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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 3, by Kevin M. Williams

Matthew 3:4-6
Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

There are many biblically literate Christians of the opinion that John the Baptist instituted the ritual observance of baptism. This is not true.

The Scriptures outlined ritual cleansings through immersion all the way back in Exodus. In fact, there are many forms of immersions, for many reasons:

  • Ritual cleansing (Exodus 19:10)
  • Temple cleansing (Exodus 30:18, Numbers 8:21)
  • For priestly ordination (Exodus 40:12)
  • Medicinal cleansings (Numerous references to skin diseases)
  • Following sexual intercourse (Leviticus 15:16)
  • Menstrual cleansing (Leviticus 15:19)
  • For repentance (Matthew 3:6)
  • To signify conversion (Matthew 28:19)

In principle, we could go all the way back to Noah in the book of Genesis to find the first immersion. How did God cleanse the earth of its uncleanness? He immersed it totally in water!

Similarly, the rabbis ascribe the crossing of the Sea (Ex 14) as a mikveh—an immersion. Through the crossing, the Israelites were symbolically cut-off from their oppressor, Pharaoh (an archetype for Satan), dead and buried to their former life and master, and brought over into new life, the first fruits of the community of the redeemed.

The spiritual application of immersions is deeply embedded in Hebraic life. John the Baptist did not invent baptism—he encouraged it.

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

This verse gives even further credibility to the fact that immersions were not a new phenomenon—even the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming forth for immersion by John! They did not wonder at what he was doing, or why. In fact, for some in this period, being immersed by a man of a particular reputation was considered a mitzvah—a righteous deed.7 They appear to have thought highly of John.

John’s response to the Pharisees and Sadducees is striking. On the one hand, he appears to set the tone in the New Testament for many readers’ opinions of these two sects. He may sound anti-Semitic, though his vocabulary echoes that of many Old Testament prophets.

“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” At the heart of John’s question is a deeper, more meaningful question. The Pharisees were known for striving after righteousness, of diving deeply in the Scripture to find each and every nuance so that they might live righteous lives free of sin. In many ways, they were trying to bring about the same kingdom of heaven John was preaching.

Yet, as is true with so many of us today, they had replaced faith, contrition, and humility, with outward appearances. Jesus accuses them later, in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Their striving had led to self-reliance in their own ability to be “clean.” They had replaced faith with deeds. Like the Messiah, John saw through this veneer.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2001, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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