by Shawn Brasseaux
Christendom teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ left two ordinances for the Church the Body of Christ: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, this is not what God’s Word teaches. I spent about 15 years of my life in Baptist churches, and I often heard the expression: “Water baptism is the first step of obedience after salvation. We should follow the Lord Jesus by also being water baptized.” Water baptism is most definitely in the Bible, but is it for us today? In this article, we want to study how the Bible uses the term “baptism.”
In Matthew 20:22,23, Jesus makes reference to a “baptism” He has yet to be baptized with. Now we know Jesus was already water baptized in Matthew 3:13-17. It is apparent from the context of Matthew 20:22,23 that Jesus referred to His crucifixion as a “baptism.” The Lord Jesus Christ was telling His audience that He was going to identify with death.
Or, in Matthew 3:11 alone, there are three “baptisms”: John’s water baptism, baptism with the Holy Spirit (a reference to Pentecost in Acts chapter 2), and baptism with fire (alluding to the judgment and wrath of God during the Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ).
Was Jesus water baptized in order to set an example for us to follow today? The answer is an emphatic no. Water baptism is not a “New Testament ordinance,” as religion teaches—water baptism is an Old Testament teaching associated with the nation Israel. Furthermore, the word “baptism” in the Bible does not always refer to water baptism. In fact, there are more than one dozen “baptisms” and many are totally unrelated to water.
So, why was Jesus water baptized? We have to study the Old Testament for the answer. Let us begin by understanding God’s purpose in creating the nation Israel in the first place. The LORD God took Abram (later He renamed him Abraham) and He promised Abraham a son, Isaac. Through Isaac, a new nation would begin, the nation Israel, the Jewish race of people. In a kingdom on earth, God would rule Israel, and Israel would evangelize the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Genesis 12:1-3).
After the Abrahamic Covenant was made, Israel went into Egyptian bondage. Nearly 500 years after Abraham, Moses leads Israel out of Egypt, and the nation Israel is now assembled around Mount Sinai. Let us see what Exodus 19:3-6 KJV says:
“3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
As we continue this study, keep in mind that Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (verse 6).
If you are unfamiliar with the Old Testament priesthood in Israel, I will take the time to explain it. The Tabernacle was the proto-Temple, and once a year (the Day of Atonement; Leviticus chapter 16 and Hebrews 9:7), the Lord commanded Israel’s high priest to offer blood sacrifices for Israel’s sins. The holy presence of the Lord God was in a special back room of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies.
It was here on the “mercy seat” (the lid of the Ark of the Covenant) that the Israeli high priest would sprinkle animal blood. Israel’s priests, the Levites (also known as the sons of Aaron), would have to wash with water before coming into the presence of the holy God in the Tabernacle. In the Tabernacle courtyard (the outer part of the Tabernacle), there was a brass laver (tub) filled with water, in which the priest would wash his body before dressing in the ephod (priest’s clothing). See Exodus 30:17-21 for more information on this.
Recall that we read Exodus 19:6 where the LORD promised Israel would become a “kingdom of priests.” In that kingdom with Jesus Christ ruling, every Jew would be a priest of JEHOVAH. When Jesus Christ finally makes His appearance in Israel, John the Baptist is water baptizing repentant Jews in Matthew 3:1-6. John the Baptist’s message to Israel is “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Why is John the Baptist baptizing Jews? To prepare them for that kingdom (which Christ offered during His First Advent), and these Jews needed to be ceremonially cleansed in order to qualify as priests of JEHOVAH!
John’s water baptism did not surprise Israel; they were familiar with the water baptism their priests practiced all the years before John! In John 1:31, John the Baptist says: “And I knew him [Jesus] not: but that he [Jesus] should be made manifest to Israel, therefore I am come baptizing with water.”
Jesus was water baptized to identify with His people, the Jews, to encourage them to do the same, and for God to set them apart from the pagan Gentiles. Jesus did not set an example for us today, because Jesus was ministering to Jews under the Law (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8). The Church the Body of Christ would be a Pauline revelation given sometime after Christ’s earthly ministry.
According to one local church’s statement of faith, “Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life.”
However, this water baptism in the name of the three Persons of the Godhead is only found in Matthew 28:19, which were the words of the Lord Jesus to His twelve Jewish apostles under the Law! God does not instruct us Gentiles to water baptize today. And if you notice, this church claims that water baptism is “obligatory” and an “ordinance”—legalism is filled with ordinances and obligations. We need to clear up this confusion, and rid ourselves of denominational teaching. Some denominations pervert the Gospel of Grace by making water baptism part of your salvation; it is a serious error to say you have to be water baptized in order to be saved or to prove that you are saved!
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6 KJV seven distinct principles we Christians need to recognize today:
“4 There is one body [the body of Christ], and one [Holy] Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Today, various Christian denominations practice many types of baptism: baptism in the Holy Spirit (mimicking Acts chapter 2 and Pentecost), water baptism by immersion, water baptism by pouring, water baptism by sprinkling, x times forward, x times backward, in a river, in a pool, in a baptismal, by a pastor, by a priest, by a pope, and so on. What a confusing mess because these people are ignoring what Paul wrote. There is one baptism today according to Ephesians 4:5, and it has nothing to do with any of those baptisms we just mentioned.
That one baptism to which Paul is referring in Ephesians 4:5 is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13 KJV: “For by one [Holy] Spirit we are all baptized into one body [the body of Christ], whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Pay special attention to the first part of that verse. Who is doing the baptizing: a pastor, a priest, a pope? None of them. It is the Holy Spirit taking a lost person and placing he or she into the Church the Body of Christ the moment he or she trusts in the Gospel of Grace of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. If you have trusted exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, the Holy Spirit has already placed you in the Church the Body of Christ! You already have that one baptism that you need, and you need no other baptism.
Paul never instructs us to be water baptized at all (we do not need water baptism, even for a “testimony”). We find Paul write in 1 Corinthians 1:17 KJV: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” Why would Paul write that Christ did not send him to water baptize, yet Christ sent His twelve apostles of Israel to water baptize in Matthew 28:19? Today in the Dispensation of Grace, the Holy Spirit is performing the only baptism—the supernatural baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13, the one unrelated to water. The water baptism of Jesus and the water baptism of John the Baptist was God dealing with Israel in the Dispensation of Law, but now God is dealing with us (non-Jewish) Gentiles under a different set of circumstances.
We do not need Israel’s water baptism today because God is doing something differently with us in the Church the Body of Christ. Furthermore, we are not baptized with the Holy Spirit like they were on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2; the Holy Spirit has baptized us into the Church Body of Christ. That is why I have not been water baptized, and I never will be because I already have that one baptism I need, the dry baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13.
By the way, contrary to religious tradition, Romans 6:1-5, Galatians 3:27, and Colossians 2:12 are not speaking of water baptism. These verses refer to the dry baptism of 1 Corinthians 12:13. Those who have been placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit have already been identified with His death, burial, and resurrection.
If someone claims you need to be water baptized to either complete your salvation or to prove your salvation (“follow the Lord in believer’s baptism”), they have NO Pauline Scripture to support either claim. We do not prove our salvation by being water baptized like the nation Israel did in times past.
God does not command us in the Dispensation of Grace to be water baptized as a testimony. Do not let someone force anything on you and try to make you a member of their church just to increase funds. The important thing to remember is as long as you are a member of the Church the Body of Christ (and have been baptized supernaturally by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ), that is the one baptism that you need that counts for all eternity.
What “baptism” is this: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29 KJV). Today, there are some groups in Christendom that use this verse to teach that we should water baptize for the dead (“baptism by proxy,” “baptism in abstentia”). Exactly what is the Apostle Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 15:29? Should we be water baptizing for the dead?
Firstly, the context of this verse cannot aid us in defining that term “baptized for the dead.” We have no idea what “baptism” this is (and even those people who enjoy using 1 Corinthians 15:29 have no idea what the verse is saying). The Corinthians were once pagan, and pagan religions have their water rituals and rites. Whatever “baptism” that is in 1 Corinthians 15:29, it was probably something the Corinthians knew (from the time when they were lost). Remember that that the same pagans that baptize for the dead today existed then in Paul’s day, so Paul may be referring to that. (?)
If we look at the verse, we see “what shall they do which are baptized for the dead” and “why are they then baptized for the dead?” Because Paul uses “they,” we know he does not associate himself with this baptism (he would have used “we”) and we know that the Christians at Corinth are not related to that baptism (he would have used “you” or “us”). The word “they” indicates that no member of the Body of Christ was performing this baptism of 1 Corinthians 15:29—this was not something for Christians.
If you come across people who want to discuss 1 Corinthians 15:29, point out to them that Paul never condoned whatever “baptism” it was, and we are never commanded to administer it. Paul was simply making a point, not giving a command. If it was such a big deal, Paul would have repeated it in other epistles. Furthermore, the whole argument of 1 Corinthians 15:29 is not that “baptism” at all. The purpose of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is to prove resurrection, not “baptism.” There are 58 verses on resurrection, and the only thing people can come up with is one silly baptism doctrine. Shame, shame, shame!!
Hi Shawn, could you comment on Acts 19:1-5 in the context of this paper? Thanks.
Hello Timm. Acts 19:1-5 can be quite a tricky passage if we do not remember the overall context of the latter two-thirds of the book of Acts. I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible.
Until we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus was saved in Acts 9), God is dealing with the nation Israel. Hence, John the Baptist’s ministry was limited to Israel (Luke 1:16-17,80; Acts 13:24), Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry (Matthew through John) was restricted to Israel (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; Luke 19:9; John 1:11; Romans 15:8), and Peter and the 11 other apostles’ ministry were limited to Israel during early Acts (Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13,25; Acts 4:8; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 7:2). During a total of four years, Israel refused to listen to the preaching of Jesus, Peter, the 11, and Stephen. The Jews refused to trust Jesus as Messiah, so in Acts chapter 7 (when Israel stoned Stephen), Israel’s program fell away. That’s when the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ raised up a new apostle, gave him a new message, and began a new program (that would be in Acts chapter 9 and onward). The latter part of the book of Acts (chapters 9-28) can be very confusing unless we keep Romans 11:11-14 in mind. The first step in understanding Acts 19:1-5 is to consider Romans 11:11-14:
“11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”
According to the Old Testament prophetic program, Israel should have arisen to her kingdom glory. She should have accepted and trusted her Messiah-King Jesus, and in the kingdom He would then establish on the earth, Israel would be a kingdom of priests who would evangelize the Gentiles (see Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 59:21-60:3; Isaiah 61:6; Zechariah 8:20-23; et cetera). When national Israel refused to accept Jesus but rather crucified Him, and then refused to repent in early Acts, God caused her program to fall away for a time. That’s what Paul is saying in Romans 11:11-12. Israel stumbled at Calvary’s cross but did not fall (Rom. 9:32-33). Israel later stumbled in early Acts by rejecting God the Holy Spirit who was speaking through Stephen (Acts 7:51,55), and Israel finally fell here. Today, national Israel is “fallen;” now, God sees no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11), but rather sees sinners (lost) and saints (saved). Throughout the book of Acts, from Acts 7 to the end of the book of Acts (28), Israel’s program is “diminishing”–Paul wrote the book of Romans during the Acts period. One day, after God is finished dealing with the Church the Body of Christ, it will be raptured, and then He will resume Israel’s program (see Romans 11:25 and 1Thessalonians 4:13-5:9).
Anyway, Romans 11:13 quoted above says that Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles.” Paul has a ministry that is not limited to Israel. Paul is God’s spokesman to Gentiles (which would include lost Jews, since Israel fell before God years earlier in Acts 7). But, in order to validate Paul’s ministry, in order to show Israel that her program is diminishing, God temporary granted Paul the power to perform miraculous demonstrations and exhibit other “Jewish-related behavior” (Acts 9 to Acts 28). Throughout Acts, we read how Paul healed the sick (Acts 14), he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16), he water baptized (Acts 16; Acts 18), he raised the dead (Acts 20), he offered sacrifices in the Temple (Acts 21), he spoke in tongues (1Corinthians 14), and he survived a snake bite (Acts 28). The miraculous demonstrations and other behaviors that Jesus and His 12 apostles performed in Matthew through John and early Acts, Paul was now doing them. This “strange” behavior of Paul was communicating to Israel that her God was now amongst the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry and message. Acts 9-28 is a transitional section of the Bible–it is the record of God being just in setting Israel aside for a time and going to the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry. Eventually, Paul quit water baptizing (1Cor. 1:14-17), he could no longer heal himself or other Christians who were sick (Gal. 4:11-13; 1Tim. 5:23; 2Tim. 4:20), and so on.
Earlier, I quoted Romans 11:14. Please re-read it. “14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” The way Paul would “provoke to emulation them which are my flesh”–that is, the way Paul would encourage his lost Jewish brethren to behave like Gentiles and trust Jesus Christ–is by performing Israel’s signs, miracles, and wonders. Although unbelieving Israel did not like Paul, and desperately tried to hinder his ministry throughout Acts, they were fully aware that the God of their fathers was working in him. Their miracles were now evident amongst the Gentiles.
Okay, that’s the background of Acts 19:1-7, so the passage will make more sense when we analyze it in that light.
“19 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
7 And all the men were about twelve.”
While Apollos is in Corinth (Acts 18:27), Paul travels to Ephesus (on the western shore of modern-day Turkey). Paul encounters some disciples, and he asks them, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” They reply, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Paul then responds, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” They reply, “Unto John’s baptism.” Like Apollos (Acts 18:25-26), these Jews are ignorant of further revelations from God–they too are fixated on John the Baptist’s ministry. John’s ministry was some 15 to 20 years earlier, and these disciples are unaware of the progression of God’s program since John’s ministry (they do not know about Jesus’ earthly ministry, His death, His ascension into heaven, Pentecost, Paul’s salvation, et cetera). Jesus had told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; cf. John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). These disciples Paul meets in Acts 19:1-5 were not in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came, and the 12 apostles of Israel had never laid hands on them in order for them to receive the Holy Ghost (see Acts 8:14-17)–this is why they do not have the Holy Ghost and they are not even aware of His presence on Earth. By the way, we know Acts 19:1-7 has nothing to do with us because no man needs to lay hands on us in order for us to receive the Holy Ghost. We receive the Holy Spirit when we trust the Gospel of Grace, Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (Ephesians 1:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Paul informs these 12 men in Acts 19:1-7 that John the Baptist did water baptize with the baptism of repentance, but John also preached that the people of Israel should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who would come after him (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17; John 1:29-31). Once these Jews hear Paul’s preaching, they are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul then lays his hands on them, and they receive the Holy Ghost; the gift of speaking in tongues (intelligent human languages) is given to them, and they preach forth God’s Word. The Bible says these Jews were about 12 in number–probably a symbolic reference to Israel’s 12 apostles, who had received the gift of tongues back in Acts 2. Israel’s apostles, once they received the Holy Spirit, would then lay hands on believers in Israel’s program so they could receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; cf. Acts 9:17). Again, none of Israel’s apostles had visited these 12 Jews, nor were these 12 Jews present in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Ghost in Acts 2, which Jesus had instructed His believers to do in Acts 1:4-5. In this passage of Acts 19:1-7, God is demonstrating to Israel that He is working through Paul, for Paul is doing the same things Israel’s apostles did. This odd and often controversial and confusing passage is actually God validating Paul’s apostleship; it has nothing to do with us because it occurred during the transitional period of Acts, while God was moving from Israel to the Gentiles. Paul, when teaching the Church the Body of Christ in his epistles of Romans through Philemon, never instructs us to be water baptized, or to lay hands on people to heal them, or to give the Holy Ghost to others, etc. Acts 19:1-5 is not a pattern for us to follow; it was simply something God wanted Paul to do in order to teach Israel doctrine (that his ministry was replacing Peter and the 11’s, and if any lost Jews wanted salvation, they would have to come to his ministry and message/gospel).
To understand why Paul water baptized, you can view our Bible Q&A site, where you find the question answered, “Why did Paul water baptize?”
I hope that helps.
If it’s still unclear, you can always email me at email@example.com.
in Christ, Shawn
Hi Shawn, I cannot seem to reconcile Acts 10:47, 48 with your paper. Could you please clarify? Thanks.
Hello again, Timm. Please remember to keep in mind my earlier comment. Water baptism was very important in Israel’s program. In fact, Jesus Christ said in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6), so beginning with John the Baptist’s ministry, each and every Jew had to be water baptized (just like Israel’s priests were to be water baptized in order to enter the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood; Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 8:6). In Israel’s program, water baptism symbolized a washing/cleansing from sins and idolatry (see Ezekiel 36:25-28; Acts 22:16; 1Peter 3:21)–“signs,” whether miracles, physical circumcision, or Sabbath-day keeping, or even water baptism, they all belong to Israel and her program. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, and operating under the instructions of Matthew 28:19-20, thought it necessary to baptize Cornelius and the other Gentiles believers in Acts 10:47-48.
However, never once does our Apostle Paul (Romans 11:13) tell us that we need water baptism for salvation or for a testimony–to find out God’s will for us, we do not go to Paul’s ministry actions during Acts but rather his epistles of Romans through Philemon. The only time Paul writes about water baptism is 1 Cor. 1:14-17, and he says that Jesus Christ did not send him to water baptize. Sure, Paul water baptized during the Acts period (and this was for a very important reason), but water baptism has no place in the Dispensation of Grace. Paul eventually quit doing it. Water baptism was necessary for Israel and her program, even for believing Gentiles in Israel’s program, but it is not necessary for us. Acts 10:47-48 deals with believing Gentiles in Israel’s program. We are not in Israel’s program.
By the way, you can see our Bible Q&A studies about water baptism:
Hope that helps!
in Christ, Shawn
Hi Shawn, thanks for your reply. This would probably make more sense to me if you would give some more explanation of the expression ‘Israel’s program.’ Do you mean the covenant in Moses? If so, I thought that was done away with at the cross (and the ripping of the temple curtain).
Hello again Timm. My apologies for not defining “Israel’s program” (I had omitted many details in order to keep my previous answer simple). I’ll briefly define “Israel’s program” here, and at the end, I will provide a link to a Bible study that goes into more detail if you need. This will be a technical article to you at first, but don’t be discouraged. If you’ll allow the Holy Spirit to teach you using the verses (and I’d strongly recommend that you read them in your own Bible), the Scriptures will actually become the clearest they have ever been (studying the Bible this way actually helped me better understand and enjoy it).
When I use the term “Israel’s program,” I’m referring to God’s plan (or, program) for earth. The nation Israel is the agency or group of believers whom God will use on earth for His eternal purpose. The Bible calls that plan for earth, “prophecy.” It includes Genesis to Malachi, Matthew through John, early Acts (1-8), and Hebrews through Revelation. These books of the Bible are all “Israel’s program.” We study them, but they are not TO us or ABOUT us: “Israel’s program” is not to be confused with “our program.” “OUR program” is the program that God is currently operating. Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, are God’s plan (or, program) for heaven. The Church the Body of Christ is the agency or group of believers whom God will use in the heavenly places for His eternal purpose. The Bible calls that plan for heaven, “mystery.” So, we have two contrasting programs–“prophecy” and “mystery” (keep these two terms in mind, we will return to them shortly).
By the way, the Mosaic Covenant that you mentioned is part of “Israel’s program,” but Israel’s program involves much more than just the Law Covenant (more details about this to come). In Israel’s program, the Mosaic Law was NOT done away with at the cross (Jesus told His Jewish disciples to teach the Law, and He said they would be least in the kingdom of heaven if they did not; Matthew 5:17-19 cf. Matthew 28:19-20). However, in OUR program, God’s grace has replaced the Law–now, God’s grace teaches how to live as opposed to the Mosaic Law instructing us how to live (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 5:19; 1Tim. 1:9-11; Titus 2:11-12). In Israel’s program, the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) will be replaced by the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:8-13). But, for sake of clarity, I’m going to skip commenting anymore about that for now. Regarding the rending of the Temple veil, that’s a completely different matter: the ripping of the veil actually meant that God was leaving Israel’s Temple (see Matthew 23:37-39). For sake of clarity about Israel’s program, I’m going to spare details about the Temple veil rending (perhaps we can discuss that later). They’re great topics to discuss at some other time, but for now, we need to ignore them, lest we overwhelm ourselves.
I’m going to review what I wrote to you in my previous reply, and try to build on it while also clarifying. My earlier comments should become clearer as we progress.
The only verse in the Bible that tells us to study it also tells us HOW to study it: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Since the Holy Spirit through the Apostle told us to “study… rightly dividing the word of truth,” we should search Paul’s epistles to see how Paul would “rightly divide the word of truth.”
Ephesians 2:11-13, a passage that the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul, will demonstrate how we are to approach and understand the Bible. Let’s look at verses 11 and 12 first:
“11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”
There was a time–the Bible calls it “time past”–when God dealt with mankind on the basis of physical circumcision (Jew) and physical uncircumcision (Gentile). During that time period, the God of the Bible had an exclusive relationship with the nation Israel. As Ephesians 2:12 says, during that time, we Gentiles (non-Jews) were “without Christ” and “without God in the world.” If a Gentile wanted a relationship with the God of creation, he or she would have to come through Israel (see Genesis 12:1-3). Recall Rahab’s helping the Jewish spies, or Ruth following Naomi back to Israel’s land, or Jonah ministering to Nineveh, or Naaman being healed in Israel’s land, etc. In the future, God would convert all of Israel, and in her earthly kingdom, He would have her minister to Gentiles and lead the Gentiles to soul salvation. Whenever we find a passage or Bible book that distinguishes between Jews (the nation Israel) and Gentiles (the non-Jewish nations), that is “time past.” If you remember my earlier reply, I mentioned how until we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus was saved in Acts 9), God dealt with the nation Israel. John the Baptist’s ministry was limited to Israel (Luke 1:16-17,80; Acts 13:24), Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry (Matthew through John) was restricted to Israel (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; Luke 19:9; John 1:11; Romans 15:8), and Peter and the 11 other apostles’ ministry were limited to Israel during early Acts (Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13,25; Acts 4:8; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 7:2). “Time past” involves Genesis through Malachi, Matthew through John, and early Acts (1-8).
It wasn’t until Acts 9 when God changed that program of “Israel first.” Today, national Israel is “fallen” (Romans 11): now, God sees no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11), but rather He sees sinners (lost) and saints (saved). To come to the God of creation, we do NOT come through Israel but rather through Israel’s FALL. Notice what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11:11-13:
“11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:”
Look at Ephesians 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” The Apostle Paul says that, from his ministry onward, we have moved from “time past” to “but now.” What was true in “time past” is different from what is true today, in the “but now.” We Gentiles are now made near to God by Jesus Christ’s bloodshed, not because of Israel’s RISE to kingdom glory or because of Israel’s program, but because of her FALL and APART from Israel’s program. Israel currently has no status before God today (although she will have preeminence in the future, after our program has finished and her program has resumed; Romans 11:25-30). Today, God is forming the Church the Body of Christ, not the nation Israel. When one trusts ALONE in the finished crosswork of Jesus Christ as sufficient payment for his or her sins, God the Holy Spirit takes that person and puts him or her into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), whether it is a believing Jew or a believing Gentile. “But now” involves Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon.
THE AGES TO COME
Ephesians 2:7 speaks about “the ages to come.” That’s when God will fulfill His will in heaven and in earth, AFTER the “but now” is over. This covers the books of Hebrews through Revelation. After the Church the Body of Christ is removed from earth (the Rapture), God will resume His dealings with Israel. The overall goal, the goal of eternity future, is to have heaven and earth glorify the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16-20). I’m going to skip the details about this (beyond the scope of this discussion), so we can move on to the division between heaven and earth.
THE DIVISION BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH
The reason why God divides His Word into “time past,” “but now,” and “the ages to come” is because God divides creation into two realms–heaven and earth–and each realm has a corresponding program. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). From Genesis 1:2 onward until Paul’s salvation and ministry in Acts 9, the Bible focuses on God’s plan for the earth. Israel is God’s earthly people; He will use Israel on the earth. The Church the Body of Christ is God’s heavenly people; He will use us the Church the Body of Christ in the heavenly places.
God has one program for heaven and another program for earth. I use “program” in the sense of a plan, or a series of scheduled actions/events. God has a plan to restore earth to Himself (Satan has corrupted earth with sin; see 2Corinthians 4:4 and John 18:36) and another plan to restore heaven to Himself (Satan has also polluted heaven with sin; see Ephesians 6:12 and Revelation 12:7-9).
Both plans, both programs, depend on Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork (Colossians 1:16-20), but these programs involve different groups of people, different realms of operation, different time periods, different instructions, etc. These plans must be rightly divided (remember 2 Timothy 2:15)–false teachers were not doing so in verse 18, and confusing Israel’s program with our program. Israel’s program is actually how God will restore the earth unto Himself, and our program is how God will restore heaven unto Himself.
Look at these two antithetical verses:
Acts 3:21: “[Jesus Christ] Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
Romans 16:25-26: “25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:”
Acts 3:21 and Romans 16:25-26 compared will demonstrate the two programs in God’s Word–Israel’s program (prophecy) and our program (mystery). What the Apostle Peter preached in Acts 3, he says is “that which is SPOKEN… since the world began.” What the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 16, Paul said that he was preaching about “that which was KEPT SECRET since the world began.”
The program that God has in effect for today is called the “mystery” program. The “mystery” is information that God kept secret while he was revealing the prophetic program. God kept it a secret in order to defeat Satan (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). Through Calvary, God will now overthrow Satan and his minions in heaven and earth, and God will do this by forming one body of believers for heaven (the Church the Body of Christ) and another body of believers for earth (the nation Israel). Finally, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed that secret information to Paul (about God’s will for heaven) and now we read about it in Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon (these books are to us Gentiles and about us Gentiles). See Ephesians 3:1-11:
“1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:”
Using believing Jews and believing Gentiles (see verse 6 above), God is currently forming the Church the Body of Christ, a body of believers who will do in heaven what Israel will do on earth. Our program is completely separate from God’s dealings with Israel, and all too often people confuse the two programs (that’s why there are so many denominations today, and they hold to opposing doctrines because they have hijacked Israel’s verses and placed them into our Dispensation of Grace, confusing God’s verses to Israel with God’s current set of instructions to us). It’s important to keep these things in mind so that we do not assume that whatever God told Israel to do that he tells us to do it. Sometimes would God tell Israel through Moses is different from what he tells us through Paul. This is why people always complain about contradictions in the Bible–while they are different instructions they were not given to the same people, so they’re not mistakes, just a change in program, a dispensational change.
Okay Timm, I’m going to stop here and give you a chance to study the verses for yourself; please don’t take my word for it. I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s very rewarding when you take the time to consider it. If you’re interested, you can see our “What’s Dispensational Bible Study?” article (https://ambassadorsfortherisenchristministries.wordpress.com/whats-dispensational-bible-study/) and our “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” timeline graphic that condenses much of this text into a diagram (https://ambassadorsfortherisenchristministries.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/rightly-dividing-the-word-of-truth-e28093-dispensational-bible-timeline.pdf).
Hope that helps!
in Christ, Shawn