Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Baptism into Moses, the Rock was Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

In the 10th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul points to the examples of ancient Israel to illustrate that privileged status does not guarantee acceptance with God. He writes, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4 ESV). 

Biblical typology employs physical, earthly symbolism to represent a greater spiritual truth. Moses is a “type” of Christ (cf. Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37), in that Christ now fulfils in a much greater way what Moses was and did in the past, i.e., leader of God’s people, covenant facilitator, lawgiver, and mediator. The Israelites were “baptized into Moses” as they were encompassed by water, crossing through the divided walls of the Red Sea and under the cloud (cf. Ex. 14:1-31). On the other side was deliverance as the wicked pursuers were swept away, corresponding to baptism into Christ that takes a penitent believer from the bondage of sin to spiritual salvation (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:35-39; 10:47-48; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).

When Paul says, “they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them,” he is using familiar symbolism alluding to God and his providential care (cf. Deut. 32:15, 18; Psa. 18:2; 95:1; Isa. 17:10). Provision (water) from the desert rock was ultimately from God (“the Rock”), not directly supplied by the physical rock itself (Ex. 17:5-6). The food and drink were “spiritual,” not in composition but with reference to the heavenly source. Paul is not saying that Jesus was a literal stone or bolder rolling behind the Israelites, but he was “the Rock” in the sense of divine protector and provider. Applying this metaphor to Christ affirms his pre-existence, divine nature, and active role in the history of God’s people.  

--Kevin L. Moore


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Image credit: painting by Ellie Leonard (2019)

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