Messianic Expectations and Ezekiel’s Sprinkling

Six centuries before Yeshua the Messiah was born the prophet Ezekiel instructed the scattered remnant of Israel that God would some day gather them back to their promised land. In the process they would be struck with remorse for all their wicked ways.

They would also be dashed with purifying water, would receive a new spirit and the indwelling Spirit of God, after which the nation would dwell in peace and abundance, Ezekiel 36:24-38.

The central theme of this site is intimately tied to this Messianic prophecy and may be summed up as follows:

God's promises to Israel in Ezekiel 36:24-38, like that of a New Covenant to Israel in Jeremiah 31, were initiated more than nineteen centuries ago.1 They are discerned in various passages of New Covenant Scripture.

The national purification by dashing with pure water was initiated by R. John the Baptizer.2 The promised outpouring of the Spirit was initiated by Messiah Yeshua.

The first decades of the Messianic Era saw a partial and continuing fulfillment of these and other promises among Jewish followers of Yeshua.

Their complete fulfillment is due after Yeshua’s return from heaven.

A major implication flowing from this thesis is that the redemption of Israel, indeed, the entire world, has long been hindered in a serious way through lack of understanding.

The author believes many in the Christian Church, as well as the modern Messianic Movement, will rethink these crucial issues. God’s great message of redemption in Yeshua will be rightly understood, rightly believed and rightly proclaimed.

The restoration of knowledge will enable Israel’s eyes to be opened to the Good News and many Israelis will believe in Messiah before He returns from heaven.

Promised Redemption

The Jewish people have long cherished the idea of God’s great Messianic Redemption of Israel and the world. Indeed, the first wave of Jews who returned home to the promised land from the Babylonian exile-- more than five hundred years before Yeshua was born --looked for the promised Messianic Redemption. Subsequent prophets such as Zechariah and Malachi spurred this faith and in the centuries following them others of the scattered of Israel with the same hope returned home from many lands.

By late second Temple days Jews from "every nation under Heaven” were going up to Jerusalem. The fifteen languages spoken on the day of Shavu’ot (Pentecost) cover the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world, Acts 2:5-11. Even Shaul, who became the Apostle Paul, had returned to the Holy Land from his birthplace in Asia Minor.

The Jewish people knew this was in harmony with the Torah (the five books of Moses) and the holy Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They knew God would regather Israel at the time of His promised Redemption. His Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom would miraculously appear and shatter foreign oppressors.3 Any Jews still left among the nations would be regathered.

God’s Spirit would be poured out freely and the decrees of God would go forth to the world from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Messiah, the Son of David, would rule Israel and with great power would crush nations which were disobedient. The world would learn peace and not war, the swords beaten into plowshares.

Kingdom Fervor

No wonder many in Israel were consumed with Kingdom fever in those days. Jewish monastics, believed to be Essenes, who were bound by covenant and striving for purity, left the mainstream of "polluted” Jewish culture to become a voice in the wilderness around the Dead Sea, looking to the Teacher of Righteousness and expecting the war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.4

At the other end of the prophetic spectrum Jewish guerrillas, like Bar Abbas, opposed Roman rule and pro-Roman Jews and fomented uprisings in the hope they might some day free Israel from foreign bondage, that they might serve God only.

Yohannan - Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet

Into this charged atmosphere stepped a fiery young Rabbi named Yohannan, or John. The son of a priestly family of Cohens, from birth he had been consecrated to self-denial, apparently the vow of the nazirite found in Torah, cf. Luke 1:15, Numbers 6:1-21.

John lived an austere life in the wilds of the Jordan valley, wore coarse clothing, ate wild foods and according to the vow, like ancient Israel’s famous judge Samson, would have had long hair. He cried out that Israel’s long awaited Kingdom was really at hand. Everyone must repent and turn back to God with a whole heart. Multitudes in Israel took R. John seriously. He was a prophet, and many thought he might possibly be the Messiah.

Other priestly Cohens and Levites of the Pharisaical party were concerned with this popular movement and sent messengers from Jerusalem to find out who he was, John 1:19-24. The questions they asked throw light on Messianic expectation of second Temple days.

Like all Israel the Pharisees expected an anointed King, the Messiah, at the time of the Kingdom, Jeremiah 23:5-6.

He too was expected, Matthew 17:10, Malachi 3:23 (4:5).

God would some day raise up for Israel a Prophet like Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our great teacher, Deuteronomy 18:18. 

R. John, though declaring the nearness of Israel’s Kingdom, denied being any of these end-time Jewish figures. This provoked the Pharisaical messengers to ask a final question that adds a great deal to our knowledge of end-time belief in Israel.

"Why then do you baptize if you are not Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John 1:25.

25 καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτòν καὶ εἰ̃παν αὐτω̨̃ τί οὐ̃ν βαπτίζεις εἰ σὺ οὐκ εἰ̃ ὁ Χριστòς οὐδὲ ’Ηλίας οὐδὲ ὁ προφήτης   

The structure of this question is meant to reveal Pharisaical belief that Israel would be baptized before entering the Kingdom. Here baptizing is being scrutinized. Baptizeis (βαπτίζεις) as the active indicative verb, sandwiched between "then” (οὐ̃ν) and "if” (εἰ), stresses the importance of this idea and its direct association with either Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet.

They did not ask, "Why do you baptize?” as if they had no idea, but, "Why,... if you are not one of the end-time leaders?” In other words, they expected someone of the stature of Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet to perform this work.

Neither did they ask "what” he was doing, as though R. John had invented a new ritual. They were not surprised that someone would proclaim Israel’s Kingdom and baptize. Jay Adams writes,

"There is not one hint in the New Testament concerning the institution of this supposedly "new" practice.  Rather, the Jewish people most naturally assume that John is a prophet from God, because he is baptizing.  Notice the question asked by the representatives of the Pharisees (those eagle-eyed heresy hunter would have instantly pounced upon John for teaching new rites, had they not already been acquainted with and accepted baptism).  After John denied he was the Messiah or Elijah returned to the earth, they asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"  By this statement, the Jewish leaders clearly indicate that the Old Testament predicted the coming of someone who would baptize and that this activity would be one of his distinguishing characteristics."

A.M. Hunter adds,

"The Jews expected a general purifying of God’s People before Messiah came.”5

The Pharisees then were only puzzled that R. John did not claim to be an end-time figure they looked for.

Where then did the Pharisees get the idea that all Israel would undergo a water ritual for purification just before the promised Messianic Age? Obviously, since they based their views of the coming of Messiah on the Hebrew Scriptures, it is only natural to believe their expectation of a water ritual for all Israel also flowed from the Hebrew Scriptures.

There is one prominent Messianic cleansing with water promised to regathered Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures, namely Ezekiel 36:24-38. Verse 25 reads,

"Then I will sprinkle (literally "throw," or "dash") clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols."

וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים, וּטְהַרְתֶּם: מִכֹּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם וּמִכָּל-גִּלּוּלֵיכֶם, אֲטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם.

καὶ ῥανω̃ ἐφ' ὑμα̃ς ὕδωρ καθαρόν καὶ καθαρισθήσεσθε ἀπὸ πασω̃ν τω̃ν ἀκαθαρσιω̃ν ὑμω̃ν καὶ ἀπὸ πάντων τω̃ν εἰδώλων ὑμω̃ν καὶ καθαριω̃ ὑμα̃ς

This promised sprinkling-dashing is performed in conjunction with Israel’s regathering from all the nations to which God had scattered them, and is accompanied by the promised favor Israel would receive in the Messianic Age. The tenor of the passage is in harmony with the Jewish situation of late second Temple days since significant numbers of Jews were coming back to the Holy Land from many lands.6

In contrast, it is impossible to see how a ritual innovation on the part of Rabbi John would be sufficient for the Pharisaical messengers to associate with the coming of Messiah or Elijah or the expected Prophet, all promised in the Hebrew Scriptures.

John's Baptism is Not Proselyte Baptism

Though widely held among Christians today, the idea that John's baptism was an adaptation of proselyte baptism seems even more unlikely to convince the Pharisees of John's Scriptural authority. The rabbis of the Pharisaical movement had apparently legislated proselyte baptism in the first place. So it is sheer nonsense to believe John was performing some development of proselyte baptism when the Pharisees link John's baptism directly to Messiah, Elijah and the Prophet. There was never a need for anyone as great as Messiah to administer the so-called "proselyte baptism."

It is abundantly clear that the Pharisees linked three Scriptural end-time Jewish personages to John's baptism precisely because the baptism itself also appeared to be a fulfillment of Scripture.

Moreover, according to F.F. Bruce, this verse in Ezekiel was very likely the impetus for the special water rituals practiced by other Jewish groups of that time.

"The prophet Ezekiel in earlier days had used the terminology of old ceremonial ablutions to describe God’s inward cleansing of His people in the age of restoration:

 'I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you’ (Ezekiel 36:25).

In language like this the baptist groups that flourished in Judaism at the beginning of the Christian era found scriptural authority for their ceremonial washings which went beyond what the letter of the law required.”7

Now if other Jewish groups not within the Messianic following of Yeshua and Rabbi John took this passage in Ezekiel as the basis for special ceremonial rituals, can we believe Rabbi John and Yeshua (who both claimed that they themselves were fulfilling Scripture) would invent a new ritual not promised in Scripture? Surely they based their lives and service to Israel on Scripture.

John’s Baptism = Ezekiel’s Purification

Israel’s promised purification by dashing also involves repentance. Purification from an idol means one must turn away from it back to God. It was also written,

"Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.” Ezekiel 36:31.

Ezekiel 36 says regathered Israel would be:

  1. Sprinkled and cleansed from all uncleannesses, v. 25

  2. Saved from all uncleannesses, v. 29

וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם, מִכּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם;

  1. Cleansed from iniquities, v. 33

כּה אָמַר אֲדנָי יְהוִה, בְּיוֹם טַהֲרִי אֶתְכֶם, מִכל עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם

and all these blessings bound up with,

  1. Contrition for all their evil ways, v. 31

וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת־דַּרְכֵיכֶם הָרָעִים, וּמַעַלְלֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר לא־טוֹבִים;

וּנְקטתֶם בִּפְנֵיכֶם, עַל עֲוֹנֹתֵיכֶם, וְעַל תּוֹעֲבוֹתֵיכֶם׃

In like manner R. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, upbraiding the Jewish multitudes as a "brood of vipers,” Luke 3:7.

ελεγεν ουν τοις εκπορευομενοις οχλοις βαπτισθηναι υπ αυτου γεννηματα εχιδνων τις υπεδειξεν υμιν φυγειν απο της μελλουσης οργης

The contrite came out to John to confess their sins, their evil ways, their deeds that were not good, their iniquities and abominations, and then, as was customary for the Jewish people of those days, to be baptized, in other words, ritually purified.8 Scripture presents undeniable evidence to show the end-time promise of Ezekiel, the hopes of Israel related to the Kingdom, and the work of R. John were one and the same.

Ezekiel 36 is not Numbers 19

We should also contrast this sprinkling in Ezekiel against other Jewish rituals because some believe it actually stems from the Numbers 19 sprinkling with the ashes of the red heifer. However Numbers 19 in no way speaks of purifying from all uncleannesses, or from defilement by worshiping idols as does Ezekiel, it speaks of defilement by touch or proximity to human dead.

Moreover Ezekiel does not mention ashes of a red heifer. Rather, he speaks of pure water, a term not found in Numbers 19.

On top of that, Israel practiced plenty of purifications of Torah. Why would one be singled out? In other words, if Ezekiel meant to say Israel needed to observe Numbers 19, then surely the other purifications of Torah would be just as important.

Besides, only decades after Ezekiel prophesied this sprinkling, the Jews returned to the land and performed the Numbers 19 ritual, and all the other rituals, but the promises of Ezekiel 36 did not come to pass.

On the other hand, if the sprinkling of Ezekiel were a newly promised end-time ritual based on purifications from the Torah it could stand alone, not canceling Torah but complementing it, like other later prophetic revelations to Israel, e.g. David’s dynasty and the Temple in Jerusalem. These revelations were not found in the Torah, but neither were they symbols. They were new revelations of God’s progressive relationship with Israel. There is superficial similarity between Ezekiel 36 and Numbers 19 in that both involve sprinkling water for purification, but the difference is far greater.

The Talmud and Ezekiel 36

Furthermore, the Talmud, the later record of Rabbinical opinion, tells us Ezekiel’s sprinkling was the expected purification prior to Israel’s Messianic Kingdom. Kiddushin 72b reads,

"Our Rabbis taught: Mamzerim and Nethinim will become pure in the future: this is R. Jose’s view. R. Meir said: They will not become pure. Said R. Jose to him: But was it not already stated, And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean? R. Meir replied, When it is added, from all your filthiness and from all your idols, [it implies] but not from bastardy. Said R. Jose to him: When it is [further] said, will I cleanse you, you must say, From bastardy too...

"Rab Judah said in Samuel’s name: The halachah agrees with R. Jose. R. Joseph said: Had not Rab Judah ruled in Samuel’s name that the halachah is as R. Jose, Elijah would have come and sent entire gangs away from us.”9

This tractate, Kiddushin, deals with the laws of marriage according to Torah. R. Meir and R. Jose were two great disciples of R. Akiva and all three of these men were in the mainstream of Rabbinic tradition. Akiva died in 135 C.E. in the Bar Kokhba revolt, putting this discussion in the middle to later half of that century, not long after the last of the twelve Apostles, about the time of Justin Martyr.

The point R. Jose makes is that even ritually impure children of marriages not sanctioned by Torah would be purified by Ezekiel’s sprinkling (i.e. ritually "born again”). The technical term "in the future” in this passage speaks of the time of Israel’s Kingdom. So here the sprinkling of Ezekiel purifies Israel for the coming Kingdom and was later linked to Elijah, certainly reminding us of the Pharisaical messengers and R. John, who himself had been called Elijah by others.

This Rabbinic tradition would appear to come hard on the heels of the original Apostles. In any case it has no doubt Ezekiel’s prophecy would literally be fulfilled, contradicting the view of most modern commentaries that say Ezekiel wrote only of a symbolic, non-existent purification. For Rabbinical Judaism it was a real end-time purification for Israel with cleansing power far different than Numbers 19.10

God's Appointed Messengers

We should also remember that on occasion God accomplished His purpose through messengers, even though no additional signs were given that one would be used. God had often promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would give their descendants the Holy Land, continually saying "I will...(bring about the promises).”11

Joseph told his brothers, "God will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land into the land which he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Genesis 50:24.

In these passages we read only of God fulfilling His promise. It is not until we get to the burning bush that we realize God intended to use a messenger. "I will send you, Moses,...that you may bring My people out of Egypt,” Exodus 3:10.

It would be completely in line with Scripture for God to send another great messenger to accomplish another of His promises; "I will sprinkle clean water on you.” And R. John testified that he had been "sent” by God to baptize Israel, John 1:33.

Identifying Ezekiel 36:25 in New Covenant Scriptures

It must be pointed out that no passage of the New Covenant quotes Ezekiel 36:25 and then says R. John initiated it. This means there is no direct basis to prove R. John’s baptism and Ezekiel’s sprinkling are one and the same. At first glance this seems a little awkward, but on second thought there are good reasons to maintain such an identification.

First we should remember that writers did not use every Messianic passage in their works. For example, as striking as is the passage of the "Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53, we only find brief excerpts of it in the New Covenant. In fact, in Matthew’s passion scene, written for Jewish readers, not even a verse from this prophecy appears. Yet would anyone doubt that Matthew believed it spoke of Yeshua in His death? He had earlier applied Isaiah 53 to Yeshua, Matthew 8:17.

On the other hand Matthew did use verses from Psalm 22 to describe Messiah’s suffering. We realize then, that early writers made selective use of the Hebrew Scriptures. And if this happened when describing their crucified and risen Master, would it be a great marvel if other, less important Scriptures were left unused?

Another example: While the term "New Covenant” is mentioned five times in Scripture, only the book of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 at length. Should we believe the author of Hebrews was the only one who took Messiah’s New Covenant as the one mentioned in Jeremiah 31? No, the other writers simply felt no need to spell out something they believed was so obvious.

So although we lack a Scriptural reference linking R. John and Ezekiel and thus cannot directly prove an identification, the tremendous weight of circumstantial evidence must be considered.

That The Scriptures Might Be Fulfilled

The anchor for any circumstantial evidence has to be the deep Jewish reverence for the writings of Moses and the Prophets in second Temple days. The Torah was the foundation of authority.

For example, we read: "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Torah, and also the Prophets wrote,” John 1:44. "If you believed Moses you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me, but if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” John 5:46-47.

Peter had so much confidence in Scripture he could say the days in which they were living had been predicted by all the prophets, beginning from Samuel onward, Acts 3:24.12

The disciples saw the story of Yeshua revealed in Scripture, Acts 3:18. But not just His life, Peter said even Judas the betrayer had been predicted, Acts 1:16-20. Messiah Himself said the same thing, John 13:18.

A passage of lament in Jeremiah written six hundred years earlier was identified with Herod’s slaughter of babies, Matthew 2:16-18, and Messiah named Pharisees as the subject of Isaiah 29:13 since they held to the traditions of the elders in place of God’s commands. In precisely the same way R. John’s career was seen pre-recorded.

John and His Work Predicted in Scripture

The "Messenger” of Malachi and Isaiah’s "Voice in the wilderness” were specific predictions of R. John, Mark 1:2-3, and he personally told Pharisees he was the "voice” of Isaiah, John 1:23.

The special activity of the two prophecies is similar: the Messenger is said to "prepare the way” while the Voice calls out for everyone else to "prepare the way” using the same Hebrew words.13 R. John, together with his work of "preparing the way,” whatever it involved, were predicted by the prophets.

John's water ritual was a central feature of his service to Israel and he said he had been sent by God to baptize. He did not create this ritual by his own ingenuity. Jews of second Temple days would find it easy to believe this miraculously born, God-sent Messenger who prepares the way, who had been predicted in Scripture, would also perform the Kingdom purification promised by another Hebrew prophet, even Ezekiel.

Suffering Like Elijah

Yeshua said R. John was the Messenger of Malachi, and Elijah, Matthew 11:10, 14. In fact, after John had been beheaded Messiah again said he was Elijah, "and that they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him,” Mark 9:12-13, Matthew 17:12-13.

But Elijah did not die, nor is there a prediction of his death in Malachi, nor any other prophet. The Lord must be inferring from Ahab’s and Jezebel’s persecution of Elijah that R. John too must suffer by the current characters, Herod and Herodias.

This inference was sufficient evidence to say it had been "written” about him. So, if his suffering could be seen from such an indirect passage, could also his great service of baptizing be found in Scripture?

R. John, Beloved Prophet and Tzaddik

R. John had been filled with the Holy Spirit while a babe in the womb. He served in the spirit and power of Elijah, was called the Messenger, the Voice, and Elijah and was even given a special surname, "The Baptizer.” Some had believed he was Messiah.

He was held in high esteem by many in Israel as Josephus indicates.14 He proclaimed the Kingdom and prepared Israel, turning the hearts of the fathers back to their children. Even Professor Flusser of the Hebrew University pays tribute to R. John with the following: "This influential man, who was loved by the Jewish people, was executed by Herod Antipas.”15

John was not just another righteous Jew. He was a key in God’s prophetic puzzle. If something as obscure as the price of Messiah’s betrayal could be found by His disciples in the Hebrew Scriptures, Matthew 27:9-10, would it not be imperative for the ritual baptism initiated by one of Israel’s greatest prophets to also have been foretold?

The answer would appear to be affirmative. Ezekiel prophesied a purification with water based on contrition and turning from sin just before the Kingdom and this is precisely what R. John proclaimed.

Spirit Baptism -- Joel’s Outpouring!

Moreover, there is a direct and decisive parallel to this identification. Messiah continually told His disciples they would receive the Gift of the Spirit promised by the Father. He described this Gift in terms of being baptized with the Spirit, as had R. John before Him, and this was His final promise of the wonderful Gift, just before He ascended, Acts 1:4-8.

Yet days later on Shavu’ot (Pentecost) the Apostles looked to the Hebrew Scriptures and directly identified the freshly experienced Spirit baptism with the long promised out-pouring found in Joel, Acts 2:4, 17-21. It is only natural to believe the first disciples also searched the Scriptures to find the end-time water baptism proclaimed by the great prophet and forerunner, R. John, and its similarity to Ezekiel’s purification is substantial.

JOHN’S Baptism

It is no surprise John’s name would be permanently attached to this purification, marking it "John’s baptism.”

This mighty prophet had been revered by many Jews and according to tradition had been miraculously conceived (Ezekiel had not), filled with the Spirit while in the womb (there is no sign Ezekiel was), called Elijah and thought by some to be Messiah (Ezekiel had not), under the nazirite vow from birth (there is no sign Ezekiel was), appointed by God to usher in Israel’s Kingdom, (Ezekiel prophesied about those days) and would later sanctify the name of God by dying a martyr’s death. R. John was truly one of Israel’s all-time greats.

Ezekiel’s Sprinkling, When? 

We now turn to a sticky question on the other side of the coin. The Talmud flatly relates the Jewish belief that Ezekiel’s sprinkling was a literal ritual associated with Israel’s Kingdom. We also saw testimony that Jewish baptist groups of second Temple days found authority for their rites from this sprinkling.

Furthermore modern commentaries, almost to a man, cite Ezekiel 36:25-27 on John 3:5, "born of water and of Spirit,” while others see the sprinkling reflected in Hebrews 10:22.16 The Dead Sea Scrolls allude to verses in Ezekiel 36 and may refer directly to the sprinkling as well.17

Now if R. John proclaimed the nearness of Israel’s Kingdom but performed a different ritual, then when would Ezekiel’s widely anticipated purification ever be fulfilled?

THREE End-Time Water Rites for Christianity

The traditional Christian world, which only recently has begun to recover an awareness of its Jewish roots, has usually held;

  1. Ezekiel’s ritual for Israel was not initiated.

  2. R. John performed a water baptism of unknown origin.

  3. After a few short years John’s baptism was superseded by another different water baptism which, in form, was nearly identical with John’s.

In other words, supposedly there are three different end-time water rituals for Israel. Ezekiel’s long standing promise never came to pass. R. John’s new invention lasted only a short time. Then a different one superseded the other two.18

If this were really true there would be no reason for Ezekiel’s rite to ever come to pass. The power ascribed to the last baptism by traditional Christianity surpasses anything associated with Ezekiel’s purification. There is thus no point for it anymore. It will never be used except in footnotes as an Old Testament type of baptism for traditional Christendom. 

Prophets of the Messianic Kingdom

In contrast, from a Jewish point of view it seems impossible to imagine that those announcing the Messianic Kingdom promised in the Torah and Prophets would invent new rituals and not endorse one already promised in Scripture.

On the other hand, if typical Christian thought has been mistaken in relation to R. John’s baptism, then all the other teachings about New Covenant baptism are suspect.

John's Baptism--For Israel

Paul taught that John’s baptism was to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Acts 13:23-24.

R. John taught that it was to reveal Messiah to Israel, John 1:31.

Yeshua taught that it was not a human innovation on John’s part, but was a crucial part of God’s plan for Israel, Matthew 21:25.

Jewish crowds following the Lord had been baptized with John’s baptism while unbelieving Jews rejected God’s purpose by not participating in it, Luke 7:24-30.

Plus the Pharisees saw R. John baptizing just as they expected at the time of Israel’s Kingdom, which is apparently identified in the Talmud as the sprinkling in Ezekiel.

All this tells us R. John’s baptism was critical for Israel, and this is something gentile believers throughout the age simply could not be expected to fully appreciate.

Modern Fulfillment

Jewish and non-Jewish believers today who foresee a great filling-up of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 in modern Israel (cf. Romans 11:15, 24-27) should have no difficulty seeing a similar fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:25-27 in the near future, even if it contradicts centuries of traditional Christian belief.

Israel has again been regathered from the nations and various Jewish groups are looking for Israel’s redemption. Large bright banners are still found in Jerusalem urging Israel to prepare for the soon coming of a messiah.19

If the glorious return of the resurrected Son of Man with the clouds of Heaven is near, as disciples of Yeshua believe, should Israel not also expect to see the purification of the nation promised in Ezekiel? Are not Jewish believers called to make this known and understood by our nation?

Jewish Purification and the Meaning of Baptizo

And now another question. Many today take it for granted the Greek word baptizo was never used for anything beyond immerse. How then could John have sprinkled? Since he "baptized” he must have immersed.

Support for this view is thought to come from the fact that Jews immerse in a special pool called a mikveh. The end result of this belief is that he could not have performed Ezekiel’s sprinkling, he performed some other unpredicted ritual.

The section Many Different Baptisms reviews Jewish purification and New Covenant usage of baptizo to see if this belief holds water.

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1The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), which represents a significant percentage of Messianic Jewry,  has expressed a similar view of the two passages, according to "Messianic Jews and The Law of Moses" in their Theology Committee Report Part I, September 2, 1983. Item three reads, "The New Covenant promised in Jer. 31:31FF and Ezek. 36:22FF was inaugurated at the time of Yeshua's death and resurrection but will find its complete expression when our Messiah returns.” (Retrieved from the Internet.)

2Throughout this book John the Baptist is called "Rabbi John” (= R. John) in accordance with the broad Jewish usage of the term "Rabbi” of late second Temple days (John 3:26) and not in the more exclusive modern Rabbinical sense.

3The Apostles certainly believed Israel’s Messiah and Heavenly Kingdom would suddenly appear in a miraculous way, Luke 19:11, which they apparently based on the Stone which smashes the feet and toes, the final Gentile empire of the image in Daniel 2. First century Jews looking for redemption were certainly aware of Daniel 2. In fact, concerning Josephus’ indirect explanation of Daniel 2 in Antiquities Ralph Marcus says, "Josephus’s evasiveness about the meaning of the stone which destroys the kingdom of iron is due to the fact that the Jewish interpretation of it current in his day took it as a symbol of the Messiah or Messianic kingdom which would make an end of the Roman empire.”;  note c, p 275, vol. 6,  Josephus, Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, (English translation Ralph Marcus) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1969.  Certainly such a belief would fan enthusiasm among the Jewish people to fight the Romans until Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the whole time hoping God’s Kingdom would appear. After that terrible war Josephus hesitated to explain this belief as one of the major causes, and is probably also the reason that in Josephus’ description of the Baptist there is no mention that R. John proclaimed "the Kingdom of God is at hand.” See also, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Volume IX, pages 509-527.

 4There are a few scholars who believe the members of the Qumran community were not Essenes, but were actually Zealots, and that Qumran was not destroyed in 68 C.E. as is commonly held, but a few years later.

5Adams, Jay E., Meaning and Mode of Baptism (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979)  p. 6.  Emphasis his. A.M. Hunter’s comment on this verse in his book, The Gospel of John, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, NEB, Cambridge University Press, 1965, p 22;  So also, Robert Kysar, John, The Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1986, p 35. Leon Morris first writes that John's baptism is a novel adaptation of proselyte baptism, now for Jews, though he does add, "It is true that on the basis of certain Old Testament passages (Ezek. 36:25; Zech 13:1) some expected that there would be baptizing when the messianic age dawned..." The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel According to John. The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1971, Revised 1995. p 123. Henry Alford writes, "They regarded baptism as a significant toke of the approach of the Messianic Kingdom, and they asked, 'Why baptizest thou, if thou art no forerunner of the Messiah?'" Alford's Greek Testament, An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Volume 1, Matthew-John. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI. reprint 1980. p 694

6e.g. Hillel the Elder had returned to Israel from Babylon, Paul from Tarsus in Asia Minor, Acts 22:3, Barnabas from Cyprus, Acts 4:36 and Nicolas from Antioch, Acts 6:5.  Others came from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia, Acts 6:9.  We should also keep in mind that Messiah established the New Covenant to Israel even though Jewish settlements were scattered throughout countries beyond the borders of Israel.  So despite the fact that not all the Jewish people had been regathered to Israel, it would still not be a contradiction for the prophecy of Ezekiel to have been initiated in the same manner in which the New Covenant of Jeremiah was initiated.

7F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, reprint 1984, pp 114-5.

8cf. John 3:25 where ritual purification is directly associated with R. John’s baptism.  "The meaning of this religious concept (baptism of repentance for the remission of sins) becomes evident from Josephus’ description of John’s baptism: 'For thus, it seemed to him, would baptismal ablution be acceptable, if it were not to beg off from sins committed, but for the purification of the body, when the soul had previously been cleansed by righteous conduct’.  By 'purification of the body’ Josephus means ritual purity, which was a concept of great importance in the Judaism of the Second Commonwealth generally. This purity, according to John the Baptist, is not obtainable without previous 'cleansing of the soul’, i.e. repentance.” David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, Magnus Press, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1988, pp 50-1.

9Seder Nashim, Kiddushin, Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi H. Freedman, Traditional Press, N.Y.

10In the Babylonian Talmud the purification of those blemished by mamzerut (bastardy) was judged as halachah for Israel, the Jerusalem Talmud’s version still takes Ezekiel’s sprinkling as Israel’s end-time purification, but has slight changes;

"R. Meir says, "Mamzers will never be clean in the world to come, for it is said, 'A mongrel people shall dwell in Ashdod’ (Zech. 9:6). They will bring mud to mud and thorns to thorns.”

[B] Netins and mamzers will be clean in the world to come,” the words of R. Yose.

[C] R. Meir says, "They will not be clean.”

[D] Said to him R. Yose, "But has it not truly been said, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean”?”

[E] Said to him R. Meir, "And you shall be clean from [some of] all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

[F] Said to him R. Yose, "had it said, 'all your uncleannesses and from all your idols,’ and then nothing more, I should have ruled in accord with your view. Why then does Scripture say, 'I will cleanse you’? It means, Even from Netins and the mamzers.

[G] R. Huna in the name of R. Joseph: "The law is not in accord with R. Yose as to the world to come.”

Jacob Neusner, Qiddushin, vol. 26, The Talmud of the Land of Israel, University of Chicago Press, 1984, pp 212-3.

It should be noted that the core argument between R. Jose and R. Meir is recorded in both Talmuds and yet the conclusions derived from it are opposite.  It seems reasonable to believe the argument actually occurred with disciples from both schools accurately recording it, yet holding tenaciously to the teaching of their own master.

11Genesis 12:7; 13:15-17; 15:7, 13-21; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-5; 28:3-4, 13; 35:12; 48:4; especially 46:4; 48:21; cf. 45:5-8.

12Agreeing with what he wrote later in 1 Peter 1:23-25 and 2 Peter 1:19-21.

13Hebrew, peenah derekh, Malachi 3:1; pannu derekh, Isaiah 40:3.

14Certainly Josephus has some authority to speak, he was a Pharisee and one of only six Jewish generals in the clash against Rome. It is generally agreed his passage about John is authentic.  He did not classify John as one of the many wicked false prophets, "But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior....Yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod.” Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, (English translation L. Feldman), 1969, vol. 9, p 81.

15Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, English translation John Glucker, MOD Books, Tel-Aviv, 1989, p 45.

16"Index of Allusions and Verbal Parallels” pg 899, The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition, United Bible Societies.  See also chapter 8 in the section on Hebrews, and footnote 4 of same chapter.

17See chapter 4, footnote 4.

18There are other scholars who believe R. John took the imagery of Ezekiel 36, and other passages, into consideration to develop his ritual, cf. G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, reprinted 1988, p 42, "It is not surprising that a number of exegetes have declined to see any other inspiration for John’s baptism than the Old Testament. Certainly there is much in the Old Testament which could have provided John with the precedent for his baptism. The levitical lustrations would have had abiding significance for him, since he came from a priestly family. Many well known prophetic sayings exhort to moral cleansing under the figure of cleansing with water, e.g. Is. 1.16 ff, Jer. 4.14, and others anticipate a cleansing by God in the last times, notably Ezk. 36:25 and Zech. 13:1.”  Even so this baptism, supposedly developed by John, is considered inferior to what is now viewed as Christian baptism.  It should also be mentioned that the purification in Zechariah 13:1 speaks specifically of the house of David and the city of Jerusalem, whereas Ezekiel 36 is directed to the regathered nation.  John’s baptism conforms readily with Ezekiel and only to a limited degree with Zechariah.

19The leader of Habad, an international Haredi-Orthodox Jewish group, who was acclaimed King Messiah Our Righteousness, Rabbi Schneerson, has since died at age 92 in 1994.  Some of his devoted followers believed he would arise from the dead and usher in world-wide Messianic redemption, but even though he definitely did not rise from the dead, his devoted followers still say he is the Messiah and that now, spiritually he will return with the clouds of heaven to redeem Israel and the world.