April 2022 GPS
This month, as we continue our study of the use of the name(s) of the Lord in the Bible, we will begin to look at some actions which the Bible says may be done “in the name of” Jesus or the Lord. My goal is to address the question, “What does it mean to perform these actions in the name of Jesus/or other members of the Godhead?” This time we will look at the meaning conveyed by being baptizing in the name of the Lord or in the name of all three members of the Trinity.
In the Great Commission which Jesus gave before He ascended into heaven, He said, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) In order to understand the meaning of “in the name of” in this command, we need to make sure we are clear about the symbolism of baptism in general. Undoubtedly Christian baptism conveyed several ideas including that of union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, purification, and repentance. However, I do not believe those were the only concepts which baptism symbolized. I believe that another (equally significant) concept involved in the symbolism of baptism was the identification of the one being baptized as a follower, either of the one who performed the baptism, or of the one in whose name the individual was being baptized. I arrived at this conclusion on the basis of several passages. The first is found in the Gospel of John following the record of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. [The fact that the text says it was in the context of discussing the topic of purification that the subject of baptism came up leads me to the conclusion that purification was part of the symbolism involved in it.] And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”” (John 3:25–26, ESV) John’s disciples were concerned that the number of people who were becoming followers of Jesus (indicated by the number of people being baptized) was superseding the number of those who were following John. John had to reassure them that this turn of events was exactly what was supposed to take place (verses 27-30).
A few verses further in the text we read: “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.” (John 4:1–3, ESV) Apparently the Pharisees attached the same significance to baptism that John’s disciples had. It indicated that those who were being baptized identified themselves as followers of either Jesus or John. Note that the text says, “making and baptizing …disciples,” followers.
I believe this understanding of the significance of baptism is confirmed by what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In a context in which Paul is scolding the Corinthians because of their divisions over which human leaders they were following, Paul asks a question. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.” (1 Corinthians 1:13–15, ESV) One of the ways used to indicate the identity of the leader that one had begun to follow had to do with baptism. A person would claim to have been baptized by the leader or at least to have been baptized in the name of the leader that he or she had begun to follow.
Before concluding this study, I should address the fact that in four passages in Acts (2:38, 8:16, 10:48 and 19:5) we read that people were to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (or Jesus Christ or Jesus Christ). Why were all three members of the Godhead not included in these admonitions? I think the answer is that whenever the object of saving faith is named, that one is Jesus. Examples include John 1:12, 3:16-18, Acts 4:11-12, 16:31. The problem with the auditors in all of these cases was not unbelief in God but in Jesus. When people became genuine followers, disciples of Jesus, they would, in doing so, become believers in, and followers of, the Father and the Holy Spirit. The key issue in each case was a person’s response to the claims of Jesus. I have endeavored to show that a major concept involved in the symbolism of “baptism in the name of” someone was the identification of the one being baptized as a disciple/follower either of the one who performed the baptism or of the one in whose name the individual was being baptized. That is true also of the Great Commission. Jesus instructed His followers to go into all the world and make disciples/followers. He then explained that there were two steps involved in the process of doing that. The first step was “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (all three persons of the Godhead). That act bore testimony that the one being thus baptized had decided to become a disciple of the triune God. The second step was “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The rest of that person’s life was to be taken up with learning to observe/obey all of Jesus’ commands.