After Paul mentioned the possibility of being disqualified as an overcomer in 1 Cor. 9:27, he launched into a teaching that was designed to prevent such disqualification. 1 Cor. 10:1-4 says,
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Paul implies that ignorance of the Scriptures could contribute to one’s disqualification. He reminds them of the example of “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38, KJV), showing how “God was not well-pleased” with most of them. Most of them “were laid low in the wilderness,” that is, they died without entering the Promised Land.
This does not mean that they lost their salvation. It means that they were disqualified as overcomers. Only Caleb and Joshua lived to receive the promise of the Kingdom. Even Moses and Aaron died early, for they were early types of the majority of Christians, that is, “most of them.” Paul’s reference to Israel shows that he was probably thinking of Moses.
Distinguishing between Believers and Overcomers
Paul reminded his readers that the Israelites had been baptized at the Red Sea after being justified by the blood of the Passover lamb. Yet these believers did not inherit the Kingdom. Inheriting the Kingdom requires more than simple salvation. The Kingdom is a specific goal that the overcomers achieve, in the same manner that the Israelites had considered Canaan (the Kingdom in their day) to be their goal.
Canaan itself does not represent heaven, as so many have been taught. Canaan is not a type of heaven. Canaan is a type of the Kingdom on the earth. It is a type of the Stone Kingdom of Dan. 2:34, 35, which is destined to fill the whole earth during the Tabernacles Age that is to come. To inherit that Kingdom is to attain to the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4, 5, 6), which is given to the overcomers.
The second resurrection is universal, where “the rest of the dead” (Rev. 20:5) are summoned to the Great White Throne. These will include those Israelites who died in the wilderness, i.e., “most of them” (1 Cor. 10:5). Having been disqualified from receiving immortality in the first resurrection, they must await the general resurrection a thousand years later. These disqualified ones will receive life only after the Kingdom Age has run its course, when the rest of the dead are raised.
Jesus alludes to this second resurrection in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
It is clear from this that Jesus was referring to the general resurrection, not the first one, because all of the dead are raised, both believers and unbelievers. So we see that in this resurrection, believers will be given “a resurrection of life.” In other words, they will be given immortality, but not until the thousand years are completed.
From this we can say with certainty that although the church in the wilderness under Moses was disqualified from inheriting the Kingdom, they will yet inherit immortal life when they are raised from the dead at the general resurrection. This is their reward for being justified by faith in the blood of the lamb, and for being baptized at the Red Sea.
Paul, however, greatly desired to qualify as an overcomer. He wanted to attain the ek-anastasia, the resurrection out from among the dead (Phil. 3:11). This goal, he said, was “the high calling of God” (Phil. 3:14 KJV). When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he did not presume that he had “already obtained it” (Phil. 3:12), even though he had the assurance of salvation in general. Being an overcomer requires enduring to the end, as we read in Heb. 10:35, 36,
35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
Those who make no distinction between believers and overcomers tend to misunderstand such Scriptures. Yet once we understand the difference between a believer and an overcomer, as Paul and John did, we may stand fast in faith that Christ has saved us, even if it is not yet certain that we will endure and thereby win the overcomer’s wreath.
Israel’s Baptism at the Red Sea
1 Cor. 10:1 and 2 shows us that Israel was baptized at the Red Sea, shortly after their justification by faith in the blood of the (Passover) lamb. Their journey (as the church of God) began at Passover with their justification—not when they crossed the Red Sea. Likewise, baptism is not what saves a person, as some churches teach. In Israel’s example, baptism was the second step, a double witness, or an earthly witness of something that God had already done.
So also in the law, baptism was not for lepers, but for ex-lepers. Leviticus 14:3 says that the priest was to inspect the man, and “if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper,” he was to be baptized with water—sprinkled seven times (Lev. 14:7). This time of baptism is also called “the day of his cleansing,” (Lev. 14:2), not the day of his justification. Blood was for justification, water was for cleansing. These were two distinct steps in one’s journey toward the Promised Land.
The question then arises: Is baptism necessary? The answer depends on the question. Necessary for what? It is NOT necessary for justification, for that has already been accomplished. Yet it is necessary in order to get to the Promised Land, for it is part of that journey. It is as necessary as the next step—going to the Mount to experience Pentecost, where one accepts and receives the law and follows the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Insofar as the law of baptism is concerned, which was given to cleanse lepers, the officiating priest was merely a health inspector who bore witness that God had already healed a man from leprosy (a type of mortality, or slow death). Hence, when Jesus healed lepers, He told them to show themselves to the priest “as a testimony” (Luke 5:14; Matt. 8:4). A “testimony” is a witness. The priest’s job was not to heal the leper, but to bear witness of his God-given healing.
So it is with any who baptize. They are not called to impart salvation by water baptism but are called to bear witness to something God has already done. The priest sees evidence of God’s work in the person’s life, usually according to their sincere confession of faith. If the baptizer sees evidence that the man has been “healed,” then he should baptize him as an earthly witness to a heavenly act.
In the progression toward inheriting the Kingdom, Israel’s example shows that baptism is necessary to enter the Promised Land. In fact, even an encounter with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is necessary—not for justification, but for sanctification—for God required Israel to go to Mount Sinai before they could enter the Promised Land. The feast of weeks (“Pentecost”) was given to commemorate Israel’s experience at Mount Sinai, when God came down as fire and all the people heard His voice (in their own language, no doubt, as in Acts 2:6).
Israel was baptized “under the cloud” (1 Cor. 10:1), while the Egyptians were baptized “in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). Each was baptized according to his belief. History shows that the Egyptians practiced baptism by immersion, for it was part of their initiation ceremony into the mystery religion of Egypt. They put initiates into a coffin of water and literally drowned them before reviving them with some sort of artificial resuscitation. To them, this signified passing from death to life, and there is no doubt that Moses himself had undergone that initiation in his early life.
Moses was thus familiar with the Egyptian mode of baptism. Yet he instituted sprinkling (or pouring) for Israel, a new mode of baptism from what the Egyptians practiced. God had revealed to Moses the principle of “living water.” In the Hebrew language, running water was called living water. So the first dove used to cleanse lepers was to be killed “over running water” (Lev. 14:5), rather than being immersed under water. Living water signified passing from death to life.
Because this dove was a type of Christ, this prophesied the manner of Jesus’ own baptism. No doubt He stood in the running water of the Jordan River when John baptized Him by pouring water over His head. As a priest, John the Baptist knew the law of baptism that had been instituted under Moses. John did not invent baptism, for it had been implemented at the laver for nearly 1500 years.
The idea behind baptism was to be cleansed by living water in order to signify being given the promise of life.
Moses did not require immersion. In the tabernacle, the brazen altar of sacrifice was not the laver. These represented two different steps in the outer court before we continue our journey into the Holy Place and into the Most Holy Place, where we meet God face to face.
Sprinkling or Pouring under Moses
Justification for sin was accomplished at the brazen altar of sacrifice, where the blood was poured out upon the ground. The laver of water was the next step. It was outfitted with faucets by which the priests washed their hands and feet to be cleansed before entering the Holy Place to minister to God.
No one ever was immersed in the laver, for that would have polluted the water. Furthermore, by using faucets, running water was applied for cleansing, supplying the proper type of passing from death to life (Rom. 6:4). Neither Moses nor Paul required immersion to signify passing from death to life. Any baptism in a flowing river would fit the biblical type.
Though he was a priest, John the Baptist ministered outside of the temple. He did not have access to the laver, but his baptism was still effective for the remission of sin, as long as men were repentant.
The idea of immersion is based almost entirely on the Greek word baptizo and baptismos, which are said to mean immersion. Whether or not this word means immersion in Greek is irrelevant. The point is disputed by theologians. What is relevant is how the Greek word is used to express Hebrew concepts. The Hebrew concept is sprinkling or pouring, so the technical meaning of baptizo is not immersion.
An example of this is found in Mark 7:1-4,
1 And the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse [baptismos] themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing [baptismos] of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)
The Jewish practice was not to take a bath to immerse themselves in water each time they returned from the market place, nor did they necessarily immerse their cups, pitchers, and copper pots. They poured water over their hands and vessels as a ceremonial cleansing. So also, Elisha “used to pour water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Kings 3:11).
Jesus’ disciples were not following this traditional practice, for it was not commanded in the law. Apparently, Jesus found such a practice unnecessary. But the point is that pouring water over one’s hands to cleanse them was said to be baptismos, or baptism. The Jews did not normally immerse their kitchen utensils to cleanse them before using them at a meal. If they washed the dishes afterward, this was not considered to be a baptism, at least not as a religious act.
Neither was it required that everyone immerse themselves before each meal. They simply poured water over their hands to cleanse them ceremonially before meals. Such actions were called baptisms. So later, when Paul comments on such “washings” in the law, he writes in Heb. 9:9, 10,
9 … Accordingly, both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings [baptismos], regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
Paul was speaking of the baptisms instituted by Moses. For this reason, if we want to know how to picture baptism, we must go back to the law and see how it was administered under Moses. There is no reason to believe that John the Baptist changed the mode of baptism from sprinkling to immersion. If he had changed anything, the Pharisees would have criticized him severely. But John often baptized in a place called “Aenon, near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23). Actually, Aenon was a place of many springs—water coming out of the rocky cliff. There were no pools of water to baptize by immersion.
Therefore, when Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:1 that Israel was baptized “under the cloud,” he was painting a picture of sprinkling, rather than immersion. Since cleansing came from God, the water was normally administered by sprinkling to signify its heavenly origin (from above). The same was true with the sprinkling (or baptism) of blood (Exodus 24:8) and with the baptism or outpouring of the Spirit (Isaiah 32:15).
Baptizing Egyptians in the Sea
The Egyptian army was baptized “in the sea” as well. This came after the land had been covered (or baptized) by blood (Exodus 7:20, 21). Egypt is a type of the world in general. When Israel came out of Egypt, they were picturing the church being separated from the world and its sinful practices.
The first “plague” (of blood) was a judgment of God. It was “bad” on the surface, but the judgments of God come out of His heart of love. Since His judgments are designed to correct us, rather than destroy us, this plague prophesied of the blood of Jesus that would ultimately cleanse the whole earth so that His glory might fill the whole earth. Yet this justification by blood came in the context of judgment.
The second step in the redemption of Egypt was their baptism in the sea. This disaster too was not without hope, for God loves the whole world (John 3:16), including Egyptians. In fact, Isaiah 19 is a long prophecy about Egypt, and it ends with the redemption of Egypt. Isaiah 19:24, 25 says,
24 In that day Israel will be the third part with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
The Egyptians, too, will be God’s people, along with Assyria and Israel. This shows the impartiality of God in His dealings with the nations. In that context, we can see that when the Egyptians were baptized in the sea, God gave us a hidden prophecy of Egypt’s redemption in the Red Sea. This is pictured also in the red blood and water that flowed from His pierced side on the cross (John 19:33, 34).