The Hebrew word, Mikveh or Mikvah is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity. Immersion entails a complete dipping into or a pouring out from above. Both instances of immersion are complete and total saturation. Baptism means immersion and like the Mikveh, baptism employs the concept of purification. There are different kinds of baptisms. One must not presume they are all equal in meaning and purpose.
The Mikveh, The Baptism of Ritual Purity
Many Christians believe that John the Baptist was the first to start the “Doctrine of Baptism.” However, the ritual of immersion in water goes back to the Old Testament book of Leviticus where God instructs the Hebrew women to ritually cleanse themselves from impurities (called Niddah in Hebrew) Mikvehs were also required after touching a corpse or an unclean person, or after being healed from leprosy or other diseases.
Total immersion was also necessary to make a sacrifice at the Temple. Priests had to be cleansed for their priestly duties, and any Gentile wishing to convert to Judaism would have to fulfill the legal requirements of being “born again” through the waters of the Mikveh.
Hebrew interpretation of immersion or “The Mikveh” was the idea of being completely immersed in water as a fetus is in the womb. Coming up out of the water was likened to being born into a new life with a pure heart.
The Baptisms of the Qumran Community
This strict sectarian sect, also known as the Essenes, were best known for the preservation of the Dead Sea scrolls. It is quite apparent from the ruins of ancient Qumran that there were many immersion pools as part of the communal compound. The group stressed obedience to God’s commands and believed mainstream Judaism had become “too worldly.” The community moved from Jerusalem into the desert to await the coming of Messiah in the 2nd Century BC and stressed immersion for reasons of ritual purity. They did not marry or procreate but took in orphan children to raise them up in their ways. It is believed that John the Baptist may have been raised by the Essenes.
The Baptism of John the Baptist
Revered as a significant religious figure in Christianity, John the Baptist was a sanctified man of God and a well-known Jewish evangelist that preached in the desert in the early first century. He had a reputation and anointing that attracted vast numbers of people from all over as it says in Matthew 3:5-6:
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John was doing more than calling for repentance from among the people. God had spoken to him, and he was looking for the Messiah to come to him to be revealed as God’s anointed, Son. Here is his testimony:
“This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose, I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” John 1:30-31
Revealed? How? John continues to explain what God told him to look for – the sign.
“…but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:33b-34
Many came to be baptized. It made such an impact on the people that the spiritual leaders made a trip to the desert to evaluate the situation. When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he rebuked them and said:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
Fulfilling All Righteousness
Upon seeing Yeshua approach him, John called out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Since Yeshua had no sin, He had no need to repent as even John, the Baptizer said; “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Matthew 3:14b-15
The Baptism of Jesus
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,[c] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,[d] with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
The Declaration from Heaven
Ok and just like that He was revealed to Israel.
According to the Talmud, (the Jewish book of stories and teachings from the rabbis), there was a time after the era of the prophets, that rabbis and other people would often hear what was called the Daughter Voice, the Voice of the Dove or The Bat Kol (In Hebrew). The heavenly voice was known to be the manifest counsel of God. When this recognized voice from Heaven spoke, the crowds around the Jordon heard the supernatural announcement of God’s Messiah. It was as if the Father introduced His Son as a midwife would a newborn child, at the time when Yeshua emerged from the waters of the womb.
The witnesses heard it! It was now officially declared. The Messiah had been proclaimed by the Voice from Heaven – “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The announcement of God’s Son, His Messiah, the One that would take away the sins of the world was confirmed. This is what John was waiting for. That which God told him would happen had been fulfilled.
John’s Ministry Comes to an End and Yeshua’s Begins
It was then, immediately after Yeshua was baptized, that He was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After He came back triumphant from being tempted, Yeshua found out that the message and baptizing efforts of John the Baptist had ceased, and John was now imprisoned. The forerunner to Christ had completed his task. The official time had come for Yeshua to now start His ministry.
The Way is Prepared
John had prepared the way for the people to repent for their sins and acknowledge their need for a Savior. He told them that the Messiah would provide for them a higher baptism – a true cleansing of the soul. It would be a Spiritual cleansing that only the Son of God Himself could administer.
The fame of Yeshua was growing as His ministry had taken off. Rumors of miracles circulated all over the land. The number of His followers were described to be as “myriads.” It is estimated by scholars, that possibly up to one-third of the Jewish people of Judea could have trusted in Him as multitudes followed Him.
The Instructions from Yeshua – Water Baptism
Before Christ ascended into Heaven, He told His disciples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19
When one desires to follow Yeshua, commit to His ways and become His disciple, he or she must first repent of their sins and acknowledge that only Yeshua (Jesus) is Messiah just as God Himself proclaimed it from Heaven. The new believer has been instructed to be baptized in water, thereby identifying with Christ. The picture of baptism in Christ is depicted as a death, burial, and resurrection. When one is baptized, the picture of being immersed into the water is equivalent to going with Him into the grave and coming out of the water correlates to His resurrection. When one follows Yeshua in baptism they are proclaiming to the world (i.e., the physical witnesses present as well as the spirit world – angelic and demonic), that they are “in Christ” and have chosen Him as Savior and Lord.
The Baptism of Fire
The Baptism of Fire (“Esh” in Hebrew) or the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a refining, supernatural immersion of Holy and Spiritual fire from on High. It is not a physical fire but a supernatural one that is received by faith. As a follower of Christ, we are now called to a higher place in God. Not subject to the curse that came because of Adam and Eve choosing their own way and making their own choices but rather living by faith and dependency on God.
When one rejects the lie of the enemy, represented by the “enchanter” in Genesis 3, they are now eligible to “eat” from “the Tree of Life.” A powerful Angel (that is the Angel of the Lord) uses His Sword or His Word to cut between soul and spirit, bone and marrow, employing a holy fire to burn out the chaff or the fleshly ways to leave what remains as pure. The flaming sword is the fire of God that cleanses us from unrighteousness.
When God takes away ungodliness, He fills the void with His Spirit and His Powerful Spiritual gifts.
It is these gifts of the Holy Spirit that now abide in the hearts of His righteous ones; wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, exhortation, tongues, hospitality, faith, leadership, and administration…manifestations of the Spirit given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 paraphrased.)
What Baptism Did You Receive?
It was after Yeshua’s work on the cross, His resurrection, ascension, and the giving of the Holy Spirit unto man that a way was opened for a new baptism of water and fire. The new water baptism is not a baptism of repentance (like that of John the Baptist). It is a baptism of faith as one identifies with the righteousness of Christ.
The baptism that Yeshua is now able to accomplish by a supernatural fire, is the pouring out of His Spirit. This baptism fills us with His life power and burns away the desires and ways of the flesh as a burnt offering unto God. This is demonstrated in a conversation Paul had with some disciples of John as he passed through Corinth. He asked the God-fearing disciples:
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
“No,” they answered, “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
“Into what, then, were you baptized?” Paul asked.
“The baptism of John,” they replied.
Paul explained: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (Acts 19)
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Yeshua’s baptism was an announcement from God. Let us understand that as we go into the waters of His baptism, we are declaring Him to be our Messiah – our declaration that Yeshua is God’s Son– and God’s declaration over us that we are His own!