Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove (Luke 3:21-22). Some have suggested that the shape of a dove would have looked like a flame and say the sign indicated that Jesus would baptise with the Spirit who would function as the fire of purification. Yet it is obvious that the Gospel writers stress that the shape was like that of a dove.
It is important to remember that this was not the first time that Jesus received the Spirit. The Saviour, because he was sinless, had the Holy Spirit at work in his human heart and mind from his birth. Throughout his life so far, the fruit of the Spirit had been produced in his life perfect in content and perfect in balance. As far as Jesus was concerned, living and working in Nazareth had not prevented him from knowing fully the work of the Holy Spirit.
The coming of the Spirit to rest on Jesus at his baptism indicates contentment. And we should not be surprised at this because Jesus was totally holy. In fact, he was the first and only earthly servant of God who could be described in this way. When the Spirit came upon any other servants of God, he knew that he would have to convict them of their sins. He did not come upon Jesus to convict, but he came upon him to confirm the promises made in the Old Testament that the Spirit would come upon the Messiah.
The coming of the Spirit on Jesus as a dove also indicates the intention within the purposes of God regarding what Jesus, having received the Spirit for his mission, would achieve. The dove speaks of peace, and here in a sense is the public anointing of the Prince of Peace. God had told John the Baptist that this would a sign that Jesus was the Messiah. And we discover here the thrust of the mission of the God of peace. Jesus had come to announce peace and to make peace between God and sinners, and the Holy Spirit would equip and enable him to accomplish this amazing purpose.
As David McIntyre put it, Jesus at his baptism was ‘fitted for the work of saving a world of sin-sick souls, of building on earth the City of God, and of bringing the maze of time’s discords into an eternal harmony.’ And another way of describing that is the provision of peace.