WEEK 24 : The Baptism of Yeshua

1. SCRIPTURE

Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23

Mt. 3:13 Then Yeshua came from Galilee to Yochanan at the Jordan to be baptized by him. (Mk. 1:9; Lk. 3:21a)
Mt. 3:14 And Yochanan tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and You are coming to me?”
Mt. 3:15 Then Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Mt. 3:16a Then Yeshua, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; (Mk. 1:10a; Lk. 3:21b)
Mt. 3:16b And behold, the heavens opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. (Mk. 1:10b; Lk. 3:22a)
Mt. 3:17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22b)

Matthew 3:13-17 (NKJV) Other versions ...


2. COMMENTARY

Mt. 3:13: Messianic baptism is different because with it we are identifying ourselves with the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. The meaning of the act is identification. But the type of identification is determined on wheat kind of baptism it is. Proselyte baptism is identification with Judaism. Yochanan’s baptism was identification with his “back to God” movement. Yeshua’s baptism is till yet another identification. The basic meaning of the word is immersion. Any other kind of baptism is not Biblical baptism. Immersion was the Jewish mode and also the mode of the early church. Later in church history it was changed to pouring and then later to sprinkling. These two modes are not Biblical. At the end of this segment we have included an article titled “The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism” by Dr. Ron Moseley. It is probably one of the best articles ever written on this subject.

Mt. 3:15: The purpose of baptism (ritual immersion), according to Jewish Law even to this day, was for the forgiveness of sins and spiritual cleansing into a right relationship with God. Yeshua had a need to be baptized, but it was not because He had sin in His life. In Malachi 4:2 the Messiah is called “the sun of righteousness who would come with healing in His wings.” According to Ezekiel 34:11-16, the salvation that Messiah would bring was in four ways: (1) He would seek out the lost: (2) return them to the fold; (3) heal the sick; and (4) strengthen the weak. In other words, He would usher in the Kingdom of God. The reason that Yeshua was so insistent on being baptized was “to fulfill all righteousness” so that He might be the “sun of righteousness.” The importance of this will be demonstrated later on in another segment.

Mt. 3:16a: The mode of baptism as explained in the Mishnah shows the candidate squatted down alone without anyone touching him and then coming straightway out of the water. Ancient sages taught that the word mikveh has the same root in the Hebrew as the word for “rising” or “standing tall,” as we see in the term “straightway as used in the N.T. The earliest drawing of Christian baptism was found on the wall of a Roman catacomb in the second century showing Yochanan standing on the bank of the Jordan helping Yeshua back to the shore after self-immersion.

Mt. 3:16b: In Jewish literature the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Babylonian Chagigah 15a commentary on Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit of the Lord moved upon the waters, says the Spirit of God hovered like a dove over her young without touching them. The Babylonian Berakoth 3b connects the Bat Kol from heaven with the Holy Spirit.

Mt. 3:17: In Rabbinic literature a reference is made to a voice from heaven called Bat Kol, which literally means a “daughter of a voice.” This is understood to be an oracle, a declaration of the Divine Will. These verses are used by many people to establish the doctrine of the Trinity, but this has absolutely nothing to do with that. Perhaps an over simplification of its description is to say that the Bat Kol is heaven’s public address system. It is important to remember that the people witnessing these events were Jews, and things were being done so that they would understand what was happening. It was not written for our Hellenistic mind set. If we want to understand these things, we have to learn to think like a first century Jew.

“THE JEWISH BACKGROUND OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM”
by Dr. Rom Moseley

There is no question that the church is debtor to Judaism for its main structure, including such items as Messiah, Scripture, canon, liturgy, altar, pulpit, church offices, songs, offerings, the Lord’s Supper, as well as baptism itself. Dr. Merrill Tenney, the editor of the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible said, “Baptism as a rite of immersion was not begun by Christians, but was taken by them from Jewish and pagan forms....” Since early Christianity was a part of Judaism of Jesus’ day, it was without question that baptism in today’s church was originally Jewish. Further evidence comes from scholars like William LaSor And David Daube who tells us of the early church’s practice of baptism by self immersion after the custom of the Jews.

History of the Jewish Mikveh

The term “Mikveh” in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish Law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. The building of the Mikveh was so important in ancient times it was said to take precedence over the construction of a synagogue. Immersion was so important that it occurred before the High Priest conducted the service on the Day of Atonement, before the regular priests participated in the Temple service, before each person entered the Temple complex, before a scribe wrote the name of God, as well as several other occasions.

The Mishnah attributes to Ezra a decree that each male should immerse himself before praying or studying. There were several Jewish groups that observed ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah. The Church Fathers mentioned one of these groups called the Hemerobaptists which means “daily bathers” in Greek. Among those use to regular immersion were the Essenes and others that the Talmud calls tovelei shararit or “dawn bathers.”

On the third day of creation we see the source of the word mikveh for the first time in Genesis 1:10 when the Lord says, “to the gathering (Mikveh) of the waters, He called seas.” Because of this reference on Genesis the ocean is still a legitimate Mikveh.

The Mikvaot Around the Temple

The New Testament tells us that many of the early church’s daily activities were centered around the Temple. Historically, we know that there were many ritual immersion baths (Mikvaot) on the Temple Mount, including one in the Chamber of Lepers situated in the northwest corner of the Court of Women (Mid. 2:5). Josephus tells us that even during the war (66-73 C.E.) the laws of ritual immersion were strictly adhered to (Jos. Wars 4.20.6). The Temple itself contained immersion baths in various places for the priests to use, even in the vaults beneath the court (commentary to Tam. 26b; Tam. 1:11).

The High Priest had special immersion pools in the Temple, two of which are mentioned in the Mishnah. We are told one of these was in the Water Gate in the south of the court and another was on the roof of the Parva Chamber (Mid. 1:4; 5:31). There was an additional place for immersion on the Mount of Olives which was connected with the burning of the Red Heifer (Para 3:7). A special ramp led to the Mikveh on the Mount of Olivies, which was built as an arch way over another arched way to avoid uncleanness from the graves in the valley below. Recent archaeological excavations have found 48 different mikvaot near the Monumental Staircase leading into the Temple complex.

Three Basic Areas

According to Jewish Law, there are three basic areas where immersion in the Mikveh is required:

1. Immersion is required for both men and women when converting to Judaism. There were three prerequisites for a proselyte coming into Judaism; circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice (Maimonides, Hilkh. Iss. Biah. Xiii.5).
2. Immersion is required after a woman has her monthly period (Lev. 15:28).
3. Immersion is required for pots and eating utensils manufactured by a non-Jew (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, p-263).

Besides these, there are many other times when it is customary to be immersed in the Mikveh, such as the occasion before Yom Kippur as a sign of purity and repentance and before the Sabbath in order to sensitize oneself to the holiness of the day.

The Six Descending Orders of Ritual Immersion

There are six descending orders of ritual baths in the Mishnah (Oral Law) of how to accomplish the Written Law, and the highest order is that of a spring or flowing river. We see Jesus understanding and fulfilling this order in Matt. 3:16 as He comes to be baptized in the Jordan River “fulfilling all righteousness.” This highest order was called Mayim Hayim or Living Water and illustrated the forgiveness of sins, therefore, we see Jesus using this term concerning Himself (John 4:10,11).

The Water Restrictions

There were also six basic restrictions on the water used in the Mikveh, including such rules as: (1) the Mikveh cannot contain any other liquid besides water; (2) the Mikveh has to be either built into the ground or be an integral part of a building attached to the ground; (3) the Mikveh cannot be flowing except for a natural spring, river, or ocean; (4) the water cannot be manually drawn; (5) the water cannot be channeled to the Mikveh by anything unclean; and (6) the Mikveh must contain at least 40 sa’ah or approximately 200 gallons of water.

The term sa’ah is an ancient Biblical measurement equivalent to approximately 5 gallons. All six requirements come from the original Hebrew words found in Lev. 11:36. Rabbi Yitzchok ben Sheshes said the amount of 40 sa’ah was derived from the idea that the largest normal human body has a volume of 20 sa’ah, therefore the amount of the water needed to nullify this body is double this amount, or 40 sa’ah.

Why Be Immersed?

To the ancient Jew, the Mikveh was a process of spiritual purification and cleansing, especially in relation to the various types of Trumah, or ritual defilement, when the Temple was in use. Although God has not revealed all the meaning of the Mikveh, it is obvious because of the amount of space given to it in Scripture, and the effort of Jesus to fulfill it, the command is of utmost importance. All commands of the Lord fall into three categories:

1. The moral or ethical laws that are necessary for man to live in harmony are known as Mishpatim and are literally translated judgments.
2. The rituals and festivals which reawaken us to important religious truths such as Sabbath, holidays, the Tefillin, and the Mezuzah that remind us of God’s presence are known as Edos and are literally translated witnesses.
3. The third group often has no explicit reason given for their existence except for Israel’s identification as God’s chosen people to the other nations (Deut. 4:6). This group of laws are known as Chukim and are literally translated as decrees. Among the decrees of this group are the dietary laws, as well as ritual immersion.

How Immersion Was Done

Jewish baptism has never been taken lightly, but in ancient times immersion was to be performed in the presence of witnesses (Yebam. 47b). The person being baptized made special preparations by cutting his nails, undressed completely (Lev. 1516) and made a fresh profession of his faith before the designated “fathers of the baptism” (Kethub. 11a; Erub. 15a). This is possibly where churches sometime later got the term “Godfathers.” The individual stood straight up with the feet spread and the hands held out in front. The candidate would totally immerse himself by squatting in the water with a witness or baptizer doing the officiating. Note the New Testament points to the fact that Jesus came straightway out of the water. The earliest drawings of Christian baptism was found on the wall of a Roman catacomb in the second century showing John standing on the bank of the Jordan helping Jesus back to shore after self immersion. Ancient sages teach that the word Mikveh has the same letters as Ko(v)Meh, the Hebrew word for “rising” or “standing tall,” therefore we see the idea of being baptized “straightway.”

Although it is the Jewish belief that repentance is necessary, purification from defilement is done primarily through water, while other effects of sins are covered by blood (Romans 4:7), note the “almost all things” in Hebrews 9:22). The concept of immersion in Rabbinical literature is referred to as a new birth (Yeb. 22a; 48b; Mass. Ger. C.i.i.). Note six other important aspects of ancient Jewish immersion

1. Immersion was accompanied by exhortations (Maimonides Hilkh. Milah iii.4; Hilk Iss. Bia Xiv. 6). A convert would reaffirm his acceptance of the Torah by declaring, “I will do and I will hear” which was a phrase from the oath that was originally taken by the priest not to forsake the Torah (Deut. 29:9-14). This ritual demonstrates the willingness of the convert to forsake his Gentile background and assume his Jewish identity by taking on the status of one who keeps the commandments.

According to a number of Jewish sages, mayim, which is the Hebrew word for water, shares the same root as the word mah, meaning “what.” This teaching points out that when a person is immersed in water, he is nullifying the fleshly ego and asking “what am I?” in the same manner “we are what?”

2. The Jewish baptism candidates were often immersed three times. The idea of total immersion comes from the Scripture in Leviticus 15:16 when it says, “he shall wash all his flesh in the water.” One reason it was customary to immerse three times was because the word Mikveh ccurs three times in the Torah.

3. According to Jewish Law the immersion had to have a required witness. Dr. William LaSor in the Biblical Archaeological Review says apparently the Biblical phrase “in the name of” was an indication of the required witness. In several New Testament references such as I Corinthians 1:13,15; Matthew 21:25; Acts 1:22; and Acts 19:3 we see clearly baptism mentioned in conjunction with the name of individuals such as John and Paul. Further information on this can be found in Jewish literature concerning proselyte baptism where it indicates his baptism attestation by witness in whose name he was immersed.

4. The immersion candidate was not touched by the baptizer in Jesus’s day. Because Leviticus 15:18 says, “He shall wash all his flesh in the water,” Judaism stresses that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the Mikveh. To insure the immersion was valid, no clothing or individuals could touch the candidate. Any such intervention that prevented the water from reaching a part of the body was known as Chatitzah and rendered the immersion invalid. Although the Mikveh was more spiritual than physical, often the bath had two sets of steps, one entering and another leaving so as to not defile what had been purified.

5. The baptismal water (Mikveh) in Rabbinic literature was referred to as the womb of the world, and as a convert came out of the water it was considered a new birth separating him from the pagan world. As the convert came out of these waters his status was changed and he was referred to as “a little child just born,” or “a child of one day” (Yeb. 22a; 48b; 97b).We see the New Testament using similar Jewish terms as “born anew,” new creation,” and “born from above.” According to Dr. Arnold Fruchtebaum, Rabbinic literature uses the term “born again” to refer to at least six different occurrences. Note each of these life changing experiences: (1) when a Gentile converts to Judaism; (2) when an individual is crowned king; (3) at the age of 13 when a Jewish boy chooses to embrace God’s covenant and be numbered with the believers; (4) when an individual gets married; (5) when an individual becomes a Rabbi; and (6) when an individual becomes the head of a Rabbinical school.

6. Jewish Law requires at least three witnesses made up of qualified leaders to be present for certain immersions (Yebam. 47b). Ordinarily a member of the Sanhedrin performed the act of observing the proselyte immersion, but in case of necessity others could do it. Secret baptism, or where only the mother brought a child, was not acknowledged.

Baptism

One of the most important teachings in Judaism is that of repentance. According to both Scriptures and Rabbinic literature, no matter how great the sin, if a person repents and forsakes the sin before God he can be forgiven. As we see in the case of John, Jesus, and all New Testament writers, repentance was always involved. The Jerusalem Talmud states, “nothing can stand before repentance” (Yebamos 47b). According to Dr. David Flusser, the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the New Testament teach that water can purify the body only if the soul has been purified through repentance and righteousness.

Water and Blood Both Illustrate God’s Cleansing in Judaism

Both water and blood are used constantly in the Torah and New Testament as the two main agents to illustrate God’s cleansing. The Jews believe that uncleanness is not physical, but rather a spiritual condition as related to Leviticus 11:44 where it states by wrong actions one can make the soul”unclean.” Therefore, the purification through ritual immersion, as commanded in Scripture, is basically involved with the soul, rather than the body. Not how both water and blood are cited in Scripture: (1) blood is used in cleansing in relation to the Passover Lamb (Exod. 12); blood is used in cleansing in relation to the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16); (3)blood is used in cleansing in relation to the Feast Offerings (Lev. 23); (4) blood is used in cleansing in relation to the five Levitical Offerings (Lev. 1-7); (5) blood is used in cleansing in relation to the atonement of the soul (Lev. 17:11-14).

Water is used in cleansing in relation to the separation and the ashes of the Red Heifer (Num. 19); (2) water is used in cleansing in relation to consecration to priestly ministry (Lev. 8:6); (3) water is used for cleansing in relation to the cleansing of the leper (Lev. 14:1-8); (4) water is used in cleansing in relation to the different washings of the Law (Heb. 9:10); (5) water is used in relation to the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5; Mark 6:16; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3; I Peter 3:20,21; Ephesians 5:26; John 19:34; I John 5:6; and Heb. 9:10-23).

Summary

A detailed study of the Jewish background of Christian baptism shows that it is vitally important, but God doesn’t always tell us why. Obviously, the convert could repent and have a part in the world to come without it, but the emphasis seems to be pointing to the taking on of a new “believer” status illustrated as a “new birth” by immersion. In any convert with the Lord the three items of God’s Word, the blood and a token are always present. Jesus was always cautious to have three witnesses in everything He did (I John 5:7,8). In the Old Testament circumcision was considered the token of God’s covenant, and in the New Testament we see the same wording concerning baptism as it is referred to as “circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11,12). Whatever religious the denomination, believers should agree that immersion has its roots in the Jewish Mikveh of Jesus’s day and it is of utmost importance for each of us to fulfill this righteous deed.

“The Jewish Nature of the Gospels”
by John Shelby Spong

In a deep and significant way, we are now able to see that all the Gospels are Jewish books, profoundly Jewish books. Recognizing this, we begin to face the realization that we will never understand the Gospels until we learn how to read them as Jewish books. They are written, to a greater or lesser degree, in the midrashic style of the Jewish sacred storyteller, a style that most of us do not begin even now to comprehend. This style is not concerned with historic accuracy. It is concerned with meaning and understanding.

The Jewish writers of antiquity interpreted God’s presence to be with Joshua after the death of Moses by repeating the parting of the waters story (Josh. 3). At the Red Sea, that was the sign that God was with Moses (Exod. 14). When Joshua was said to have parted the waters of the Jordan River, it was not recounted as a literal event in history, rather it was a midrashic attempt to relate Joshua to Moses and thus demonstrate the presence of God with his successor. The Same pattern operated later when both Elijah (II Kings 2:8) and Elisha (Ii Kings 2:14) were said to have parted the waters of the Jordan River and to have walked across on dry land. When the story of Jesus’s baptism was told, the Gospel writers asserted that Jesus parted not the Jordan River, but the heavens. This Moses theme was thus being struck yet again, and indeed, for a similar response. The heavens, according to the Jewish creation story, were nothing but the firmament that separated the waters above from th waters below (Geness 1:6-8). To portray Jesus as splitting the heavenly waters was a Jewish way of suggesting that the holy God encountered in Jesus went even beyond the God presence that had been met in Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha. That is the way the midrashic principle worked. Stories about heroes of the Jewish past are heightened and retold again and agin about heroes of the present moment, not because those same events actually occurred, but because the reality of God revealed in those moments was like the reality of God known in the past. As this journey through the Gospels progresses, we will watch this midrashic principle operating time after time.

We are not reading history when we read the Gospels. We are listening to the experience of Jewish people, processing in a Jewish way what they believed was a new experience with the God of Israel. Jews filtered every new experience through the corporate remembered history of their people, as that history had been recorded in the Hebrew Scripture of the past.

If we are to recover the power present in the Scripture for our time, then this clue to their original meaning must be recovered and understood. Ascribing to the Gospels historic accuracy in the style of later historians, or demanding that the narratives of the Gospels be taken literally, or trying to recreate the historical context surrounding each specific event narrated in the Gospels — these are methods of people who do not realize that they are reading a Jewish book.

Before we can fully address this issue and begin to read the Gospels as Jewish books, we must cast our gaze on the early history of the Christian movement to seek to understand where things went wrong. What were the forces of history that collaborated to tear the Christian church away from its Jewish origins? If we are able to find our way back to the Jewish perspective that produced our Gospels, then we must understand that perspective was first broken, then denied, and then lost. It was not an accident.

Compiler’s Notes

It is my conviction that all the events described in the Bible (both Original and New Testaments) were actual historical events. While I cannot agree with most of what Rev. Spong has written in the past, I could not agree more with him when he said that in order to understand the Gospels we must first realize that we are reading Jewish books and that they must be understood in that light. Without that perspective, our understanding will always be severely limited. The Word of God (including the Gospels) is the most incredible book ever to be written. I believe that the Lord Yeshua has a special blessing for those who are willing to put forth the effort to try to understand it in the way He intended it to be.

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