Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 19, 2010
The Baptist stopped in his tracks
John the Baptist had expected baptism by fire and Spirit, but it didn't happen
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
John the Baptist was surprised, disappointed. After the incidents at the Jordan where he had baptized Jesus with water, and the skies had opened, a dove rested on Jesus and a voice declared, "You are my Son, the Beloved," John had expected more.
He had expected Jesus to begin baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. But it didn't happen. John wondered, "Was the prophecy that I was given wrong? Or, is Jesus not the Messiah?" What was up?
So John sent two of his disciples to investigate. The disciples asked Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?"
They witnessed Jesus spending the day curing people of diseases, giving sight to the blind and casting out demons. And so Jesus told those disciples, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard" (John 7.18-23).
The message to John would have been clear. He would have seen Jesus' ministry as the fulfillment of Isaiah's messianic prophecy: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer" (35.5-6). Other similar prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus' ministry of healing and bringing the good news to the poor.
The Baptist would know that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. However, the time was not yet ripe for baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Jesus himself lamented the delay. "I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until it is completed!" he told his own disciples (Luke 12.49-50).
The new age had indeed been launched at the Jordan. But it had been launched only in Jesus. The messianic age had been launched because Jesus had been anointed Messiah. But it will not be until after his death, resurrection and ascension that he will begin to baptize in the Holy Spirit.
Biblical scholar James Dunn notes that once Jesus is tested in the desert and carries out his role as Messiah, he receives the messianic baptism of fire on the cross on behalf of the entire people. "He drains the cup of wrath which was the portion of others. This means that when Jesus comes to baptize others, it is a baptism no longer of Spirit and fire, but now only of Spirit," Dunn writes (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, p. 43).
MESSIANIC AGE SPREADS
The passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus prepare the way for the longed-for Baptism in the Holy Spirit of all God's people. The messianic age spreads beyond Jesus to all the people.
St. Luke wants so much to clarify the dual giving of the Spirit that he splits his account into two books - his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel ends with an account of Jesus' ascension and Acts begins with a longer account of the same event, one that emphasizes, "You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1.5).
Luke's Gospel and Acts are very much the story of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the high point, the climax of New Testament times. Pentecost is the day when, for Luke, the Church begins and the Gospel begins to be spread to the nations.
St. Paul and St. John take rather different approaches when discussing the Holy Spirit. But before turning our attention to those writings, we must take a fuller look at Luke's account of Pentecost.
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