- After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, - Matthew 3:16
- Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; - Mark 1:10
- and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, - Luke 3:22
It is important to note that the text of Scripture does not state that the Holy Spirit is a dove but that He appeared as a dove, like a dove, or in bodily form like a dove. Thus, the Holy Spirit took on the appearance of a dove.
The Holy Spirit’s depiction as a dove goes back to the Flood. After the Flood ended and the waters began to abate, Noah sent out a dove.
- Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. […] The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again. - Genesis 8:8-9, 11-12
The first time the dove returned with nothing. The second time the dove returned with a budding olive branch. The third time the dove did not return. From that moment, the dove was viewed as a harbinger of peace and a symbol of hope. It is likely that this is where the idea of extending an olive branch also became a symbol of peace.
The depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove is also rooted in the Law.
- But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. - Leviticus 5:7
- When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. - Leviticus 12:6
When the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, He portrayed three truths. First, by descending as a dove upon Jesus, the Holy Spirit demonstrated that Jesus had come to establish peace between God and humanity. Second, the Holy Spirit demonstrated that Jesus was the world’s only hope to deal with the curse of sin. Finally, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove to demonstrate that Jesus was a sacrifice for all people.