II. The Confirmation of Jesus for His Ministry (vv. 10-11)
a. The anointing of the Spirit
In verse 9 Jesus publicly accepted his ministry as a representative for man. Now, in verses 10-11, Mark makes sure to point out that Jesus was also publicly confirmed by the Father for this ministry. This public confirmation of Jesus’ ministry can be seen in two different events found in verses 10-11. First, Jesus was publicly confirmed for this His ministry as the Messiah when He was publicly equipped for this ministry through the anointing of the Spirit. Mark tells us that “when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”
Can you imagine this scene? Immediately after being baptized Jesus came up out of the water and the first thing that He saw was the heavens being torn open. I am not real sure what this would have looked like, however there are several other passages that might help us to understand this scene a little better. In Mark 15:38 this same word translated as “torn” is used to describe the “the curtain of the temple [that] was torn in two.” You can almost imagine the sky being torn open like a curtain being torn in two. It is almost “as if God were coming in from outside of earth’s sphere and invading its space.” This is a significant point not just because it demonstrates the power of God over nature, but also because it is an allusion to Isaiah 64:1. There the prophet Isaiah is praying for God to come down and deliver his people. In Mark 1:10 we see the answer to this prayer.
The heavens being torn open was not the only thing that Jesus saw. Mark tells us that Jesus also saw the Holy Spirit coming down on himself out of the sky like a dove. Mark does not tell us how the Holy Spirit was like a dove, and so there are many theories on exactly what Mark meant (did he look like a dove? move like a dove? is the dove just an analogy from Jewish literature? etc.). However, I think that we can safely say that when Mark tesll us that the Holy Spirit came down like a dove he means that the Holy Spirit manifested Himself as a dove. Remember, in His normal state the Holy Spirit does not have a body like we do. However, it says that Jesus saw the Spirit descending. This means that Spirit appeared in a form that was different from His normal form so that He would be visible to the eye. In all likelihood the Spirit had taken the form of a dove when He descended down on Jesus. This leads to two questions.
First, if Jesus was God then why did He need the Holy Spirit to come upon Him? Jesus needed the Holy Spirit because He had become a man. He willingly gave up His place at the right hand of the Father in order to take on all the limitations of being a man. Because He gave up His right to exercise many of His divine attributes He needed the aid of the Holy Spirit in order to perform His ministry. Isaiah 11:1-2 predicts this very thing when it says:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
In this prophecy we see that the Holy Spirit would come to energize and aid the Messiah in His task. This point is so important that soon after beginning His ministry Jesus went His hometown of Nazareth and read this from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
After reading this Jesus told the people that “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Bruce Ware, commenting on this verse, points out that “it is astonishing that Jesus not only knew that he was the Spirit-anointed Messiah, but he knew that the fact of his being Spirit-anointed was so crucial that he selected this text to read—and announced its fulfillment.”
Keep in mind that just because we read on the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus does not mean that He did not posses the Spirit before this event. This passage is recording for us a special and public anointing of the Spirit. This anointing of the Spirit signifies that He is being equipped for His task, and it is confirmation that He is the Messiah. An anointing such as this is not unusual in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Samuel 16:13-14 Daniel was anointed and the Spirit came upon him in order to equip him to be the King. At the same time the “Sprit of the Lord departed from Saul.”
The second question that arises from this passage is how did the people present know that this was the Holy Spirit if He looked like a dove? Couldn’t it have just been an average run-of-the-mill dove? The answer to this question is found in verse 11. Which we will discuss tomorrow.