THESIS: The Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:18–20 gives us the requirement of baptism for all new disciples of Jesus Christ. The meaning of baptism is “immersion that produces a permanent change”. This permanent change for followers of Christ is largely the result of being baptized into the honor of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” For Christians in societies whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame, this offers wonderful benefits—a King who offers them a new source of eternal honor (His own), the development of shame-resilience, and a community with whom to walk in a most honorable journey.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-20 ESV)
Before we consider the baptism-related issues, let’s look first at the overall honor/shame dynamics in this passage:
1) The setting is full of honor. The Risen Christ appears to his disciples at a high place: on a mountain (Matthew 28:16). Highness usually conveys honor; consider the word high in Isaiah 6:1. The mountain is therefore befitting of the divine honor and significance of this solemn occasion. Moreover, Jesus is outside, in public, so all of His disciples, and anyone else, can see him and hear him. It is a perfect stage for honor to be displayed, honor claims to be made, and honor challenges to be given.
2) Jesus makes the claim to regal honor: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. This is not merely a statement of fact. Rather, it is implicitly an honor challenge to all rivals. In a society whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame, there is no doubt that this is an honor challenge. It is as though Jesus is announcing, “ALL RIVALS TAKE NOTE! RIVALS IN THE HEAVENS OR SPIRITUAL REALM, AND HUMAN RIVALS ON EARTH: I HAVE BEEN GIVEN ALL AUTHORITY BY GOD ALMIGHTY. I HAVE DEFEATED THE GREAT ENEMY OF THE UNIVERSE—SIN AND DEATH. YES, I HAVE BEEN GIVEN ALL AUTHORITY AND AM THE MOST POWERFUL RULER. I EXCEED ALL OTHERS IN HONOR AND GLORY. I AM SOVEREIGN KING AND LORD OF ALL. I REIGN AND RULE OVER YOU—WHOEVER YOU ARE—WHEREVER YOU ARE.”
Jesus has announced that He is the Lord and King of the universe.
3) King Jesus gives a great commandment, a great honor challenge to his disciples. “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.” How challenging is this command? How great is this honor challenge?
- This command or honor challenge is global in scope and culturally all-inclusive—for all nations, for all ethnicities. No part of the world—no human community—is to be excluded from this blessing. The word, nations, in the in Greek is ethnos, mandating that this is for all ethnicities, all peoples, all language groups, in the whole world (Revelation 5:9).
- This command or honor challenge is thoroughy Christ-centered. The nations are to be discipled to observe all that Christ commanded. Everything Christ taught and modeled is to be taught and passed by Christ-followers to others. The final message of this honor-filled occasion as recorded in the final verse of the Gospel of Matthew, is this: Jesus promises His very presence always—to all who are engaged in His work of extending the blessing of His kingdom to the nations (Matthew 28:20). The King is not far away! The King is not secluded or cloistered away in some cosmic regal fortress. No, He is Emmanuel, God with us! Wherever we go! For all time and forever! The promise of relational honor and security embedded in the King Himself coud not be greater.
What may we observe about the relationship between baptism and the dynamics of honor and shame?
1) Our Lord Jesus Christ commands that “baptizing them” is a primary objective of discipleship. The English word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo. Here is the clearest definition I found, from James Montgomery Boice, as noted in BibleStudyTools.com:
- to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
- to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe
- to overwhelm
Not to be confused with … bapto. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptized’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!
“Bible Study Magazine”, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.
Here is the main point: Baptism is an immersion that produces a permanent change.
2) Our Lord Jesus Christ commands that all disciples are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. What are the possible meanings of this? The key to understanding this verse is contained in the word, name, which is heavy laden with the connotation of honor and glory. Consider these two verses from Malachi:
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ (Malachi 1:6)
If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. (Malachi 2:2)
Consider also these verses from the Psalms:
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! (Psalm 96:8)
Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. (Psalm 102:15)
And these verses from Isaiah:
I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7)
The significant thing here is the very close proximity between name, honor and glory. When the Lord complains, “O priests, who despise my name,” God’s honor is being despised. When nations “fear the name of the Lord,” they are respecting God’s glory and honor. When Isaiah prophesies of “everyone who is called by my name”, he is referring to God’s honor.
When God says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” one senses the mirror-like quality between name and glory, between name and honor. Therefore, the name of God is significantly synonymous to the glory of God or the honor of God.
So what does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? I believe baptism in Matthew 28:19 refers to two related things:
1) Baptism with a godward focus—it is “in honor of” or “to the glory of”—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is commonly accepted by Christians and makes sense because ultimately, everything is for the glory of God (Romans 11:36). So when Christians are baptized, they are honoring God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
2) Baptism with an inward-transformational focus—being immersed into the honor of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Consider that the little word “in” is frequently translated from the Greek word eis as “into”. For example, in Matthew 2:12–14, four times the word eis is translated into. This relates significantly to the practice of baptism because the Greek word baptizo refers to “immersion that produces a permanent change”. Immersion always requires going into something. Therefore, to be baptized in the name also means being baptized into the honor—“of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?
Baptism into the honor—of the Father, son, and Holy Spirit. The ramifications of this are especially relevant to Christians engaged in cross-cultural ministry to peoples whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame. Here’s why:
- It emphasizes that believers literally have a new source of honor—the eternal honor of God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The helps prevent the new believer from experiencing an honor deficit.
- It amplifies the honor value of entering a new kind of kinship—the “forever family” which is the Church, the Body of Christ. This new kind of kinship honor replaces in large measure the earthly family honor which at best they are required to treat as secondary, and at worst they may be required to abandon.
- It helps create in new Christians the shame resilience they need to resist the persecution and shaming techniques of family and community.
In conclusion, The Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:18–20 gives us the requirement of baptism for all new disciples of Jesus Christ. The meaning of baptism is “immersion that produces a permanent change”. This permanent change is largely the result of being baptized into the honor of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” For Christians in societies whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame, this offers wonderful benefits—a King who offers them a new source of eternal honor (His own), the development of shame-resilience, and a community with whom to walk in a most honorable journey.