Biblical Cleansing Agents
Issue No. 233
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.
Blood as a Cleansing Agent
John tells us in 1 John 1:7,
7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
This is the New Covenant application of blood as a cleansing agent. It is obvious that the New Covenant no longer uses literal animal blood as it was used under the Old Covenant. 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.
Furthermore, when the Old Covenant was written down, Moses sprinkled the people with blood when they ratified the covenant by oath. Exodus 24:6-8 says,
6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
In Heb. 9:19, 20, we read that Moses not only sprinkled the people, but also the book of the covenant itself, saying,
19 . . . he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.”
Even as the blood of the animals and water was sprinkled upon the people in the ratification of the first covenant, so also is there a sprinkling of blood and water in the ratification of the second covenant. Heb. 10:22 says,
22 Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean [by the blood of Christ] from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
This speaks of two baptisms, one with blood and the other with water. The baptism of blood sprinkled upon our hearts (the “altar”) fulfills the prophetic types that the first covenant accomplished only in a physical way with animal blood. It speaks of our justification by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God, which cleanses our hearts.
The water speaks of a secondary baptism that is more outer than inner. That is, it speaks not so much of our inner heart condition, but of the works done in our bodies. The water baptism corresponds to the oath that Israel took at the ratification ceremony of the first covenant, where they vowed to be obedient.
The progression from blood to water is also pictured in the fact that Israel came out of Egypt at Passover, having been covered by the blood; and then later they crossed the Red Sea, where they were baptized (1 Cor. 10:1, 2).
Those who are justified, then, have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. The overcomers are those who allow the water of the Word to cleanse them, and this has to do with learning obedience. The Justification of Passover is given to us apart from works, but the Sanctification of Pentecost has to do with obedience.
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. This they did daily, because it signified cleansing from the unclean things that they might touch on a daily basis. In this way, as I said earlier, the water was used as a prophetic type to signify daily sins that would make us unclean.
Another use of water as a cleansing agent was in the case of lepers who had been healed of leprosy. They were sprinkled seven times with water and were pronounced CLEAN three times—on the first day, the seventh, and the eighth days (Lev. 14:7, 9, 20).
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). Even though we as ex-lepers have been pronounced clean by our High Priest, it still takes a full 7 days (7,000 years) for the ceremony to conclude at the beginning of the eighth day when we are fully cleansed.
Likewise, the water of cleansing was to be 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,
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,” and Peter applies this to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:17-21.
Isaiah 32:15 says, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” And so, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven, appearing as tongues of fire on their heads, as if poured upon them from above.
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 idea of bringing LIFE to a dead body. The Spirit is presented as 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.
It is apparent from these examples that the Hebrew concept of cleansing includes more than just being rid of dirt. It also includes the idea of healing, as we see in the case of the lepers being healed. In fact, cleansing seems to be synonymous with healing.
In Matt. 8:2 and 3 we read,
2 And behold, a leper came to Him and bowed down to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me CLEAN.” 3 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be CLEANSED.” And immediately his leprosy was CLEANSED.
Nothing seems to be said about HEALING here, but in fact the Hebrew concept of cleansing included healing. In the law of lepers (Lev. 14), the priest was to bear witness to what God had already done in the leper (ex-leper). His use of “living water” was not to show that the water itself possessed life, or that the cleansing ceremony itself was designed to heal the leper, but rather to bear witness to the healing miracle that God had already done.
So also we see that in the case of those who had touched a dead body, the water was a cleansing agent which signified prophetically the great healing miracle of being healed of mortality itself.
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:
12 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 (1 Chron. 21:20); and grapes are trodden under foot (Amos 9:13). Different methods are used for each, because one cannot remove chaff from wheat by winnowing. Neither can one thresh grapes. Neither does one thresh barley.
The chaff from barley grain 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, flesh nature of the body) falls off most easily by the working of the “wind” (Spirit). Such overcomers qualify for life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). The wheat company (Church) takes more labor, for the chaff falls off only by threshing. These believers qualify for life in the general resurrection (Rev. 20:11-15).
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 (pulp) in order to extract the new wine for God’s communion table.
John the Baptist did not use Paul’s metaphor of grapes. Instead, he used a different biblical metaphor, 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 either by force or by intercession. Jeremiah used the same language in Jer. 4:4 against Jerusalem, saying (NASB),
4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart; men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.
Isaiah 66:24 says,
24 Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.
I doubt if the worms in that day will be immortal. This is a picture of gehenna, which was Jerusalem’s city dump. The dump was continually smoldering and seemed to have an endless supply of maggots to consume the garbage. This passage is a prophecy of the fate of Jerusalem and ultimately all who do not believe in Christ. But it is not the final end of all things, but rather a means to an end. Isaiah’s account ends on this rather pessimistic note, but he says nowhere that this is the end of all things. In fact, Isaiah 4:4 says that “Zion” will be cleansed by the fire:
4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning.
So we see that 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 ends, as Jeremiah learned. Jer. 7:16 says,
16 As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.
When a nation comes to that point, judgment is inevitable and cannot be stopped or delayed further by intercession. Hence, the fire is “unquenchable,” because the judgment is set and decreed. At that point, only God is able to quench it when the end of judgment comes.
Justice and Love
God Himself chose the metaphor of Fire to portray Himself. We read of this in Deut. 4:12,
12 Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. . . . 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Fire depicts the character of God. It is changeless but ever changing in its form or manifestation. Fire burns the flesh. Fire purifies metal. It also depicts the fact that God is LOVE. In that love, He is “a jealous God” and will not settle for any part of His creation remaining apart from Him forever.
His powerful, all-consuming Love for creation demands that He will continue to pour out His Fire until all dross has been consumed, all sinful flesh has been destroyed, and all mankind has been saved.
God’s justice proceeds from His character. If anyone views God’s justice apart from His Love, he has an unbalanced and incomplete view of God and does not comprehend either His Love or His justice.
No one can truly understand the Law of God apart from knowing His Love. Conversely, no one can truly know the Love of God apart from knowing the justice of the Law. Both express His character, and both are ultimately one and the same. The justice of God (his “wrath”) pours out of His jealous, passionate Love to bring correction and ultimate unity with Creation. He judges all out of the Love that defines who He is, and this brings a positive result.
As long as men see a dichotomy between Love and Law, as long as men see two Gods with differing characters, as long as men see Yahweh as the God of Judgment pitted against Yeshua, the God of Love, they do not really yet comprehend His character at all.
Hence, when men read the Law and see only loveless wrath proceeding from a holy God, they can only present a graven image of God, a poor representation of Him according to the mind of man. Likewise, when men read the Gospels and see only a good God who loves so much that He refuses to judge sin, such men can only present a different graven image of God made in the likeness of other men.
There is only one God and one divine character. John says “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). He was speaking of the God of the Old Testament, whose Love was manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Whatever one believes about the “Trinity,” one thing is clear: Jesus and the Father are not at cross purposes. There is no tug-of-war going on in heaven, with Yahweh trying to burn people in judgment, and Jesus trying to save as many of them as He can before His Father destroys them.
Furthermore, God is not as helpless to save as men have been told. I have often heard how God loves all mankind and wishes for them to be saved, but that He is helpless to save most of them, because He cannot overrule their “free will.” It is strange that God would give us a free will that the devil can overrule to make us sin, but which makes God helpless to save us.
Such a view does not understand the responsibilities of Fatherhood. A father corrects his children in order to teach them righteousness. It may be debatable whether or not a father overrules the free will of his children, or if his corrections are mere “coercion.” It does not matter. Either way, a father is responsible not only to make suggestions to his children, but also to enforce his will upon them. The children may cry and protest by their own “free will,” but parents have not only the right but also the responsibility to use coercion and force until the law is written upon the heart of the child.
So it is with us. God is our Father, for “we are also His offspring” (Acts 17:29). This verse applies to all mankind, as the context shows. Sonship, of course, comes in more than one stage of development, as I showed in my booklet, The Sons of God. Each stage of development correlates with a different feast day of Israel. But the idea that all mankind is God’s offspring is based upon God being the Creator of all. Paul puts it this way in Rom. 11:36,
36 For from [ek, “out of”] Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.
In other words, He created all things “out of” Himself. Physical matter, then, was not created out of nothing, but out of Himself. The smallest particles of matter, if we could comprehend them, are what physicists call the God-particles. And so, by the same token, “TO HIM” are all things proceeding. Without all things going back TO HIM, God would remain forever incomplete. If any man is “lost forever,” then part of God would be divided forever.
There are three primary cleansing agents in Scripture. They correlate largely with the three types of people on the earth: overcomers, believers, and unbelievers. Each of these three groups are destined to receive Life at a different time. The Overcomers will receive Life at the first resurrection; believers at the general resurrection, and the unbelievers at the end of time, the Creation Jubilee.
These three are also three harvests that correlate with the three main feast days of Israel. Thus, we see the barley, wheat, and grape harvests, after which time God’s “harvests” are complete.
But each harvest requires labor to prepare it for the Table. Barley requires winnowing, wheat requires threshing, and grapes require treading down under foot. Regardless of how they are treated, however, God’s Table receives the unleavened bread (barley), the leavened bread (wheat), and the wine from the grapes.
This is all pictured by the Communion Table, or Eucharist, which most churches teach and practice. Too often, however, this is done as a ritual without much understanding. In that way, it is like the Passover that was performed ritualistically for centuries, but not truly understood until Jesus came to fulfill it on the cross.
Pentecost (the feast of weeks) was the second festival that men kept ritualistically since God came down upon Mount Sinai to give them the Law. Yet its significance remained largely unknown until its fulfillment in Acts 2.
The feast of Tabernacles is the third great feast of ingathering, where all the fruits of the land are harvested. The grapes (new wine poured out for seven days) represent all the fruits of the land.
The treading of the grapes in the winepress utilizes the harvest theme. It correlates with the third cleansing agent (fire), even as we may correlate the others with blood and water. The “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2) reflects God's righteous character, in whose presence, all the chaff is burned away, leaving only righteousness.