Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Baptism of Jesus: Authority and Power (3): Power

If Jesus already was the Son of God, why did he need to receive the Spirit? Even Jesus could do the works of the Kingdom only through the Spirit. And though he had already received all the spiritual gifts and powers, they only became actual and active when the Spirit descended on him at the Jordan, Kuyper argues. Bring fully human like us, he was thus enabled by the Spirit to do the "mighty works" of the Kingdom.
But if Jesus did these "mighty works" being fully human, enabled by the Spirit, what would that imply for our proclamation of the Kingdom, as we "share in the anointing of Christ"? Could we, indeed, share in his ministry of "mighty works" too? The systematics of Kuyper, Moltmann and Pannenberg would allow for that interpretation.

Abraham Kuyper: Empowerment for human nature

But if Jesus already was the Son of God, and therefore already had the authority to proclaim the kingdom of God, why did he still have to receive the Spirit? Did he not have the Spirit already?
Again, Kuyper’s distinction between person and nature proves to be helpful. Though being the divine Son in person, he was true man in nature, and all inworking of divine life, light, and power could manifest itself only by adapting itself to the peculiarities and limitations of the human nature. It is possible, then, argues Kuyper, to speak of the work of the Spirit in the development of the human nature of Jesus.[1] We know from Scripture, says Kuyper, that not only man’s gifts, powers, and faculties, but also their working and exercise are a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, then, this is the same. His human nature received these gifts, powers, and faculties not from the Son by communication from the divine nature, but from the Spirit by communication to his human nature.

“Deze gaven, krachten en vermogens ontving de menselijke natuur in Christus, en dan lette men er scherp op, niet van den Zoon, door mededeeling uit zijn goddelijke natuur, maar van den Heiligen Geest, door mededeeling aan de menschelijke natuur van de Messias.”[2]

His human nature received these gifts, powers, and faculties without measure and from his conception on, Kuyper argues. However, he received them not in full operation, but wholly inoperative. Had it been left at this, Christ would have been equipped with all these endowments but they would never have been exercised. But the Spirit worked in his human nature, causing them to be exercised and be brought into full activity.[3]
How then to understand the descending of the Spirit upon Jesus following his baptism, although he had received the Spirit “without measure” at his conception? This, Kuyper argues, can only be explained by keeping in view the difference between the personal and official life of Jesus.
It would be incorrect, according to Kuyper, to say that Christ was installed into his messianic office only at his baptism, or that only then he was anointed with the Spirit. His messianic task rested upon his divine person, and he was anointed from eternity. When Jesus says of himself, quoting from Isaiah 61, that “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor (…) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”, this refers to the Son’s anointing in the eternal counsel of peace within the trinity, Kuyper claims. However, only when Jesus went up out of the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and a voice was heard from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son,” this anointing became actual.[4]

“Hoezeer deze zalving ook van eeuwigheid was, en Jezus’ menschelijke bewustzijn reeds lang vóór de Doop in deze taak inleefde, toch is het eerst bij den Heiligen Doop, dat Jezus de eigenlijke wijding tot het ambt ontving.”[5]

Then this event must be understood as both his consecration to his holy office, and his public anointing with the Spirit to this ministry.

The subsequent working of the Spirit is evident throughout Jesus’ ministry, Kuyper argues, immediately following the baptism. Jesus now was “full of the Spirit”, and after the temptation in the desert, he returned “in the power of the Holy Spirit” into Galilee, thus entering upon the public ministry of his prophetic office.
It is evidently the purpose of the Scripture, Kuyper asserts, to emphasize that Jesus - in his human nature - could fulfil his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God only under the constant operation and powerful leading of the Holy Spirit. This proclamation in the power of the Spirit is evident in the “mighty works” of healing and exorcism.[6] Jesus, in his human nature, then is empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the Kingdom of God in signs and wonders.

Karl Barth: The “more powerful one”

Barth emphasizes mostly the revelation, recognition and confirmation of Jesus as Son of God at his baptism, and thus his divine authority. However, he also emphasizes that Jesus receives the Spirit in order to be the “more powerful one” who “baptizes with the Spirit and with fire”.[7] Barth also links this, though not very explicit, to the inbreaking the kingdom of God. When the apostolic church baptizes, this is profoundly different from John’s baptism, he argues, in that the Kingdom that John announced now has come, in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is no longer merely future, it has indeed entered human history. And as the earthly mission of Jesus has drawn to an end, he has proven to be the “more powerful one” and, after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, to be the one who “baptizes with the Spirit”.[8] As the fruit of the Spirit becomes apparent among believers, it signifies the presence of the Kingdom among men.

“Früchte des Heiligen Geistes waren inzwischen gewachsen und im Tun und Verhalten der seiner teilhaftig gewordenen Menschen sichtbar geworden: in seiner Art ein nicht minder Neues als die Zeichen des nahe herbei, ja mitten unter die Leute gekommenen Gottesreiches.”[9]

Jürgen Moltmann: The Spirit at work through Jesus

We have already seen that Moltmann emphasizes the authority of Jesus, confirmed at his baptism, by which he fulfils his ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God in both words and signs and wonders. Healing and deliverance are inherent to the Kingdom of God, and thus to Jesus’ inauguration of this Kingdom.
But Moltmann also stresses the on-going dependence of Jesus on the Spirit. While the other people being baptized by John were baptized as a sign of repentance and forgiveness of sin, Jesus’ baptism signified his anointing with the Spirit.

“Die Evangelien nennen es die Geisterfahrung: ‘Der Geist kam gleich wie eine taube auf ihn herab’ (Mk 1,10). ‘Gott hat Jesus von Nazareth mit heiligen Geist und Kraft gesalbt’, sagt die Apostelgeschichte (10,38).”[10]

This signifies a unique gifting with the Spirit, Moltmann argues, an “anointing without measure”. While Kuyper stresses that the Son was anointed “without measure” from eternity, Moltmann seems to give more weight to this event at the river Jordan. From now on, the “indwelling of Ruach of YHWH” draws him into his sonship to the Father and into his messianic calling.[11] From now on, Jesus lives in the fullness of the Spirit.
It is the Spirit that works in him and through him, enabling him to fulfil his ministry. It is in the power of the Spirit, that Jesus heals the sick and casts out demons.

“Lebt in Jesus die Fülle der Ruach Jahwe/des Heiligen Geistes, dann ist diese Kraft auch der Wirker aller seiner Werke.”[12]

Wolfhart Pannenberg: God’s eschatological reign has begun

In the previous paragraph we saw that Pannenberg links Jesus’ anointing with the Spirit primarily with his “institution” as “the Christ”. Pannenberg’s emphasis thus may be on the authority that comes with messiahship and less with empowerment.
This is indeed what one would expect from Pannenberg, since his theological endeavour is aimed at theology being a public discipline, remaining to be in dialogue with a surrounding culture that has become predominantly secular, and therefore theology should not start from fideistic presuppositions and neither be grounded on subjective religious experiences nor on exclusive claims about divine revelation. This way, Pannenberg’s approach to theology leaves hardly any room for special revelations or additional workings of the Spirit.[13]
However, we should understand that Pannenberg seeks to develop a broader pneumatology, and when he speaks about messiahship, authority and the Kingdom of God, he does so from a pneumatological and eschatological perspective. He then links baptism also to the reception of the Spirit, both in the case of Jesus and of the believers. There is a link, Pannenberg asserts, between Christian baptism and the “eschatological event of the ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit” (Acts 2 and Joel 2). This outpouring of the Spirit stands related to the resurrection of Jesus (as the dawning of God’s eschatological salvation), but it is also linked to “the charismatic element in Jesus’ own work and to its origin in his baptism.”

“There are many reasons for viewing Jesus as a charismatic, and this fact naturally ties in with the conviction that determines his whole ministry, namely, that God’s eschatological reign has begun with his coming (cf. esp. Matt. 12:28 par.). Since Jesus’ baptism by John initiated his own public ministry, one may readily suppose that it was also the origin of his charismatic self-awareness.”[14]

There plainly is a direct relation between the titles of Son and Messiah, and “endowment with the Spirit”, Pannenberg maintains. This endowment involves both “momentary ecstatic experiences” and “forms of lasting endowment with the Spirit of God”.[15]

“Again, the herald of joy in Isa. 61: 1 says of himself that the Spirit of the Lord rests on him because the Lord has anointed him. Luke’s Gospel sees this saying as a promise that finds fulfilment in the coming of Jesus (4:18), and Matthew’s (12:18; cf. 12:28, 31) finds in the healing ministry of Jesus a fulfilment of the promise in Isa 42:1 that the Servant of the Lord will be equipped with God’s Spirit. Confirmed here is the link between endowment with the Spirit and sonship that comes to definitive representation in the person of Jesus Christ.”[16]

Pannenberg, then, most certainly confirms the need for Jesus to be empowered by the Spirit, enabling him to do “charismatic” works of healing and deliverance, as proclamation of the presence of God’s future. The “powers of the Spirit” and the “mighty works” are not some exorbitant extras or proofs of his divinity, but inherently part of God’s reign breaking into the present world. Pannenberg thus firmly grounds this “empowering presence of the Spirit” in the eschatological perspective of the coming Kingdom of God.


The trinitarian perspective that we find with Kuyper, Barth, Moltmann and Pannenberg, reveals one more crucial element for our understanding of Jesus’ authority and power. Kuyper, already in 1888, explained the Son’s dependence on the Spirit in the fulfilling of his office. Within the immanent life of the triune God, there is an interdependence between the three divine persons, as each has distinct roles in the economic trinity. For instance, the eternal Son depends upon the Spirit for the application of redemption to individuals. And when we look at the person of Christ, the incarnated Son, we see that his human nature could not dispense with the constant inshining of the Holy Spirit, Kuyper asserts.[17]

“… dan vindt men derhalve, dat ook in Jezus de menschelijke natuur niet kon buiten de voortdurende instraling van den Heiligen Geest.”[18]

The fact that authority is invested in Jesus, does not imply that he is to exercise this authority independently. On the contrary, he is deeply dependent on the Father and the Spirit, step by step. We already quoted Moltmann on Jesus’ dependence on the Spirit: When Jesus now lives in the fullness of the Spirit, then the Spirit is the power that works all his works. Moltmann then continues,

“Wo der Geist nicht wirkt, kann auch Jesus nichts tun.”[19]

This consistent trinitarian perspective shows how Jesus is not fulfilling his public ministry from his authority as divine Son of God alone, but that all three divine Persons are at work. As the three Persons are dependent on one another in the immanent trinity, so they are in the economic trinity. The Father is dependent on the work of the Son in the world, that is to be completed through the work of the Spirit, Pannenberg states. And the Son is dependent on the work of the Father, and on the empowering of the Spirit whom the Father sends, in order to fulfil his mission in the world.[20]

The Fourth Gospel relates how this is a step-by-step dependence in the public ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus knew that he had been given a “general authority” to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of God in words and signs and wonders, he was apparently dependent, moment by moment, on receiving instructions from the Father regarding when and how he was to engage in this ministry.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12: 49)

And specifically on his healing work, Jesus declares according to John,

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing.” (John 5: 19)

Concluding remarks

It seems that our exploration of Kuyper, Barth, Moltmann and Pannenberg has established sufficiently that the concepts of “authority” and “power” – and possibly the ministries of believers – are indeed grounded firmly in a broader systematic-theological understanding of the mission of Jesus Christ. Authority and power appear to be key concepts, when this mission is viewed from an eschatological perspective to which the concept of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God is central. As the messianic King, Jesus has the authority to proclaim the inbreaking of the reign of God, and in the power of the Spirit he is able to demonstrate this inbreaking of God’s reign, as God’s future enters the present age.
This coming of the Kingdom clearly isn’t the work of merely the Son, but a trinitarian event in which the three divine Persons are dependent on each other. Jesus obtained power for his divine works not by his inherent divinity, but by his anointing through the Spirit. At his baptism, his authority as Son was revealed, recognized, confirmed and proclaimed. His messianic kingship is inaugurated. And through the descending of the Spirit, he is both consecrated to his office and publicly anointed with the Spirit and with power (Acts 10: 38), in order to proclaim the Kingdom in words and signs and wonders.

What this means for the involvement of believers in any ministry and whether they are to minister in the same authority and power, is a matter for further study. At this point, however, we are able to ascertain that our present exploration does have some interesting implications. If Christ didn’t obtain the powers for his ministry by his inherent divinity, but received this empowerment in his human nature, as a man, through the Spirit, than these same powers could be received by other humans as well. Moltmann clearly recognized this implication of pneuma-christology.

“Das Besondere der pneumatologischen Christologie ist ihre Offenheit für das Wirken desselben Geistes außerhalb der Person und der Geschichte Jesu Christi (…) Durch Jesus Christus wird der Geist auf die Gemeinde gesandt, so daß er weiterwirkt.”[21]

Moltmann refers to Calvin, who already acknowledged that the believers “share in the anointing of Christ”.

“Auf der anderen Seite hatte schon Calvin erkannt, daß der Geist Jesus nicht für sich selbst gegeben worden ist, sondern für die ganze Gemeinde, deren Haupt er von vornherein ist. Das weist darauf hin, daß Jesus nicht als Privatperson mit dem Geist getauft wurde, sondern pars pro toto, stellvertretend, als einer unter vielen und einer für viele.”[22]

In Kirche in der Kraft des Geistes Moltmann elaborates on this and argues throughout his ecclesiology  that when the church is sent to proclaim the good news, then this must be primarily about the “signs and wonders” that are to accompany the messianic exodus.[23]

This seems to come close to the assertions made by New Wine theologian John Coles, to whom we referred in the introduction of this paper. In his book Learning to heal, he writes,

“If Jesus had healed the sick only because He was divine, then there would be no possibility of the healing ministry being part of today’s Church (let alone the Apostolic Church). But if Jesus was a human being, empowered by the Spirit for this ministry, then there is the possibility that any of His followers might be empowered for a similar ministry. This, in fact, is exactly what Jesus was doing when He released the disciples to go into the villages ahead of Him (Luke 9:1).”[24]

Coles then goes on to explain that like Jesus was dependent on the Father and the Spirit in ministering to people, in a step-by-step manner, so are the believers.

“At the heart of this (…) is a moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit. Healing ministry is about co-operating with God and what He is doing in a person’s life as they come to Him.”[25]

It would be interesting, indeed, to further explore how this pneuma-christological understanding of “authority” and “power”, and of “sharing in the anointing of Christ”, translates into a systematic-theological understanding of the ministry of believers.


[1] Kuyper, 124-125.
[2] Kuyper, 125.
[3] Kuyper, 126.
[4] Kuyper, 130.
[5] Kuyper, 131.
[6] Kuyper, 132-133.
[7] Barth, 77.
[8] Barth, 82-83.
[9] Barth, 84.
[10] Moltmann, 109.
[11] Moltmann, 110.
[12] Moltmann, 111.
[13] Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope. The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, 2nd ed.), 51-54.
[14] Pannenberg, ST III, 279-280.
[15] Pannenberg, ST III, 9.
[16] Pannenberg, ST III, 10.
[17] Kuyper, 137, 140, 144.
[18] Kuyper, 137.
[19] Moltmann, 111.
[20] See Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 1 (ST I), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 332, and ST II, 394.
[21] Moltmann, 114.
[22] Moltmann, 114.
[23] Jürgen Moltmann, Kirche in der Kraft des Geistes. Ein Beitrag zur messianischen Ekklesiologie (München: Kaiser Verlag, 1975).
[24] Coles, 41. Luke 9:1, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.”
[25] Coles, 65.

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