Baptism (Immersion) in Water
Sabbath School: Saturday 26 April 2003
One of the few rituals required of Christians is the ordinance of baptism or full immersion in water. One of the last commandments that Yah'shua (Jesus) gave His apostles before He ascended into heaven was this:
"Go you, therefore, and teach all the Goyim (Gentiles, nations), and immerse (baptise) them in (into) the Name (reality) of the Father, and the Son, and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), and teach them to observe (guard) all I have commanded you, and here I am with you all the days, to the end of the world (world-system, age)" (Mt.28:19-20, HRV).
If we are to fully grasp the doctrine of baptism it must be seen as an integral part of Yahweh's single plan of salvation. So the first thing we have to do is to place baptism in its setting of the covenant. And in doing this we notice how the New Testament finds in baptism fundamental parallels with the three greatest Old Testament administrations of the covenant. Let's now turn to these so that we have the proper background.
The Noahic Covenant
"For the Messiah (Christ) also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to Eloah (God), being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Ruach (Spirit), by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison (she'ol), who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine long-suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls (nefeshot), were saved through water. There is also an anti-type which now saves us -- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward Eloah (God)), through the resurrection of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of Eloah (God), angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him" (1 Peter 3:18-22, NKJV).
As we know from the story of the Great Deluge, Noah and his family were secured in the ark and were carried into a new world by the waters which overwhelmed the ungodly. They passed through the judgement unscathed. Interestingly, the very method of Yahweh's judgement on sin - a baptism of the whole planet - guaranteed their deliverance. In the same way, the Christian passes through a judgement on sin, secure in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). As the waters of the flood pounded the ark, but could not harm those in it, so the judgement of Yahweh fell upon the Messiah (Christ), who died, the Just One in place of - and so shielding - the unjust. In exactly the same way that the ark brought Noah and his family to safety and thus to Yahweh, so the Christian is brought to live in the sphere where the risen Christ reigns and which water baptism symbolises.
The flood of Noah is a powerful story and teaches us much. The flood was the type - baptism is the anti-type. Both are about judgement and rescue. And they are critically important for us to understand.
Now many Christians have the mistaken idea that water baptism actually 'saves' them. Peter totally refutes that idea in the passage quoted. He says that water does not literally wash away our spiritual filth or sin - you could baptise yourself a million times and be completely unchanged. What washes us, according to Peter, is "the answer of a good conscience toward Eloah, through the resurrection of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)". This will take a little explaining.
So the true believer passes into a new Order or Realm of existence - not by baptism as such which is powerless to cleanse the filth of the carnal nature. The power to be cleansed resides in the death and resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus), and is appropriated by a personal appeal to Yahweh, our Heavenly Father. The ordinance of baptism therefore represents in a visible, symbolic form the establishing of a New Covenant and our personal entering into the benefits of it.
Many people get wrapped up with the precise wording of the baptismal invocation and especially get hung up on names. Notice that Yah'shua (Jesus) mentions no specific Name like 'Yahweh' or 'Yah'shua'. Also that He does not say 'Names' - and since each of the members of the Godhead have their own Names - Yahweh, Yah'shua, and Hochmah - this can only mean the Name - haShem - which is Yahweh-Elohim that encompasses all of the Godhead, or it must mean the reality or substance that lies behind the Name. Thus the Jewish New Testament (JNT) renders this passage, "immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit". The fullest translation of this passage would therefore be: "immersing them in the Name (Yahweh-Elohim) - and the reality - of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach haQodesh".
A ritual baptism with no change of heart or reception of a new forgiven, cleansed and empowered nature is a dead baptism. It has no meaning and no saving value. The actual water-immersion is supposed to be an outward acknowledgement of that which has already taken place inside. Thus a university graduate is awarded a certificate after he has completed the course of study and passed his examinations, and not before! To receive a certificate without having done the course or passed the tests would be fraudulent. A baptism without a change of heart is likewise fraudulent and such as participate in such baptisms are rightly called 'symbolic believers' only. We are only to be baptised in the Name of Yahweh-Elohim - which is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - after we have been immersed into the reality of who He is by a direct encounter in the spirit. And that encounter takes place when we have truly understood and accepted Christ's Atonement, been convicted of our sins, and repented of them by feeling godly sorrow and turning away from them.
The inner transformation is the baptism with any eternal dimension, but the outer baptism is also important because it is an outward sign to the Elohim (God), angels, and fellow believers that we have entered into the New Covenant, just as Noah and his family set foot onto a new world after the judgement of sin.
The Abrahamic Covenant
The second baptismal parallel we find in the Old Testament is known as the Abrahamic Covenant which as we know centres on circumcision. There are two lines of New Testament teaching which we need to be aware of.
Firstly, we are taught that spiritual circumcision is an abiding human need. Paul writes:
"In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of Eloah (God), who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col.2:11-15, NKJV).
Here the apostle tells us that spiritual uncircumcision is the same as being spiritually dead in sin, which is another way of saying that a person in such a condition is unacquainted with the renewing work of Yahweh. From this we learn if a person knows the reality of which circumcision is a sign, he would experience and understand the divine 'quickening', just as Abram was 'quickened' (made alive) with new life, and became a new man, Abraham (Gen.17). [This, by the way, is why everyone who is born again receives a new name in our Church (Assembly), just as Abram did]. Consequently, Paul can say of Christians, who know the quickening work of Yahweh in Yah'shua (Jesus) by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), that they - not the unsaved Jews - are 'the circumcision', because the reality has been fulfilled in them. They have entered into the reality of the Name of Yahweh in Yah'shua (Jesus).
Secondly, we are taught by the apostle, that what circumcision as a physical ordinance was in the covenant of Abraham, baptising is to the Christian, irrespective of whether he is of Hebrew or Gentile background. We learn this from the New Testament use of the word 'seal'. In Romans 4:11, circumcision is called a 'seal', and in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, and Ephesians 1:13, the same word refers to baptism. Yah'shua (Jesus) was the last to be required to be both circumcised and baptised - the last to be circumcised under the Old Covenant, and the first to be baptised under the New. Thus Paul tells the Ephesians:
"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) of promise" (Eph.1:13, NKJV).
This sealing is the inner baptism, which is accomplished by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) as Luke confirms:
"Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptised" (Acts 18:7-9, NKJV).
The relationship between circumcision and baptism is made explicit in Colossians where we read:
"In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of Eloah (God), who raised Him from the dead" (Col.2:11-13, NKJV).
Christians enjoy the reality which circumcision figured, and this reality is called the "circumcision of Christ"; it is spiritual, "made without hands"; of total effect, dealing with the "body of the sins of the flesh" - and it took place through baptism, whereby we are brought into vital contact with the death and resurrection of Christ which the ordinance represents - which we personally appropriate "through faith in the working of Eloah". Thus, once again, water-immersion stands at the entrance to the covenant, and is so taught as to display the unity of Yahweh's dealings. Circumcision is therefore as redundant to the New Covenant as animal sacrifice is. It has been entirely done away with as an ordinance required by Torah.
There are many Messianic Jews who claim otherwise, and that the Jewish mikveh is the equivalent of Christian baptism. Let is be stated here that there is no equivalent Old Covenant ordinance to baptism other than circumcision. Mormons and others maintain that the baptismal fonts in, for example, Qumran were the same as Christian baptismal fonts. There was no such thing as 'baptism' in the Old Covenant though there were ritual ablutions called taharot.
According to Torah an Israelite had to be ceremonially pure before entering the Tabernacle or Temple. This ritual purity could be lost in many ways and the only way to restore it was through washing, chief amongst which continues today in the form of the mikveh or ritual bath which orthodox Jewish women, for example, take after their menstrual period is over. Thus a mikveh could be performed for many different kinds of ritual impurity. Where baptism differs is that it represents the cleansing of the whole life pattern of sin by one supernatural act, and is therefore only performed once. The equivalence with circumcision is obvious since that ritual could only ever be performed once too.
The Mosaic Covenant
The third baptismal parallel is the Mosaic covenant. As you read the 10th chapter of 1 Corinthians you are immediately aware of the fact that the Old Covenant possessed sacraments parallel to the New. The Lord's Supper (also severally known as Communion or the Eucharist) is a development of the Passover (Pesach) meal. Paul wrote:
"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor.10:1-5, NKJV).
The drinking of the wine is prefigured spiritually in the drinking from the Rock - notice also the twin immersions or baptisms into Moses in the 'cloud' and the 'sea'. Here we have confirmation of the principle of what it means to be baptised into 'the Name' for here the Israelites were baptised into 'Moses'. What does that mean? It means that they were immersed into the reality of the communion which He has with Yahweh as Yahweh's prophet and representative! Today "one greater than Moses" has come and we are baptised into Yah'shua (Jesus), who is the 'Salvation of Yah'.
Peter displayed baptism as the believer's escape from judgement and transition into the Kingdom of Yahweh. Paul, by linking it with circumcision, showed baptism as the entrance upon enjoyment of the powers of the new order; and now he issues a profound warning against resting on the outward sign. There must be a life of obedience. The Israelite baptism symbolised separation: the passage through the sea separated them from the Egyptians, and the cloud separated them to Yahweh. But neither of these separations were displayed in their subsequent life, for they displeased Yahweh by disobedience and worldliness. This being so, the outward signs could not save them, and they perished in the wilderness. This, says Paul, is for our admonition. No matter how wonderful the truths of baptism are, or how the New Testament associates the symbol with the actual act of inner cleansing, there must be no leaning on the symbol in terms of self-justification. The reality of our baptism is conjoined on the realty of our relationship with Yahweh and our obedience to Torah. The purpose of the ordinance of baptism is to point back to the mighty saving acts of Yahweh-Elohim, and forward to a life of obedient faith. It is, furthermore, a visible signpost to those who witnessed it of our commitment to Yahweh. Once entered into, it cannot be undone, anymore than a circumcised person can be uncircumcised. To turn away from the Covenant of baptism means nothing less than spiritual extinction.
Immersion in water therefore fulfils together all the previous covenants of Noah, Abraham and Moses. They all converge in, and are fulfilled by, water baptism. It represents complete death from the world and complete life in Messiah, and unless it is a complete commitment we are assaying to, we are, in truth, not baptised at all.
The Blessings of Baptism
When John the Baptist called people to repent, promising remission of sins (Mt.3:2,6; Mk.1:4), He pointed forward to the One who would baptise with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), the token of whose advent was the visible descent of the Ruach (Spirit) as a dove (Jn.1:30-34). The difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Yah'shua (Jesus) is that the ordinance of immersion in water and immersion in the Ruach (Spirit) are united, and therein is the pattern of the New Testament baptismal blessings. We shall be looking at the significance of Ruach- (Spirit-)baptism in more detail next week. The Ruach (Spirit) is present at baptism, and it is She who accomplishes the spiritual operations of which the water is the sign and seal (1 Cor.12:13; Tit.3:5). Equally, She is the gift promised (Ac.2:38).
Also tied to baptism is that of Sonship. Following baptism, not only sonship itself (Gal.3:26-27) but all the spiritual blessings necessary to sonship are associated with baptism: remission of sins (Ac.2:38; Tit.3:5; Heb.10:22), the new birth and entrance into the Kingdom (Jn.3:3,5; Tit.3:5), our designation for union with Yahweh, participation in the work of Christ, and incorporation into His Body (Mt.28:19; Ac.8:16; 19:5; Rom.6:1-11; 1 Cor.12:13; Gal.3:27).
Baptism, and the death and resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) are inseparable, and consistently bracket all New Testament references to baptism. On the day of His baptism, He was declared to be the covenant-maker: the words, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt.3:17, NKJV), point back to the foretold King and Servant (Ps.2:7; Is.42:1), two figures associated with the promised covenant (Is.55:3). The gift of the Ruach (Spirit) additionally recalls the covenant-maker of Isaiah 59:21. When Yah'shua (Jesus) had established the Covenant, He sealed the benefits to His followers by baptism.
However, as I think you are more than aware by now, the blessings are not derived from baptism per se, but from Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself. And so whilst we find that whilst the blessings are apparently joined to the symbolic rite itself, they are nonetheless enjoyed only through the activity of obedient faith following the rite. This is very clearly stated in Romans 6:1-11 where our obligation to a life of holiness is enjoined. Paul first says that that baptism has effected a union with Christ in His death and resurrection, so that, for the Christian, there has taken place a death to sin, and a new life to righteousness (v.4). He then tells how this death and life are to be enjoyed experimentally - by a daily reckoning of oneself dead and alive - in other words, by the activity of obedient and costly faith (v.11). The blessings are not automatically operative in the Christian just because he has been immersed in water. Baptism is rather the public testimony of Yahweh that these blessings have been secured for the believer. Baptism therefore points back to the work of Yahweh, and forward to the life of faith and Torah-obedience.
Baptism can only be administered to those who are capable of giving a personal testimony of the supernatural work of Christ in them, and must therefore clearly preclude infants who, not being conscious of sin since they cannot comprehend Torah, are not judged as sinners and cannot therefore repent and 'die' to sin which baptism represents. In this respect, baptism differs from circumcision which was administered to infants under the Old Covenant as part of a communal or national covenant: the equivalent in the New Covenant is the blessing of children following their birth.
Baptism is a very large subject and more could be said but I hope this will serve as useful introduction.
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