Baptized into the Name Print
Theology
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 10:19

The great commission contains one of the most important New Testament statements about baptism.  It is the only place in the New Testament where we learn that baptism is into the name of Father, Son, and Spirit.  “Into the name” means “into the service of” or even “into ownership of.”  When one is baptized into the Triune Name, God marks and brands him as His own property, as the slave of Christ.

But the commission does not simply say that baptism marks us as God’s property, His holy land, His servants.  The great commission also implies that baptized disciples are incorporated into the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  We not only receive God’s name; we become part of that name.

This comes out in the final clauses of the commission.  Jesus promises to be “with” the disciples until the end of the age.  If we translate the Greek more woodenly, we would get this awkward phrase: “I with you I am.”  The pronoun “I” comes first, then the phrase “with you” and then the first-person verb, “I am.”  That’s not an unusual Greek sentence, but in the context, it is full of significance.

First, Jesus’ promise to be present with His disciples is framed by the divine name.  Long before Jesus stood on the mountain with the eleven, Yahweh appeared on a mountain to Moses and from the burning bush revealed His name, the covenant name, the name “Yahweh,” or “I am.”  In promising to be with His disciples, Jesus simultaneously unveils His identity.  He declares that He is the God of Moses, the God of Israel, the God of David.  He is the God who is, “I am.”

But, second, Jesus not only declares who He is, but also indicates something about the disciples’ relation to Him.  The Greek, again, could be: “I with you I am.”  In the Greek text, the words “I am” surround the words “with you.”  Matthew is doing a little word-painting, arranging the words of the sentence to reinforce the meaning of the sentence.  In effect, the eleven are included within the I am.

Jesus is not only “I am,” but “I-am-with-you.”  We know from the outset of Matthew’s gospel that He is Immanuel, God-with-us.  That is His identity, and it means that God has incorporated “us” into His name.  We become part of God’s own identity.  God did not need to do this.  The sovereign Creator freely, graciously determined, in an election from all eternity, that He would be God only as the God of His people, that He would so identify with Israel that He would take the name, “God of Israel.”  Triune God that He is, He refuses to be God alone: He determines to be “God with us.”  Triune God that He is, He refuses to be “I am” in splendid divine isolation: He is “I with you am.”

That is what Jesus’ resurrection means.  By the resurrection, the God of life triumphs over death.  By the resurrection, the God of justice vindicates Jesus, who had been falsely accused.  By the resurrection, the Father rewards the Son’s obedience.  And by the resurrection, the God of Israel demonstrates that not even death can thwart His purpose to be true to His name, the name “I-am-with-you.”

And that astonishing reality is signified and sealed in baptism.  Through baptism, one is being branded with the name Father, Son, and Spirit.  But this is not a “mere” name.  Through baptism, the baptized is being included in the “you” that is included in the “I am.”  He is being incorporated into the company of disciples who have been incorporated into the life of the living God.  Even as he receives the name of the Triune God in the water of baptism, he begins to participate in that name.

No matter where one goes in life, no matter what he ends up doing, no matter what threats or dangers confront him, he will be secure so long as he trusts in the promise made to him in baptism and lives out the reality of his baptism.  And that’s because wherever he goes, whatever he does, whatever dangers confront him, he will be enclosed and surrounded by the consuming fire, the living God, the God revealed as Immanuel, who has taken the name “I am with you.”



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