If we go back to the Old Testament, we don’t see baptism exactly, but what we do see is a cleansing with water.
Exodus 30:18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing…”
Leviticus 16:4 “He [the priest] shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.” (Jesus is our High Priest and is therefore washed. Hebrews 9:11-12)
Numbers 19:19 talks about purifying the unclean with the washing of clothing and the bathing in water.
Numbers 31:22-24 talks about purifying with fire, “But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may come into the camp.”
Ezekiel 16:4 talks about the washing in water at birth to cleanse the baby.
Ezekiel 36:24-25 God is talking about gathering His people and says, “…I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols…”
David’s Psalm 51:2 “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”
2 Kings 5 there is the story of Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, who was a leper who hears of a prophet in Israel who can heal him. Elisha’s response when Naaman arrives: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 2Ki 5:14 “So [Naaman] went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
Sounds a lot like baptism doesn’t it? But was it the water that cleansed Naaman? What about John’s baptisms? Was it the water that gave remission of sin?
Because, if it was just about the water, then why would Naaman say in 2Ki 5:15 “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel,” or why would John the Baptist say to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “…bear fruits worthy of repentance…” (Matthew 3:7)
Or why is it said of John that he was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Luke 3:3 If water was all that was needed why speak of God or repentance?
Why did John baptize with water?
John 1:31 John answers to those who were sent from the Pharisees, “…that [Jesus] should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”
Matthew17:11-13 “Jesus answered and said to [His disciples], ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”
John the Baptist is the voice of the Old Testament (Mat 3:3) proclaiming a need for cleansing (repentance) and pointing to the remission of sin: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
In the Old Testament cleansing came from water, but the only way to find atonement for sin was through the blood of goats and lambs. Hebrews 9:22 “…according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Remission: the canceling of a debt, charge, or penalty. The forgiveness of a debt.)
Genesis 22:8 “And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’…”
Hebrews 9:11-12 “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Isaiah 53:5-7 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
Challenge: Are we, like Naaman, seeing beyond the water to the God who truly gives the cleansing, or are we, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, coming to the water without repenting or receiving the remission (The blood of the Lamb paying for our debt)?
(All Scripture, unless otherwise indicated, is taken from the NKJV. Emphasis added.)
Check back next week for Part 3 to this series on baptism! Or subscribe to receive an email of next week’s post.