John the Baptist 4

April 5, 2019

by Barry Fike

    Have you ever wondered about the baptism of Jesus by John?  It's vital to know how this was done according to Jewish law.  While most Christians believe that John the Baptist physically took ahold of Jesus and dunked him under the water, nothing could be further from the truth.

    Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized of him.  John says, “but I have needs to be baptized of you.”  Then Jesus answered unto him and says, “Permit it to be so for thus it behooves us to fill all righteousness.”  To fulfill all tzedakah.  Now here is the word that probably serves as the foundation upon which all biblical faith is going to be built.  We’ve going to see it over and over and over again.  Tzedakah - righteousness.  It doesn’t mean holiness.  Tzedakah, in a broad sphere of the meaning of the word, has to do with Gods full salvation.  In a narrow-limited sense, it has to do with almsgiving or charity.  Man’s care and concern for his fellowman.  Why did Jesus feel the need to be baptized?  That is an important question because in Hebrew baptism is for cleansing from sin. 

One comes up out of the mikvah as a new creation.  Is it correct to say that baptism, in Judaism, was for spiritual cleansing (i.e. the forgiveness of sins) that lead to a right relationship with God?   It’s not to get into church and it’s not for a good conscience toward God or any of these other definitions that we have heard proposed in Christianity.  It was for the forgiveness of sins.  Because a sin could be defined, in Judaism, as unclean this was for the removal of sin.  Whatever it was it means it was out of fellowship to some degree. 

   If baptism was for the forgiveness of sins why was Jesus baptized if he was sinless?  It has to do with the word tzedakah.  Jesus says, “permit this to be so for thus it behooves us to fulfill all tzedakah.”  What does tzedakah mean?  In Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon on p. 842, #6666 it states: 1. Righteousness in government a. Of a judge, a ruler, a who executes judgment and righteousness of the Davidic king, of law of the Davidic king, of the Messiah.  Gods attribute as sovereign in government, administrating justice and punishment, vindication of his people. Righteousness in a case or a cause.  Truthfulness, as something ethically right.  (remember the son of righteousness with healing in his wings Malachi 4:2) ...declaring his saving or delivering righteousness.  Of people, parallel to prosperity.” 

     Notice that this has nothing to do with forgiveness of sins.  Who is this one?  He is the son of righteousness.  He is the righteous judge.  He’s the one who is to come for all of these reasons that we’ve mentioned.  He says, “Permit this in order that I might fulfill all of this tzedakah.”  Had he not done it he wouldn’t have fulfilled all tzedakah and that would have been a sin.  For him it was absolutely essential.  If he had missed this, he would have missed the whole thing.  He was baptized so that he would be in the right relationship and fulfill all of the various functions that he was supposed to fill as son! 

    John never baptized Jesus.  In Hebrew nobody ever baptized anybody else.  Baptism was always self-administered.  But there had to be a witness because the person had to be completely under the water.  (If you'll look at the picture from a Roman catacomb notice it portrays John on the bank helping Jesus out of the water.)   If there was just one strand of hair out of the water, then they had to do it all over again.  They entered out into the water, stood with their legs spread apart, their hands out in front of them, usually with their eyes and mouth wide open and they just dunked themselves in a minimum of 120 gallons of water.  Actually, it says 40 seah, 120 gallons approximately. This is according to the Mishnah.  

    When Jesus is baptized, he came out of the water and here’s the difference.  The heavens open up and the spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and the voice from heaven comes forth and says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”   The bat kol, voice from heaven, made sure that Jesus knew that his position as son was recognized and approved by heaven.  To be aware of this was vital because of what was about to happen in the wilderness that he was soon to walk into.