Why Was Jesus Filled with the Holy Spirit?

Why Was Jesus Filled with the Holy Spirit?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 2:55pm

QUESTION: Why was Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:18; John 3:34)? Is it possible that Jesus received the Holy Spirit at His baptism in much the same way WE receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism (Acts 2:38), for the same reason?

ANSWER: The relation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is an interesting but somewhat elusive subject. I have discussed it in quite some detail in my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007), in chapter 4, “The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ,” pp. 127-153. Within that chapter is a section called “The Holy Spirit and Jesus’ Baptism,” pp. 138-142.

The most important thing to understand here is this: there is NO CONNECTION WHATSOEVER between the meaning or significance of Jesus’ baptism, and the meaning and significance of Christian baptism. This applies especially to the way the Holy Spirit is related to both baptisms. The reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit did not begin until the Day of Pentecost; there was no such thing as the indwelling prior to Acts 2 (see John 7:37-39). John’s baptism (the category to which Jesus’ baptism technically belonged) had no connection at all with this Pentecostal gift. It is quite possible that Jesus was filled with the Spirit “without measure” at his baptism, but this filling is not related at all to the Acts 2:38 gift. The way in which Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (see John 3:34, KJV; see “Power from on High,”136) was NOT the indwelling, which is empowerment for holy living, but the empowerment for service which existed throughout the OT age and still exists in the NT era (in what we call “spiritual gifts”).

But why did Jesus need the Holy Spirit at all, since he himself was divine? I address this question in the conclusion to my chapter on “The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ” in my book “Power from on High,” which is as follows:

Whatever were the relationships among the persons of the Trinity prior to creation, prior to the incarnation, and prior to Pentecost, in their works in relation to the world and especially in relation to redemption these divine persons have taken upon themselves relationships that did not necessarily exist in their eternally preexistent state. One type of relationship that the persons of the Trinity assumed in their creative and redemptive purposes was a relationship of authority and submission. Since this kind of relationship was assumed (voluntarily entered into) by the Trinitarian persons, it implies no inequality in their essence, authority, and power.

The incarnation itself is a major example of how these assumed relationships of authority and submission take shape in the course of God’s working out of the redemptive plan. In the incarnation the eternal, divine Logos became a human person, Jesus of Nazareth. The result was that this unique person has two natures: a fully divine nature, and a fully human nature.

In his divine nature, Jesus is fully God, with all the attributes of God in place. In the incarnation he did not lose or surrender any of his divine essence or attributes. But this raises a serious question: if Jesus was fully divine, why did he need to be filled with the Spirit? The answer is, because he was also fully human, and for the purposes of his redemptive mission his human nature had to be fully operative. For this to be the case, in his divine-human personhood as Jesus of Nazareth, God the eternal Logos voluntarily placed himself in the role of a servant to God the Father. As Jesus of Nazareth he submits himself to the Father’s will and authority. (See Cottrell, “The Faith Once for All,” 255-257.)

Also, in order to allow his human nature to be fully operative, in his incarnation Jesus voluntarily surrendered or suspended the use of at least some of his divine attributes. (This is the point of Phil. 2:6-7.) He came to earth as a man; he was born, he grew up, and he lived among men as a man. But what he needed to accomplish as the Messiah required more than human nature by its own resources can achieve. However, rather than using his own divine nature for his earthly ministry, he used the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Christ indeed assumed a dependence upon the Holy Spirit, not for his holy living, but for his supernatural works. As Bruce Ware says, “Although Jesus was fully God, as a man he chose to rely not on his own divine nature but on the power of the Spirit” (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Crossway 2005, p. 91).

How was his dependence on the Spirit different from OT prophets, priests, and kings? The difference is not qualitative, but quantitative. This is the point of John 3:34. The uniqueness of Christ’s mission required that the Father give him the Spirit without measure, to empower and equip him for this mission. If this is indeed the main way the Spirit worked in the life of Jesus, and I believe it is, we must not try to draw too many parallels between the Spirit in Jesus’ life and the Spirit in our own lives as Christians.

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