The Significance of the Baptism of John

I follow Herb Peters on his website Fulfilled Prophecy for new sources on possible end times developments.  He cites the best articles out of anybody that I know.  He has the ability to think outside the box, but still maintain a good solid foundation from the scriptures.  Even if you don’t completely agree with his commentaries, they are worth reading, and I check his site on a daily basis just to view the news sources that he thinks are worthy of being informed on.  Sometimes people ask me what I think about what’s going on over in the Middle East right now.  I would say I pretty much agree with Herb, but I have a few quirks of my own.
This link here did not come from Herb, but from another message board that I check in with occasionally.  While not overly noteworthy, I thought it was interesting to see that they are still excavating around the temple and making new discoveries.  The one thing that caught my attention and reminded me of a study that I did last year was the discovery of a mikvah cited in this news article.  The mikvah was sort of a big bath whereby Israelites would ritualistically cleanse themselves by immersion.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  In the zeal to convert the heathen to the ways of Israel, Israelite leaders would require Gentile to be immersed either in a mikvah or a natural body of water before they could be considered an official convert to the nation of Israel, better known as Judaism.
This gives the baptism of John such great significance.  Here John was requiring all – tax-collectors, prostitutes, drunks, soldiers, and yes, even those Pharisees – to all submit themselves to a baptism for the repentance of sins.  This was a ritual reserved for those who were godless heathens, and yet John as the prophet of God, required this as a sign of their repentance.  He even denied baptizing those that he knew to be insincere, instead telling them to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, Matthew 3:7-8.
The study that I did was triggered by a comment from Ladd in his book The Presence of the Future.  Here is what Ladd had to say concerning the baptism of John.  John announced that the coming of God’s Kingdom means that judgment must begin at the house of God.  He flatly rejected Jewish particularism and the ethical passivism which had so often characterized the apocalyptic writings.  Jewish ancestry was no guarantee of salvation.  Rigid adherence to the scribal tradition assured nothing.  John demanded repentance, not in the Jewish sense of accepting the yoke of the law, but in an ethical sense: an acknowledgment of sinfulness and changed conduct.  Evidence of such repentance was baptism in water.  The source of this rite is a much debated question; but the most likely solution is that John deliberately adapted Jewish proselyte baptism, thereby saying in effect that Jews stood on the same level with the Gentiles in view of the coming messianic visitation.  The Jew had no advantage; he must experience personal repentance as though he were no son of Abraham.
Ladd favorably cites T. W. Manson’s work The Servant-Messiah.  This insightful book demonstrated the presentation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Isaianic suffering servant of the LORD.  This book proved to be insightful to me on the basis of hardline dispensationalism which always views Israel rejecting Jesus as the glorious Son of David, overlooking the facts that Jesus, from his birth to death, was always characterized by meekness and mildness.  Here is the quote from Manson concerning the baptism of John.  If we confine the search to Judaism, the most likely of all the Jewish lustrations is the proselytes’ immersion: and that for two chief reasons.  First, the proselytes’ immersion differs from the other Jewish washings in that it is a once-for-all rite that is not repeated: and in this respect it agrees with John’s baptism, which equally seems to have been administered once only to each postulant.  Secondly, the derivation of John’s rite from the proselytes’ immersion determines the kind of ideas to be associated with John’s baptism: and those ideas fit admirably into the general picture of John’s convictions and expectations.  ~~  It seems to me that the point – and it is a very sharp and stinging point – of John’s procedure is that he deliberately invites the children of Abraham to submit to a rite which had been devised for the benefit of Pagans.  He says in effect: You call yourselves Jews, you claim to be the descendants of Abraham, you demand the privileges that belong to Israel.  You have no right to the name, no right to the status; you have forfeited all by your wickedness.  You have only one chance.  You must begin where the unclean Gentile begins – at the bottom.  You must rediscover, and re-learn your Judaism from the beginning.  Only so can you hope to have any part in the good time that is coming.
These are excellent insights and agree completely with the few words we have on record from John.  "begin not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father’" clearly showing a false hope in tracing their lineage back to Abraham for their salvation.  "The axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."  This shows us the decision of either repentance (then be baptized) or apathethically deciding to do nothing in light of the coming Messianic visitation.
If I might be so presumptuous as to think that I can add something to these commentaries, the study does not go back quite far enough.  The fall of mankind in the garden of Eden must not be forgotten.  The promise by God immediately after the rebellion of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) must be looked upon as being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  Those Israelites who heard the preaching of John had to learn a little lesson about being sinners in a sinful world before they could understand about being God’s chosen people.  God made some promises to Abraham and to his offspring.  But sin had to be dealt with.  Sin was the real enemy of Israel and many of them never caught on.
Repent and be baptized, for the Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S.  Thanks, Dennis, for pointing me in the direction of the mikvah awhile back.
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