Perhaps because Scripture says that “in my name” they will perform signs and miracles (Mk 16:17-18), Christians of all flavors, and almost without exception, conclude prayers for miraculous interventions with “In Jesus’ name…”. Pentecostals are quick to invoke “in Jesus’s name” to command something to transpire. The thing is, that’s not what “name” meant in the Jewish cultural context of Jesus’s day. As Timothy Keller frequently explains, “name” connoted “personhood,” like when a son handles his father’s business affairs while the father is away, or when an ambassador exercises abroad the authority of her nation, or when mayors express the sentiments of their cities.
Scripture also records Jesus as saying “whatever you ask in my name […] I will do it.” (Jn 14:13-14, 16:23, 16:26). It seems that on this basis Christians intone “in Jesus’s name” as if it were some magical incantation by which to compel an outcome. Tragically, though, it betrays a lack of confidence. Yes, saying “in Jesus’s name…” is a starting point in the exercise of faith, but it is not a rubric or formula for works of faith. Several passages speak of the significance of operating under or through a “name.” Mark 9:41 speak of giving a cup of water to drink “in my name.” Matthew 18:5 speaks of receiving a child “in my name.” These are not acts of faith but rather acts of character, which is to say, acts performed as a representative of Christ and bearer of his “name.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 speaks of “my people who are called by my name.” Isaiah 43:1 says, “I have redeemed you I have called you by name, you are mine.” This verse might as well say, ‘I call you by my name.’ So what name is it that followers of Jesus the Christ carry? We carry the name Christians—little Christs—and as believers “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). And just as “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Aramaic) mean “Anointed One,” so too as Christians, we are “anointed ones.” As discussed in faith “like a mustard seed”, mountain-moving, water-walking, dead-raising faith does not just manifest with a believer, but grows within the desirous believer from miniscule to massive, “like a mustard seed” (Mt 17:20) which is “the smallest of all seeds, but [grows] larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree.” (Mt 13:32). Even Jesus did not start with major miracles but rather water-to-wine and unclean-to-clean—miracles that visibly affirmed his faith. Jesus progressed to paralytics, blind, deaf—miracles whose confirmation was more elusive. From there Jesus advanced to remote miracles like the Canaanite/Syrophoenician’s daughter and the centurion’s servant–miracles whose confirmation was impossible. And finally, there was raising the long-dead Lazarus—a miracle which was simply unimaginable! In all this, Jesus grew his faith, precept upon precept. (Is 28:10). Jesus never prayed ‘in YHWH’s name be healed.’ Jesus never prayed in his own name either. Jesus spoke directly and confidently: “talitha cumi” (Mk 5:41), “go, and show yourself” (Lk 17:14), “rise, take up your mat” (Mk 2:11, Lk 5:24, Jn 5:11 Mt 9:6), “go” (Mt 8:32), “be still” (Mk 4:39 Mt 8:26, Lk 8:24), “come forth” (Jn 11:43). Jesus did not utter long prayers—in fact, he taught against such (Mt 23:1, Mk 12:40). Jesus didn’t quote scripture to psych himself up with declarations of authority. Jesus did not presumptuously “put God in remembrance of his word” (as if any mortal should dare instruct God!). No, Jesus studied scripture in private, internalized it, an understood the power which indwelt him. I very much think that Jesus practiced in private, healing animals and commanding sustenance before he did any of those things in public (Jn 11:41-42 ?) because faith is grown from misinscule to majestic. When Christians interweave scripture into prayers/acts of faith, it would seems more for the purpose of reassuring themselves that the supplication or act is not absurd, unanswerable, or unperformable. Such things seem crafted more to abate the speaker’s insecurity than to enact or obligate the fulfillment. It is as if to (re)assure the speaker of rightful standing, as seems also the inescapable “in Jesus’s name” tagline. As long as Christians stay in this “milk” stage, they will never “also do the works that I do and greater works than these will he do.” (Jn 14:12). Jesus’s statement in Mk 16:17 that “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will […]” calls to mind the third commandment: “you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” (Ex 20:7 Dt 5:11). Contrary to how most Jews/Christians behold this commandment—not invoking God’s holiness as common or vulgar speech—this text does not speak of uttering or invoking WHYH irreverently but rather taking his name as if it were no big deal. Traditionally a bride takes the name of her husband. The people of Israel ‘took’ the exclusive name of God upon themselves (Dt 6:4) and became the first monotheistic culture. Given that the first two commandments address the worship of other gods, the context very much supports the idea that the third commandment is meant to warn Israel against professing allegiance to YHWH while disavowing YHWH with their conduct. So it is that ‘taking the name’ is to assume the personhood of that name. A a group, God said of Israel, “they shall be my people” (Lv 26:12, Jer 32:38, Ezek 37:27, 2 Cor 6:16). Through his extraordinary obedience (Phil 2:8-11 1 Cor 15:27-28), Jesus opened a door (a “way”) for Adam’s descendants not only to again be God’s people, God’s bride, God’s possession, but even to be “called the sons of God.” (1 Jn 3:1). We become again the sons of God through Jesus, through his personhood, and through his name which we bear: Christian!
Because we “take” his name, everything that Christians do, we do do in the Christ’s personhood whether charity, evangelism, service, etc. In fact, we are to love all as Jesus loved (Jn 15:12) and the world will know that we follow the Christ by our love (Jn 13:35).