1 Peter 3:20, 21 tells us that Noah's flood prefigured baptism. We normally think of this as water baptism, but with further study we find it prefigures spirit baptism as well. This is pictured in the dove that Noah sent out.
The first time the dove was sent, it "found no rest" (Gen. 8:8), and so it returned to the ark. Noah waited for another week and then sent the dove out again. This time it returned with an olive sprout (Gen. 8:11), and Noah knew that the waters were beginning to abate. A week later, when Noah sent the dove out a third time, it did not return to the ark (Gen. 8:12).
This dove represents the Holy Spirit. The fact that Noah sent the dove out three times speaks of the three times that the Holy Spirit was to be sent into the earth in history.
The first occasion speaks of the first Pentecost of the Old Covenant at the foot of Mount Sinai under Moses' administration. The Holy Spirit was sent forth, but the people fled in fear (Exodus 20:18, 19). They did not want to hear the voice of God directly. And so the "dove found no rest" amidst the sea of people. Another ark had to be built to house His presence, the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, like the dove of Noah, the dove at Mount Sinai "returned to the ark."
The second occasion speaks of the New Covenant at the great Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. The "dove" in this case had found a single olive sprout in the person of Jesus. At His baptism (Matt. 3:16) it lighted upon His head; later at Pentecost it lighted upon His body to complete the fulfillment of that occasion. Yet this was only a tiny portion of the promise, even as an olive sprout was only a little piece of the olive tree.
The third occasion speaks of the unlimited fulfillment, when the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh. It shall be the greater outpouring, of which the previous one was only an "earnest." Once sent, the dove shall not return to the ark, which had limited its movements. His glory shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).
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