St John Chrysostom says that the Apostle spends more time on this event than any of the other evangelists. His account establishes that Jesus is baptised not to take away his own sins but to take away those of the whole world. St Cyril of Alexander tells us that now that the spotless Lamb, whose wau John had been preparing had arrived, John’s work was over. This, as Eusebius reminds us, was the lamb spoken of by Isaiah, who slays the lion of sin and death. He is the paschal lamb, prefigured in Exodus, whose blood was shed for others to secure their liberation from bondage; he is also prefigured in Abel’s acceptable sacrifice, as St Ambrose reminds us.
St Ephrem says that John introduces the bride to the bridegroom as Christ is betrothed to the Church through John’s baptism in keeping with the custom of the Old testament concerning betrothals. Chrysostom tells us that whilst the crowds came to be baptised by John, they also, in the process, heard his preaching about the one greater than himself who was to come.
Augustine suggests we should not suppose that the fact the Spirit descended on jesus meant that he lacked the Spirit, since he had had it from the moment of the Incarnation when the Holy Spirit was present. The purpose of the descent was, Chrysostom says, to make it known that he was the Christ. The dove symbolises the peace and unity that the Spirit brings to the Church.
John the Baptist testifies that he did not know Jesus, and this was because although they were cousins, he had been many years in the wilderness. Once the dove rests upon him, John knows he has met the Messiah. St Cyril tells us that the Spirit which had departed mankind at the Fall is now restored in Christ, in whose perfect nature the Spirit can abide. This is no adopted son who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, but rather the Son of God Himself.