When we think of the word baptism we generally think of John the Baptist. I would venture to say that most Christians believe that the idea of baptism began with him. However, the concept of baptism is not a new thing that started with John the Baptist. Baptism was being practiced for thousands of years before his ministry began in the wilderness.
The Hebrew term for baptism is mikveh. It is a sign of repentance or being born again. This being immersed in water was used by the Hebrews to cleanse themselves of any “unclean” spiritual condition prior to being able to enter the temple or before they could approach God. They had to immerse themselves continually and on a regular basis for such things as: the ending of menstrual cycles, bearing children, having unclean skin lesions (that were now healed), priests before entering the temple for service, or anything listed as making a person unclean. Understand that these things were not sins, they simply made a person unable to approach a Holy God. Therefore, after they became “clean” or were “pronounced” clean by a priest or if a priest were about to perform priestly duties within the temple, the person first had to enter a mikveh bath.
After this process they were considered to be “born again”.
In their culture, a person entered the mikveh pool and immersed themselves. No other person baptized you as in our modern churches. However, there was a witness present.
Disciples were always baptized in the name of their Rabbi. Hence, we read in the New Testament (Brit Hadashah) that disciples were baptized in the name of John, because he was their Rabbi (Teacher) and being immersed in his name meant that they had taken his “yoke”, teachings and instructions, upon themselves, and were now following and practicing what he taught. When Yeshua came, John instructed his disciples to leave him and to follow Yeshua. These disciples would then “mikveh” themselves in the name of their new Rabbi, Yeshua.
This process of being baptized is a very serious issue. When we are baptized in the name of Yeshua, we are announcing to the world that we are accepting His teachings and instructions, and that our goal in life is to be just like our Rabbi, Yeshua. It is a sign that we have accepted the Renewd Covenant.
The analogy of being born again means that we have put off the old man and have become a new man in Messiah. Then, when we are baptized in Yeshua's name it is a physical sign to the world of our inward cleansing and intention of becoming “little Messiah's”. (Copies of the original) In fact, that is what the word Christian means, “little christs”.
This is why we always have witnesses at baptisms. You are announcing that you have entered into covenant with Him; to abide by His doctrines, teachings and standards.
In every area of the world where Jews have lived in communities, archaeologists have uncovered “mikveh” pools. This confirms the ancient practice.