Wait, what? Wasn’t Jesus already fully divine? As the eternal second person of the Trinity, didn’t he already experience full and intimate communion with the Spirit, unhindered by the taint of sin? Why would Jesus need to receive the Spirit?
This is one of the questions that Steve Guthrie tackles in Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human. And he addresses this one by showing how Athanasius responded to this very question when his opponents used the anointing of the Spirit to suggest that Jesus was somehow less than fully God. And Guthrie points out that in actuality Jesus’ anointing has to do with his being fully human; or, even more, it’s about him living the spirit-empowered human life for which we were all created so that we can be restored to our own full humanity.
Why did Jesus receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism? He did it for us.
Athanasius’s opponents in the early church were followers of Arius, who rejected the idea that Jesus was “of one substance” with God the Father. They seized upon these references to Jesus’s anointing. Here, they argued, is biblical evidence that Jesus is not of the same substance as the Father! Why would one who is fully God need to be anointed by the Holy Spirit?….
In response, Athanasius reminds his opponents of the fundamental Christian affirmation that Jesus is not only fully and perfectly God, but also fully and perfectly human. It is as a man that Jesus receives the anointing and enabling of the Spirit. His anointing, then, does not represent any sort of deficiency in his deity; far from it, it points to the perfection, the glorification (glory-fication) of his humanity. Athanasius writes that “the Savior…being God, and forever ruling the kingdom of the Father, and being himself the supplier of the Spirit, is nevertheless now said to be anointed by the Spirit, so that, being said to be anointed as a human being by the Spirit, he may provide us human beings with the indwelling and intimacy of hte Holy Spirit, just as he provides us with exaltation and resurrection.”
Humankind was originally created by God to be filled with the breath of God. The dust is made to be the dwelling of God’s radiant glory. Now this broken race is being re-created in Jesus–the prototype and pioneer of a brand new humanity. Again, Athanasius explains, “The descent of the Spirit upon him in the Jordan was a descent upon us, because of our body which he carried. This did not not place for the advancement of the Word but for our sanctification, so that we may share in his anointing”….
As the one who is both fully God and fully man, Jesus shines witha two-fold glory. As the divine Word made flesh, he is the “radiance of God’s glory” (Heb. 1:3 NIV). As the New Human he is the one anointed with the power and glory of the Spirit. His glorification by the Spirit, far from being a point of embarrassment for orthodox belief, is essential to an orthodox understanding of salvation.”
Steve Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human (Baker Academic, 2011), 40-41.