By J. Vernon McGee
The All-inclusive Teaching Here Includes the Ministries of Christ in His Resurrection
The instructions for the construction of the laver are found in Exodus 30:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: when they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD: so they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations. (Exodus 30:17-21)
The laver was the other article of furniture that stood in the outer court with the brazen altar. It was constructed of the same substance as the altar -- brass -- and was filled with water. Quite evidently it had a top part for the washing of the hand and a lower part, called its foot, for the washing of the feet. All service in the Tabernacle, whether in the Holy Place, Holy of Holies, or at the brazen altar, required the one serving to wash at the laver. It was probably used more frequently than any other article of furniture in the Tabernacle.
The primary and evident meaning of the laver is that of cleansing. This cleansing applies primarily to the child of God, for only priests served at the laver. Beyond the brazen altar, the application of the teaching of the Tabernacle is directly to the sons of God. There is a twofold application of the meaning of the laver in the ministry of cleansing, this being an earthly and a heavenly application. It applies, first of all, to Christ's present resurrection ministry. He continues cleansing His own until He presents them "faultless [blameless] before the presence of his glory [throne] with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). This is the heavenly ministry of Christ in cleansing. Secondly, it applies to one phase of the work of the Holy Spirit in His present ministry on the earth. The written Word, the audible voice of the Spirit, reveals the pathway of light for God's children that will keep them from defilement along the way, and it also reveals new avenues of service. The indwelling Holy Spirit confirms and makes real in the life the ministry of the written Word. These are not separate operations but one, for the indwelling Spirit does not direct apart from or contrary to the Word. This is the earthly application of the meaning of the laver.
Let us examine more fully the earthly meaning in the light of the revelation concerning the laver. The earthly meaning grows out of and is derived from the heavenly meaning. Christ sent the Holy Spirit to include this ministry in His mission during this age. The laver was made of brass which, as we have already seen, speaks of judgment of sin. However, the laver was made of a particular selection of brass: the brazen mirrors of the women.
And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the looking glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Exodus 38:8)
Highly polished brass was used for mirrors in that day, and it is interesting to note that these folk, so soon out of slavery, possessed such luxuries. Their hard lot in Egypt had not deprived the women of their "vanity cases." They brought these looking glasses as an offering to God, and it was specified that they be used in making the laver. The Spirit of God has used the mirror metaphorically as the Word of God:
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway for getteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:23, 24)
Evidently, it was no accident that the laver was made of the mirrors of the women, and a mirror is that to which the Word of God is likened.
This figure of the Word of God as being a cleansing agency is further enlarged by the Holy Spirit speaking of the cleansing power of the Word. Let us pay attention to language like this:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:25, 26)
The Word of God is being likened unto the laver itself and unto the water contained in the laver. Both the substance and purpose of the laver are symbols of the Word of God. The laver's primary purpose was for cleansing. Likewise, the Word of God is for cleansing. Christ said, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). The laver was filled with water, and the priests were commanded to wash thereat repeatedly in the service of the Tabernacle. To wash in the Word of God is to apply the Word to the life. The Word washes because it reveals as the mirrors were revealers, and thus is used in cleansing and beautifying. One of the benefits derived from the Word of God is declared by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 to be "correction." The Word is profitable for correction; it cleanses by correcting.
This cleansing by the Word is for the child of God. The sinner is shut out from earning favor by doing something, and is forced to come face to face with just one thing: the cross of Christ. Scripture has no word of exhortation or injunction for a lost sinner but "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). The work of cleansing is confined to believers, and the Word corrects their lives. The laver stood between the altar (cross) and the Holy Place (service). Cleansing by the Word is for the sinner who has come to the cross and who desires to serve and walk in the light, well pleasing to his Lord. In the Lord's prayer in John 17, Christ prays for His own, and makes specific mention that He does not pray for the world: "I pray for them [those whom the Father gave Him]: I pray not for the world" (John 17:9). In the same prayer He makes this interesting and enlightening request of the Father: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (v. 17). The Word of God is a sanctifying agency for the children of God. The Holy Spirit is to the Word of God what the water was to the laver, and there is this added corollary between the laver and the Holy Spirit. The cross of Christ is where the sin of the sinner is settled. The Word of God is the means by which a child of God learns to walk. As the priests spent more time at the laver than at any other article of furniture, thus the child of God ought to spend more time in the Word of God. A daily bath in the Word of God is of inestimable value. Daily washing in the Word brings fragrance into the life.
No measurements were given for the laver in the blueprints of the Tabernacle. This further confirms that the laver is a figure of the Holy Spirit, the author of the Word. Deity cannot be measured. The Word of God cannot be severed from the divine Author and Illuminator of it. There is no sanctifying power in the letter of the Word apart from the Holy Spirit. The letter of the Word is dead, and the Spirit makes it alive. The Word is sealed to the unsaved, and the saved need the Great Teacher to open its treasure store. A consideration of 1 Corinthians 2:10-14 will reveal this, but as this is not the immediate purpose of this thesis, we merely refer to it.
The water of the laver furnishes a fine figure of the Holy Spirit. We have made a previous statement that the Holy Spirit is to the Word of God what the water was to the laver. This we shall dwell on for a moment. Water is used throughout Scripture as a symbol of the true baptism, which is that of the Holy Spirit:
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
The laver had no cleansing power in itself. It contained water which did the cleansing, but the accepted language was that the laver cleansed. Thus, the Word of God cleanses because it is applied by the Holy Spirit, who is the power of the written Word. Christ sent the Holy Spirit to perform this phase as part of His earthly ministry. Before He was crucified, He promised to send the Holy Spirit: "If I depart, I will send him unto you" (John 16:7). The Book of Acts is the acts of the Holy Spirit; yet Luke, the author, prefaced the book with this statement:
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1, 2)
There are two declarations that we need to note here. First, Jesus continued to carry on His work after His death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit was sent to perform this work of Christ on earth. He is in the world today, having come on the Day of Pentecost, to do a definite work outlined for Him as His part in the scheme of redemption. One phase of His work is depicted by the laver.
The laver was used for the cleansing of the priests, those belonging to God and His service. When the priests were ordained, they were washed all over: "And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water" (Leviticus 8:6). That washing was for all time. It was never repeated, but there was a continual and daily cleansing at the laver. The blood of Christ cleanses the believing sinner from all sin, but in his daily walk and service he becomes defiled and needs cleansing. The Holy Spirit indwells each believer, but sin keeps Him from having full sway in the lives of believers today. Sin in the life of the believer retards and destroys His work of guiding and leading in the light. The Holy Spirit is anxious that sin be reduced to a minimum in the life of the child of God. He reveals the pathway of victory. He gives power to the life when the conditions are met:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)
The Holy Spirit is the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient leader for the children of God: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). He is the victory for the Christian. This is His ministry in the sanctification of the believer.
It is patently evident that today many children of God are not walking in the light, neither is there a manifestation of power in their lives. They are walking in sin, and sin has power over their lives. Now, what is the remedy when a child of God sins, as he most assuredly does?1 We have seen that the cross of Christ deals eternally and completely with the sin question so that it will never become a barrier to the salvation of any believer. But sin in the life offends the holiness of God in the believer as well as in the unsaved.
What can a sinning child do after he sins? Certainly, he does not wish to offend his heavenly Father, and he does not want it to hinder his growth in Christ. What is the remedy for a saved soul who sins? This introduces us to the heavenly aspect of the meaning suggested by the laver. When Christ ascended into heaven, He took His place at the right hand of the majesty of God as our great High Priest:
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others. (Hebrews 9:24, 25)
Part of His ministry in heaven is the daily cleansing of His own who have sinned and who come to Him confessing the sin:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).
The heavenly work of Christ in cleansing those who are His is set forth in figure by what occurred at the Last Supper in the Upper Room. Having laid aside His garments, He girded Himself with a towel, took a basin, and began to wash the feet of His disciples. John, who alone of the Gospel writers recorded this incident, prefaced his account with this statement:
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them [kept on loving them] unto the end. (John 13:1)
The cleansing was for those of His who are in the world, and He performed this ministry in light of the fact of His returning back to heaven:
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God. (John 13:3)
He arose from the Passover (type of His death), and began the work of cleansing. His response to Simon Peter's refusal, at first, to let the Lord wash his feet, and then his extreme desire to have his hands and head washed, reveals the true intent of the cleansing.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed [leloumenos, bathed] needeth not save to wash [nipsasthoi, to wash] his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10)
Jesus used two different words, it will be noted, but both are translated by the English word "wash." In that day a person returning from one of the many public baths where he had bathed, got his feet defiled on the way from the bath house to his home. There was placed at the door of his home a basin to rinse the feet. This had been omitted, for some reason, the night that the disciples entered the Upper Room. Christ arose, took the basin, and began to wash (niptein, to wash) the disciples' feet. The communion about the table was broken, and Christ took water and washed the disciples' feet.
The atoning blood of Christ cleanses from sin -- all sin -- and the sin of the saved souls is fully dealt with at the cross. But sin in the believer breaks communion with God, and on the basis of the death of Christ, He can cleanse the child who comes to Him in confession. As the disciples placed their defiled feet in His hands for cleansing, thus today we come in confession of our sins and, by so doing, place our soiled feet in the nail-pierced hands of our blessed Lord who cleanses us from all defilement. Fellowship is then restored with the Father. The late Dr. George Guille put it beautifully in this way: "On the way from the cross to the crown our feet get soiled, but if we confess our sins, He takes the basin and girds Himself with the towel again, and cleanses us from all sin."2 What a gracious thought it is to know that our Lord is girded with a towel, and that with basin in hand He keeps us clean if we place our feet in His hands by confessing our sins. Thus, the laver spoke of this heavenly ministry of Christ. The laver stood between the altar and the Holy Place. The cleansing of believers by confession stands between the cross and the communion of the children of God.
The altar was for a sinner; the laver was for a sin. The altar was where the sinner needed punishment; the laver was where the child needed cleansing. The altar spoke of blood; the laver spoke of water. The altar suggests this verse of Scripture: "...Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22); the laver points to this: "Without holiness no man shall see God."
We have seen the meaning of the laver as it dealt with the sin in the life of the believer. We have seen that this contains a twofold application. One applies to the earth and is the work of the Holy Spirit. The other applies to heaven and is the work of Christ. These are both in relationship to the believer.
There is another side to the teaching of the laver, which is derived from the former consideration. All that has gone before has grown out of the resurrection of Christ. The basis of the preceding remarks is the resurrection. Now, let us consider the two articles of brass in the outer court for a larger meaning of the work of Christ in settling the sin question. The brazen altar speaks of His death; the brazen laver speaks of His resurrection. At the brazen altar is forgiveness of sin; at the brazen laver is imputation of righteousness, "[Christ] was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25). This is an application of the suggestive meaning of the laver to the sin question in relationship to the sinner rather than to the child of God. In this connection, the brazen laver speaks of justification.
Again, we find that there is a twofold application of salvation to the sinner who believes in Christ. First, there is the work of Christ in heaven. Second, there is the work of the Holy Spirit on earth. The work of Christ in heaven is described by the word " justification." The work of the Holy Spirit on earth is described by the word "regeneration." These are two distinct elements of salvation, yet one is complementary to the other. One never takes place without the other. Justification is an act; regeneration is a work. Justification is external and does not change the condition of the sinner, but it changes his position. Regeneration is internal and it does change the condition of the sinner, but it does not change his position. Justification is a declarative act in which God declares a sinner justified on the basis of the death of Christ. This is a judicial act that takes a guilty and condemned sinner out from under condemnation, and stands him in the presence of God, clothed with a righteousness that, instead of meriting the condemnation of the court, gives him its commendation. Not only are his sins forgiven, but there is added righteousness that makes him accepted. Regeneration, logically following justification, is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner that changes him from a rebellious creature to a child of obedience. Regeneration is based on justification, but justification is just because of regeneration.
The resurrection of Christ made a ground for the justification and regeneration of a sinner. The death and resurrection of Christ do not themselves save an individual sinner; they make a ground for God to justify a sinner. They untie the hands of a holy God and permit Him to place them about a lost sinner. They give freedom and power to God in this twofold work in salvation.
We wish to pay particular attention to the statement that the death and resurrection of Christ provided the Holy Spirit who cleanses and regenerates the heart of a lost sinner. This is seen in an incident recorded by John which took place at the cross. When one of the soldiers thrust the spear into the side of Christ, there came forth blood and water. John was very careful to make mention of both in his Gospel account, and in his first epistle he added:
This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6)
The blood speaks of the ground of salvation; it was that which made God's power available in salvation. The water speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Now, we are prepared to receive this startling statement: If the Holy Spirit had not come on the Day of Pentecost and begun His work of regeneration, no soul would ever have been saved. The blood of Christ does not save a soul until the Holy Spirit does His work. There came forth both water and blood, for it takes both the blood of Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to save a soul. Christ sent the Holy Spirit to do specifically this work. This is again part of the resurrection ministry of Christ.
The laver, therefore, suggests the resurrection of Christ as the altar suggests His death. Here we have both articles of furniture dealing with the sin question. Christ in His death settled the sin question, "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Christ in His resurrection made application of the finished work of Calvary. He regenerates the sinners who believe and cleanses His children by their confession.
The laver was succeeded by a sea in the temple that held 24,000 gallons of water. In the temple in heaven, as seen by John on the isle of Patmos, there is a sea not of water but of glass -- a figure of the fact that the sin question has been forever solved, the redeemed have been glorified and need no more cleansing, and the Holy Spirit has ceased His work of regeneration.
1. Dr. C. I. Scofield was once asked if it were possible for a Christian not to sin, to which he replied, "Yes, but I never heard of one who did not sin."
2. Source unknown.