Last week we set the scene: We'll have to understand Jesus' baptism from the perspective of the coming of the Kingdom of God, for this is how Jesus himself understood the beginning of his public ministry. This week, we'll explore the notion of "authority" that comes with it.
Abraham Kuyper: Trinitarian perspective
In a rather progressive move, Abraham Kuyper emphasized the distinct role of the Spirit within the traditional trinitarian perspective of Reformed theology already in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In his three volume compilation Het werk van den Heiligen Geest (The Work of the Holy Spirit), Kuyper explores pneumatology not merely as an exponent of christology but as a distinct doctrine. This proves to be of great significance for our understanding of the baptism of Jesus in terms of authority and power.
The trinitarian perspective is crucial. At the same time, this trinitarian perspective had for a long time induced a neglect of pneumatology. The outgoing works of God (ad extra) are a divine work common to the three divine Persons, Kuyper stresses in full agreement with classic Reformed theology. It is never the Son alone, or the Spirit alone, at work; always is the triune God involved. However, in this cooperation the work of each Person bears its own distinctive mark.
“Gelijk we bij de schepping en onderhouding aller dingen zagen, dat in deze gemeenschappelijke werking van de drie goddelijke Personen toch het werk van elk der Personen zijn eigenaardig merkteeken draagt, zoo ook is het hier.”
Kuyper discerns this distinct working of the Spirit also in the incarnation of the Son (Chapter 5) and in the mediating work of the Son (Chapter 6).
Why is this of importance for our present study? Classic Reformed theology often has perceived the public ministry of Jesus not consistently trinitarian enough, Kuyper argues. The works of the incarnated Son were understood, then, solely from the perspective of Jesus’ divinity, neglecting his humanity and neglecting the distinct work of the Spirit. If we would regard the public works of Jesus, including his “mighty works” of healing and deliverance, solely as flowing from his being the divine Son, there is no need for any additional working of the Spirit in Jesus. It remains inexplicable then, why Jesus had to receive the Spirit following his baptism.
One of the key steps that Kuyper takes, is that he makes a clear distinction between the person and the nature of Christ. In this way, he takes the radical character of the incarnation and Jesus’ humanity very seriously, while maintaining the divinity of the Son. Kuyper might be overemphasizing the distinctness of person and nature, but it seems to be helpful nonetheless. It helps clarifying the events at the river Jordan. The Son truly partook our flesh and blood, adopting our human (post-Fall) nature – He became a true man, thinking, willing, and feeling like other men, susceptible to all human emotions and sensations that cause the countless thrills and throbs of human life, as Kuyper puts it. But this is the conception of a human nature, not of a human person. In the conception of Christ not a new being was called into life, but One who had existed from eternity, and who then entered into vital relation with the human nature.
“Waar een nieuw wezen ontstaat, daar ontstaat een menschelijke persoon. Maar als de persoon des Zoons, die van eeuwig reeds bij den Vader was, ons vleesch en bloed aanneemt, dan neemt hij onze natuur wel in de eenheid zijns Persoons op, zoodat hijzelf waarlijk mensch wordt, maar een nieuwe persoon ontstaat er niet.”
This implies that when Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan, and the voice from heaven declares: “This is my beloved Son, with him I am well-pleased”, this must not be understood as the constitution of Jesus’ sonship to the Father. In person, he had been the eternal Son from his conception on. Then also the authority that comes with his sonship, was not given to Jesus at his baptism. Being the eternal Son in person, he already had the authority by which he was about the proclaim the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. The event then must be understood as the proclamation of his sonship and authority, either solely to Jesus himself, as encouragement (according to the Mark-account), or to both Jesus and the public (according to the Matthew and possibly Luke).
Karl Barth: Revelation and confirmation
In the Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4, Karl Barth deals with the baptism of believers in the church, but this section reveals some issues concerning the significance of the baptism of Jesus in terms of authority and power as well. The baptism practice of John the Baptist must be understood from the Jewish expectation of the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom, and of the coming of “one more powerful”, who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
“Was in jenem Geschehen am Jordan von Johannes und von allen seinen Täuflingen visiert war, das war ja die in der Predigt des Johannes als unmittelbar bevorstehend angekündigte Zukunft, das kommende Reich, das kommende Gericht, die als Sündenvergebung kommende Gnade Gottes, der als der ‘Stärkere’ kommende Täufer mit dem Heiligen Geist.”
At his baptism, Jesus was confirmed to be this “one more powerful”, this baptizer “with the Spirit and with fire”. From heaven, he was revealed, recognized and confirmed as Son of God, having authority to announce the coming kingdom and judgment.
“Und nun wäre es doch offenbar (…) mit der Taufe Johannes, die Jesus wie alle Anderen begehrt und empfangen hat, um gerade, nachdem er das getan, vom Himmel her als der Täufer mit dem Heiligen Geist und als Gottes Sohn offenbart, anerkannt und bestätigt zu werden!”
Jürgen Moltmann: The authority of the liberating King
Jürgen Moltmann articulates even further the trinitarian perspective that we find with Kuyper and Barth, introducing the concept of the divine perichoresis as an expression of the interdependence of the three divine persons. He also develops further the eschatological perspective of the Kingdom of God, being both future and present. Both characteristics of his theology determine his understanding of the events at the river Jordan. The voice from heaven means the inauguration and theological legitimation of his messianic kingship.
“Es handelt sich um den Inthronisationsspruch und die theologische Legimitation der Könige Israels aus Psalm 2,7.”
Moltmann emphasises the aspect of sonship and subsequent authority. But unlike Kuyper and Barth, he suggests that Jesus at this point enters the Father-Son-relationship, becoming aware of it, though Moltmann fully acknowledges the special character, and unique intimacy, of Jesus’ relationship as Son to the Father.
Did John the Baptist announce the coming judgment, Jesus announces the love and grace of God, claims Moltmann. The dawning Kingdom means the dawning of the Father’s intimate nearness as “Abba”. In Jesus, this Kingdom has begun.
“Verkündet Jesus das ‘nahebeigekommene’ Reich Gottes (Mk 1,5), dann verkündigt er die intime Nähe Gottes, des Vaters, die mit dem Namen ‘Abba’ gekennzeichnet ist, und nicht die Ankunft des zorniges Weltenrichters. Er demonstriert die Nähe des Reiches Gottes nicht durch Drohungen und Askese, sondern durch Zeichen der Gnade an zerstörten Menschen und durch Wunder der Gesundheit am kranken Leben.”
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God, then, is the Gospel of the liberation of people – good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, release for the oppressed. The works of healing and deliverance that are characteristic to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, should therefore not be regarded as “exorbitant phenomena” but as inherent to his messianic mission, Moltmann argues. Healing and liberation, that is what happens when the reign of God breaks in – this is the Kingdom coming close.
However, this reign of God meets resistance, opposition and conflict from the powers in the world that oppose and disintegrate life.
“Das Evangelium vom Reich Gottes ist das Evangelium der Befreiung des Volkes: Wer Gottes Zukunft ansagt, der bringt dem Volk die Freiheit (…) Es ist so nahe gekommen, daß schon die Zeichen der messianischen Zeit sichtbar werden: Kranke werden geheilt, Dämonen vertrieben, Lahme gehen, Taube hören, den Armen wird das Evangelium verkündet (…) Seine Herrschaft aber stößt auf Widerstände, Widerspruche und Widersacher.”
It is at this point, that Moltmann emphasizes the authority of Jesus, as it is confirmed at his baptism through the words from heaven, “You are my beloved Son”. The significance of this confirmation of authority seems to be recognized first by those powers that oppose and disintegrate life, Moltmann notices. It is the “unclean spirits” and “demons” who recognize this authority and his messiahship.
“Markus schließt an die erste Predigt Jesu in Kapernaum sofort eine Dämonengeschichte an (1,23-28), um die εξουσια der neuen Lehre Jesu zu zeigen: er predigte mit εξουσια und gebietet mit εξουσια den unsauberen Geistern, und diese ‘gehorchen ihm’. Seine Lehre ist schöpferische Rede, die bewirkt, was sie sagt. Noch wichtiger scheint für Markus zu sein, daß nach dem Taufbekenntnis Gottes zu Jesus: ‘Du bist mein lieber Sohn’ (1,11) die ‘unsauberen Geister’ die ersten sind, die erkennen, wer Jesus in den Augen Gottes ist und ihn als ‘Christus’ bekennen: ‘Ich weiß, wer du bist: der Heilige Gottes’ (1,24); ‘Du bist Gottes Sohn’ (3,11; 5,7).”
As we restore a proper eschatological perspective on the mission of Jesus, as the one who inaugurated God’s future reign that is all about wholeness, then it is inevitable that issues of healing and deliverance regain their relevance and must again be considered, Moltmann states.
Wolfhart Pannenberg: Authority by implication
In his Systematic Theology, Wolfhart Pannenberg offers a profound and convincing systematic-theological grounding for both the eschatological perspective of all theology, and the centrality of the concept of the Kingdom of God.
Foundational is his trinitarian doctrine of God, inducing a well-developed pneumatological perspective on for instance the doctrine of creation (and new creation) but also on christology and soteriology.
In Pannenberg’s christology, Jesus Christ is perceived most and for all as “the eschatological new man”, the “new Adam”, or the “new man from above”, and as “the author of a new humanity”.
He takes a dual approach, both “from below” and “from above”.
- The approach “from below” emphasizes – largely agreeing with Moltmann – the centrality of Jesus’ message of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, as a future reality breaking in on the present (and the early church found the confirmation of this message in his resurrection).
- In his approach “from above”, Pannenberg further delineates his trinitarian doctrine of God. The mission of the Son in the world (for which he needs the Spirit), then is God’s way of actualizing his rule in the world. This latter approach presupposes, of course, his pre-existence, his being in the eternity of God in correspondence with the eternity of the Father.
“This eternal being of the Son, one may say, finds manifestation in the history of Jesus Christ as the eternal relation of the Son to the Father takes human shape in this history.”
Pannenberg agrees with Kuyper that it was the Spirit who mediated the taking shape of the divine Son in the person of Jesus, and that at his incarnation the eternal Son of God had become flesh.  This implies that Jesus was the Son already at birth, having divine authority. This divine sonship was declared at his baptism. And it was vindicated in his resurrection.
“By the Spirit, in his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ has been instituted into authority as the Son (Rom. 1:4). With the reception of the Spirit at his baptism by John came also a declaration of his divine sonship (Mark 1:10f. par.). In the power of the Spirit he was the Son of God already from his birth.”
Pannenberg then links this concept of sonship to the concept of the messianic king and the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in the world.
In Chapter 10, on the deity of Christ, Pannenberg takes much effort to establish Jesus’ authority not from any fideistic presupposition about Jesus being God, but from both the implications of his message and from his resurrection. We would misunderstand Jesus’ message of “salvation only for those who set their hope wholly on the imminence of the future of God”,
“if at this point, as often happens, we think it enough to say that the inaugurating of present participation in the future salvation of God’s rule by Jesus was an expression of the sense of authority that filled him. We should not contest the fact of this sense of authority (…) but it is of far-reaching significance for an understanding of Jesus and for christology as a whole that this sense of authority was not the basis of the content of his proclamation. On the contrary, it was its consequence or accompaniment.”
Pannenberg argues that central to Jesus’ proclamation was the “call to commit ourselves totally to the rule of God that he declared to be imminent.” To those who open themselves to this summons, God already comes with his rule – God’s rule then is both imminent and already emerging from its futurity as present.
The appearance of Jesus and his message of the rule of God “do not presuppose any claim to special authority for his person”, Pannenberg argues. But such a claim was “undoubtedly” implied by the content of his message and deeds, as he maintained “that in his ministry the coming rule of God was present already”.
Pannenberg discusses the events at the river Jordan in his section on the institution of baptism, as he seeks to find a historical basis for the thesis that Christian baptism originated with Jesus himself. A more solid historical basis than the words of institution in Matthew 28:19, can be found in Jesus’ own baptism by John the Baptist, Pannenberg asserts. From this perspective, Pannenberg gives an interpretation of Jesus’ baptism that links this event to Jesus’ expectation of approaching martyrdom. This corresponds with the later Christian understanding of baptism as participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.But Pannenberg links the events to the issue of authority as well, referring to Irenaeus.
“At his baptism the Spirit descended on him to anoint him and thus to institute him as “Christ” in order that we from the fullness of his anointing may receive anointing by the Spirit and thus be saved.”
Notably, Pannenberg does not link this “institution” as the Messiah to the voice from heaven and thus sonship, but to the anointing with the Spirit. This is in accordance with Jesus’ own reference, of course, to Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Pannenberg does not mention any other function of this anointing with the Spirit at this point – the anointing is not so much “empowerment” but is primarily to “institute him as Christ”. However, in the next blog post (on "power") more should be said about Pannenberg’s position on this issue of empowerment.
- Jesus already had authority as eternal Son of God
- At his baptism, his authority as King was proclaimed: He had authority to usher in the Kingdom of God. In his ministry, the Kingdom was present already. According to Kuyper, Jesus - being fully human in nature - could only do this through his baptism with the Spirit
- The "mighty works" of healing and deliverance were not merely "signs" but the actual "substance" of the salvation of the Kingdom of God, enabled by the Spirit
- According to Pannenberg, Jesus' authority was proclaimed through his anointing with the Spirit. Pannenberg remarkably states that we - the believers - also receive anointing by the Spirit through Jesus' anointing. If we share in his anoiting, do we share in his authority to proclaim the Kingdom and do its "mighty works"?
Next week: Part 3 - Kuyper, Barth, Moltmann and Pannenberg on "power" and the baptism of Jesus.Footnotes
 Kuyper (1888), 104-105.
 Kuyper, 105.
 At this point we should also refer to the interesting contribution of a later Dutch Reformed theologian, A.A. van Ruler, making a similar point on the importance of respecting the differences in structure in christological and pneumatological viewpoints, ‘Structuurverschillen tussen het Christologische en het Pneumatologische Gezichtspunt’, in A.A. van Ruler, Christus, de Geest en het heil. Verzameld werk deel IVA (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2011).
 Kuyper, 109.
 Kuyper, 108.
 Kuyper, 129-130.
 Barth, Karl, Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4 (Zürich: TVZ, 1967), 76.
 Barth, 77.
 Moltmann, 110.
 Moltmann, 111.
 Moltmann, 125.
 Moltmann, 116-117.
 Moltmann, 125.
 Moltmann, 129.
 Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Systematic Theology Vol 2 (ST II), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 297.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 304.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 338.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 348-349.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 394.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 316.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 317.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 317.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 321-322, and further in Chapter 10.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 327.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 329.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 330.
 Pannenberg, ST II, 334.
 Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Systematic Theology Vol 3 (ST III), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 277.
 Pannenberg, ST III, 281.
 Pannenberg, ST III, 277.