Symbols of the Holy Spirit: The Dove

What does the Holy Spirit look like? We are given descriptions of Jesus and the Father, but rarely do we see a description of the Holy Spirit. Today, His body is your body, but the Holy Spirit appeared in physical form in the Gospels. Yes, the Bible gives a physical description of the Holy Spirit!

The Gospels each record the spectacular events in the life of Christ. Although they will often vary in the way they describe an event, they do not ever contradict one another. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each describe the event of Jesus’s baptism in the same way. During the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. This agreement upon the way they described the Holy Spirit indicates to me that what they saw was a literal description and not a figurative description. Those who witnessed the heavenly display literally saw the Holy Spirit, in the shape and likeness of a dove, descend upon Jesus.

After His baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on Him (Matthew 3:16).

As Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on Him like a dove (Mark 1:10).

Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon Him” (John 1:32).

Luke’s Gospel confirms the literal way in which the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus. He makes it clear that the Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove bodily:

and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on Him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are My dearly loved Son, and You bring Me great joy” (Luke 3:22).

Other Scriptures in the Bible symbolically speak to the pure, innocent, and undefiled nature of the Holy Spirit:

I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night (Song of Solomon 5:2 KJV).

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16 NIV).

Like the dove, the Holy Spirit is elegant, pure, and gentle. As such, the dove can be symbolic for the Holy Spirit.