Yochanan & Yeshua as God Sent Jewish Reformers

With reformation, the purpose is not to destroy the old but to set it back on the right path, to restore to original purity.

Read Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3 and John 1

Reformers are often popular with the people but never with the authorities whose power, status and security are based on the status quo.  With reformation, the purpose is not to destroy the old but to set it back on the right path, to restore to original purity.  Judaism had a long and proud history of reformers which included Moses, the judges, prophets, kings such as Josiah, priests such as Ezra, civic leaders such as Nehemiah, and movements such as the Hasidim from which had also come Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots

Now two new reformers stepped onto the stage. The first was Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist), a Nazirite from birth, as had been Samson and Samuel.   Although a Levitical cohen (priest), Yochanan, like the Essenes, had withdrawn from all the priestly and political power structures to seek God in the wilderness. There in the desert he waited for his commission from God to fulfil the prophesy that the angel had given to his father in the temple, and the prophesy that his father had spoken over him at his brit milah (circumcision and naming ceremony): 

…You, child, will be called a prophet of Ha‘Elyon (the Most High); you willgo before the Lord to prepare his wayby spreading the knowledge among his people that deliverance comes by having sins forgiven through our God’s most tender mercy… ”   Luke 1:76-78 CJB

God apostéllō Yochanan to prepare the way…

At last it transpired, in the autumn of his thirtieth year God spoke to Yochanan and, during the days of repentance leading up to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Yochanan was apostéllō (sent with a commission to fulfil the task).

There came a man, sent (apostéllō) from God, whose name was Yochanan. John 1:6 HNV

Luke provides historical details to help us pinpoint time and chronology:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to Yochanan, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He came into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming the immersion of repentance for remission of sins. As it is written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled. Every mountain and hill will be brought low. The crooked will become straight, and the rough ways smooth. All flesh will see God’s salvation.’” (Isaiah 40:3-4) Luke 3:1-6 HNV

Mark provides the prophetic background from the Tanakh:

As it is written in the Prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. (Malachi 3:1) The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!’” (Isaiah 40:3-4)

Yochanan came immersing in the wilderness and proclaiming the immersion of repentance for forgiveness of sins.          Mark 1:2-4 HNV

Matthew gives us a summation of his message:

In those days, Yochanan the Immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”       Matthew 3:1-2 HNV

Jewish Mikveh and baptism…

There was also a cultural context in which Yochanan’s baptism was proclaimed.  For the observant Jew tevilah (full body immersion) in a mikveh (Hebrew מִקְוֶה – literally translated as a “collection” of “gathering”, a body of ‘living’ water) had become the accepted way of attaining the ritual purity needed as God’s people.

Jewish Mikveh and John’s Baptism

Beginning in the late Hasmonean period, around the end of the second century BC or very early in the first century BC, Jews started developing a very distinctive practice of purification within water installations known as mikva’ot (plural of mikveh).  By the time of John the Baptist there were large numbers of especially constructed mikvah.  These have been found in excavations in Jerusalem, in outlying villages, and in rural areas.  There were even several in the temple and in Herod’s palace.  They were attached to synagogues and many larger homes.  This was part of the Mishnah (Oral Law) being formed during this period to guide the people in keeping the Torah.  (1)

The scriptural basis on which this practice was built begins on the third day of creation where the word ‘mikveh’ is first used in Genesis 1:10: “… to the gathering (mikveh) of waters, He called seas.”

The reasoning then follows to the Jew’s ‘baptism’ as they passed through the Red Sea in coming out of Egypt and being separated from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15-22) with the waters piled up higher than their heads on their right and on their left.   Then to the injunction that before the LORD would come down on Mount Sinai to give them the Law the people had to consecrate themselves and wash their clothes, ascribed as a ‘baptism’ by these rabbis (Exodus 19:1-11).  When God instructed Moses on building the tabernacle He included the making of a bronze laver to be filled with water for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet before going near the alter to minister or entering the tent of meeting (Exodus 30:1-21).  Not only did the priests need to be ritually clean (tahor) in order to serve at the tabernacle, but Leviticus 15 also prescribed the need for any Israelite who became ritually unclean (tamay) to bath and wash their clothes for ritual cleansing so as not to defile God’s dwelling place through their uncleanness.  

So it was, that the scholars of the Law came to insist that everyone be fully immersed in a mikveh to become ritually clean before entering the temple and that each man should immerse himself in a mikveh before praying or studying (activities of the synagogue), and some schools of the Pharisees also decreed that all the pots and utensils that the Jews ate or drank from also had to be first immersed in the mikveh, particularly if they had been made, sold or touched by a gentile.  The mikveh came to be seen as offering the individual, the community and the nation of Israel the remarkable gift of purity and holiness.  Even for the ritually pure, ascension to a higher level of spiritual involvement or holiness necessitated immersion in a mikveh.  So it made perfect sense for Yeshua to be baptised before his higher level of spiritual involvement of beginning his ministry.  

Several Jewish groups at this time, including the Essenes, observed ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah.  What are we doing to make ourselves ready for the coming of the Messiah?  Are we living in that same expectancy of Christ’s return?

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)  Revelation 19:7-8 NIV

Such was the perceived importance of this cleansing that Jewish law would come to state that constructing a mikveh take precedence even over building a synagogue or having a Torah scroll.

Another use of symbolic purification through immersion in water became part of Jewish tradition in the decades leading up to Yochanan’s immersion (John’s baptism) – that was immersion of Gentile converts to Judaism.  Debates on the subject of proselyte baptism are recorded between the rabbinic schools of Shammai and Hillel.   Whereas the school of Shammai stressed circumcision as the point of transition from Gentile to Jew, the Hillelites considered immersion (baptism) most important because it portrayed spiritual cleansing and the beginning of a new life.  The conversion to Judaism has been summed up as follows:

          “By three things did Israel enter into the Covenant: by circumcision, and baptism and sacrifice.  Circumcision was in Egypt, as it is written: ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof’ (Exodus 12:48).   Baptism was in the wilderness, just before giving of the Law it is written” ‘Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes’ (Exodus 19:10).  And sacrifice, as it is said: ‘And he sent young men of the children of Israel which offered burnt offerings’ .      (Exodus 24:5)… When a gentile is willing to enter the covenant… He must be circumcised and be baptised and bring a sacrifice.”  (Maimonides, 12th C)

Judaism regards the mikvah as personifying both the grave and the womb.  For the new convert, immersing fully into the water of the mikveh is both representative of descending into a grave in leaving the old pagan life behind, and of re-entering the womb, the place of mercy and God’s creative power.  Rising out of the water is a coming back to life as a newborn child, a new creation, with an entirely new identity as a Jew.  They are in essence reborn.  The Mishnah (Oral Law) states, “When he comes up after his immersion, he is deemed an Israelite in all respects.”  (Yevamot 47b)  “The individual who descends into the mikveh as a gentile emerges from beneath its waters as a Jew.” (2)

Rabbinical Judaism stressed that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the mikveh so no clothing or individual could touch the candidate when they descended under the water.  The person baptising was not present to dunk the candidate but to witness their profession of repentance and faith and to pronounce exhortations and benedictions over them.   The candidate would walk into water that was somewhere between chest to chin deep, and stand with feet apart and hands held out in front while making their professions, totally immerse themselves by squatting in the water then come straight away up out of the water.   Jewish baptismal candidates were often immersed three times because the word mikveh occurs three times in the Torah.

Not all mikva’ot were constructed.  Indeed those considered of the highest order were created by God.  The Mishnah (Mik. 1:1–8, ed. Danby) indicates that there were at least six grades of acceptable mikva’ot, listed from the worst to the best: (1) ponds; (2) ponds during the rainy season; (3) constructed immersion pools containing more than 40 se’ah of water; (4) wells with natural groundwater; (5) salty water from the sea and hot springs; and (6) natural flowing “living” waters from springs and in rivers.   So it was that Yochanan chose the highest grade of mikveh in which to immerse (baptise) the people who responded to his message – the flowing living waters of the Jordan River.

Yochanan’s message of repentance, teshuvah, is a familiar message during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and the following “10 Days of Awe”, a period of introspection, repentance and good deeds in preparation for Judaism’s most sacred day of the year Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  It was a yearly time for the whole nation to assess their spiritual condition and turn back to God, just as Yochanan was preaching.  Being immersed (baptised) during these days was a sign of inward cleansing in spiritual preparation for the Holy Days.  Yet, Yochanan did not cease baptising after the Day of Atonement, for his mission was not to prepare the people for the High Priest to enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, but to prepare the people for God to enter into their presence as the Messiah, to “make ready the way of the Lord”. (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)

Yochanan was not introducing a new concept to the Jewish people with his immersion (baptism), but rather tapping in to something that had become strongly imbedded in their culture and religious practice – the exercise of fully immersing in water to become pure to enter God’s presence, whether that was entering the synagogue, entering the temple, or preparing to meet Messiah.

Yochanan as prophet…

Like the prophets before him, Yochanan was not a man who used flattering words to try to get the people to like him.  His message was uncompromising and his words sharp and to the point, removing every excuse and false sense of spiritual security:  

He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be immersed by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and don’t begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones! Even now the axe also lies at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9 HNV

Yet, despite what might appear at first glance to be harsh insults, there was something about this man, a holiness, a genuineness, a total lack of hypocrisy, and a real love for the people that just kept drawing them to him even when his words were confronting.   Yochanan’s instructions on how they needed to change did not involve performing religious rites or endless purification ceremonies or bringing honours to himself, but a simple returning to the basics of their faith in living with integrity and demonstrating practical love for one another:

The multitudes asked him, “What then must we do?”

He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”

Tax collectors also came to be immersed, and they said to him, “Rabbi, what must we do?”

He said to them, “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you.”

Soldiers also asked him, saying, “What about us? What must we do?”

He said to them, “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.”            Luke 3:14-18 HNV

Now Yochanan himself wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him. They were immersed by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. Matthew 3:4-6 HNV

To be baptised by Yochanan was a humbling experience, it involved acknowledging and confessing one’s sins.   This man could spot a phoney a mile away, no self-righteous religiosity earned any credence with him.  Only those willing to admit that they were sinners, that they had been failing to live as the people of God, and to confess the sins they had committed, would be baptised by Yochanan.   Just as the developing Jewish Oral Law demanded that the baptismal candidate strip naked so that no clothing could hinder the water from contact with every part of their body, so Yochanan demanded that they be stripped spiritually naked, every stitch of pride, self-righteousness and dependence on their Jewish heritage discarded to come before God in need of His forgiveness, cleansing and new life.

So many from all over Judea and even up in the Galilee were gathering to hear Yochanan and having their lives changed through their encounter with him that questions started arising.   “Who is this man?  Could he be the messiah we’ve been waiting for?” 

As the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning Yochanan, whether perhaps he was the Messiah, Yochanan answered them all,
“I indeed immerse you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and fire, whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Then with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. Luke 3:15-18 HNV

He preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen.  I immersed you in water, but he will immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”     Mark 1:7-8 HNV

Yeshua comes to be immersed by Yochanan

The Jordan River after heavy winter rains
The Jordan River after heavy winter rains

It was now winter, the wet season in Israel, which brings with it dark and gloomy days and heavy rainfalls, ensuring a good flow in the Jordan River.  Yet not all was dark and gloomy, the clouds would clear and bright sunlight shine through, warming up the land.   The second reformer was about to be revealed, just as Yochanan was prophesying to all the people who came to him:

It happened in those days that Yeshua came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by Yochanan in the Jordan. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”   Mark 1:9-11HNV

Map of Jesus' travel form Nazareth to John's baptism, then to the wilderness...

Then Yeshua came from Galilee to the Jordan to Yochanan, to be immersed by him.  But Yochanan would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and you come to me?”
But Yeshua, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfil all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him. Yeshua, when he was immersed, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him.  Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17 HNV

Now it happened, when all the people were immersed, Yeshua also had been immersed, and was praying. The sky was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form as a dove on him; and a voice came out of the sky, saying “You are my beloved Son. In You I am well pleased.”   Luke 3:21-22 HNV

Yeshua is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit…

Jordean wilderness

Yochanan had come from the wilderness call Israel to repentance and baptise them, now Yeshua had been baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit He went into the wilderness for forty days in preparation for His ministry.   In the wilderness, He whose ministry would set people free from sin and the consequences thereof was tempted by Satan, the accuser:

Immediately the Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness.  He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving Him.           Mark 1:12-13 HNV

Yeshua, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. He ate nothing in those days.    Luke 4:1-2a HNV

Then Yeshua was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was hungry afterward.             Matthew 4:1-2 HNV

Matthew presents the three scriptural passages cited by Jesus (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:13, and Deut 6:16) not in their order in Deuteronomy, but in the sequence of the trials of Israel as they wandered in the desert, as recorded in Exodus.  Both Matthew and Luke describe that tempting in the wilderness and Yeshua’s response to each one with “It is written” and Torah obedience.  Throughout his life and ministry Yeshua placed heavy reliance on “it is written”.  It was the ‘Written Torah’ (ie the Tanakh – Hebrew scriptures) that He acclaimed as divinely inspired and needing to be followed in daily life.  Unlike the Sadducees, Yeshua attested to the divine inspiration of all three sections; Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and K’tuvim (Writings).  

Delegation of religious leaders from Jerusalem question Yochanan…

John testifies about Jesus, and then He returns from the wildness in the power of the Holy Spirit and John points everyone to the Lamb of God.

While Yeshua was winning the battle in the wilderness, the religious leaders in Jerusalem sent some of their own to question Yochanan.  The impact he was having on the Jewish people was such that they felt that they needed to know what he was about. 

Here is Yochanan’s (John’s) testimony: when the Judeans sent cohanim (priests) and L’vi’im (Levites) from Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to ask him, “Who are you?” 
He was very straightforward and stated clearly, “I am not the Messiah.”      John 1:19-20 CJB

It is possible that this fourth gospel was written by one of those priests or Levites, as it provides no account of Yeshua’s baptism, which happened before they arrived, but detailed descriptions of what happened after they came from Jerusalem to question Yochanan (see blog on ‘Who Wrote the Gospels?’).

“Then who are you?” they asked him. “Are you Eliyahu (Elijah)?”
“No, I am not,” he said.
“Are you `the prophet,’ the one we’re expecting?”
“No,” he replied. 
So they said to him, “Who are you? — so that we can give an answer to the people who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” 
He answered in the words of Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) the prophet, “I am The voice of someone crying out: `In the desert make the way of ADONAI straight!'” 
Some of those who had been sent were P’rushim (Pharisees). They asked him, “If you are neither the Messiah nor Eliyahu (Elijah) nor `the prophet,’ then why are you immersing (baptising) people?” 
To them Yochanan replied, “I am immersing people in water, but among you is standing someone whom you don’t know.  He is the one coming after me — I’m not good enough even to untie his sandal!” 
All this took place in Beit-Anyah (Bethany), east of the Yarden (Jordan River), where Yochanan was immersing.      John 1:21-28 CJB

Yeshua returns from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit…

Luke describes Yeshua as being “full of the Holy Spirit” after His baptism (Lk 4:1) and being “in the power of the Spirit” after his fasting and overcoming the temptations in the wilderness through Torah quotation and obedience (Lk 4:14).   In that power Yeshua was about to start preaching and performing miracles.

Yeshua (Jesus) returned to Beit-Anyah (Bethany), east of the Jordan, where Yochanan (John) was with his talmidim (disciples) continuing to preach and immerse (baptise) the people and testify to those sent from Jerusalem.  Yochanan now knew exactly what he had been apostéllō from God to do – prepare the way for the people to come to Yeshua:

The next day, he saw Yeshua coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.’ I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came immersing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.”

Yochanan testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him.  I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to immerse in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who immerses in the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34 HNV

Yeshua’s first followers…

It was from Yochanan’s talmidim that Yeshua’s first followers came.  They had witnessed Yeshua’s baptism, seen the dove, heard the heavenly voice and now their own rabbi, Yochanan, was testifying that this man was indeed the One he had been preparing them for, the Messiah, the Son of God. 

The Gospel’s Silence on the Names of all Disciples
Except the Twelve

All four gospels adopted the practice of only naming as disciples the twelve whom Yeshua also chose as foundational apostles.  Whenever others of His disciples are mentioned in the gospels they are not named, so that the focus remains on the twelve – such was the profound significance of having a group of twelve as foundational to the church.  

…God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.    Ephesians 2:19b-20  BSB

Since the gospel accounts focus on the twelve whom Yeshua would later choose out of the multitude of talmidim to be foundational apostles (Luke 6:12-16) it can be easy to miss the fact that others also followed Him, and were discipled by Him, throughout His ministry.  Acts 1:21-23 gives us the names of two of these faithful other talmidim (disciples) of Yeshua who were not recorded by name in the gospel accounts – Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthiah.  They are named in Acts only because they were both nominated as potential replacements for Judas Iscariot so that the twelve could be restored to being a foundation of twelve.  

Let us enter into the talmidim’s journey as they learn what it is to be a follower of Yeshua and become part of His apostolic reformation (God-sent restoration and fulfilment of Judaism).

Again, on the next day, Yochanan was standing with two of his talmidim, and he looked at Yeshua as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
The two talmidim heard him speak, and they followed Yeshua.     John 1:35-37 HNV

The scripture then goes into more detail about what following Yeshua involved in a practical sense on that day.

Yeshua turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), “where are you staying?” 
He said to them, “Come, and see.”
They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.          John 1:38-39 HNV

This detail the gospel writer gives us about it being the 10th hour (about 4pm) is not only suggestive of intimate knowledge of the event but also ties in with Yochanan’s proclamation of: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”   The Passover lamb for each household was chosen on the 10th day of the first month (Exodus 12:3) and the Day of Atonement, on which the Israelites were cleansed from all their sins, was on the 10th day of the seventh month each year (Leviticus 16:29-30).

One of the two who had heard Yochanan and had followed Yeshua was Andrew the brother of Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter).        John 1:40 CJB

Andrew (Ἀνδρέας, Andreas, in Greek), unlike his older brother, did not have a Hebrew name but a Greek one.  Giving your child a Greek name may not have been significant when Andrew was born as Bet Hillel still dominated the Sanhedrin with their open stance towards Gentiles and eagerness to proselytise them, but all that changed on the day when the Shammaites and Zealots triumphed over the Hillelites and the Sanhedrin adopted the “Eighteen Articles” which prevented all communication between Jew and Gentile by prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours.  Andrew was likely just a young boy when this took place and the politics of hate escalated.   Having a Greek name during such a time could easily attract bullying in the schoolyard and derision from religious zealots who measured their own holiness by their disdain for all things heathen.   The name Andrew means “manly” and carries with it connotations of “brave”, “strong”, “courageous” and “warrior”.  This young man may have felt that he needed all these attributes to cope with the “religious” attitudes towards his name as he was growing up.  No doubt big brother Simon helped defend Andrew in many a youthful spat.  There were rabbis who would not have countenanced having a talmid with a Greek name, but neither Yochanan nor Yeshua were put off by Andrew’s name, nor did Yeshua see any need to give him a new name.  For these reformers true holiness did not rest on how exclusively Jewish one could claim to be, but on one’s demonstrated love for God and others.  Andrew was accepted by Yeshua just as he was, Greek name and all.

The other one who followed Yeshua that day remains unnamed.  This is in line with the convention in all four gospels of only ever naming as talmidim those who were numbered among the twelve.  Such was the significance and theological importance of the twelve that every other talmid (disciple) of Yeshua is either named but not referred to as a talmid, if the story necessitates the naming of those involved, or referred to as an unnamed talmid.  There is speculation that the other talmid with Andrew could be the author of this gospel, or maybe Joseph called Barsabas (whose surname was Justus) or Matthiah whom Acts 1:21-23 declares accompanied the twelve all the time that Yeshua walked among them from His baptism by Yochanan until His ascension even though their names are never mentioned as talmidim in the gospels.   It is impossible to know the identity of this talmid because we are given very few clues.    Some who walk with Yeshua have a public role to fulfil and are thrust into the spotlight of human records, while others have a more private role impacting those they walk with but hidden from the spotlight.   Here in this anonymous disciple is our first glimpse of the unknown and unnamed ones who walked with Yeshua. (12) (13) (14) (15).

Andrew was the first of Yeshua’s talmidim to engage in evangelism.   It was his natural and primal instinct.  When he is mentioned in the gospels Andrew is generally bringing someone to Yeshua.   He was a believer and an evangelist.  (16) (17) Not only did Andrew immediately believe Yochanan the Immerser and follow Yeshua, but scripture tells us that:

The first thing He did was to find his brother, Šimʻôn Bar-Yochanan (Simon son of John / Jonas in some versions), and take him to Yeshua with exclamations of “We have found the Messiah!”       John 1:40-41 CJB 

Šimʻôn was to have a major role in the spotlight.  Such roles display the individual’s strengths, and weaknesses, for all the see.  None except Yeshua can remain in the spotlight for long without being exposed as very flawed.  Reading the lives of those in the spotlight encourages us that God can do great things even through people as full of weaknesses and failures as ourselves.  Šimʻôn was a common Hebrew name which means “listen”.  Every time his mother called his name she was also calling for him to listen to her, but he did not have to carry his younger brother’s burden of having a foreign name.  Yet, Yeshua chose to give Šimʻôn a new name the very first time they met.  It was a prophetic name, speaking of the identity that Yeshua would be building into Šimʻôn to enable him to fulfil the task he would be given.  

Looking at him, Yeshua said,  “You are Šimʻôn Bar-Yochanan (Simon, son of John); you will be known as Kefa.(Peter)” (The name means “rock”).     (John 1:42b CJB)

Yeshua was determined to leave for Galilee the next day but took the time to search for Philip first.  The Good Shepherd seeks His sheep.  Plans were not more important than the people those plans involved and the Father’s will was for the unnamed talmid, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, and Philip and his friend Nathaniel, and possibly others who are not named in this account, to accompany Yeshua to Galilee to be introduced to the Kingdom of God there.

The next day, having decided to leave for the Galil, Yeshua found Philip and said, “Follow me!”               (John 1:43 CJB)

The Greek text makes it clear that this was not just a call to casual acquaintance or a brief journey, but the present imperative tense commands ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting, a call to discipleship.   

Philip had grown up with Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter) and Andrew in their fishing village of Beit-Tzaidah (Bethsaida), on the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Being on the east side of the Jordan River, Bethsaida was in the territory of Herod Philip.  Like Andrew, Philip had a Greek name – Φιλιππος (Philippos) meaning “friend of horses”.  This distinction may have helped bind them close together growing up.  Also like Andrew, Philip’s first response to having been found by Yeshua was to seek out someone else and bring them to the Messiah.  Thus, Philip was the second of Yeshua’s talmidim to engage in evangelism and the first to do so outside of his immediate family.  It is unclear how Philip knew Natan’el, they may have become acquainted through their time with Yochanan the Immerser.

Philip found Natan’el and told him, “We’ve found the one that Moshe (Moses) wrote about in the Torah, also the Prophets — it’s Yeshua Ben-Yosef from Natzeret!”    (John 1:45 CJB)

Natan’el (Nathaniel) is a Hebrew name meaning “God had given”.  He came from a different more western town in the Galilee, Cana.  Most scholars believe that Natan’el is called Bar- Tôlmay (Bartholomew) in the synoptic gospels, which means “son of Tolmay” or “son of the furrows” which could mean that he was the son of a ploughman or farmer. (18) (19)  Natan’el retained some scepticism, even prejudice against anyone from Nazareth, which Philip responded to with the simple words “come and see”.  Yeshua’s declaration of Natan’el’s character upon seeing him, followed by a description of where Natan’el had been when Philip had called him was all that was needed to convince this earnest seeker and elicit the first declaration by any of the talmidim of Yeshua’s deity:

“Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!” (Jn 1:49).

The baton passing from Yochanan to Yeshua

Less than a year after Yochanan had begun his ministry, the passing on of the baton of reform from Yochanan to Yeshua had begun.  Yochanan’s talmidim were becoming Yeshua’s talmidim (disciples).  At least five of them were now following Yeshua to Galilee (more if we believe the testimony of Acts 1:21-23): the unnamed disciple who may have been the author of this gospel, Andrew, Šimʻôn Kefa (Simon Peter), Philip, and Natan’el

Both Yochanan and Yeshua preached the same reformation message “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1 & 4:17)  It was a message with strong messianic overtones.  It fitted with the expectations of many of the Jews at that time that there was something they needed to do to help usher in God’s kingdom on earth.  Unlike the Zealots, this reformation was not about raising an army against the Romans, or murdering gentiles who dared occupy the Holy Land or fellow Jews accused of associating with such gentiles; it was not purifying their land of evil (i.e. ‘others’) but purifying their own hearts and lives of evil.  Repent, turn back to God.  Stop living as rebels against Him and start living according to His ways, which are the ways of love.   In both Yochanan and Yeshua’s preaching, such repentance was to be evidenced in very practical ways in how they treated others.  This apostolic reformation was not focused on ritual purification or political power but on what these reformers saw as being of far greater importance, how each person treated others created in the image of God:

“He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”      Luke 3:11

With this emphasis on practical love in action being central to the whole Jewish faith as God had ordained it, Yeshua and Yochanan were not far from the Pharisaic School of Hillel who had, at that time, been reduced to a minority party of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin.  Hillel is recorded as saying:

Don’t do unto others what you would not want done to you – that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary – go study” Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a. (20) (21) (22)

Yeshua stated:

Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the Torah and the Prophets.     Matthew 7:12 HNV

And when a Torah scholar asked him “which is the greatest commandment in the lawYeshua answered:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  The whole Torah and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”          Matthew 22:37-40 HNV

Jewish Rabbis only chose the best and brightest as talmidim.   As we have seen,the academic and intellectual testing for admittance was gruelling and only those with the sharpest wit and most exacting understanding of both Written and Oral Law would be accepted to take a Rabbi’s ‘yoke’ (teachings) upon them.   Yet both Yochanan and Yeshua appeared willing to accept anyone, regardless of family background, theological knowledge or capacity to provide a witty and insightful reply.

Reference List

1. Judaica, Encyclopaedia. Mikveh. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 29th July 2019.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mikveh#4.
2. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. Chabad – The Jewish Woman. [Online] 29th July 2019. https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm.
3. Editors, History.com. Yom Kippur. History. [Online] 21st August 2018. [Cited: 4th August 2019.] https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/yom-kippur-history.
4. Moseley, Ron. Mystical Mikveh Immersion – The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism. Essene. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 19th August 2019.] http://essene.com/B’nai-Amen/MysticalImmersion.htm.
5. Schiffmen, Lawrence H. From Text to Tradition – A History of Second Temple & Rabbinic Judaism. Brooklyn, NY : KTAV Publishing House, 1991.
6. Friedlander, Marty. Why Jews Immerse in the Mikveh. Haaretz. [Online] 1st Nov 2015. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-jews-immerse-in-the-mikveh-1.5416019.
7. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] 28th Dec 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm.
8. Editors, One for Israel. The Jewish Roots of Baptism. One for Israel (Messianic Jews in Israel). [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/messianic-perspective/was-baptism-originally-jewish/.
9. Rosen, Ceil. Baptism: Pagan or Jewish? Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v02-n10/baptism-pagan-or-jewish/.
10. Editors, Bibles for Israel. Mikvah (Baptism): The Connection Between Immersion, Conversion nd Being Born Again. The Messainic Prophecy Bible Project. [Online] [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] https://free.messianicbible.com/feature/mikvah-baptism-the-connection-between-immersion-conversion-and-being-born-again/.
11. Peterson, Dr. Galen. Baptism. The Remnant. [Online] 2017. [Cited: 4th Aug 2019.] http://www.remnant.net/baptism.htm.
12. Biblical Hermeneutics. Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15372/in-john-135-who-were-the-two-disciples-of-john-the-baptist.
13. Iverach, James. John, The Apostle. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: 17th Oct. 2016.] http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/john-the-apostle.html.
14. Phillips, J. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. Lockport, IL : TheDiscipleWhomJesusLoved.com, 2011, Fifth Edition. ISBN 13: 978-0-9702687-3-0.
15. Hulen, Amos B. The Call of the Four Disciples in John 1. 2, 1948, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 67, pp. 153-157.
16. Wellman, Jack. The Apostle Andrew Biography, Life and Death. What Christians Want to Know. [Online] [Cited: 10th Aug 2019.] https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/the-apostle-andrew-biography-life-and-death/.
17. Andrew, the First Apostle. 12.eu. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 10th Aug 2019.] http://www.12.eu/andrew.
18. Wellman, Jack. Who Was Bartholomew In The Bible? What Christians Want to Know. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aug 2019.] https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/who-was-bartholomew-in-the-bible/.
19. Zavada, Jack. Nathanael – The ‘True Israelite’. Learn Religions. [Online] 25th January 2019. [Cited: 11th August 2019.] https://www.learnreligions.com/nathanael-the-true-israelite-701068.
20. Astor, Yaakov. Loving Thy Neighbor: Judaism’s Unique Approach. SimpleToRememer – Judaism Online. [Online] 1st June 2012. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://www.simpletoremember.com/jewish/blog/loving-thy-neighbor-judaism/.
21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Hillel – The preeminent rabbi of first century Palestine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hillel/#.
22. Philologos. The Rest of ‘The Rest Is Commentary’. Forward. [Online] 24th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 15th Oct. 2016.] http://forward.com/culture/14250/the-rest-of-the-rest-is-commentary-02564/.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Who are some of the people that God called to reform His people?
* How did John the Baptist prepare for his calling? What has God used to prepare you for your calling?
* What propelled John into his ministry? What propelled you into your ministry?
* What was John the Baptist’s message?
* How had the development of the Jewish Mikvah prepared the people for John’s baptism? What has God implanted in your culture to prepare your people for what God is calling them to do?
* Which two of Jesus’ first disciples immediately reached out to invite others to follow Him? What do you think of the other first disciples who didn’t immediately evangelise, and what do you think Jesus’ reaction to them was?
* What did the repentance that both John and Jesus preached involve?