Questions From Readers
● Was the dove that descended upon Jesus at the time of his baptism a materialized representation or was it merely a mirage or a calm that pervaded the area? And why was a dove chosen, in view of its use in pagan religions?—F. C., United States.
At the time of Jesus’ baptism a materialized bird, a dove, did indeed descend from the sky and rest upon Jesus. That something material was observed is apparent from the words of John the Baptist as recorded at John 1:32-34. “I viewed the spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him. Even I did not know him, but the very One who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘Whoever it is upon whom you see the spirit coming down and remaining, this is the one that baptizes in holy spirit.’ And I have seen it, and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.”
The purpose of this materialized dove coming down was to convince John the Baptist that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by means of his sense of sight. It therefore had to be just as real to his eyes as were the words, “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved,” to his sense of hearing, to his ears.—Matt. 3:17.
This representation of the holy spirit as a dove calls to mind the manifestation of the holy spirit at Pentecost, as recorded at Acts 2:1-4. At that time it took the form of “tongues as if of fire” that became visible and rested upon each one of the 120 present in that upper room in Jerusalem. Of course, these were not burning flames, but “tongues as if of fire,” otherwise they would have burned the ones upon whom they rested. Yet they were something that was truly observable; just as were the flames that Moses saw at the thornbush at the time Jehovah God called and commissioned him to deliver his people from bondage.—Ex. 3:2
As for the choice of a dove as a symbol, this is in harmony with the use of the dove in the Scriptures. It was a dove that Noah sent out and that came back with an olive leaf showing that the floodwaters had finally drained off. (Gen. 8:8-12) And the lovers of The Song of Solomon referred to each other as doves. (S. of S. 2:14; 5:12) Then again Jesus told his followers to be “innocent as doves.”—Matt. 10:16.
We know that Babylon, both ancient and modern, has counterfeited the truths of God’s Word, and of his dealings with his faithful servants. It should, therefore, be no great surprise that Babylon also counterfeited the dove as a religious symbol, doubtless basing it upon Noah’s use of the dove after the flood.