I was immersed in water at the very early age of seven. Our family was southern Baptist and being baptized was an outward manifestation of the change inside my heart, having accepted Jesus (Yeshua) as my personal savior. It was a meaningful, significant happening in my life, one that will not fade in my memory.
Now that I am part of the Messianic Jewish movement and belong to a Messianic Jewish congregation, I have come to realize the baptismal ceremony of my youth has roots that are inseparably Jewish. Although John the Baptist immersed people repenting of their sins in the Jordan River, the normal facility for an immersion would have been a man-made pool of water called a "Mikvah". The name is derived from the Hebrew word for ‘collection or gathering’ and speaks of a place where the waters of immersion are gathered."1 The Mikvah was used to satisfy the biblical laws that required a person to be cleansed by water. The actual immersion ceremony was called "T’vilah" (to totally immerse). One of the requirements for a gentile proselyte to Judaism was the T’vilah ceremony, signifying a "born again" experience. The T’vilah immersion ceremony played a very important part in the spiritual life of the Jewish people.
As I search for the deeper, spiritual meaning of the T’vilah -Immersion Ceremony, two underlying themes are evident; the spiritual significance from a Jewish perspective, and the importance of water immersion to Yeshua and His Jewish followers. Many years ago, I purchased a small book titled "Waters of Eden - the Mystery of the Mikvah" by Aryeh Kaplan This little book has helped me understand that "the water is not washing away any filth. Rather, the Mikvah is changing the individual’s status from that of "Tomeh" (unclean) to that of "Tahor" (clean)... seen in this light, we see that the Mikvah represents the womb. When an individual enters the Mikvah, he is re-entering the womb, and when he emerges, he is as if born anew. Thus he attains a completely new status... The womb is a place that is completely divorced from all concepts of "Tumah" and uncleanness. A baby enters the world in complete purity, and there is no way he can be defiled while in the womb. Thus, when an individual enters the Mikvah, he leaves all uncleanness and Tumah behind, and emerges a new, purified person."2
This to me, is the essence of the T’vilah (Immersion) Ceremony. To voluntarily, with a humble and contrite spirit, immerse yourself in a body of water, is to die to your old self. "Don’t you know that those of us who have been immersed into the Messiah Yeshua have been immersed into his death?"3 Through being immersed, we connect with Yeshua’s death and burial, the sacrifice of GOD’s only Son, claiming that sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. "So that just as through the glory of the Father, the Messiah was raised from the dead, likewise we too might live a new life."4 Our coming out of the water is a manifestation that we share in the resurrection of the Messiah and can make claim to being born again to a new life in him!
As we rediscover and participate in this ancient biblical ceremony, it is completely clear that our Redeemer Yeshua fulfills the promises of the T’vilah ceremony. It is both a deliverance and also a recognition of how much we owe to GOD our Father, and our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, as we are born again to a new life through him. "This also prefigures what delivers us now, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience toward GOD, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah."
- GODs Appointed Customs, A Messianic Jewish Guide to the Biblical Lifecycle and Lifestyle, By Barney Kasdan, page 112-114 , Lederer Messianic Publishers. Mikvahs earliest usage in scripture is found in Genesis 1:9, and I Kings 723
- Waters of Eden - The Mystery of the Mikveh by Aryeh Kaplan, Published by NCSY / Orthodox Union, pages 12,13.
- Romans 6:3
- Romans 6:4