The Trinity in Scripture: Acts 10. Also addressing the question, “Why was Jesus Baptized?”

Acts 10 contains the account of the gospel’s entrance to the Gentile world. As with the birth of the church, and the spread of the gospel to Samaria, this event is explicitly Trinitarian. The apostle to the Jews, Peter, took some convincing, but was eventually persuaded of the truth that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35). To demonstrate his persuasion, Peter begins his address to Cornelius with the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism:

you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Acts 10:37-38

As all four gospel writers record, at the baptism of Jesus all three persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously. As Augustine comments, “For we behold and see as it were in a divine spectacle exhibited to us, the notice of our God in Trinity, conveyed to us at the river Jordan. For when Jesus came and was baptized by John, the Lord by His servant . . . the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a Dove: and then a Voice from on high followed, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Here then we have the Trinity in a certain way distinguished.”

But whereas every heretic has his text, here (the Trinity at Christ’s baptism) is one. The Gnostics, and others, would teach that at this time “the Spirit of the Christ” descended upon the man Jesus and he became, as it were, God’s Son. This teaching ignores at least two important pieces of information. First, Matthew and Luke are clear that the Spirit was intimately involved in the life of Jesus from his very conception (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35); Jesus and the Spirit were not introduced to each other at Jordan. Secondly, it ignores what the Bible does teach about the Spirit and Messiah.

At the baptism of Jesus the Father declared, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Commentators are in general agreement that this statement is a combination of Psalm 2:7 (The LORD said to me, You are my Son…) and Isaiah 42:1 (…my chosen, in whom my soul delights). In this brief statement is the seed of identifying who Jesus was: he was the righteous king to rule all nations (Psalm 2) and the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42).

Isaiah 42 is one of several in Isaiah that highlight the role of the Spirit in the life of the Messiah: others are Isaiah 11 and 61.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Isaiah 42:1-4

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. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. Isaiah 11:1-5

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor… Isaiah 61:1-2

According to the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah would be one who powerfully demonstrated the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. This work would be preeminently seen in the Messiah’s advocacy of the poor, the weak, the helpless and the hopeless. But so deep is the Messiah’s compassion, so healing is his mercy, so great is his goodness, that the Messiah embraces the outcasts of the world—the nations, the earth and coastlands.

We must acknowledge that Peter recognized the import of the intertextuality between the event of Jesus’ baptism—specifically the voice of the Father—and the Scripture in Isaiah. Peter recognizes the power that Jesus received from the Spirit for accomplishing the fulfillment of Scripture for he immediately says, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Yet his larger point is indeed the fact that this singles Jesus out not as some mere Jewish superhero, but as the Messiah for “every nation.” The manifestation of the Trinity at the inception of Jesus’ ministry forms the basis for the Trinitarian commission given at the end of it.

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Acts 10:43; Matthew 28:19-20

The creation of the church was not a knee-jerk reaction of the Trinity to Christ’s rejection by the Jews. From before the foundation of the world God had intended to call out from every nation, tribe, people, and language, a multitude washed in the blood of the Lamb over whom he would crown his Spirit-anointed Son King of kings and Lord of lords forever. The church is no plan B—no parenthesis in God’s outworking of history.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Trinity appears at the conclusion of Peter’s address and gives the benediction by thrusting open the doors of the church to all who will come in:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:44-48

(By the way…did you notice the Trinity in each of the three passages from Isaiah?)

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