With new people joining our BibleInteract family every month, it is good to go back to the basics now and then to foster deeper understanding of biblical traditions for our newest members. For example, when a Jewish priest was instructed in the Torah to bathe in water before performing certain acts of his divine office, he entered a ritual pool that had been set apart for spiritual cleansing. Because the mikvah immersion played a critical role in Judaic worship, it is important to learn about this ancient tradition that was even practiced by our Lord, Yeshua.
Have you even wondered why the sinless Son of God was baptized? In so doing, our Lord set forth a powerful example to be emulated by sinful humanity. In strict accordance with Jewish law, Yeshua was ritually purified by mikvah immersion under the ministry of John the Baptist, the humble, reclusive desert dweller from the Jordan Valley who preached an uncompromising message of repentance (Matt 3:13-17). Through the cleansing waters of baptism, Yeshua identified with the priests of the Old Covenant, who were cleansed with water on the day they were set apart for ministry at the age of thirty, the same age that Yeshua was set apart. The baptism of Yeshua demonstrated the perfect fulfillment of all that had been prefigured by every priest in the history of ancient Israel, the high priest in particular.
Though not a stepped water installation like mikvahs that have been excavated in Israel, the Jordan River conforms to kosher mikvah standards. The river is a place of living water (mayim hayim), subscribing to the Pharisaic interpretation of halacha (a collective body of Jewish law and tradition) with regard to ritual purity laws. Adding to the validity of the immersion, John the Baptist was the son of Zechariah, a member of the priestly course of Abijah (“God is my Father”), who served by lot in the Temple (Luke 1:5, 9). Because Judaism practiced hereditary priesthood, John the Baptist had the legal authority to perform the sacred immersion of Yeshua according to kosher mikvah standards (ritual purity).
The Hebrew term for “hope” has the same root as the word for mikvah. Our Lord Yeshua is the mikvah of Israel, the hope of the world: “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame” (Jer 17:13a). He is the cleansing fountain. Nearly five-hundred years before the birth of Yeshua, the prophet Zechariah spoke of a coming day when a cleansing fountain would restore purity to the chosen people of God. The words of the godly prophet came to pass in the fullness of time. Every aspect of Old Covenant ritual pointed to the long-awaited epiphany of Messiah Yeshua. Yes, spots and wrinkles and lukewarm hearts must plunge into the eternal, cleansing fount of life-giving, purifying water!
"In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity. "It will come about in that day," declares the LORD of hosts, "that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.” Zech 13:1-2
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