Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Grace to grace

11And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. 12And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace. 13And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; 14And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. 15And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son. 16And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father

(D&C 93:11-16)

What did Jesus know about himself and his mission, and when did he know it? Did it take time for the realization of his role to sink in? I had always assumed that by the time of Jesus' baptism, he had a full understanding of his mission and role and his relation to the Father. But recently, as I have been reading the New Testament in German, I wonder if that is really the case.

We have the account of the Holy Ghost descending upon Jesus in all four gospels, with some slight differences that may be a little more pronounced in German. In Matthew, we read that when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the Holy Ghost descending upon himself, with a voice declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” In Mark, we read that the heavens were open to Jesus, who saw the Holy Ghost descending upon himself, and the voice spoke directly to him: “Thou art my beloved Son, and I am well pleased with thee.” In Luke, “the Holy Ghost descended visibly in the form of a dove,” implying that this was visible to everyone, not just Jesus, but the voice spoke directly to him, as in Mark. In John, Jesus' baptism is not mentioned, and John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Holy Ghost descend like a dove upon Jesus and remain upon him. He doesn't mention a voice, but he states that the one who sent him to baptize with water (God) had already told him how to recognize the one who would baptize with the Holy Ghost.

So, to summarize, we have these features of the accounts:

 BaptismWho saw the sign of the Holy GhostWho heard the voice
MatthewYesJesus onlyEveryone present (ambiguous)
MarkYesJesus onlyJesus only
LukeYesEveryone present (implied)Jesus only
JohnNoJohn onlyNo one

Why should these differences be interesting? It seems to me they may give some insight into what the various gospel authors thought Jesus' understanding of himself was at the time of his baptism, as well as the kind of witness that was given to the people around.

For example, only in the account of Luke do we have the implication that the sign of the Holy Ghost was public. The voice from heaven may have been more public, but is not mentioned in John (instead, John had a private prior revelation) and was directed to Jesus in two of the other three accounts.

This makes me think that the sign of the Holy Ghost and the voice from heaven were signs intended primarily for Jesus, giving him a greater understanding of his role and mission. It was followed immediately (according to the synoptic gospels) by his forty days in the wilderness, in which he is tempted with “if thou art the Son of God...” -- perhaps especially targeted at a Jesus just coming to terms with a fuller understanding of his role and mission.

And even then, I wonder if it took some time for it to sink in. In Matthew, John preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” After his forty days in the wilderness, Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, and he returned to Galilee, perhaps fearing that the same might happen to him. He began preaching the same message as John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It seems that early on, he is in a similar role as John was. Luke has him, shortly thereafter, reading in the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me... this day is this scripture fulfilled.” It seems that he may have been coming to realize the full import of what God had revealed to him since his baptism.

I think there are good reasons why modern revelation includes the teaching that Jesus “received not of the fulness at first.” Primarily, it is to allow us to identify more fully with him, as he states further in D&C 93:19-20:

19I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. 20For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.

We should not be discouraged that we do not receive full understanding in short order. Jesus himself also needed to proceed bit by bit until he had a full understanding.


  1. Your conclusions are not much different from Historical Jesus writers -- although your reasoning is different. Many have said that Jesus was not aware of his mission until AFTER John the Baptist died (although they argue exactly what that mission was supposed to be). They say that Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist before he formed his own associations. Eventually they say that Jesus split from John the Baptist, but don't know exactly how or why (or usually even ask that question), as it wasn't out of hostility.

    Anyway, it seems to me that your explanations fit in where those who deny the Divinity of Jesus leave off. Once more showing that an historical Jesus doesn't have to be a "Godless" view in order to be interesting. Now if only that book could be written . . . 

    Posted by Jettboy

  2. I just found your site today and I look forward to reading more.  

    Posted by Diane

  3. Great post! I've often thought the same thing, but you put it into words so eloquently and succinctly. 

    Posted by Brother Joseph

  4. "‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8).

    This title is directly applied to Jesus three times in the book of Revelation: "When I saw him [Christ], I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First and the Last’" (Rev. 1:17). "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the First and the Last, who died and came to life’" (Rev. 2:8). "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 22:12–13)

    There is ONE true God. Jesus, being fully god knew of his mission always. We need not question at what point in his "earthly" life he became of aware of anything. He is our Lord God.

    Posted by Anonymous