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

Matthew 3:8-9
“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”

One of the most important reasons for immersion was, no one was permitted to approach the temple in an “unclean” state. Everyone had to go through immersion in order to ascend the temple mount to make sacrifices. To ascend unclean would incur immediate death by the temple guards. No trial, no excuses—just a spear through the heart. The mount’s ritual cleanness had to be maintained at all costs!

Anyone wanting to make a sacrifice at the temple had to be immersed. Modern archeology continues to unearth mikveh pools all around the temple mount area, further evidence of the commonality of immersions.

Yet, the Bible is very clear, God desires a contrite (repentant) spirit. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Anyone could (and can) go through the motions of immersion, but without a repentant heart, it is meaningless. John’s admonition to the Pharisees and Sadducees might just as well be for us today, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Any other attitude—status as sons of Abraham for them, a denominational or theological dependence for us—is wrought with dangerous spiritual deception.

Matthew 3:10-12
“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew uses John the Baptist’s discourse to further his own gospel message—the Messiah of Israel is coming, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. John’s message was not at all out of line. The Pharisees believed (as the Jewish Orthodoxy today) that when the Messiah comes, he will explain everything. He will set matters straight, clarify the Scriptures and the Torah in such a way that any misdeeds or misunderstanding will be rectified. He will eliminate the unclean and purify the entire world.

We look at John’s words and think he is sounding harsh. In fact, he is reminding these pious sects of their own doctrines. His heart appears to be for their souls, not merely their temple ritual.


Matthew 3:13-15
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.

This passage of Scripture is often puzzling to laity and clergy alike, and it need not be. Even John seemed perplexed. We read what the crowds, the Pharisees, and Sadducees were doing—coming for the immersion of repentance, and we project the same onto Jesus.

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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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