The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
All of the ritual and ceremonial washings of the Old Testament were symbolic in nature and were a precursor to the greater reality of the inner cleansing by the Messiah’s work and baptism in holy spirit. In God’s “economy,” they were done away with when the greater baptism that He had in mind finally came to pass on the Day of Pentecost, and the Church began. Interestingly, it was John the Baptist who introduced the phrase “baptize with holy spirit.” The Greek word baptizo means “to immerse” or “to dip.” The liquid connotation of “baptizing in holy spirit” must be figurative, because holy spirit is intangible, and cannot literally be poured out, nor can one literally be immersed in it.
John’s water baptism was called “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). That is, his baptism symbolized, and was accompanied by, repentance, a commitment to turn away from sin, on the part of the one baptized. We should not miss the significant difference between this and the baptism in holy spirit that is synonymous with the new birth. Romans 10:9 is the simplest declaration of how anyone can be born again and thus become a Christian:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
There is no mention of one having to turn away from his sins in order to get born again of God’s spirit. Rather, when one turns to Jesus as Lord, all his prior sins are forgiven and he is given righteousness forever in God’s sight. That is how much bigger the internal baptism is than the external one.
In light of the old baptism pointing to the new, consider these verses:
Hebrews 7:18 and 19
(18) The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless
(19) (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
How was the Mosaic Law “weak and useless”? Only in the sense that it could not “cleanse the conscience” even of one who adhered to it. In regard to their outward behavior of keeping the commandments, the Pharisees looked good. They appeared to be very righteous, but their hearts were far from God. They were not cleansed inwardly, and that is why Jesus likened them to “whited sepulchres.” Remember that the Law was given “so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” (Rom. 7:13). It was to make people realize their need for a Savior from the sin that dwells within them (Rom. 7:18) and point them to the coming Messiah. Hebrews 9:6-8 talks about the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies once a year with a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people and himself, and that this pointed to a greater High Priest and a greater Holy Place. Then come these monumentally significant verses:
Hebrews 9:9 and 10
(9) This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and the sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper.
(10) They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings [baptismos]—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
Remember that the word “baptism” means “to dip” or “to immerse,” and does not in any way indicate the substance or element into which something is immersed. In reality, the word “baptism” is not a translation, but a transliteration into English of the Greek words baptismos (noun) and baptizo (verb). Look again at verse 10 above. It clearly says that the “external regulations” like water baptism applied only until the time of a new order. When did that “new order” begin? When Jesus Christ made available an internal cleansing by his virgin birth, sinless life, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of holy spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Hebrews 9:11-13 talks about Christ as the high priest entering once and for all into the heavenly “Holy of Holies” by his own blood. Then comes this fabulous verse:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Why do we want to have a cleansed conscience? Why do we want this internal cleansing? So that we may serve the living God. Amen. There is more in God’s Word confirming that water baptism was a symbolic forerunner to a greater reality. 1 Peter 3:18-20a talks about Christ’s death, his resurrection, and his subsequent declaration of that victory over death to the evil spirits who had corrupted mankind in the days of Noah and who had therefore been incarcerated. Then we read:
1 Peter 3:20 and 21
(20) who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
(21) and this water symbolizes baptism [an immersion] that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body [i.e., not water baptism] but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
Note carefully that the Word of God very specifically says that the baptism that now saves you is not water baptism, but rather something that touches you on the inside, even your conscience. That was made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his subsequent ascension and exaltation as Lord, which made him the baptizer with holy spirit. It is interesting that the water of Noah’s flood did two things: it destroyed all the wicked people and it saved all the good people. So, our immersion into Christ via holy spirit both killed the old man, figuratively speaking, and gave us new life.