Question: What does Matthew 28:19 mean?
“I greatly appreciate your answer to someone in Zimbabwe about baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (April 2002 Present Truth), although I did not really gain an answer of what Jesus meant by this commission. Could you please explain from the Scriptures if the scripture explains this; although I greatly appreciate your silence where the Scriptures are silent.”
Thank you for pointing out that the verse was not thoroughly explained. In the answer you refer to I was mainly focusing on what it does not mean, namely it does not mean that there are three persons in one God as so many trinitarians wish to believe. Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
As we noticed in the April 2002 issue of Present Truth, Jesus was not giving a specific formula of words for the preacher to recite at a baptism. We know this because,
1) There is no record in the Bible of anyone using that formula at a baptism.
2) All the recorded examples of people baptizing after this command was given show that it was done in the name of Jesus. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5.)
3) The word name is singular, indicating that it has reference to the character rather than to proper names of individuals.
4) It would not be possible to literally baptize in the proper name of the Holy Spirit, because we have not been given that name, if such a name exists.
Once we realize that Christ was commissioning His disciples to baptize into the character of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is easier for us to understand His words. Several times in the Bible the word baptize refers to something other than literally immersing in water. For example:
Long after Christ’s literal baptism in water He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) Here it is obvious that Jesus was not referring to being literally immersed in water, but rather to an experience He would encounter. This experience was to be so intense that it could be described by using the word baptize which literally means, “to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary)
Jesus used the word baptize in the same way in the following verses: He said to James and John, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” (Matthew 20:22, 23)
In these verses Jesus used the word baptize to signify passing through an overwhelming experience. Paul used the word in this way when he wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) Being baptized into Christ is more than just being immersed in water, but rather indicates a complete dedication to Christ.
We could look at Christ’s words in Matthew 28:19 in this way: “Go ye, therefore, and disciple all the nations, Immersing them into the name [character] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 Rotherham Version) This command is closely connected with the command to teach. Christ wants His disciples to understand the truth about God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.
In Acts 2:38 we see the principles of the great commission demonstrated. On the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38) The Father calls or draws (John 6:44) us to Christ, we are literally baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and the Father gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our Christian lives.
I hope this helps to answer your question.