Have you ever wondered why John the Baptist invited people down to the Jordan River to be immersed in water as a sign of their faith? Why couldn’t he just ask them to shake his hand, or draw a line in the sand, or some other random sign that they wanted to confirm their belief in the coming Messiah?
John may have been imitating an ancient Jewish wedding tradition called the mikvah, a tradition that continues among many Jews. According to this tradition, a bride is required to perform a ritual of fully immersing herself in water prior to her wedding.
Throughout history and into our contemporary age, immersion in a mikvah signifies the “rebirth” and change of status of a convert. In her book, To Be A Jewish Woman, Lisa Aiken explains the intimate details of the mikvah even further: A mikvah is a collection of water emanating from a natural source, such as a spring or rainwater. One reason why a bathtub, Jacuzzi, or swimming pool cannot serve as a mikvah is because the water that goes into them is not directly connected to the natural source from which it emanates…
When women immerse, they are not allowed to have even a speck of dirt on them. This is because whenever we renew our spiritual connections with God and remove our spiritual blockages, nothing can stand between us and the Source of all spiritual blessing.
A mikvah must contain a certain amount of water. There must be at least 40 seah (about 200 gallons) of water. The number 40 symbolizes the amount of time (in days) it takes for a fetus to attain human form… The mikvah itself represents the womb.
Could John’s intention in baptizing believers in the Jordan River have been to emulate the mikvah? I believe that based on how he called himself “the Bridegroom’s friend” (John 3:29), his intention was to prepare us, the bride of Christ, for our wedding day.