Foundations of the Faith

the elementary teachings in Hebrews 6
that prepare disciples in Yeshua to move on to maturity

Instruction about Washings
1: The Immersion of John

Our third foundational area is translated "instruction about immersions (or baptisms)" in many versions, but in Greek it is "washings".

For this reason, we will include teaching here about kinds of washing which are not usually translated "immersion", such as washing in the Word, washing the disciples' feet, and washing our spiritual garments. Since there are also several kinds of "immersion" to be understood, the laying of this foundation involves more detailed teaching than those we have looked at so far.

Because some washings depend on others in order to be understood well, we will look at them in the order of their appearance in the New Testament.

The first washing we need to understand is the immersion of John: "And so John came, immersing in the desert region and preaching an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Confessing their sins, they were immersed by him in the Jordan River."

Those who were immersed became the immerser's disciples, as we read later about Yeshua: "Yeshua was gaining and immersing more disciples than John."

John's immersion was a preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way." But Yeshua said of John, "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Later, when Yeshua's immersion was being preached by the apostles, those who had been immersed with John's immersion were immersed again in the name of Yeshua: "So Paul asked, 'Then what immersion did you receive?' 'John's immersion,' they replied. Paul said, 'John's immersion was a immersion of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Yeshua.' On hearing this, they were immersed into the name of the Lord Yeshua."

From this we understand that John's immersion was not the immersion of the new birth. It was a washing of the body by immersion in water, like the washings in the Law of Moses that were included in most processes for cleansing.

But the significance of John's immersion was in the cleansing of the heart through repentance, of which the washing in water was symbolic. Without true repentance, John's immersion was useless: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was immersing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

Because John's immersion was still within the covenantal framework of the Law of Moses, its typical areas of repentance were practical: "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise. Collect no more than what you have been ordered to. Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."

So in what way was John's message different from that of the teachers of the Law in his day?

John's spiritual authority provided an environment that was cleansed from the faults of the scribes and Pharisees, where the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven could be presented, and be received, without spiritual hindrance: "All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Yeshua's words, acknowledged that G-d's way was right, because they had been immersed by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the Law rejected G-d's purpose for themselves, because they had not been immersed by John."

John's immersion is still useful today in the context of rabbinic Judaism, since the rabbis are the spiritual heirs of the scribes and Pharisees.

There are sometimes disciples of Yeshua who for various reasons decide to go through the process of conversion to Judaism with a rabbi from the Jewish community. In order to succeed in this, they must (by denial, evasion or silence) refrain from acknowledging Yeshua as Messiah before the rabbinical court that oversees their conversion. The conversion for both men and women then proceeds to an immersion that carries the same meaning as in second Temple times; the one being immersed becomes a disciple of the one(s) carrying out the immersion. To reinforce this, the standard conversion also includes a vow before G-d to keep Halacha (Jewish observance as defined by generations of rabbinic authority).

In other words, through the immersion of the conversion process, that believer in Yeshua becomes not only a convert to the Jewish faith, but a disciple of the rabbinical court overseeing the process. Since no rabbinical courts recognized by the Jewish community today will knowingly allow their disciples to follow Yeshua as Messiah, the believer is submitting to an authority that rejects Yeshua.

This produces an unclean spiritual mixture in the life of the disciple, who is now submitted to two authorities which are at war with each other. This is a reality in the spirit realm, even if the disciple is not explicitly required to choose a side.

Such believers will begin to experience the spiritual tension as soon as the conversion process is complete. They can no longer mix comfortably with most Christians, who do not accept a commitment to observe the Law of Moses. On the other hand, they feel uncomfortable with most Jewish people, with whom they are unable to share their spiritual walk with the Lord. Their spiritual submission to the Jewish court provides access to hostile spirits that begin to oppress them in various ways. It becomes difficult or impossible to hear the Lord's voice.

This spiritual tug-of-war often produces a kind of split personality. The disciple begins to swing between the two authorities: following a line of Jewish reasoning that eliminates the need for Yeshua (feeling more at home with unbelieving Jews), or following Yeshua as Messiah without the need for Jewish observance (feeling more comfortable among Christians). In many cases, believers who convert to Judaism will ultimately abandon one authority or the other: either rejecting Yeshua as Messiah, or else abandoning their vow of Jewish observance.

For a disciple of Yeshua who is caught in this dilemma, the immersion of Yeshua has not been undone; and since immersion into His name is not something that we repeat, we cannot solve this disciple's problem by starting all over as if he or she were a new disciple. On the other hand, a vow has been taken before G-d to enter the covenant of circumcision in the Law of Moses. Both the Law itself and the New Testament testify that this covenant cannot be abandoned without severe spiritual and physical consequences. Therefore, we need to find a solution for such disciples within the Law of Moses.

The immersion of John provides the right solution today, just as it did for the disciples of the Pharisees in his day. It was for the people of Israel who were ready to repent from the problems of Pharisaic teaching (the same problems evident in today's rabbinic Judaism) but without leaving the covenant of circumcision. It provides an alternative Jewish framework which supports the gospel of Yeshua.

We have applied this washing to disciples of Yeshua who sought relief from the spiritual dilemmas brought on by conversion to Judaism. In our experience, John's immersion resolves these conflicts for such a disciple, and restores his/her clarity with the Lord.

Scripture references, in the order that they appear:
Mark 1:4-5
John 4:1
Mark 1:2
Matthew 11:11
Acts 19:3-5
Matthew 3:7-8
Luke 3:11, 13, 14
Luke 7:29-30

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