Water covers close to 80 percent of the earth’s surface. After the heavens and the earth were brought into existence in Genesis 1:1, the very first activity of divinity involves water in Genesis 1:2. It is in and by and of water that the Holy Spirit worked on earth. Water provides so much balance to the atmosphere and environment in order to maintain biological life on earth. See Genesis 1:6-8. The Garden of Eden was a lush garden because there were four water heads that flowed into it: Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel (Tigris) and Euphrates. See Genesis 2:10-14. We could picture Adam and Eve frolicking in the river banks. Water is so plentiful on the surface of the earth.
It is a wonder that when we talk about water baptism in relation to God’s command for the remission of sins, many people complain and say, “Suppose there is no water nearby so that a person should be baptized will God curse a person just because he is not immersed in water?” Compared to the command of God to Noah and family to build a big boat, did they complain about the availability of wood and pitch? What is more difficult to secure wood for the three story boat in the case of Noah and family than to look for water to be immersed in? The Israelites were commanded by Yahweh to offer animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their trespasses, is looking for water to be immersed in more difficult? You can go on and on and on making comparisons about complaints which are unreasonable in relation to the requirements of God.
It was by and through water that Yahweh cleansed the earth of moral and physical dirt in Genesis 6—7. Cleansing through and by and of and with water is an old practice. Cleaning the physical body is an educational stage that graduates into the abstract and spiritual level. Water ceremony is done to impress the mental-emotional aspect of man so that we could understand the abstract and spiritual cleansing by the Holy Spirit for the spiritual aspect of man. Here we have the types and anti-types.
Mosaical Water Cleansing
God gave Moses commandments in the use of water for cleansing and removal of the curse or penalty of sin. “But he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.” (Lev. 1:9) “Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.” (Lev. 8:6) There are many instructions in the Law of Moses about washing, cleansing, bathing, rinsing, Failure to obey is to carry the curse and penalty. We read, “If he does not wash or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.” (Lev. 17:16) Bathing, washing, rinsing in water was a requirement given by God in the removal of spiritual guilt. Meat sacrifices were washed. House utensils were washed or rinsed. The body of the person was washed, bathed or rinsed in water. Water by itself didn’t remove the guilt. It was God who removed the guilt but he required an action for man to show his humility, his obedience to God. Washing for cleansing was part of the Law and the Law was a schoolmaster to lead and bring the Jews into a faith in Christ. Read Galatians 3.
When Nadab and Abihu disobeyed the ceremonial fire burning of incense they were cursed and consumed by fire immediately. (Lev. 10:1-3) Do you think the Israelites made excuses about the availability of water in the wilderness to comply with water cleansing? Do you think the other priests in the tabernacle complained about the availability of the source of fire to burn the incense? No.
This period of the Mosaical era started from about 1445 B.C. and ended in 33 A.D. at the cross of Christ. Read Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9 and Colossians 2. It was for the Hebrew nation only.
Johannine Water Cleansing
While the Mosaical water cleansing continued on as a religious ceremony, John was born to Zacharias and Elizabeth in Judea in the year 1 A.D. In the year 30 A.D., God commanded John the son of Elizabeth to baptize (immerse, bathe, rinse) people for the removal of spiritual dirt of the ordinary Jews accompanied by confession and repentance of sins. Read Matt 3:1,8; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3-14. Water by itself didn’t remove the sin, but God required the Jews to be immersed, rinsed in water to show their humility and obedience before God would forgive the sins of the obedient. The Jews who were obedient went through the ceremony. John’s ministry seems to have been confined within national Israel but “soldiers” who were more likely of non-Jewish stock were also baptized.
They didn’t complain and argue with John the prophet about the availability of water. They didn’t argue about when removal of sins whether it was before or after immersion. They understood it should be after undergoing the requirement. It was in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom, the Church.
Very likely many of these disciples of John who were immersed in water participated in the mob lynching of Jesus in Jerusalem. May be out of ignorance or they were carried by the their emotions which flared up due to the misinterpretations and false accusations of their religious leaders, the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus’ Water Cleansing
John’s baptism started in 30A.D. and ended in around the month of June 33 A.D. in the Day of Pentecost. Christ died at the cross on 14 Nisan in the year 33 A.D. At the cross he cancelled the Mosaical Covenant and at the same time established a New Covenant. Read Hebrews 9:15-18. After our Lord Jesus resurrected on Sunday, Nisan 16 year 33 A.D. he met the 11 apostles beside the Sea of Galilee and gave the Great Commission which included water cleansing ceremony. Read Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16 Luke 24:44-48.
Fifty days after the Passover Meal came another Festival called Day of Pentecost. This falls around the month of May or June 33 A.D. Apostle Peter and the 11 other apostles preached about Jesus of Nazareth being the promised Messiah that he was killed by the Jewish leaders and followers. The Pentecost Day audience felt they participated in that lynching mob 50 days back. They felt guilty. They asked for a removal of the moral guilt and penalty. The apostles told the people to repent and be baptized (bathed, immersed, rinsed) in the name of Jesus Christ. Read Acts 2:38.
The people didn’t argue when the guilt of murder was taken away. Was it at the point of faith without repentance and baptism? The language is clear: it is after undergoing the stated requirement of repentance and be baptized (immersed, rinsed, bathed). That has been understood from the time of Moses: after bathing or rinsing is the cleansing done. It was understood in the time of John the Immerse: remission of sin, removal of guilt was after the water cleansing. It was understood by Noah and his family that the cleansing of the world was after the flood water inundated the surface of the earth. Read 1 Peter 3:21.
This water cleansing ceremony is for all nations accompanied by confession of sins, repentance of sins, confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Water cleansing ceremony, baptism, with faith incorporates one into the death and burial of Christ. By faith it is in baptism that one puts on the spiritual robe of the soul. By faith it is in this baptizing act that one comes in contact with the blood of the Lamb. It is part of a procedure whereby one is inducted into the Kingdom of Christ. It is the last step required by God so that one could become a citizen of heaven. (Eusebio Tanicala)