Many Christians use the words “in Jesus’ name” frequently and only with this meaning, almost like a magical formula or written guarantee of answered prayer; but this is not what Jesus intended, as many scriptures show (2 Corinthians 12:8–9; etc.). It is also important to realize that the expression “in Jesus’ name” can also have a number of other, quite different meanings in the New Testament. In fact, “by Jesus’ authority” is only one of seven meanings of “in Jesus’ name.” Consider the following six other meanings:
Proclaiming the Gospel. In the book of Acts we read that the Jewish leaders commanded the disciples using “in the name of Jesus,” but certainly not by his authority. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). This does not mean “by Jesus’ authority,” as the unbelieving Jews did not acknowledge that he had any – they meant the disciples should not teach what Jesus taught (see also Acts 5:40).
Speaking or acting with the character of Jesus. In biblical culture, a person’s name was often related to the character of the individual. In this sense, to say or do something in Jesus’ name is to bring the nature of Jesus’ character to bear on the issue – as when Paul wrote “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NCV). This means we do whatever we do not by Jesus’ authority, but as he would do it.
Doing something as if for Jesus. There are verses where “in Jesus name” means doing something as if for Christ – as when Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). We do not do our jobs or mow our lawns “by authority of Jesus” – in this sense the expression clearly means we do things as though for Christ. Earlier in the same epistle Paul tells us “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).
Giving thanks through Jesus. Paul shows this meaning of “in the name of Jesus” when he wrote that we should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). As our intermediary, Jesus conveys our thanks to the Father – in his name – and we are “giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Aligning our will with that of God. Doing something “in the name of Jesus” can sometimes mean we align our will and our petitions with his. This can be seen when Jesus said “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14). This does not mean that whatever we pray for will be granted if we just ask in Jesus’ name, but that when we pray things to glorify the father – that are in line with his will – they will be granted. This is not about Jesus’ authority, but his way of always praying according to the Father’s will.
Into the name or body of Jesus. The Greek preposition eis translated as “in” in the phrase “in the name of Jesus” can also mean “into,” and this appears to be the meaning of a number of the verses in the book of Acts that speak of people being baptized in Jesus’ name. We read, for example: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5 ASB, BSB, CSB, etc.). In this and similar verses the stress is on being baptized into the body of Christ: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV, etc.).
So there are at least seven different meanings to the expression “in the name of Jesus” in the New Testament, and we must look carefully at the context where each occurs in order to see its specific meaning. The name of Jesus is the name above all names (Philippians 2:9–11), but it is not a magical formula given for our personal use (Acts 19:13). On the other hand, “in Jesus’ name” has rich and varied meanings that well repay our study and thought.