirit of purity may be most fittingly compared with the dove. The coming of the Spirit like a dove denotes, consequently, that the fulness of the Spirit of purity and sincerity was imparted to Jesus, whereby he became the Purifier of mankind."
II. THE SPIRIT ON CHRIST UNDER THE BROODING FIGURE. The impression to be made both on John and Jesus was of the abiding, permanent endowment of Christ with the precise spiritual power needed for his Messianic mission. We are to distinguish carefully between the Divine nature of Christ, which was unaffected by this brooding Spirit, and the precise gift needed for the Messiahship. The Spirit dwelt in him. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: