The Great Commission
Matthew 28: 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
BAPTIZING– Baptism in the first century was a ritual of spiritual cleansing –
- Practiced by the Essene community at Qumran
- Practiced by John the Baptist “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Acts 8: 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19: 1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
NAME– The word “name” is more than simply a marker representing a person. A NAME carries with it the power and authority of the person to whom the name refers. Thus Jesus tells us to pray asking “in my name,” that is in the name of Jesus. This means that we are asking ‘on his authority’ or as though he were the one asking. We remember the significance of the name of God, so revered and terrifying that the Jews refused to speak it at all, lest they “take it in vain.” To take the Lord’s name in vain means to use it for a purpose contrary or less than the name itself. If you were to ask for a favor, dropping the name of someone powerful or influential, and the thing you ask runs contrary to that person’s wishes, then you have taken their name in vain.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit– This formula appears no-where else in scripture. In Acts, we have two stories about baptizing into the name of Jesus, with the laying on of hands, for the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Those stories presumably took place after Matthew 28 (but before it was written). Perhaps Peter had forgotten what the Lord had said on the mountain in Galilee, and perhaps Paul never even got the word about baptizing in the three-fold name – that Jesus himself had given that instruction. This tells us several things –
- That a baptism only in the name of Jesus is a valid baptism of faith and repentance
- That a baptism only in the name of Jesus does not convey the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the believer without the accompanying laying on of hands and prayer.
- That there were multiple ‘right’ ways of Christian baptism in the first century
It could be argued, however, that Matthew’s text is in part a response to confusion in the first century on how to baptize – is it in Jesus name, or John’s name, or what. So, Matthew proclaims what he has heard from the Lord – “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
Why the three-fold name? The name of the Father – “YHWH” – is the name underwhich the Israelites had walked since Moses, and by faith-history they project that name all the way back to Abraham as the father of the Jewish people. Jesus then comes out of that heritage, and proclaims a new covenant to the Jews, a covenant in His name and His blood, a covenant of eternal salvation. And after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fills the church, the Body of Christ on earth, continuing the work of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only for the decendants of Abraham, but for the whole world. So, a Three-Fold name baptism connects one into that great community of faith that begins with Abraham and extends into “all the world”.
A baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is preferable, because it was the teaching of Jesus, and was proclaimed by Matthew later than Peter and Paul had performed the baptisms described in Acts. The baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit also is the most inclusive and complete – Jesus’ ministry was limited in focus while on earth, but God is living and active everywhere, and as the church goes “into all the world, making disciples of all nations”, this name carries the power of the God of all creation who loves and longs to save all. May we find ourselves living into the fullness of our baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and fulfilling our calling in this Great Commission from Jesus.