By Blood And Water
The True Story and Meaning of Christian Baptism
"But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out—
This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood."
John 19:34; I John 5:6
PART 1 - Introduction
Throughout the generations of the church, much has been taught and debated on the meaning and practice of water baptism. A large reason for debate and erroneous teaching is that we have discussed baptism in a box that isolates the concept of "water" from it's context in the whole of Christ's sacrifice and the Old Covenant types that pointed to it.
As believers, we've grasped well the vital role of blood in our redemption from sin. The shedding of blood was at the heart of the Old Testament priestly ministry. It's also Jesus' focus regarding His own sacrifice ("This is My blood of the covenant") as well as the center of the apostles' teaching: "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."
But water too—not just blood—was an integral part of the atoning process. If we look at the role of water in Old Testament ritual, in Christ's actual sacrifice and in the apostles' teaching, we'll come to a clear understanding about water baptism—how it was applied and what it can and cannot effect regarding eternal life.
As we weave this discussion in the form of an unfolding story, we'll pass through the many passages central to the usual discussions. But seen developmentally, these passages will take on realigned meaning whose witness I hope will prove convincingly unshakable. I hope to dispel confusion produced by conflicting baptismal theologies based on piecemeal citings of scattered New Testament scriptures.
I. The Shadow, the Reality and the Reflection
Stop and imagine for a moment a tree standing tall. To the left of the tree lies its shadow on the ground. To the right of the tree is a small pond, the tree standing at its edge. Further to the right, low in the sky, is the sun casting the leftward shadow of the tree.
Now, let's step to the right around the pond. Stand directly across from the tree, the sun at your back, the pond in front of you. What we see now is not only the tree, but a reflection of the tree in the pond before us. Yet we also see the tree's shadow lying behind it.
From the perspectives we have just imagined, we're able to see not one, but three images of this tree. To one side is the tree's shadow. To the other side is its reflection in the pond. And of course, we see the tree itself in the middle.
This threefold image of the tree by a pond is a good illustration of the atonement as it appears on the canvas of history. The tree represents the reality of Christ lifted up on the cross. Through Him atonement came—full, complete, finished.
The leftward shadow of the tree represents the atonement as foreshadowed in Israel's history under the Law of Moses:
1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. Hebrews 10
The tree's rightward reflection on the pond toward the sun represents the atonement as it is now mirrored in our lives under the New Covenant between the cross and the glory of eternity. As II Cor. 3:18 says,
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Under the New Covenant, we are the reflection of the tree. We bear in our mortal bodies and practices the reflection of the real atonement accomplished only through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
II. Blood and Water in Three Dimensions
Like intertwined threads, the concepts of blood and water wind their way from the Law of Moses, through the cross, and into the foundation of our life and practice as New Testament people. In course, they pass through this threefold development of shadow, reality and reflection.
Under the shadow of Old Testament Law, both the natural blood of animals and natural water were used in the atonement for sin.
In the Reality of Christ's death, both blood and water were shed from the Lord's body on the cross. This is supernatural blood and supernatural water. It is this blood with this water alone that effects the reality of atonement and remission of sins.
Finally, the effect of Christ's own supernatural blood and water is reflected in the physical image of Christian communion using natural unleavened bread and wine, and Christian water baptism.
Being as we are already acquainted with the blood side of this development, this teaching centers on the water, something largely missing from our appreciation of the atonement. Christian baptism corresponds to the water element of atonement. We cannot properly understand New Testament baptism without understanding the meaning of water in context of this development, beginning with the Old Testament use of water in sacrifices.
III. The Shadow of Old Covenant "Baptism"
God introduced water together with blood into the priestly ministry under Moses. Like blood, water was used for cleansing from sin. The distinction may seem small, but we could say that while blood covered sin, water cleansed from sin. One might even say that blood covered the sins of the heart while water cleansed incidental sins of the body.
What we really want to see is that under the law, water removed effects of sin just as blood did:
9 "…and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin." Numbers 19
The closeness of blood and water in the atonement is seen in the pattern of the tabernacle itself. Next to the altar, which received blood sacrifices, the laver was set up for the washing of the priests.
7 "You shall set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it. 11 You shall anoint the laver and its stand, and consecrate it." Exodus 40
Keep in mind that according to Hebrews, everything regarding the tabernacle was a shadow of heavenly reality to be completely fulfilled in Christ. This includes the water-filled laver.
- Immersion and Sprinkling
Water was applied in two ways under Old Covenant ritual. One was through immersing or dipping bodies and objects. The other was through sprinkling.
The priests were bathed at their induction into the ministry:
7 "You shall set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it. 11 You shall anoint the laver and its stand, and consecrate it. 12 Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water." Exodus 40 (rehearsed also in Ex. 29 and Lev. 8)
Such bathing was ordered in conjunction with offering of blood sacrifices. The bathing might include just hands and feet (Ex. 30:20-21) or the entire body (Lev. 16:24). Total bathing was also ordered for other situations of bodily impurity (see Lev. 14 through 16). Some parts of the sacrifices themselves were also bathed (Lev. 1:9; 8:21 etc.).
Meanwhile, the Levites were inducted into their ministry through the sprinkling of water:
6 "Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. 7 Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean." Numbers 8
The water of purification used in various sprinkling rites was water that had been mixed with the ashes of a slain heifer (Num. 19), connecting it once again to blood.
- With Blood
Water was often used in direct conjunction with blood sacrifices, either as part of the ceremony (as when the priest bathed before offering sacrifices), or in some cases as actually mingled with the blood.
A house was cleansed for instance by killing a bird over running water and then sprinkling the mixture of blood and water on the house (Lev. 14:49-52). Most importantly, the writer of Hebrews points out that mingled blood and water was used in establishing the Old Covenant itself:
19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water …and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9 (from Ex. 24:6-8)
(This mingling of water with the blood of the covenant becomes very significant to us later.)
- Without Blood
In other situations, either by bathing or sprinkling, water was used for cleansing without blood. Some of these include purifying for touching dead bodies and touching or eating unclean things (torn animals, leprosy), etc. (see Num 19:11-22; Lev. 22:4-7)
Use of water apart from sacrifices is what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said "one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood." A few things were purified only by water.
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page updated September 6, 2005