NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 18-20: So He approached them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have told you to do.”
It is interesting to note that Matthew uses the Greek word proserchoma which means “to approach, draw near to, visit,” to describe how the Lord Jesus approached them. In other words, they went to the place in Galilee He had indicated, and after gathering there waiting, He showed up. What a beautiful illustration that is for those who desire to follow His will. The words that Jesus then spoke to them echo what His heavenly Father had said to Him, Who then inspired by the Psalmist to record: “Let me tell you about the Lord’s agreement: He said to me, ‘Today I have become your father, and you are my son. If you ask, I will give you the nations. Everyone on earth will be yours. You will rule over them with great power. You will scatter your enemies like broken pieces of pottery!‘”1 And Daniel received a revelation similar to the one the disciples now experienced: “The one who looked like a human being was given authority, glory, and complete ruling power. People from every nation and language group will serve Him. His rule will last forever. His kingdom will continue forever. It will never be destroyed.”2
Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was more or less quoting Daniel here. But not all skeptics accept the anointing proclaimed by Jesus. As one polemic Jewish writer proposed, if He were truly God, and the earth was His, and the fullness thereof,3 then why did He have to leave and go away? If He were God, did He lie to the scribe when He said He had no place to lay His head?4 How could He now claim to have all dominion in heaven and on earth?5 What this critical writer does not take into consideration is that the Messiah was made human so that we might be made divine.6
It would also be shortsighted if any Bible scholar insisted that what Jesus meant here was that at baptism the actual name of the Father, and that of the Son, and that of the Holy Spirit be enunciated in order to make the baptism valid. First of all, God has no name other than the one He gave to Moses: “I AM that I AM.” Furthermore, Jesus was speaking to His Jewish followers who understood the consequences of going out to win the people of Israel to the Messiah and the repercussions if they dared to speak HaShem – The Name. Even the term “God” is not His name, it only designates Him as the Highest Being in the universe, and in most Jewish documents is spelled, “G-d”.
Also, we know now that the name “Jesus,” is the Anglicization of the Hebrew word, “Yeshua.” That was His earthly name. But as the Son of God, the closest name we can come up with is: “Emmanuel” or “Alpha and Omega,” “Messiah,” etc., and the ones found in Isaiah.7 But these are titles and characteristics. And as far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, the only other term used for Him that might qualify as a name is “Comforter.”8 So it is clear that what our Lord meant by saying in the name, was “by the authority of.” After all, it was the Father who called us, the Son who paid our ransom, and the Holy Spirit that led us to the strait and narrow gate of salvation. So all three should be acknowledged as making it possible for us to become the children of God.
We must remember, at this point the disciples were thinking only of converting their fellow Jews into believing that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God. So our Lord’s message echoes that of the Psalmist, “May those in faraway countries remember the Lord and come back to Him. May those in distant lands worship Him, because the Lord is the King. He rules all nations.”9 And this commission by Jesus would make it possible for His disciples to be energized and sing this Psalm of Praise: “The Lord showed the nations His power to save. He showed them His goodness. He has kept His promise of love and loyalty to the people of Israel. People everywhere have seen our God’s power to save. Everyone on earth, shout with joy to the Lord.”10
And no doubt, the words of Isaiah now made more sense to them than ever before, “And now He says, “You are very important servants to me. You must bring back to me the tribes of Jacob. You must bring back the people of Israel who are still alive. But I have something else for you to do that is even more important: I will make you a light for the other nations. You will show people all over the world the way to be saved.”11 This was all to be done with the authority and cooperation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.12
Some have misunderstood and others misinterpreted this ordinance at baptism. The term “name” is a synonym for authority, and in this case it points to what one theologian calls: “…the authority of these three divine persons, who all appeared, and testified their approval of the administration of this ordinance, at the baptism of Christ: and as they are to be trained in it, so the persons baptized not only profess faith in each divine person, but are devoted to their service, and worship, and are laid under obligation to obedience to them, Hence a confirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity, there are three persons, but one name, but one God, into which believers are baptized; and a proof of the true deity both of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and that Christ, as the Son of God, is God; since baptism is administered equally in the name of all three, as a religious ordinance, a part of divine instituted worship, which would never be in the name of a creature. This is the first, and indeed the only, place in which the Trinity of persons is expressed in this order, and in the selfsame words.”13
It may also help to look at the Jewish understanding of this commission in the Hebrew: “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim,14 immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh15.”16 As one Jewish writer explains it from the Jewish perspective: “Christianity has tended to regard this phrase as a ‘baptismal formula’ to be pronounced when someone is baptized. This understanding leads to such questions as: What is this ‘name’ of the Father, Son, and Spirit? Is it Yahweh?17 or something else? Must all three ‘persons of the Godhead’ be mentioned for a baptism to be valid? So far as I am concerned, these questions miss the point. First of all, Greek ‘eis’ generally means ‘into’ rather than ‘in.’ Secondly, although ‘name’ is the literal meaning of Greek ‘onoma’, ‘immersing into a name’ describes no possible literal act. My rendering (in bold letters above) expresses what I believe to be the intended meaning, since in the Bible ‘name’ stands for the reality behind the name. While ‘in the name of’ can mean ‘on the authority of,’ that seems weak here; more is meant than identifying who authorizes immersion. It is possible that the Greek for ‘into the name’ renders Hebrew ‘lashem’, ‘for the sake of, with reference to’.”18
1 Psalm 2:6-9
2 Daniel 7:14
3 Psalm 24:1
4 Matthew 8:20
5 The Nizzahon Vetus, op. cit. Sec. , p. 181
6 See Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word, Ch. 8:54
7 Isaiah 9:6
8 See John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
9 Psalm 22:27-28
10 Psalm 98:2-4
11 Isaiah 49:6
12 Matthew 28:19
13 John Gill, Exposition of the Bible Commentary, loc. cit.
14 Hebrew for “disciples”
15 Hebrew for “Holy Spirit”
16 Complete Jewish Bible, loc. cit.
17 Cf. Acts of the Apostles 2: 38, 8: 16
18 Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern, op. cit., loc. cit.