Although ritualistic washing with water occurred in many religions and cultures during ancient times, little is known of the origins of water baptism in Israel. In the tabernacle, and later in the temple, a laver for holding water was used in priestly ablutions (Exod. 30.17). By the time of the Maccabees, baptism in a tank or pool of water was used in the ceremony admitting adults to the Jewish community. This new-convert baptism was considered as a rite of purification and an act of dedication to God.
John the Baptist baptized Jews who responded to his call for repentance. He stressed the need for ethical living as proof that a person had genuinely repented. John also combined his call for repentance with his proclamation that the kingdom of God was at hand. Thus, John's baptism was a ceremony of purification to prepare people for the coming rule of God.