1In those days, John the Baptizer came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” 3For this is he who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,

make the way of the Lord ready!

Make his paths straight!”

4Now John himself wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him. 6They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance! 9Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.

11“I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”

15But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

16Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. 17Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Trinity in the New Testament

Topical study | Matt 3:16 | Daniel Garland

Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism is highly significant as the Bible's first explicit reference to God in three persons.  Until the Son of God came as a man to make the Father known (John 1:18), plurality in the Godhead was largely veiled.  Hints are found in passages such as Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man... '" (NAU).  Though God is singular, the verb make is plural.  Similarly, in Isaiah 6:8, God speaks of himself with a plural pronoun:"'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?'" (NAU).  In Zechariah 4:6, God speaks of His Spirit as a distinct person.  Deuteronomy 6:4 emphasizes God's oneness, in contrast with the many heathen gods, but does so with a word for one that can denote a unity, such as the oneness of a husband and wife (Gen. 2:24).  But, none of these passages is specific like those of the New Testament that mention all three persons of God, beginning with Matthew 3:16-17, and including 28:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 Peter 1:2. 

The Holy Spirit's descent upon Jesus at His baptism was His anointing as the promised Messiah and Servant of Yahweh in fulfillment of Isaiah 11:2.  Verses 13-15, of Matthew 3, clarify the fact that Jesus was not baptized as a repentant sinner, or as a mere follower of John.  Matthew 3:17 indicates not a time when Jesus became the Father's Son, but the fact that he was already being his son.  This record of the simultaneous presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit corrects the error of modalism which, in an attempt to preserve the unity of the Godhead, views Father, Son and Holy Spirit not as distinct persons of God, but as different modes in which the one person of God reveals himself.