Qumran and John the Baptist
January 19th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-19-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Qumran and John the Baptist. In the Holy Scriptures, I am reading the first part of the third chapter of Matthew, the First Gospel: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea” [Matthew 3:1]. You can hardly conceive of the electric shock that came to all that part of Jewry when the word was passed from one to the other that a prophet of God had once again appeared in Israel. For four hundred years there had been no revelation and no prophet and no word from God. But at the end of four hundred years, Luke says it like this in Luke 3:2, “The word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
And were baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
This is almost as startling to us as it was two thousand years ago! There is a ring of expectancy and consummation in just reading the Scriptures that introduce to us, as the Book of Kings introduces to us Elijah [1 Kings 17:1-7], so these Scriptures introduce to us John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1-6].
Now the reason that I am going to compare Qumran and John the Baptist is that they lived in the same place. And their message was delivered in the same place. And they must have known each other intimately. And John the Baptist must have known that Qumran community from the beginning, all the days of his life. And when John the Baptist began to preach, he preached just a little way from that Qumran community. And I am sure every member of that sect was there listening to John the Baptist announce the coming of the kingdom of heaven.
Now, just a moment of review, that some of us who were not here when I preached two messages on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran community, just a little, brief introduction. It was at Qumran that they discovered what the world knows as the Dead Sea Scrolls. That is the greatest archaeological find in history. The manuscripts by which we have our Old Testament Hebrew Bible, all of them are not older than about 900 or 1000 AD. The oldest manuscript that we have of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament covenant, is about, dated about 900 to 1000 AD. But the discovery of the scrolls, the Holy Scriptures, in the caves at Qumran are dated from 200 to 100 BC. So that takes us back a thousand years or more in the manuscripts of the Old Testament Word of God. Now, I haven’t time to expatiate on why that is so tremendously significant; it is! But not only that, after they discovered these scrolls in those big earthen jars, hidden away in those caves at Qumran, not only that but archaeologists, supported by different states, went through that site, and they unearthed, they excavated, they brought to view the ancient Qumran community. And you can visit it for yourself and look at this place. It is located at the north end, the top end of the Dead Sea, one mile west; about seven and a half miles below Jericho; and that country, southeast of Jerusalem, below Jerusalem and to the east, toward the Dead Sea, that country is the wilderness of Judea. When I think of a wilderness I think of heavy forestated wastelands; but this word “wilderness” in the Bible refers to a vacant desert area. And that is where John the Baptist grew up, that is where he began his ministry, and that is the exact location of the Qumran community.
Now it says here that, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea” [Matthew 3:1]. It is called a wilderness there. In the first chapter of the Book of Luke, it says that John the Baptist was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel [Luke 1:80]. And if you go to that part of the earth, you will understand why they call it “the deserts.” There is nothing living around that Dead Sea and that Dead Sea area, nothing at all. And in the Book of Luke, as they introduce to us the ministry of John the Baptist, it says, “And the word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” [Luke 3:2]. So that is the exact place, Qumran, and that desert area around it, where John the Baptist grew up and where he began his preaching ministry.
Now where did the Qumran community come from? Just a brief calling to our remembrance of the formation of that community. In about 165 BC, the Maccabees arose. These priests, the, Mattathias the father, and his five boys, they rose up in revolution against Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, whose capital was at Antioch. That king tried to make all of the Jews, Greeks, and he prohibited Jewish worship, and he dedicated the temple to Jupiter. And all the things that went along with Greek religion, he was forcing on Judea. Now, in rebellion against the oppressive religious measures of Antiochus Epiphanes, Mattathias, the priest who lived at Modein, not far from Jerusalem, arose up, and his boys, and they raised a banner in Judea against that Greek king, Antiochus. And after a series of wars that spread over several years, they won their independence. To the amazement of anyone who would read history, they defeated Antiochus Epiphanes. But there is a saying that, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” [John Dalberg-Acton]. After the Maccabees won the leadership of the state of Judea, they also seized the priesthood and made themselves high priests.
Now as a retreat from the worldliness of the Maccabees, there was a sect of Judeans, of Jews, who withdrew from Jerusalem and the community life in Judea, and went to themselves, lived to themselves; and they, parting from the world, and disassociating themselves from the world, they lived in that community, reading these apocalyptic Scriptures and loving the Word of God. They gave themselves to a study of God’s Book and to the copying of God’s Word. And living in that community in a communal life, they were waiting for the imminent denouement and consummation of history, believing that the end would come soon. Now that is the Qumran community.
Now the message this morning, if God will help us in this little space of time, the message this morning is the difference between the Qumran community and John the Baptist, living at the same time, in so many instances very much alike, but the differences are all significant and all pervasive. We are going to take two, and that is all the time we have this morning. We are going to take two of the differences between that communal community, that ascetic community of Qumran, and John the Baptist.
All right, first we are going to talk about their asceticism. The Qumran community was separate from the world. They pulled out from the world. They renounced the world. They were monastic in their life. In fact, you could call that a monastery were it not for the fact that they also had their families with them. The Qumran community was not just a nunnery, nor was it a monastery; but it was a family communal life. But in their asceticism, they withdrew from the world. They had no contact with the world. They renounced the world, and they were living to themselves, waiting for the final judgment of God upon the world. Now that is the asceticism of the Qumran community.
Now what was the asceticism of John the Baptist like? His asceticism was in an altogether different kind of a world. The asceticism of John the Baptist was one of like a man who was communing with God, who was living with God; and, then with God’s message, he went out to deliver that message to the world [Matthew 3:1-12]. The asceticism of John the Baptist was not one of separation and refusal and fear of contact or association; but his asceticism was one of communion with God, like Elijah. Jesus said he is the second Elijah [Matthew 11:14]. The asceticism of John the Baptist was like that of Elijah, who stayed in the presence of the Lord until God sent him to stand before Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 17:1, 18:1-46]. The asceticism of John the Baptist was like that of Savonarola. If you ever go to Florence, you go to Saint Mark’s Monastery and look at that cell there in which Savonarola, the flaming Florentine, where he lived and where he studied God’s Book. But the asceticism of Savonarola was a flame! Coming from that cell and from that study, he mounted the pulpit of the great Duomo, the cathedral in Florence; and he delivered like fire and thunder the Word of Almighty God. Now that is the asceticism of John the Baptist.
For example, in the third chapter of the Book of Matthew, it says that he delivers a message to the Pharisees, who are the doctors of the law; and he delivers a message to the Sadducees, who were the aristocrats of the temple [Matthew 3:7-12]. Then when I turn to the third chapter of the Book of Luke, why, I find him speaking to the multitudes [Luke 3:7-11]. And then in the next few verses I find him addressing the publicans [Luke 3:12-13]. Then in the next few verses, I find him delivering a message to the Roman soldiers [Luke 3:14]. John the Baptist was intimately acquainted with all of the currents of political, economic, and military, social, and religious life. And finally, as I go down these verses, I find him addressing a message to the king himself, to Herod the tetrarch, who had taken his brother’s wife from Rome and had brought her to Galilee and Perea, over which he was a tetrarch, the king of a fourth part, a tetrarch [Luke 3:19]. And because of John the Baptist’s address to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch, he lost his life; for Herod cut off his head [Mark 6:14-28; Luke 9:7-9].
Now, there is a great difference in asceticisms. There is an asceticism that is monastic, pulling from the world, building a high wall, having no contact with the world whatsoever. But there is another kind of asceticism, and that is the asceticism of a man who will fast and who will pray and who will stay before God, waiting for a message from the Lord; then hearing the voice of heaven, goes back into the world to deliver God’s word and God’s message [Romans 10:14-15]. Now that is the difference between John the Baptist and the Qumran community in their asceticism.
Might I pause here to say, I believe in the asceticism of John the Baptist: staying before the Lord, fasting and praying before God, waiting for an answer from heaven, and then delivering it as God lays it upon the heart of that one who tarries in His presence. That is a great asceticism. I do not believe in withdrawal from the world; I do not, anywhere, anytime [1 Corinthians 5:9-10]. God placed us here, we are a part of this world, we are riding this planet around that sun waiting for some great rendezvous with Almighty God. And as long as we live, we are to be a part of, we are to minister to, we are to help, we are to pray for, we are to do our utmost to be a blessing in this world. Now that’s the kind of asceticism I believe in; and that’s the kind you will find in the Word of the Lord.
All right, we are now going to contrast the baptism in water of John the Baptist and the many baptisms of the Qumran community. And you couldn’t enter into a more interesting field of research in your life than to look at the baptism of John the Baptist [Mark 1:4], and the baptisms of the Qumran community. Now, in those Jewish sects, of which the Essenes is one, you had the Pharisees, you had the Sadducees, you had the Zealots, you had the Herodians, you had the Essenes. Now in those sects—and there are many scholars who think that the Qumran community was but a part of the sect of the Essenes—in those sects you had many, many washings, lustrations, ablutions, the use of water. And I want to show you this from the Bible. In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, it says, “After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He stayed and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there” [John 3:22-23]. Now if they were using a cup, or a spoon, or a glass, or a font, why, you wouldn’t have to have much water; but John the Baptist was baptizing, he was baptizing, and he had to go where there was much water, so he was at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there. “And they came, and were baptized [John 3:23]. For John was not yet cast into prison [John 3:24]. Then there arose a question among some of John’s disciples and the Jews concerning purifying, purification,” the use of water, the ritual use of water. “There arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying, about purification [John 3:25]. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou witness,” talking about Jesus, “the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him” [John 3:26]. Now look at that: they were arguing about purifying. These Qumran community people and other sects of the Jews and the disciples of John the Baptist, they were arguing about purifying, purifying [John 3:25]. But in the next verse, when they come to John with their argument about purification, they call it “baptism” [John 3:26].
So, I can see that the great ordinance introduced by John the Baptist was looked upon as a purification, a cleansing in water. Now, I said that most of those sects, or all of those sects, all of them of Judaism, they used water for lustrations, and for libations, and for oblations, and for cleansing, and for purification, all of them did [Mark 7:3-4]. And especially was that true of the Qumran community. Now if you ever visit the community, you’ll have a little map of what all this ruins means and what they were used for. Now when you look at that map and then look at the ruins of the community, it covers just a few acres. It is not large. You will see a great aqueduct where they took the water out of the dry Wadi Qumran, where it gets its name; the dry creek that runs only in the rainy season, where they dammed it up, and then they brought it down in an aqueduct into a great cistern. Then in the community itself, I counted seven great cisterns. And I don’t mean little old things; tremendous cisterns, because they had to have lots of water in their ministrations. So I followed that aqueduct: there are seven great cisterns there in that little community.
Now, not only that, but I counted, I counted nine different places where they carried on their oblations, where they carried on their ablutions, where they carried on their lustrations, where they carried on their washings; nine different places in that little community. So when you read the literature of the community, you will find that they washed their hands, and they bathed themselves, and they washed their pots and their pans, and all of it was ritualistic. But look at this in the Qumran community: all of that was done after a man was received in the community, after he became a part of the sect. After he became a member of the sect, then he went through all of those lustrations and ablutions. He’d wash his hands, he’d wash his feet, he’d wash his body, he’d wash his clothes, he’d wash the pots and pans out of which he had partaken food; all of that after he became a member of the community. They used water, much water, a great deal of water; but always the man was immersing himself or he was washing his hands or he was washing his feet. He was always doing it himself.
Now let us look at the baptism of John the Baptist. The first time that the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him was when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea [Matthew 3:1-6]. Always, and in all of those sects, always, whether it was the Essenes, whether it’s the Pharisees, whether it’s the Sadducees, whether it’s any sect in Judaism’s history, always the man washed himself. He washed his hands, or he washed his feet, or he washed his body, or had a servant as he came to the house—which is not, it’s a domestic ritual there, a servant to wash your feet—but in the religious rituals, always the man washed himself, he bathed himself [Mark 7:3-4]. But when John the Baptist came, that’s the first time, I say, that the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him, bathe him, submerge him [Matthew 3:1-6; John 3:22-26].
Now, so tremendously different was this thing that John the Baptist was doing, that when you turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, you will find that an officially appointed committee from the Sanhedrin came down to the Jordan River where John was baptizing and asked him who he was! And the committee came to him, this is official from the temple at Jerusalem, and the committee came to him from the Sanhedrin, and said, “Are you the Christ?” And John the Baptist said, “I am not” [John 1:19-20]. He was not that Light [John 1:7-8]—you read in the Scripture a while ago—but was sent to bear witness to that Light. “Are you the Christ?” “I am not.” “Well, are you Elijah raised from the dead?” And he said, “I am not [John 1:21].” Then they asked him, “Well, are you that Prophet?” [John 1:21] referring to the Prophet that Moses spoke of when Moses said, “After I am gone, God will raise up another Prophet like unto me, and Him shall you hear” [Deuteronomy 18:15, 18]. “Are you that Prophet?” And John the Baptist said, “No” [John 1:21]. Then they asked him, “Then where did you get this rite? [John 1:22-25]. And by what authority do you administer it? We never saw this before, this new ordinance. You taking a man and bathing him. Where’d you get that rite? If you’re not Elijah, and if you’re not the Messiah, and if you’re not the Prophet that is to come, where did you get that rite?” [John 1:25]. And John the Baptist said, “I got it from heaven. God sent me to baptize [John 1:29-33]. These converts who come and listen to the message and believe that the Messiah is at hand and the kingdom of heaven is at hand, these God commissioned me to baptize, to wash, ceremonially to cleanse [John 1:31]. I got it from heaven” [John 1:33].
Now you have been very attentive. Be attentive just a few moments more because our time is hasting away. What did that baptism mean to John the Baptist? What did it mean to John? I know that I know that to John it was a purification, it was a cleansing, it was a getting ready for the acceptance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Iēsus Christos—Christus is “Messiah” in Latin—Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven. It was a cleansing, it was a purification; and I don’t think John the Baptist thought or knew anything else. When John the Baptist brought that ordinance, to him it was a washing in water, it was a cleansing, it was a purification, it was a getting ready for the Messiah and the kingdom of God. But when finally we come to know what that baptism meant, what did God mean by it—the Lord God gave it to John the Baptist—John said he got it from heaven [John 1:33]. And Jesus said that it came from heaven [Matthew 3:15]. Now to John, it was a cleansing; but when finally in this Book we come to know what God meant by it, what did it mean? What did it mean?
That is why we ought to keep it just as God gave it to us. When the Lord God handed down to Moses the pattern of the tabernacle, He said to Moses, “Moses, see that in all things you follow the pattern just as I have given it to you on the mount” [Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrews 8:5]. For the pattern of the tabernacle came from heaven, and Moses faithfully followed that pattern [Acts 7:44], though I don’t think even Moses himself knew all that it meant. I don’t think he did. But God did! And in the revelation of the Holy Scriptures and after the coming of Christ, we can see exactly what that brazen altar stood for, and that laver stood for, and that seven-branched lampstand, and that table of showbread, and that golden altar of censer, and the veil in between, and the Holy of Holies, and the blood of propitiation, and the propitiatory, the mercy seat. We know exactly what it all meant. I don’t think Moses did. I don’t think Moses did. But God did! And God said to Moses, “Moses, exactly as I have given you this pattern, you do it exactly as I have showed it to you on the mount” [Exodus 25:9, 40]. And the Bible says, “And Moses followed that pattern exactly and built the tabernacle exactly as God showed him on the mount” [Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5].
Now, that’s the way with baptism: I do not think John the Baptist understood what that baptism meant, fully meant; for to him, I say, it was a cleansing and a purification. I can see that from the third chapter of John that I just read to you. When they got to arguing about purification, they were arguing about baptism [John 3:25-26]. But what did God say that it meant? After the crucifixion of Jesus [Matthew 27:32-50], and after the burial of Jesus [Matthew 27:57-61], and after the resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7], and after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], in the revelation of God in the New Testament, I find what God meant by that baptism when He sent John the Baptist to administer it to the people of Judea who would turn and repent [Mark 1:4; John 1:25-33]. It is a cleansing, that’s right. It is a washing, that’s right. It’s in water, that’s right. It is a purification, that’s right. But ultimately and finally, God meant for baptism to represent death, burial, and resurrection. “For we are buried with Christ in the likeness of His death,” the Scriptures say, “and we are raised with Christ in the likeness of His glorious resurrection” [Romans 6:3-5]. We are dead with our Lord, we are dead to the world and dead to sin; and we are raised to walk in a new life, with the blessed Lord Jesus [Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12]. And when finally we come to know what baptism means, that’s what it means. Baptism from heaven in God’s intent and purpose is death, burial, and resurrection.
“I baptize you, my brother; buried with Christ in the likeness of His death, and buried in the cleansing flow, and raised with our Lord in the likeness of His glorious resurrection” [Romans 6:3-5]. And as such, the ordinance, the ritual of John the Baptist, which is initiatory, which is initial, it is never repeated. In the Qumran community, they washed over and over and over again, they washed every day, they washed every thing; it was a ritual of cleansing. But to John the Baptist, it was an initiatory, an initial, a beginning rite and was never repeated. You were baptized, and ready, and ready for the coming of Christ into the world [Mark 1:3-4].
Now, like that, the Christian church took the ordinance of John the Baptist, and Jesus and put it in the heart of His church. In the Great Commission, “Go ye therefore, making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”—the one God has three names; we know Him as our Father, we know Him as our Savior, and we know Him as the Holy Spirit in our hearts—“baptizing them in the name of,” singular, “the one great true God, whose name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]; He has three names. Then at Pentecost, when the Spirit came [Acts 2:1-4], that day those disciples baptized three thousand souls, adding them to the church [Acts 2:41]. And daily, and daily God added to them; and through the ministry of the apostles [Acts 2:47]. There is no more thrilling story in the Bible than the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts: “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, Look, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” [Acts 8:36]. The first thing he wanted to do when he heard the gospel was to be baptized; buried with the Lord, raised with the Lord. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he said, I believe. I accept the Lord in my heart as my Savior [Acts 8:37]. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” [Acts 8:38]. He lowered him in the likeness of the death of our Lord and raised him in the likeness of our Lord’s glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]; and so through the years and the years that have followed after.
Well, I have got a minute left. The pious Isaac Watts wrote:
Do we not know that solemn word,
That we are buried with the Lord,
Baptized into His death, and then
Put off the body of our sin?
[“Do We Not Know that Solemn Word?” Isaac Watts]
And I copied this from the immortal Milton in his Paradise Lost. The archangel Michael is explaining to Adam in the garden of Eden, in this great poem by John Milton, the archangel is explaining to Adam the plan of salvation. So the archangel says:
. . . Them who shall believe
Baptizing in the profluent stream, the sign
Of washing them from guilt of sin . . .
Pure, and in mind prepared, if so befall,
For death, like that which the Redeemer died.
Baptism is a death, and a burial, and a resurrection; as this archangel, Milton says, was explaining to Adam in the garden of Eden the plan of salvation.
Now, I can’t do much for God. The Lord God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12]. For the gold and the silver is Mine [Haggai 2:8]; and the cattle on a thousand hills” [Psalms 50:10]. I can’t do much for God; He is so great. And the riches of heaven and earth are His; I can’t do much, I know. But I can do this: God wants me to trust in His Son, and Lord, I do [John 3:16-17]. If I were to die tonight, I would die trusting Jesus. If you were at my bedside, I’d look at you and say, “I’ll see you someday in glory. Meet me there. I do trust in Jesus as my Savior.” God asks me to honor His Son in that acceptance and faith, and I do; I do. And I can do this: I can be baptized. God asks me to be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20]. And I can’t do much for the Lord; these hands are too weak, and this frame is too feeble, and this life is too mortal. I can’t do much for God, but if He wants me to be baptized, Lord, I’m happy to be baptized. “See, here is water; I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36]. And I honor the Lord and His blessed Word and His precious Son when I follow His obedient and righteous example [Matthew 3:13-17]: buried with Him and raised with Him, according to the Word of God [Romans 6:3-5].
Now I realize that in the throng here this morning, most of us have followed that precious, and holy, and beautiful, and obedient way. We have received the Lord as our Savior, we trust Him, love Him, worship Him, pray to Him, will see Him some day; and we’ve been baptized. I know that, most of us. The appeal this morning is twofold: one, to give your heart to Jesus and follow Him in baptism, you, do it today; and second, if you have followed the Lord and belong to His church and you live in Dallas now, would you come and stand by me? Would you put your life in the circle and circumference of this precious congregation, this dear First Baptist Church? On the first note of the first stanza, if you will come, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. And the dear, precious Jesus bless you in the way; while we stand and while we sing.