This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In the Eastern-Rite churches, they celebrate three events together on this day: the Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus, and the changing of water into wine (from the second chapter of John’s gospel). Unlike in the Western Church the Roman Catholic Church, who separate out these three occasions in chronological order, the Eastern Church telescope them together, because from a theological perspective, they are all “revelation” or “epiphany ” moments in the life of Jesus, manifesting his true nature and identity and role.
In the Baptism narrative, all three persons of the Trinity are present here. The opening of the heavens recall the plea of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 1: “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” Israel, traumatized by their seventy years of exile and newly restored to their own country, which bears the scars of defeat, devastation and destruction, cry out to God for his help, restoration and healing. That plea is finally answered by God at the baptism of his beloved Son, who declares that Jesus will be the one through whom this restoration and healing will take place. So the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism is a word of testimony to his Son for all people to hear.
How much was Jesus aware of his divine nature and identity? Did he know it before his baptism, or was it only revealed to him at that time? There has been a lot of theological discussion among scripture scholars about when Jesus knew of his divine identity. Perhaps, as an adopted child may only discover this fact and his true identity after many years, so for Jesus this self-awareness only came about gradually. We are told that Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), rather than possessing it in fullness as he would have if retaining all the divine attributes, which he did at his incarnation (cf Philippians 2: 6-7). The gospel writers do not go into the psychology of Jesus. They focus on the truth that Jesus was the Son of God from the beginning, regardless of when he knew of his divine identity. In the person of Jesus, the Son received from the Father only what he needed to complete his ministry … as he needed it … no more, no less – the same for each one of us.
Since the gifts of the Holy Spirit comprise the gifts of discernment, it is logical that when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, it was a very empowering, and not just merely symbolic, moment, gifting him for his upcoming ministry as the “suffering servant” of the Lord.