After Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist pointed Him out, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world … I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky and it came to rest on Him … It is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:29, 31-33).
These words are a summary of what Jesus would do as a sacrificed lamb, taking away our sins through our baptisms by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taking away our sins as a Lamb:
Each morning and each evening, lambs were offered in the temple (Numbers, 28:3). Jesus is a lamb, especially in His offering of Himself to the Father, as various New Testament texts indicate:
- “He bore our sins in His own body” (1 Pt 2:24);
- “God did not spare His own Son, but delivered him up for all of us” (Rom 8:32).
- “He is the offering for our sins” (1 Jn 2:2);
- “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured” (Is 53:4).
The Letter to the Hebrews states that it is impossible for the blood of animals to take away sin (Heb 10:4). St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “Jesus blood takes away, that is, removes, the sins of the world, He takes upon Himself the sins of the whole world” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 259).
Sin is turning away from God. Jesus, as our head, acts in the opposite way, He, “gave himself for us as an offering to God” (Ephesians 5:2). St. Thomas observes, “He committed no sin, but came to take away sin” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 268).
Thomas Aquinas attests that Christ is called the “Lamb of God” “because it [His sacrifice] is offered by God, i.e., by Christ Himself, who is God…” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 257).
St. Thomas explains why Christ’s sacrifice is of immense value: “It is due to the power of the divinity that this sacrifice has the power to cleanse and sanctify us from our sins, inasmuch as ‘God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5:19)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 257).
The Spirit rests upon Him:
Thomas notes that the saints don’t always have the power to do miracles and the prophets don’t always have the power to prophesy, “But Christ always possessed the power to accomplish any work of the virtues and the graces … ‘the Spirit rests on him…’ The Spirit descended not for the benefit of Christ, but for our benefit, that is, so that the grace of Christ might be made known to us” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 274).
Thomas follows the opinion of some of the Fathers of the Church that Jesus was baptized to inaugurate the sacrament of Baptism: “It was appropriate for this baptism because the baptism of Christ begins and consecrates our baptism” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 268).
Jesus is also in solidarity with us in our repentance: “He also came to give us an example of humility.” Sirach’s says, “The greater you are the more humble you should be in all matters” (Sir 3:20).
Thomas points out: “Our baptism is consecrated by invoking the whole Trinity”: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In a similar way, the Three are active in Jesus’ baptism: “the Father in the voice, the Holy Spirit in the dove, and the Son in His human nature.
Thomas teaches: “John, in stating that the Holy Spirit came down upon Christ, teaches that it is Christ alone who baptizes interiorly by His own power” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 276).
Thomas explains that Christ has “the power of efficiency, by which He interiorly cleanses the soul from the stain of sin. Christ has this power as God, but not as man …” Although others can baptize, only Christ, in His divinity, can interiorly take away sin.
Thomas asserts that the sacraments, instituted by God, give grace “By their institution the sacraments give invisible grace, which only God can give. Therefore, only one who is true God can institute sacraments” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 274).
The efficacy of the Sacraments is derived from Christ’s self-sacrifice: “The excellence of the sacraments lies in the efficacy of Christ’s merits … for the sacraments have their power from the merit of Christ’s passion: ‘All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, have been baptized into his death’ (Rom 6:3)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 274).
Thomas notes that, “Christ can confer the effect of baptism without the sacrament; and this is peculiar to Christ” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 274).
Baptism makes us adopted sons and daughters:
Thomas affirms that the Spirit came down upon Jesus to give “testimony that He, that is, Christ, is the Son of God, that is, the true and natural Son.” Jesus, as the Son, makes us also sons and daughters: “For there were adopted sons of the Father who had a likeness to the natural Son of God.” We become like the Son, as Paul declares: “Conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29).
The Son baptizes us in the Spirit: “So He who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, through whom we are adopted as sons, ought to fashion sons of God. ‘You did not receive the spirit of slavery … but the spirit of adoption’ (Rom 8:15)… Christ is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit … He is the true and pure Son of God: ‘that we may be in his true Son’ (1 Jn 5:20).”
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John were done by R.F. Larcher, O.P. The full text may be found on the web site of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/