The Waters of Separation & Purification

Text: Hebrews 9:10

Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”

We learn from the Ephesians 4:5 that there is only one baptism that places us into union with the Body of Christ and with our Savior ((1 Corinthians 12:13). In the dispensation of Grace, we understand that it is
the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this. A water baptism ceremony is therefore an unnecessary addition to that which is already perfect and complete.

Now, let’s take our Bible and learn of the absolute necessity of submitting to water baptism, in accordance with God’s purposes. Does this sound confusing or contradictory? It certainly can be, if we fail to rightly
divide the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). However, these seeming contradictions are cleared away when we recognize the distinct differences in God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, in contrast with the Body of Christ.

One of the most divisive issues in the Christian church, down through the ages, has been the doctrine of water baptism. Denominational differences regarding who may participate, the purpose, and the mode still prevail. Some sprinkle, some pour, some immerse. Some immersionists dunk only once, and some put you under three times. Some teach that sins are remitted when the water is applied. Others maintain that it has nothing to do with salvation, but should be done as a testimony (proof) of one’s faith, or
as a requirement for membership in their denomination. Some baptize infants, while others limit the ceremony to “accountable believers”.

It is probably safe to say that most Christians have a limited grasp of the scope of the doctrine of water baptism, in the Bible. The extent of their beliefs is basically circumscribed by the prevalent denominational emphasis on the four Gospels. John’s baptism of Jesus is held up as the model for “believer’s baptism”. The departing instructions of Christ to the eleven disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:16, proclaimed in many churches as the “Great Commission”, are promoted as the marching orders for the
Church, today.

Not surprisingly, most Christians seem a bit confounded when they find that water baptism is not primarily a New Testament doctrine. Perhaps a little backtracking in the scriptures will serve to enlighten us regarding the practice of water baptism in the Gospel accounts, and elsewhere.

A sound rule of good Bible study is the rule of First Mention. When studying a particular doctrine, it is most helpful to determine where the “seed bed” or root of the doctrine is found in scripture. With that in mind, let’s study to see where the foundations of water baptism are in our Bible. What is it for? WHO is it for?

In this study, it will become apparent that water baptism was associated with the righteous requirements of ceremonial purification that God imposed on Israel (*Remember that every baptism in Scripture is about the association or identity with something or someone). Hebrews 9:1-10 speaks of ordinances of divine service pertaining to the first covenant (the Law of Moses). Verse 10 categorizes the activities associated with Israel’s prescribed worship as meats and drinks, diverse washings, and carnal ordinances. (cf Mark 7:4 washings of hands, cups, etc).

It is interesting that the word “washings” in Hebrews 9:10 is translated from the Greek word “baptismos”, which is also translated as baptism in other New Testament passages. These washings (or baptisms) which were many and varied (diverse) were essential elements of the Old Covenant system of worship that God dispensed to Israel through Moses. As we shall see, these diverse washings are a reference to the many cleansing and purification rituals associated with the Law of Moses.

Water Baptism as an Old Testament Practice

As previously stated, many and varied baptismal ceremonies were prescribed as integral parts of the Mosaic Law Covenant that God made with Israel. The following scripture passages will serve to show that.

[Note: The word “baptism” is not found in the Old Testament, since that word is a transliteration of the Greek word baptismos. Again, that is why it is very interesting, and helpful to our understanding, that baptismos is translated in the Authorized Version as the English word “washings”, as a reference to the Hebrew Old Testament practice of water baptisms]

Exodus 19:5-6 “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”

Isaiah 61:6 “But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.”

Accomplishing the service of God as the Priests of the Lord and Ministers of Jehovah was the divine purpose that Israel was appointed to. God’s plan for them was to function as a holy nation…a kingdom of priests, to be God’s agency for reconciling the nations that He had given up, as a result of the conditions of the human race, as described in Genesis 6. As displayed in the particular functioning of the Levitical priesthood, this priestly ministry required certain rites of purification to be accomplished prior to performing such ministry.

Exodus 28:41 “And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”

Exodus 29:4 “And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest’s office And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.”

The initial water cleansing ceremony was performed by Moses, upon Aaron and his sons, prior to their entering into their ministry. Subsequent to this, the priests would perform the purification rituals. There were also a variety of other purification rites that were to be accomplished by the people, in accordance with the Law of Moses.

Exodus 30:17-21 “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:
When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD: So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.”

Numbers 8:5-7 “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make
themselves clean.”

*See also the following references, which provide details concerning the various cleansing requirements, which Israel labored under in their relationship with God…

Numbers 19:1-22 Notice especially the issue of the red heifer, whose ashes are mixed with water for a water of separation as a purification for sin.

Numbers 31:19-23 Post war cleansing requirements.

Ezra 6:18-20 and Nehemiah 12:30 Purification of priests after rebuilding of the Temple.

Ezekiel 43:26-27 The vision of the Millennial Temple containing the altar of sacrifice that must be purified, so that Israel might find acceptance with God.

I don’t think it takes a Rhodes scholar to figure out that this issue of purification was a big deal with God, in His dealings with Israel, under the Law. The baptismal rituals (the washings) obviously played a significant part in the proper worship and service to God. Therefore, we should now have a better grasp of WHAT baptism is FOR, and WHO it is FOR in our Bible. It is indeed for the purpose of satisfying the ”righteous requirements of ceremonial purification” that God imposed on Israel.

Now, let’s return to our scriptural reference point containing the biographical record of our Lord’s earthly ministry, and to those aspects of water baptism that the majority of Christians are most familiar with. Let’s ask ourselves some questions about the issue of water baptism, as it is presented in the Gospel accounts.

Begin with an interesting text in John 1:19-25

“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias (cf Isaiah 40:3) And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

Now go to John 3:22-25

“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.”

Question: Were the people who were interrogating John and his disciples curious about what John was doing?

Answer: Not at all. What did they want to know? They wanted to know by what authority was he baptizing (performing a purification ritual). The act of baptizing was not something new to them. Israel had been observing these various baptisms 1500 years before John and Jesus show up. The question
was, “Just who in the world did John think he was to be performing this, if he was not the Messiah or a prophet from God?” (As a matter of fact, John was sent from God, as he states. He was also technically a priest by lineage, since his father was a priest, and his mother was also of the priestly line in Israel).

The point is that water purification rites were not a new institution that arrived on the scene with John or the Lord Jesus. So, why are John and Jesus’ disciples going around the countryside of Israel baptizing folks?

Reference Matthew 3:1-6 “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”
(cf Leviticus 26:40-42 Also understand that Jerusalem is that “faithful city that had become an harlot”… Isaiah 1:21. Therefore, John did not go to Jerusalem, but was preaching in the wilderness, calling on those who would separate themselves from those apostate religious leaders of Israel, that “untoward generation”).

Now, we may understand what Jesus meant, in Matthew 3:15, when He speaks of His water baptism as that which will fulfil all righteousness. He is fulfilling the righteous requirements of ceremonial purification associated with the Mosaic Covenant, being baptized by John, the forerunner and the “porter” (John 10:3). In doing so, Jesus, is identified and declared to be the Messiah and He is also the “door” whereby all who will repent and confess their sins may enter into the coming kingdom, and also endure the wrath to come. Upon entering His public ministry to Israel, it is no wonder that Jesus preaches the same message of repentance, calling out a remnant of true believers who would be fit to enter the coming kingdom, in light also of the need to endure the coming tribulation.

Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
See also Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, and Acts 2:38 (Water baptism for the remission of sins)

It becomes clear, as we study the ministries of John and Jesus, that both preached the same message of repentance for the remission of sins to the nation of Israel. They both exhorted the people to ready themselves for the Kingdom that was “at hand”. In order to prepare for their God ordained purpose of being a kingdom of priests and ministers of God, they would need to confess their sins and avail themselves of the waters of separation, as a purification for sin. Only then, would they be fit to accomplish their service to God. Only then, would they also escape the baptism of fire (the Tribulation) that would be
forthcoming from the hand of the Lord Jesus, Himself.

Let me encourage you to study the doctrine of water baptism in even greater detail, than what we were able to cover in this brief study. This subject is strongly connected with the Fifth Course of Chastisement (Leviticus 26) as well as Daniel’s 70th week, Acts 2:38, 1Peter 3:21, etc.

As I trust you can see, by now, water baptism was not an option for those in Israel. To refuse water baptism was to reject the counsel of God (Ref. Luke 7:29-30). This remedy for sin continued to be preached, as recorded in the book of Acts, by Peter and the other kingdom apostles (See Acts 2:38). Water baptism was an essential element of the way a repenting Israelite, or an unclean Gentile,
could enter the kingdom that was soon to come, as well as escape the wrath of God that was also coming. Water baptism, like the other requirements contained in the Mosaic Covenant, was a necessary part of the manifestation of the righteousness of God, and God’s Law.

But now, the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” Romans 3:21
God is not presently administering His purposes through Israel. Rather, He is involved in building the Body of Christ. It is imperative to understand that the ordinances of divine service, referred to in Hebrews 9:1, are not pertinent to God’s relationship with Body of Christ. Are we dependent on meat and drink offerings or a worldly sanctuary for the resolution of our sins? NO! Do we need intermediary priests to make intercession, so our sins may be remitted? NO! Do we need a temple with a purified altar to be assured of a place in God’s family? NO! Then why do so many think that a purification ceremony related to Israel’s calling and purpose is necessary for members of the Body of Christ?

Colossians 2:10 says that we are complete in Christ. He is our sanctuary. He is our altar. He is our intermediary. He is our means of purification.

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