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To act in someone’s name means to act with their authority. An ambassador, for example, acts with the authority of the government of the country he or she represents; the ‘status’ and ‘authority’ of the ambassador is invested in him by someone greater than himself.
Peter’s response to the question ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ (Acts 4:7) is unequivocal: ’It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.’ (Acts 4:10) When the religious leaders later command them NOT to preach in this name (Acts 4:18), Peter and John are adamant that they must obey God before men: ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:19-20) The apostles acted not on their own authority but by all the authority invested in Jesus’ name – and therefore in Jesus Himself.
Peter was clear that the man’s healing had not resulted from his own goodness or power (Acts 3:12). He was acting in the name of Jesus, just as Jesus encouraged His disciples to pray in that name (John 14:12-14). When we do so, as Matt Slick says, ‘The action is accomplished by someone, but the power and the right to accomplish it is not one’s own. Instead, it is that which belongs to Christ and is associated with the individual who performs the action.’
Praying and acting in the name of Jesus (whether that involves healing, exorcism or forgiveness) depends on a relationship with Jesus and the infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). It’s not a ‘magic mantra’ or phrase that can simply be tacked on to a prayer or action (see Acts 19:13-16).
For the Christian, everything we think, say, pray or do should be in Jesus’ name. Paul tells the Colossians, ‘whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Col 3:17) As we learn to do this, we can be confident that Jesus is with us. Jesus said, ‘all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ (Matt 28:18) and it is from that vantage point of Christ’s authority we are urged to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). Peter and John had grasped something of the power and authority of the name of Jesus. Have we?