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Three Agents of Biblical Cleansing

Nov 23, 2007

The Bible speaks of three agents of cleansing: blood, water, and fire. Each of these has a distinct function and purpose, and each had a literal application in the Old Testament and a spiritual application in the New.  Hebrews 9:22 and 23 says (NASB),

"(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. (23) Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with BETTER sacrifices than these."

So in speaking about the cleansing by blood, Hebrews says that the corresponding heavenly things are cleansed with BETTER sacrifices. It goes on to show that Christ cleansed those heavenly things by bringing His own blood into the temple in heaven. It was a better sacrifice than that of animals, but also, it is not likely that He brought physical blood to the heavens either. Because the soul of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), it seems more likely that He presented His SOUL to the heavenly temple.

Cleansing by Water

The Old Testament uses water often as a means of cleansing. The priests cleansed themselves by washing their hands and feet with water poured from the laver through primitive faucets. Sacrifices were washed there. Lepers who had been healed of leprosy were sprinkled seven times with water and were pronounced CLEAN on the first day, the seventh, and the eighth days (Lev. 14).

Similarly, in Numbers 19 those who touched a dead body were unclean for 7 days and had to be cleansed by water being sprinkled upon them (vs. 13, 19). Leprosy and touching a dead body both have reference to mortality, and so the ceremonial cleansings are similar. They each take 7 days to accomplish fully, and speak prophetically of the 7,000 years by which God is cleansing mankind of death (mortality).

Likewise, the water of cleansing was to sprinkled or poured from above, in order to signify the heavenly origin of the cleansing itself. On a national level, God speaks to Israel through Ezekiel, telling them in Ez. 36:25,

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols."

Also, for this same reason, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is pictured as water being poured out from heaven upon us. Joel 2:28 says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind." Isaiah 32:15 says, "Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high." The water of cleansing was often specified as "running water" as well (Lev. 14:5, 6; Num. 19:17). The Hebrew word translated "running" is chay, which literally means LIVING. So running water is living water and is meant to convey the solution to death, or mortality.

In the New Testament, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and pronounced them clean  (John 13:10). Later, in John 15:3, He said that they were clean through the WORD spoken to them. Paul adds in Eph. 5:25 and 26,

" (25) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; (26) that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word."

Obviously, the water signifies the Word. Water may have some physical cleansing properties, but ceremonially speaking, it is only a type and shadow of the true cleansing that God provides for us. Without the washing by the Word of God, no amount of water is going to be adequate to make us acceptable to God. There has never been any magical quality about the water that can wash away sin in one's heart.

Cleansing by the Consuming Fire

In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist said that the Messiah would baptize us "with the Holy Spirit and fire." In verse 12, John says by way of explanation:

"And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Barley is winnowed (Ruth 3:2); wheat is threshed; and grapes are trodden under foot. The chaff from barley comes off easily by using the wind (or a fan when there is not enough wind). This speaks of the overcomers, whose "chaff" (i.e, works of the flesh) falls off most easily by the working of the "wind" (Spirit).

The wheat company (Church) takes more work, for the chaff falls off only by threshing.

The grape company (the world) requires treading under foot to extract the juice from the pulp (the equivalent of the chaff in this biblical metaphor). Hence, Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:25 that He must "put all His enemies under His feet." The purpose is to destroy the flesh, not the juice.

John the Baptist did not speak of grapes being trodden under foot. Instead, he used its equivalent, burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. In Revelation 20, we find that the third group (unbelievers) are to be cast into the "lake of fire." John says it is "unquenchable." This does not mean that the people remain in the "fire" forever. It means that no man can quench it or stop it by intercession. Jeremiah used the same language in Jer. 4:4 against Jerusalem, and Isaiah says the "fire shall not be quenched."

The idea is not to convey that the fire will burn forever, but rather that the fire cannot be quenched by man's activity or even by his intercession. There is a time for intercession, and a time when intercession is no longer possible, as Jeremiah learned (Jer. 7:16). When a nation comes to that point, judgment is inevitable and cannot be stopped or delayed by intercession. Hence, the fire is "unquenchable," because only God is able to quench it.

So in correlating these ideas, we see that the "grapes" being trodden under foot, and the sinners being cast into the unquenchable "lake of fire" indicate that the "chaff" (flesh) of the sinners must be burned, and the "pulp" must be trodden down. The purpose is not simply to destroy but to extract the wine from the grape. The purpose of the fire is to purify. Yet this manner of purification is the most severe of the three kinds of cleansing.

As I have written in The Judgments of the Divine Law and in other places, the fire of God was literal in the Old Testament, just as the water and blood were literal (physical). But these were all prophetic types which are not to be applied so literally under the New Covenant.

This is quickly seen in the fact that the sacrifices were to be burned on the fire, and the burnt offering was to be totally consumed by fire. Jesus Christ fulfills all of those sacrifices on our behalf in order to deal with our sin and iniquity, taking the penalty for sin upon Himself. But Jesus did not have to be burned at the stake to fulfill those lawful penalties for sin. Instead, He was crucified. His crucifixion was the "fire," because death was the penalty of the law for sin. "The wages of sin is death," Paul says in Rom. 6:23.

Neither did Jesus have to "go to hell forever and ever" in order to pay the full penalty for the sin of mankind. If that were the divine penalty for sin, Jesus would still be there in a most painful situation. But instead, it was only required that He be dead to the third day in order to make it certain to all that He was indeed dead. If he had been raised the same day, some may have doubted the reality of his death.

The "fiery law" (Deut. 33:2) reflects God's righteous character, in whose presence, all the chaff is burned away, leaving only righteousness.

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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones

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