Chapter 5 - Jesus Commanded Immersion


If we are to become true talmidim, we must understand the reason and process of baptism (immersion). Yeshua gives His talmidim instructions on this before He ascends to the Father – in Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make talmidim of all the nations, immersing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Ruach HaKodesh, teaching them to obey all I have commanded.” So, what exactly did immersion look like in the first century? You may already know that the Jews were immersing themselves in “mikvahs” (sometime spelled mikveh) for several centuries before Yeshua was born on the earth. What did it all mean?

The mikvah

First of all, what was a mikvah? In Hebrew it means “gathering of waters”. Usually it was an in-ground bath connected to a spring of living or flowing waters. They were mostly built surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem, for it was required to immerse before entering the Temple grounds. You had to be made clean by water – to come on to the “holy” grounds of the Temple. A recent “dig” in Jerusalem found 48 different mikvah baths near the Monumental Staircase leading into the Temple Complex.

There were different reasons why one would have to enter a mikvah and be cleansed – some were Scriptural some were from oral tradition. Reasons would include immersing before entering the Temple grounds, converting to Judaism, a woman be cleansed after a menstrual period, people wanting to be cleansed from sin so they were immerse for repentance and finally for the reason of cleansing new pots and eating from “clean” utensils.

Immersing alone

Jewish people would immerse themselves in a mikvah without the help of anyone else. Also they would be naked. To be free of anything touching the body was imperative. So they would walk into the water with hand held out in front. Usually one would have a witness. A new convert to Judaism, being baptized may say the words, “I will do and I will hear” in regards to following the Torah. Some would immerse three times, because the word “mikvah” occurs in the Torah three times.

What is really interesting is that in rabbinic writings the baptismal water – mikvah – was referred to as the “womb” of the world. When a Jewish convert came out of the water it was like a “new birth” separating him/her from the pagan world. He/she may be called “a child just born” or “born again”. Isn’t that just what Yeshua was talking to Nicodemus about? He says in John 3:3 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.” He goes on to explain in verse 5, “….unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Yahweh.” Yeshua was instructing this ruler of the Jews, who knew full well of the value of immersion, that not only being born of the water of the mikvah was important – but so was being born again by the Spirit. Being “born of the Spirit” was like the wind blowing, He would continue – not knowing where it came from.

I believe He meant that to repent and be baptized (that is what you did when you were immersed) and to trust and return to HaShem – were two actions that were needed in order to share eternal life with HaShem. As with most of His teachings it was not only about following the Law it was about looking at our hearts – is was a “heart issue”. It was about believing, trusting and loving Him with your whole heart - and obeying. Through obeying you would of course be following Torah.

We see John the “Immerser” baptizing before Yeshua begins His ministry. Doesn’t it make sense that He was getting people ready – purifying them by the waters and repentance – to be in the presence of the Holy One – Yeshua? And isn’t that a reason why we would do the same – as Talmidim – to get ready to be in His Presence – eternally?

Immersing as needed

So, should baptism or immersion be a one time thing? Some would say “yes”. But the Jewish people immerse on a regular basis. Even today. There are beautiful mikvahs in synagogues and sometimes in people’s homes, that give them an opportunity to be “cleansed” both spiritually and physically daily or weekly. Wouldn’t that be so wonderful if we had that today?

Yeshua was telling His talmidim that immersion was a part of process of becoming a follower of Yeshua. It was important. But there is more to this. I believe He was requiring an immersion as a symbol of becoming a talmidim. Like a “rite of passage” or even a symbol of conversion. You have to know this that as Paul writes – Gentiles are outside of HaShem’s Covenants. He writes, “…that at that time you were without Mashiach, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world. But now in Yeshua HaMashiach you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Mashiach.” Ephesians 2:11-13

I have researched and prayed intently about “who I am” in relation to Israel. If I am not a blood born Jew, then how can I have “access” to the promises of the Covenants as spoken about by the Fathers? How can I enter into Israel? And then one day I felt like HaShem clearly spoke it to me. I am a part of Israel through the “seed of Abraham” – Yeshua HaMashiach. When I put my trust and faith in Yeshua, that He shed His blood to forgive my sins eternally – I became a part of Him. John 15:4 says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” By abiding in Him, or surrendering my whole self to Him, I am now a part of Him.

And if I am a part of the Jewish Mashiach from Israel, the “Lion of Judah”, a Jew from the tribe of Judah, then He has given me place to be a part of who He is a part of – Israel. Now I belong to Israel and all the promises and Covenants and promises of His people. This is very humbling. I do not take this lightly, and neither should you. The process of immersion, repentance and cleansing, through obedience, formally makes us a part of Him. Immersion is the “rite of passage” that makes us talmidim of Yeshua HaMashiach. Isn’t that so wonderful and uplifting?

One family, one Israel

Becoming a talmidim of Yeshua and who He is – a Jew - will make you look Jewish. If you are following and imitating a Jew – you will look like one by default. Does that make you a Jew? No. What it does is makes you a disciple of the Mashiach. I believe there are Jews by birth and disciples of Yeshua the Jewish Rabbi who are a part of Him through attaching to Him and to His Covenants. Two distinct groups of people – yet of the same family. The Jews and Hebrew people are my brothers and sisters. It really looks like adoption. And maybe in a sense it is. But remember Scripture says that Jews are adopted also, “They are Israelites."

The adoption as Elohim’s children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises belong to them.” HaShem adopted them first, and through Yeshua He adopted us later. Ephesians 1:5 “…having predestined us to adoption as sons by Yeshua HaMashiach to Himself, according to the pleasure of His will…” Maybe we are both adopted – into the same family. One Elohim – one family. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Yahweh, one faith, one baptism; one Elohim and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:4-6 (I would believe “one baptism” is your original baptism into Mashiach!)

Immersion is a command. And it “sings” like a duet. For alone you can be made clean, but you must be immersed in the Spirit (Yeshua) also. Both – water and Spirit – necessary to enter the Kingdom of Elohim.

This past summer my “Shabbat” group and I went to a camp by a lake. We sang Hebrew songs, gave short testimonies, and then walked out into the lake to immerse ourselves into Yeshua. I believe this is exactly what He commanded us to do. And it was beautiful! We walked out out of the water, clean and dedicated. Dedicated to follow His commands and to love Him forever.