For most Christians, baptism originated with John the Baptist. The question is…where did John get the idea? As it turns out its origin can be found in the Torah. In Lev. 16: 1-6, 24 we find that Aaron’s sons have died…but how and why? In Lev. 10:1-3 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed Yahveh while in his presence. In doing so, they were consumed with fire before the Lord. These verses indicate that God is Holy and no one can sin in His presence or appear before him in a state of sin. So in the 16th chapter of Leviticus God begins to deal with the sin problem. In verse 4 we see before the priest puts on his sacred garments before he commences with the sin and burnt offering he must bathe and then he offers the sin offering to make atonement for him and his household. Verse 24 recalls that the priest must wash again after soiling his sacred garments with the blood of atonement. As we transition to 1 Peter 2:9-10 we learn that the gentile believers in Messiah are chosen to become a royal priesthood and a holy nation. These Jews and Gentiles from many earthly nations have become a new nation, the people of God, but also a royal priesthood. Peter did this to show that the priesthood continued in the New Covenant, not as the Levitical priesthood but as a more perfect one that commenced before the time of Moses.
In Heb 7:1-19 Melchizedek, who was the King of Salem (Jerusalem), was also a priest of God the Most high. He was described as resembling the Son of God. Since Abraham deferred to him, he is therefore greater than Abraham and his descendents. This is also true of the Messiah, who is Lord as described in Psalm 110-1-4, although not a descendent of Levi but of Judah. He is declared a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Since we declare and follow the Messiah we also follow Him in His priestly duties. The Levitical model did not work and has in fact been discontinued since 70 A.D. Therefore another Priesthood was established for those who believe in King Messiah. In this we see that the Prophet Daniel, chapter 12 verses 1-4, spoke of resurrection of the just and unjust at the end of time. The wise and those who lead many to righteousness are made so by accepting their atonement as described in Isaiah 53: 8, 11-12. What does this have to do with believers in the contemporary age?
In the New Covenant Yeshua seeks out Yohanan (John) the Baptizer. Yohanan was already well known and greatly respected by the Jewish people — by birth, he too was a priest. According to Luke 1:5, John’s father Zechariah was a Levitical Priest descendent from Abijah and his wife Elizabeth was also a descendent of Aaron. While he was apparently living among the Essenes down in the Jordan Valley [and not living in Jerusalem], but was visited by both Pharisees and Sadducees to hear his preaching and to be baptized. Yohanan had been impressed by the Holy Spirit to carry out his ministry, to prepare Israel for the coming of Messiah. Yeshua of course knew this. Yohanan was the only person in that time who could have baptized Yeshua — Yohanan was called of God, and was of the Aaronic line. The “official” priesthood at the Temple was made up of Sadducees who were completely focused on ritual and authority, and had no awareness of or obedience to God’s will.
The blood connection between Mary and Elizabeth was incidental to Yeshua seeking out Yohanan for baptism — its importance was mainly the means by which Mary was given a human reassurance of what the Angel of the LORD had already told to her. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s lineage mattered because of the unique role Yohanan was to play in establishing Yeshua’s ministry in accordance with the Law and the Prophets. Elizabeth was much older than her relative Mary. Since Joseph’s father Jacob was a descendent of Judah, Matt.1:2-3, 16 and Mary’s father Heli was a descendent of Judah Luke 3:23, 33, Mary and Elizabeth were most likely related through Elizabeth’s mother who was related to Heli and Jacob who both had the same father (Matt. 1:15, Luke 3:24).
In Matt. 3:9-17 Yeshua, a descendent of Judah, seeks out Yohanan, the son of a Levitical Priest. Yohanan did not invent something new. He was aware of the ceremonial cleansing as practiced by the Levitical priests and thereby tied immersion to repentance and by extension to atonement. Immersion is explained in Rom. 6:2-11 where those who repent are buried and raised to new life once God’s atonement is accepted. Those who genuinely confess Yeshua as Messiah, Savior, and Lord, and accept Him as their perfect sacrifice for their personal sins, and profess belief by faith in Him are saved. Water baptism is done in remembrance of Messiah’s baptism and in obedience to His command, but in itself does not cleanse sin or have any other saving power. I realize some may disagree with this but kindly keep in mind that Mafiosi, Irish Republicans (Catholic), the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Protestant), Latin American drug kingpins, and many Nazi’s were/are baptized individuals. Baptism is an opportunity to publicly give our testimony and to witness to the saving grace of God, the saving work of the Holy Spirit, and the saving blood of Messiah Yeshua.
Jews AND Gentiles are commanded to be baptized, going back to the Great Commission in Matthew 28. It was the original Jewish disciples who were given the command to “go and baptize,” and the command was to do so not just to fellow Jews, but to people of every tribe and nation. By believing in God’s provision God credits us with righteousness as he did with Abraham in Gen.15:6.
The atonement offered in the Book of Leviticus was not only poured out on the Israelites, but also on the Gentiles, Acts 10:34-48. The water cleansing that was introduced to the Levitical priests in the Torah was accorded to the Messiah, a son of Judah, by a son of a Levitical Priest, Yohanan the Baptizer. With the Messiah being the first fruits of the dead to be raised so this gift was also given to the Gentiles, who when accepting of it became priests of a most Holy God in the order of Melchizedek who foreshadowed the King and Priest to come with Salvation in his name—Yeshua.