Baptism in the Old Testament

Intro: 1 Cor 10:6“These things became our examples…” The apostle wanted the Christians in Corinth to know history (I do not want you to be ignorant) The events recorded in the Old Testament, the history of Israel, has a particularly powerful meaning to them as believers in Jesus Christ. Paul reiterated this to the Roman church in Romans 15:4“whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

  • Many of the historical events of the O.T. are, in fact, metaphors for truth in the N.T. They provide a clearer understanding of the gospel message. The writer of Hebrews calls these premonitions, “foreshadows” (Heb. 8:5). Peter called them “Antitypes in 1 Pet. 3:21. (The temple foreshadowed the church, Moses’ bronze serpent pointed to the cross of Jesus; Lambs sacrificed on the altar looked forward to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross., etc)

I. Baptism in the Old Testament: Have you seen the images of baptism in the O.T.? Although we would think of water baptism to be a N.T. doctrine (as it is), it is prefigured in the O.T.

A. The Flood: In 1 Peter 3:21 Peter connects baptism to the waters of the flood of Noah’s day. 1 Peter 3:20-21 – in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1. Peter says “baptism now saves us”, and it is absurd for some to teach that water baptism is unrelated to a person’s salvation. We need to understand “how” baptism saves us. Two thoughts:

a. The family of Noah was saved “through water”. This is the wording of the comparison. How are the water of Noah’s flood and the waters of baptism similar? Coffman says… It was the water of the flood that separated Noah from the disobedient generation that perished; and it is the water of Christian baptism that separates between the saved of today and the disobedient who perish…. It was the water of the flood which washed away the filth of that evil generation; and it is the water of Christian baptism that, in a figure, washes away the sins of Christians (Acts 22:16).(from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

b. Peter goes on to say (as he considers the cleansing impact) that baptism is not a physical, but a spiritual cleansing (of the conscience). It is not a cleansing that could be accomplished through the water, but only through the blood of a sacrifice. Heb 9:14-15 – how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death…

B. Washing: Baptism is easily prefigured in the washings of purification in the O.T. law. Hebrews 10:22-23 refers to the spiritual cleansing which is now fulfilled in Christ — “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Paul says that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). Paul identifies God’s people as the sanctified bride of Christ, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). The figure is clear— the washing is the definitive action which separates the dirty from the clean, the unholy from the sanctified.

C. Circumcision is another metaphor for baptism in the O.T. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham’s family. It was a clear and definitive line dividing those in the covenant from those outside of the covenant. Paul writes in Col. 2:11-121 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, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Baptism is emphasized as the definitive action which divides those within the covenant of Christ from those outside of the covenant of Christ.

1. notice again that the type – antitype is from the physical to the spiritual. (circumcision made with hands to one not made with hands.) The first circumcision was the work of man, the second is the work of God. Notice also that the effects of baptism is the work of God through Christ.

D. The Exodus (crossing the Red Sea) – 1 Corinthians -10:1-6 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. 6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

1. Paul says that the Israelites “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The reference here is to their passage through the water of the Red Sea on dry ground as God pushed the water up on both sides. (Exodus 14) The use of the term baptized (immersed) pictures the Israelites surrounded on every side by water and the cloud above them. They were buried in the Red Sea, and resurrected as they came out the other side.

a. Henry Alford, the famous scholar of the Church of England (a sect noted for sprinkling), observed that the Hebrews “entered by the act of such immersion into a solemn covenant with God” (1032; emphasis added).

b. C.F. Kling, a Lutheran, described the Israelites as being “submerged” in the cloud and water; and then they “emerged” again (196).

2. This O.T. event helps us see what happens in baptism. Three connected ideas:

a. Baptism marks the end of captivity and the beginning of freedom. Exodus 14:10-12 records that Israel was in danger of recapture by the Egyptians from the time of their departure up to the moment they passed through the Red Sea. Truly, while their former masters lived, they were simply slaves escaped, and not in fact free. In John 8:4 Jesus said of sin “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” It was not until the Israelites passed through the water, and that same water swallowed there former masters, that they were free. Imagine if you would the Israelites looking back at the water, and seeing their former masters’ bodies left in that water. In the water of the Red Sea, God utilized death to free His people.

1) Lenski suggested that Israel’s passage through the sea “typifies our deliverance from the bondage of sin and of death through Christ by means of Christian baptism” (391).

2) Kistemaker, a Baptist, acknowledges that “being baptized into Moses represents Israel’s redemption, much as being baptized into Christ entails the Christian’s incorporation into his fellowship” (323). The question is: Can one enter heaven without being in fellowship with the Lord? This case thus harmonizes with other New Testament passages.

3) Men may believe, change their conduct (repent) but they are not truly free until they die to sin through the work of Christ. It is in baptism that the believer is connected to the efficacy of Christ’s death. Paul says in Romans 6:4 that we are baptized into His death, and they die to sin. For them, the enslaving enemy is destroyed when they are baptized. They are free.

b. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, dependent on God alone. As the Israelites emerged from that water, they saw their situation was entirely new. Seemingly they were on their own, but as the story unfolds we see them called to be completely dependent on God alone. They realized immediate needs for food and water. God provided them water from the Rock, and Manna, the bread from heaven. Paul would tell the Corinthians that the Rock was Christ; “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 Corinthians 10:3-4) So we too, from the moment of being born again, born of this water (John 3:5) until we cross the Jordan of our demise, do “not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

c. Baptism is a work of God, not of men. Exodus 14:30-31 records the following: “So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses. ” It was not the work of Israel that saved them that day, but the intervention of God. They obediently entered the water by the path God had provided, and were saved by His power.

1) In this we find one more powerful truth about baptism; it is not the work of men, but the work of God. In Titus 3:5 Paul says that our salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”. It’s efficacy is the result of the mercy and power of God. Baptism is something done to us, not by us. And the effect of baptism is direct from God (Acts 2:38). Israel did not pass through the water, and then remark that they had saved themselves. They knew that God Almighty had delivered them.

Conclusion: When the children of Israel saw the great victory over death given to them Exodus 15 records the song of their praise: “I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” When the Ethiopian came out of the water of baptism he went on his way rejoicing.