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Why did John the Baptist baptize with water?

In today’s Bible study, I want to teach on the true significance of water baptism in light of Hebraic thought and history, as well as the practice of the early Christian Church.

The Ministry of John the Baptizer

John was called “John the Baptist” – not because he was a member of the Baptist church, nor was he ordained in the Baptist denomination (thank God Christianity wasn’t divided into  denominations in those days), but because he practiced water baptism as an outward demonstration of a person’s repentance from sin and committing their lives to God.

John the Baptizer preaches by the River Jordan

John was a direct male descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. He was a Kohen (or Cohen) the distinct priestly line of Kohenim that were only permitted to minister in the Old Testament Temple. Although John was raised in traditional Judaism and his father Zachariah (also a Kohan) served as a priest in the Jerusalem temple, John chose not to follow his priestly heritage. It was God’s will that John not be contaminated by the corrupt religious system of his day. He was a Nazarite from birth and was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in the womb (Luke 1:15). Instead, he obeyed God’s call to be a prophet to the nation of Israel (The prophet Jeremiah was also a Kohenim and expected to serve as a priest after his father, but later became a prophet in obedience to God’s calling). But, John was not just a prophet; he was distinguished with the great honor of being the forerunner of Jesus Christ the Messiah.

John’s greatness cannot be denied. Every one of the four Gospels begins their account of the ministry of our Lord by recording some of John’s words of introduction. Jesus Himself spoke very highly of John in this manner:

“I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is”  – Matthew 11:11.

Water Baptism in the Early Church

The early church was first comprised of all Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua in Aramaic-Hebrew). The first apostles and their growing number of disciples were but one of many Jewish sects at that time (such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.) In fact, the first disciples of Jesus did not call themselves “Christians” (only years later was this term coined), but simply followers of “The Way” – a shortened version of “the true way” or “the right way” in comparison to traditional Judaism and other religions. These early believers in Jesus continued to worship in the Jerusalem temple and observe the laws of Judaism.

However, these early followers of The Way differed greatly from other Jewish sects in that they believed that Jesus is the Messiah, that He had died for the remission of our sins (as the Holy Lamb of God), and that His resurrection from the dead ushered in a new age of God’s kingdom rule in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Everywhere, they preached in Jesus’ name and water baptized all new converts into The Way. They grew into a community of believers in Jerusalem devoted to practicing Jesus’ teachings, prayer and fellowship.

Water baptism (by full immersion in living water) was not a new concept to Jews. It was actually a common practice in those times. All pious Jews frequently immersed themselves in ritual pools known as “Mikveh’s”* to spiritually purify themselves. So the idea of water purification was not foreign to most Jews when John the Baptist came on the scene. They understood his message of repentance from sin and the corresponding outward act of purification by washing and immersion in a pool of water or river.

The Forerunner of Messiah.

Jesus is baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness.

John the Baptizer began his prophetic ministry around A.D. 28. His body was lean and hardened by years of solitary desert life. His hair and beard was long and unkempt, and he dressed in a single garment made of rough camel’s hair bound by a leather belt. He traveled the land preaching a passionate message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Many responded to John’s call for repentance and spiritual renewal. They would immediately wade out with John into the Jordan River, and he would baptize them as an outward demonstration of death to the old life of sin and resurrection to a new life of righteousness in Christ. Unlike the frequent Jewish Mikveh washings, John’s baptism was a one-time event for a renewed people of God.

John was God’s true prophet who led the way for the beginning of the Christian Church. Although he admitted that he was not the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah had long ago declared him to be the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah: “[John was] the one crying in the wilderness, making straight the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3)

John the Baptizer’s prophetic message struck conviction of sin and fear of God’s judgment among his hearers, so much so that even the religious Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by him. On one occasion he thundered at these religious leaders, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come! Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’…” John dispelled their false sense of security: neither their birthright as Jews nor their religious heritage nor their important leadership positions, would save them from God’s wrath to come if they did not open their hearts in true repentance; they were just as spiritually condemned as non-Jews.

Jesus the Messiah was greater than John.

John himself admitted he was not the Messiah, but a humble messenger of God. When questioned about whether he was Elijah, or “The Prophet” (spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19), he told them “I am not.” “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he [Jesus the Messiah] 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 with fire” (Luke 3:16).

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. One day while John was preaching, he saw a figure approaching him and immediately stopped and cried aloud, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is mightier that I, for he was before me” (John 1:15) When Jesus asked John to baptize Him, he was astonished and said, “I need to be baptized by You!” But Jesus insisted, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-14).

So John obeyed Jesus and baptized Him (even though Jesus should be the one baptizing John). As soon as Jesus emerged from the water, everyone saw the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus “like a dove” (not an actual dove, but the Spirit’s gentle presence), and a voice came from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16).

The Christian Rite of Baptism

Water baptism by full immersion is the correct method.

John the Baptizer pioneered the rite of water baptism practiced in most Christian churches today. Although certain churches practice a “sprinkling” type of baptism, the correct way has always been by full immersion. The proper manner of baptism as performed by John, the twelve apostles, and the early Christians is the complete dunking method. The penitent sinner should acknowledge his repentance from sin and accept Jesus as his Savior while another believer or minister of God stands beside him or her, and extend God’s forgiveness and acceptance into the Christian family. According to Jesus’ command, the words should be spoken over the new convert, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins” (Matthew 28:18-19)

When I was a baby I was baptized by a Roman Catholic priest with the sprinkling of water on my forehead. But after I left the Roman Catholic Church and became a Born-Again Christian, I was baptized again. This second time it was by full immersion in a pool of water – just as Jesus and His disciples did.

If you have accepted Jesus the Messiah as your Savior and Lord and have never been water baptized (by full immersion), it’s time that you did so. You can be water baptized in a church baptismal, a swimming pool, a river, or even a spa – as long as you do it prayerfully with a repented heart towards God. Make sure you are able to go completely under the water; that’s how true believers have done it from the very beginning of the Christian church.

If water baptism was important to Jesus, it should be important to us. Don’t keep putting it off. I know God will bless you in a special way for honoring His Word.

–         Luis Josephus

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* The Jewish rite of water purifification in a Mikvah (pool) was known as Tevilah. Tevilah was by full body immersion with “living” water from a Spring. The Mikvah had the proportions 3 cubits long & 1 cubits deep and 1 cubit wide. This was done for purifications before certain events such as spiritual cleansing, coming into the presence of God, marriage, and also after certain events such as childbirth and disease. Tevilah was also one of three requirements for conversion of the Gentiles to Judaism. The washing of hands & feet commonly practiced was a miniature Tevilah.

FOR FURTHER STUDY:
“Do I need to be baptized to be saved?”


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The Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost)

Shavuot (Pentecost), is a Hebrew word meaning “weeks”. “Pentecost” is the Greek word for “50th”. After the Spring Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread/Firstfruits you should count exactly fifty days from the last Passover and you will end up on Shavuot seven weeks later  according to the Hebrew calendar.

“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord.” – Leviticus 23:15-17

Shavuot, like so many other Jewish holidays began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. All Israelite men were obligated to present themselves at the Temple in Jerusalem. Shavuotwas distinguished in ancient times by bringing firstfruits crop offerings to the Temple, marking the beginning of the summer wheat harvest.

The “Waving Ceremony”.

On the day of Shavuot (usually in May or early June), the priests offered two leavened loaves of wheat bread as firstfruits to the Lord. The waving of these two loaves and sacrifice of two lambs formed a “peace offering.” The priest waved them before the altar and set them aside for the priest’s festive meal eaten in the Temple. Pilgrim worshippers were instructed to offer freewill offerings and to rejoice before the LORD.

Why Two Loaves?

Each loaf contained about four pounds of flour (Lev. 23:17). According to Rabbinic teaching, each loaf was 7 x 4 handbreadths (28″ x 16″) and seven fingers wide (6″). The two loaves offered on Shavuot represents the Church of Jesus Christ which is “built upon the foundation of the apostles (New Testament believers) and the prophets (Old Testament believers). But just as these loaves contain leaven (yeast), so the Christian church isn’t yet perfected (1 John 1:8). Only Jesus Christ was perfect (Hebrews 4:15). The leaven may also illustrate the presence of “Tares” (weeds) (Matt.13:38) – false brethren living among both the Old and New Testament sanctified ones. The number two in the Bible is the number of WITNESS and TESTIMONY. Two witnesses establish a truth (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:19-20); The Ten Commandments were written on two stones (Ex. 31:18) and are fulfilled by two commandments of love (Matt. 22:34-40).

Rabbis Divert from the True Focus of Shavuot.

After the Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the iron fist of the Roman Empire, the Jewish people were defeated and dispersed all round the world and their homeland devastated.

Since the land was desolate worth nothing to harvest, the Jewish leaders (Sanhedrin) convened in A.D. 140 and decided to change the focus of Shavuot away from an agricultural festival.  In order to keep the holiday alive, the rabbis invented the false doctrine (still believed to this day) that Shavuot was the day that the Torah (Mosaic law) was given to Moses on Mount Sinai.  As a result, the focus of Shavuot was diverted from an agricultural feast to the commemoration of the Law and the birthday of Judaism.  The Bible never associates the Feast of Shavuot with Sinai! Unfortunately, this false man-made doctrine quickly caught on and has been practiced for centuries, although it has no biblical basis.

Pentecost-Shavuot Harvest

Pentecost – The celebration of the Summer Wheat Harvest and the birth of the Christian Church. Fifty days were carefully counted out and on the appointed day, two loaves of bread baked with leaven were waved aloft as an offering to the Lord. This is symbolic of the church being comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. On the day of Pentecost – directly following Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out on a large group of Jewish believers so that they would have the power to witness “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The New Testament Fulfillment of Shavuot (Day of Pentecost)

As recorded in the Bible (Acts chapter 1 and 2) that the New Testament Church was born. It was on the 50th day after the Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread/Firstfruits that the apostles were praying together and the Holy Spirit descended on them. They received the “gift of tongues” – the ability to speak in other languages – and immediately began to preach about Jesus Christ the Messiah to Jewish people from all over the world who flocked to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot. Christian Pentecost became not only a commemoration of the Holy Spirit’s visit but also marks the birth of Christianity – the uniting of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus the Messiah.

A Larger Harvest.

The early summer harvest of Shavuot in Israel was a small harvest in comparison to the larger harvest that came in the autumn of each year. This has prophetic significance. Strange as it might seem to mainstream Christianity today, God is not trying to save the whole world right now. He has planned a far larger harvest of souls when Jesus returns. Those of us who are saved today are only part of the smaller harvest. When most people in this present evil age are traveling the broad road to destruction, we have been uniquely called to enter in by the narrow gate that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14) and make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

God Pours Out His Holy Spirit.

As recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 2, that first day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31. God initiated a new covenant with the house of Israel that also included the Gentile people:

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. “ (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

On that morning He poured out His Holy Spirit on all flesh, as He had foretold. And that promise is still available for you today; that if you will turn from your transgression and call upon the name of the Lord, you shall be saved.

–         Luis Josephus

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Question: When is the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) in 2014?

Answer: June 3

Note: The Jewish calendar date begins at sundown of the night beforehand.

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