In the Old Testament, baptism was used on several occasions. There were also times when people would need to wash their hands, wash their feet, or wash their clothes, but this discussion will focus on baptism of the whole body.
The first reference to baptism is a bit obscure at first, but Paul tells us that it was a symbolic form of baptism.
Exodus 13:21-22 (KJV)
21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
Exodus 14:21-22 (KJV)
21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 (KJV)
1Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
This was basically the first time that we see baptism used. Notice that it happened after the salvation from Egypt which is the land of bondage. Paul is telling us that the children of Israel that YHWH saved were all baptized. The next baptism occurs when the children of Israel make a covenant with YHWH.
Exodus 19:1-11 (KJV)
1 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. 3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. 7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. 9 And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord. 10 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, 11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
14 And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.
Moses sanctified the people and had their clothes washed in response to the covenant that they made with YHWH. This marked a transition period after their salvation from Egypt.
After this event, there were several times throughout the year when a person would be ceremonially baptized. This type of baptism was used to show that a person was transferring from being unclean to clean. Each of the following baptisms took place when a person was fully immersed under water.
In Leviticus 14, we learn about the laws concerning leprosy. When a leper is declared clean, he must follow several instructions, some of which is to wash his clothes, shave his hair, and wash himself with water.
In Leviticus 15 we learn about the laws concerning a running issue or bodily discharges. A man is declared unclean if he has a running issue and everything he touches is unclean. If you were to touch something that he touched, or even touch him, you were to wash your clothes and wash yourself. This would allow you to be clean that night. If at any time there is an emission of semen, the man is to wash his clothes and himself. If a woman comes in contact with the semen, she will do the same. If a woman is on her monthly period, then she is declared unclean for seven days. If you touch her or the things she sits on, you have to wash your clothes and wash yourself.
In Leviticus 16, we read about the instructions concerning the Day of Atonement. On this day, Aaron will wash his body before putting on his priestly clothes. Then when he is finished performing his duties, he will take off his garments and leave them in the tabernacle of the congregation, and then wash himself and put his clothes back on.
In Leviticus 17, there are instructions concerning the sanctity of blood. If a person eats an animal that dies naturally or is torn by beasts, he is to wash his clothes and himself with water.
In Leviticus 22, God says that if anyone becomes unclean, he is to wash himself with water and will be unclean until the evening. Only then could he eat of the holy offerings.
In Numbers 19, God gives the laws concerning the red heifer of purification. After the priest has performed the instructions, he is to wash his clothes and himself and will be unclean until the evening. If a man becomes unclean because he touched the dead body of a person, he is to wash his clothes and wash himself.
In Deuteronomy 23, if an army goes to war and a man becomes unclean, he will wash himself with water.
So each of these laws concern baptisms after coming into covenant with YHWH. When a person needed to go through a baptism, they entered a mikvah. There are two direct references to a mikvah in the Bible.
Leviticus 11:36 (KJV)
36 Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean.
The word plenty is translated from the word mikvah. The second is
Jeremiah 17:13 (KJV)
13 O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.
The word translated hope is mikvah which gives us the understanding that Messiah is the cleansing mikvah, or hope, of Israel. This gives Christ a direct correlation with the baptisms of the Old Testament.
YHWH talks about a spiritual washing through the prophets. In Isaiah 1, God talks about how sinful the people were. He tells them
Isaiah 1:16-20 (KJV)
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
It’s clear that the baptisms of the Old Testament were not meant to physically cleanse someone, but to rather take them from an unclean state to a clean state. The spiritual washing that YHWH speaks of here takes us from a spiritual state of uncleanness to a spiritual state of cleanness. This is what He wants anyways. If you’re dipping into a mikvah just to fulfill the law, you’ve missed the point.
So now let’s fast-forward to the New Testament with John’s Baptism. Let’s look at it through a chronological way using all four gospel accounts.
|Luke 3:1-21 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.|
|Mark 1:11 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;|
|Matthew 3:11 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,||Mark 1:44 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.||Luke 3:33 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;|
|Matthew 3:22 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.|
|John 1:19-2219 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?|
|Matthew 3:33 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.||Mark 1:2-32 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.||Luke 3:44 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.||John 1:2323 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.|
|Luke 3:5-65 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.|
|Matthew 3:44 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.||Mark 1:66 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;|
|Matthew 3:5-65 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.||Mark 1:55 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.|
|Matthew 3:77 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?||Luke 3:77 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?|
|Matthew 3:8-98 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.||Luke 3:88 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.|
|Matthew 3:1010 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.||Luke 3:99 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.|
|Luke 3:10-1510 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;|
|John 1:24-2524 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?|
|Matthew 3:11 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:||Mark 1:7-87 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.||Luke 3:1616 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:||John 1:26-2726 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.|
|Matthew 3:1212 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.||Luke 3:1717 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.|
|Luke 3:1818 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.|
|John 1:2828 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.|
|Matthew 3:1313 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.||Mark 1:99 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.|
|John 1:29-3129 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.|
|Matthew 3:14-1514 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.|
|Matthew 3:16-1716 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.||Mark 1:10-1110 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.||Luke 3:21-2221 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.|
|John 1:32-3432 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.|
|Luke 3:2323 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age…|
I’d like for you to notice a few things about this passage.
- John is preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
- He does this in the same way the baptisms in the Torah are performed, by immersion in water.
- When the priests and Levites came to John, they didn’t accuse him of doing something that was against the Torah, but asked him if he was the Christ who would baptize.
- John claims to baptize with water but says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
- When Jesus came, John asked to be baptized by Him. But Jesus said that He must be baptized with water in order to fulfill all righteousness. Why? Hebrews 2:17 (KJV) 17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
Jesus was baptized by immersion not for remission of sins, but in order to be like us. Also, we visually see what happens spiritually with us when we are baptized. The Father is pleased and the Holy Spirit descends. Another reason Jesus was baptized was to show His transition from a private life to a public work of ministry. This happened when He was 30 years old which is the time when a man could become a priest according to Numbers 4.
After this experience, Jesus had his disciples start baptizing people for repentance.
John 3:22-26 (KJV)
22 After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24 For John was not yet cast into prison. 25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
John 4:1-3 (KJV)
1 When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2 (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) 3 He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.
Of course, John knew that he was not the Christ but was the one who prepared the way for Christ. So it didn’t bother him that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing more people. In fact, this is what he wants. In John 4, it tells us clearly that Jesus Himself never baptized anyone, but allowed His disciples to. Please continue with me in Part 2 of this teaching and we’ll begin looking at what Jesus says about baptism.