Part 3 - The Father’s “Little Flock”
John’s water-baptism became a defining moment for the Messianic believers of Israel’s “Little Flock,” the remnant who received and obeyed John the Baptist’s message of the ‘baptism of repentance.’ Luke 7:29-30 tells us;
“And all the people that heard him [John the Baptist], and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers [Israel’s leaders] rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being NOT baptize of him.”
This, of course, is the reason that Israel’s water-baptism was associated with salvation and the remission of sins. Salvation was through faith, but the only way they could express their faith was by doing what God required to prepare them to function as “a royal priesthood.” Thus they were baptized with John’s water cleansing ceremony.
Circumcision had been the identifying mark for the children of Israel sealing the covenant God made with Abraham and Israel. But now, John’s water-baptism marked out the genuine believers of John’s message concerning the Messiah, differentiating them from among Israel as a whole. This is similar to the difference we see today between the pseudo-Christians of Christendom and the genuine serious believing Christians amongst Christendom today.
For Israel, first must come the water-cleansing, before the service as the Priests of God in Israel. Thus in Ezekiel 36:25, the Lord God promises Israel:
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
The “sprinkling with clean water” was the necessary first step of faith in forming the nucleus of the coming Kingdom, the group of Jewish believers which our Lord Jesus called the “Father’s” … “little flock.”
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
The next step in preparing this Jewish remnant of water-baptized believers is seen in Matthew 3:11’s “baptism with the Spirit,” which for Israel came on the day of Pentecost. This “baptism with the Spirit would correspond to the second rite of consecration to the priesthood – providing the “anointing.” The “baptism with the Spirit would provide the needed empowerment for the nation’s coming service. This then explains why our Lord’s post-resurrection ministry ties together these two things; 1) the baptism of repentance, and 2) the anointing of the Holy Spirit coming upon them. Here we see aspects of the power promised to them:
“And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye [Jesus’ 12 Apostles] into all the world, and preach the gospel [“of the kingdom]” to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [judged and condemned]. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:15-17; c.f. Luke 24:47; Acts 1:4-8, etc.).
After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter’s appeal to Israel is clearly a further development of John’s call to repentance: Then Peter said unto them;
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Here the sequence is clear: first the washing, “repent and be baptized”– then the anointing – “ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Those who erroneously think the role of water-baptism somehow changed after Pentecost should notice that the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection baptisms were identical. “Repent, and be baptized ... for the remission of sins” is exactly what John the Baptist proclaimed in Mark 1:4. “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4 (KJV)
Nothing had changed. Rather, there had simply been the historical development of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, that produced the outpouring of the Spirit to “endue [Grk. enduo, clothe] them with power.” The Kingdom was no longer simply “at hand” as it had been with ‘John the Baptist’; now the time had come for the twelve Apostles (not Paul) to offer the long-promised ‘Kingdom’ to come on earth… to Israel.
After Pentecost those who refused to be water-baptized stood as condemned before God as did those in Luke 7:30, for Peter goes on to declare;
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation (Acts 2:39-40).
This basic issue of the gathering together of the believing remnant of Israel – the “little flock” of Luke 12:32, runs through the ministries of John, our Lord Jesus, and the Twelve in early Acts. This “little flock” represented the nucleus of God’s Governmental Authority For The Coming Kingdom ON EARTH. Those in Israel who refused to “repent and be baptized”– to identify themselves as those who had changed their minds about Christ being their Messiah … were to be “destroyed from among the people [of Israel]” (Acts 3:23).
“And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet [John], shall be destroyed [killed off] from among the people.” Acts 3:23 (KJV)
“Destroy” here is the Greek is “exolethreuō,” meaning to literally eradicate, erase, abolish, destroy, exterminate, obliterate, expunge, annihilate.
It is of this “little flock” of Jewish Messianic believers that Peter later writes,
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should; shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
Thus we say and see again, in Scripture John’s water-baptism is a ceremonial cleansing that pertained to the coming Kingdom on earth that was promised to the Nation Israel… not “the church” that Paul later, after the Acts period closed, called “the body of Christ.” (cf. Eph. 1:22b-23a).