It is written:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)
The baptism of the Great Commission teaches us some very important lessons regarding the subject of baptism.
The “Great Commission” usually has reference to the last discourse of Jesus Christ after His death, burial, and resurrection on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Following these events, Jesus continued to meet with His Apostles for a period of forty days, teaching them the important lessons they would need as they prepared to take HIs Word to a lost and dying world (Acts 1:1-3). The “Great Commission” is often seen as the church’s “marching orders” in the world until Jesus returns, and is found in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark16:15-20; and Luke 24:46-53.
Let’s carefully study this passage of Scripture.
First, let’s notice the command of this passage. In Greek, there is a mood known as the imperative:
“The Imperative Mood is used in commands and exhortations…Any tense of the Imperative may be used in positive commands, the distinction of force being that of the tenses of the dependent moods in general.” (Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax Of The Moods & Tenses In New Testament Greek, 79 (Kindle Edition); Fig Classic Series)
Jesus’ words in this text use the imperative:
“As has been pointed out by many contemporary teachers, there is grammatically one imperative in the text (make disciples), one aorist participle (having gone, go), and two present participles (baptizing, teaching). An aorist participle normally denotes action that is logically (if not temporally) prior to the action of the main verb, 5 leading to a translation like “Having gone, make disciples” or “Go and make disciples.” Matthew’s use of this Greek word (poreuthentes) in this construction elsewhere (2: 8; 9: 13; 11: 4; 17: 27; 18: 12; 22: 15; 26: 14) suggests that the participle essentially takes on the imperatival nuances of the main verb, and this supports the translation, “Go and make disciples.” On the other hand, a present participle in Greek normally denotes action that occurs simultaneously with the main verb of the sentence, 6 and that implies that baptizing and teaching are not done after making disciples, but instead are done at the same time as making disciples. BAPTIZING AND TEACHING ARE, THEREFORE, THE MEANS BY WHICH DISCIPLES ARE MADE OR THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE MADE. In other words, one becomes a disciple by baptism and grows as a disciple by ongoing obedience to Christ’s commands.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 241-253 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)
Ferguson agrees with this assessment:
“Therefore, my understanding of Matthew 28: 19-20 is that, while all the participles derive an imperatival force from the main verb, the initial participle is coordinate with the main verb (“ go and make disciples”) and the two participles subsequent to the verb are circumstantial, describing the means of making disciples, with the “teaching” accompanying the “baptizing” (“make disciples by baptizing them and [at the same time] teaching them”).” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries, 3041 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
So, teaching and baptism are the means by which one is made a disciple of Christ. This shows us that infant baptism is excluded (as infants cannot be taught before they are baptized), and it reminds us that the act of baptism is the official rite which makes one into a disciple (follower) of Christ.
Second, the phrase “into the name of” is extremely enlightening in regard to the purposes of baptism. In following with Hebrew usage, the phrase meant “in relation to,” and even “in worship to.” In Greek, it suggested the idea of purchasing and fellowship.
Speaking of the archaeological contribution to this matter, Jackson has written:
“Another controversy of the religious world concerns the purpose of baptism. Many people, correctly rejecting the false doctrine of salvation upon the basis of works of human merit, have erroneously concluded that no works-of any type-are involved in salvation. Hence, they have overlooked the clear connection between baptism (which is not a work of human merit; cf. Titus 3:5) and forgiveness of sins in such passages as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, etc. One interesting passage in this connection is Matthew 28:19, 20 where the Lord’s followers are instructed to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What did Christ mean by baptizing them “into the name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Many scholars were uncertain. Then archaeologists began to uncover numerous Greek papyri containing the phrase eis to onama, “into the name.” It was a technical expression denoting “into the possession” of someone. A slave was sold into the name, i.e., into the possession, of his owner. So, as Moulton and Milligan comment: “The usage is of interest in connection with Matthew 28:19, where the meaning would seem to be ‘baptized into the possesssion of the Father, etc.'”. What a thrilling concept! When one, in believing penitence, turns to the Lord by the obedient act of being immersed in water, by that submission, he becomes the possession of the divine Godhead.” (Wayne Jackson, Biblical Studies In The Light Of Archaeology, 56; Montgomery, Alabama; Apologetics Press).
Cottrell goes into greater detail along these lines:
“What this means can be more precisely explained when we understand how the expression “into the name” was used in New Testament times. Many feel that Jesus probably spoke the Aramaic language; thus the phrase should be understood in its Semitic sense. The basic Semitic equivalent had a quite general meaning, viz., “with respect to or with regard to.” In Rabbinic usage, though, it commonly had the more specific final sense. In this sense an action done “in the name” of something was done for a certain end or intention relating to it. Thus Jesus commissioned us to baptize people for a specific purpose relating to the Trinity, or into a specific relationship with the Trinity. 1 The precise nature of this relationship can be learned from the usage of the Greek phrase chosen by Matthew (and approved by the Holy Spirit via inspiration) to translate whatever Semitic original may have preceded it. The phrase is “eis to onoma,” which was a technical term used in the world of Greek business and commerce. It was used to indicate the entry of a sum of money or an item of property into the account bearing the name of its owner. 2 Its use in Matthew 28: 19 indicates that the purpose of baptism is to unite us with the Triune God in an ownership relation; we become his property in a special, intimate way. 3 As M.J. Harris says, since the phrase denotes transference of ownership, in Matthew 28: 19 it means that “the person being baptized passes into the possession of the Triune God.” 4”. (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study, 162-175 (Kindle Edition); Joplin, Missouri; College Press Publishing Company)
I can’t think of a more thrilling idea then this: baptism is where we enter into the possession and fellowship of the Godhead!
It is also important here to realize that the phrase “into the name of” was not a verbal formula that the baptizer must say in order to make baptism effective. Some claim that a specific verbal phrase must be used in baptism, often advocating that if a baptizer does not say something along the lines of “I baptize you in Jesus’ name,” then such baptism is null and void. However, a study of the phrase “in the name of” shows this is simply not the case.
“If Luke was so concerned about the correct formula, such that it was essential for salvation, he did not demonstrate that concern in his writings. He used several different variations of the terminology in the different contexts. If one were looking for a “verbatim” baptismal formula in Acts, it would be difficult to decide which exact terms one should use. This is because there are four different phrases in the five different passages in the Book of the Acts. Three different prepositions in the Greek introduce each phrase: 1) en = in, 2) eis = into, and 3) epi = upon. The phrases, themselves, are quite different. Acts 2: 38—Upon the name of Jesus Christ Acts 8: 16—Into the name of the Lord Jesus Acts 10: 48—In the name of Jesus Christ Acts 19: 5—Into the name of the Lord Jesus Acts 22: 16—Calling upon His name If the exact formula is so very important because eternal destinies are at stake, and if the Book of the Acts is the basis of the true baptismal formula, then which formula is the proper one?” (Bruce Tucker, Oneness Pentecostal Churches:Their Doctrine and Practice, 597-603 (Kindle Edition); Xlibris Corporation)
Another author, a former Oneness Pentecostal, has written:
“The phrase “in the name of” was a common one in Jewish religious circles and had a wide variety of applications. It could mean simply “in relationship to,” as when a slave who was being set free would be ceremonially immersed “in the name of freedom.” Obviously “freedom” is not here a proper name. The phrase could also mean something like “with respect to its intention,” as when an offering would be slaughtered “in the name of . . . the offering . . . the offer . . . God . . . the altar fires . . . and the sweet savour.” Note that the singular “name” is followed by a multitude of things, including God. Does this singularity mean there is one person to whom all these things apply? Of course not.[ 1] Again, the phrase “in the name of” could simply mean “with an obligation towards” or “in the authority of,” as when the Samaritans would circumcise their young men “in the name of Mount Gerizim,” or when a disciple would teach or do a work “in the name of” a principle of behavior, a truth, or perhaps his master or rabbi.[ 2] The bottom line is that there need be nothing theologically significant about the singularity of “the name” in Matthew 28: 19. There is, then, absolutely no historical or biblical justification to interpret this verse the way the Oneness groups do. When Jesus commands us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he is not cryptically making some esoteric self-reference that must be decoded for believers to be baptized correctly and therefore saved….The Oneness Pentecostals are right about one aspect of their interpretation of Matthew 28: 19: namely, that there is no indication that Jesus intended his baptismal command to be taken as a precise liturgical formula. To perform an act “in the name of” someone (or something), we have seen, does not mean that one must verbally repeat the name of this person (or thing) when doing the act. Oneness Pentecostals fail, however, to apply this same insight to their interpretation of the baptismal passages of Acts. Because the Semitic phrase “in the name of” could have such a wide variety of meanings, there is no more reason to take the Acts phrase “in the name of Jesus” as an audible liturgical formula than there is to think that the Matthean formula was to be taken like this. When Paul says that the Christian is to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3: 17), does he mean that we must pronounce his name before each and every one of our activities? Of course not….Further evidence that we are not dealing with a rigid formula invested with saving significance in the Book of Acts is to be found in the flexibility with which the supposed “formula” is identified. Literally, Acts 2: 38 has “on [epi] the name of Jesus Christ”; Acts 8: 16 and 19: 5 have “into [eis] the name of the Lord Jesus”; and Acts 10: 48 has “in [en] the name of the Lord,” with some manuscripts adding “Jesus Christ” or simply “Jesus.” This hardly sounds like a fixed formula upon which all eternity hangs![ 3] There is simply no evidence before the fourth century that the words spoken over a candidate at baptism were any big deal. Thus, to take the phrases in Acts and make them into a magical incantation upon which God s forgiveness rests is to grossly misunderstand the phrase and, consequently, grossly misportray the kind of God whom Scripture reveals.” (Gregory A. Boyd, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity: A World-Wide Movement Assessed By A Former Oneness Pentecostal, 2209-2255 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Third, notice that this baptism is carried out by humans. Disciples are commanded to go and baptize others. Since Holy Spirit baptism could only be administered by Jesus (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3;16; John 1:33), then the baptism of this passage is a reference to water baptism.
Fourth, the baptism of the Great Commission is one that is to continue until the end of the Christian Age. The importance of this is recognized when we remember that when Paul wrote Ephesians, he said that there is only one baptism which is common to all believers (Ephesians 4:5). As we have seen, there were many baptisms in the Scriptures: the Old Testament baptisms (Hebrews 9:10), the baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-4), the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 1:4-5), the baptism of suffering (Luke 12:50), the baptism of John (Acts 19:1-3), and Great Commission baptism (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Yet only one of these baptisms is said to last to the end of the world-Great Commission baptism!
Fifth, this baptism is just the beginning of the Christian walk. We must continue to learn and to observe Christ’s commands as His people. We must continue to grow in the grace of knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Finally, as one of Christ’s commands that we are to observe, each disciple is to go out, teaching and baptizing others. Every member of the church is to be involved in the various ministries of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).
So to summarize what we have learned about baptism from Matthew 28:18-20:
1. Great Commission baptism is preceded by teaching (hence excluding infants and those unable to comprehend the Word of God:
2. Great Commission baptism is the moment where one becomes a disciple of Christ;
3. Great Commission baptism is the moment and the event whereby we become the property of the Godhead-it is where we are purchased by the blood of Christ, entering into full fellowship with the Trinity;
4. Great Commission baptism is authorized by the entire Godhead-it is “in the name of” the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;
5. Great Commission baptism is carried out by humans, thus providing another evidence that this baptism is in water;
6. Great Commission baptism is the one baptism that all believers experience, and will continue to the end of the world;
7. Great Commission baptism is followed by continued learning and obedience.
8. Great Commission baptism is to be advanced by disciples of Christ who go and make other disciples, through teaching and baptism.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.