Hands Outstretched

Where did this practice originate?

There is biblical precedent for congregants holding forth their hands when the benediction is pronounced. For instance, in Nehemiah 8:6, we read, “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” This seems to be a very clear example of the people responding to the ministerial blessing of God by collectively raising their hands and saying, “Amen!”

 

One of my favorite things to do when leading a worship service is getting to pronounce the benediction over the congregation at the end of the service. A benediction is a divine blessing from Scripture pronounced by the minister in order to equip God’s people as He sends them out into the world to live for Christ. The benediction is found throughout Scripture. Consider the following examples:

In the Old Testament, God charged Aaron and his sons to pronounce the divine blessing over the people of God:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. ‘So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them’” (Num. 6:22–27).

This, of course, typified the divine blessing being prounced by the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, as He lifted up His hands when He ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50). How fitting that this was Christ’s last act on earth. Jesus ascended to heaven as our great High Priest, in order to continue the work of redemption on our behalf in the presence of God. The efficacy of the priestly blessing pronounced on God’s people is utterly dependent on His nail-priced hands. Jesus’ hands had to be pierced on the cross in order for Him to lift them over us in triumphant pronouncement and assurance.

The New Testament epistles are also full of apostolic benedictions. In his book, The Law of God, William S. Plummer categorizes the benedictions we find scattered throughout the New Testament. He wrote,

“Of the twenty-one epistles, five do not close with a benediction. These are the epistle of James, 2 Peter, 1 and 2 John and Jude. James nowhere has any form of blessing. In the opening of his second epistle, Peter has this form: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.” So, near the beginning of his second epistle, John says: “Grace be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.’ So also Jude, at the beginning, says: ‘Mercy unto you, and peace and love be multiplied.’ So that there are but two epistles in the Bible entirely without some form of benediction. These are James and 1 John.

The shortest benediction in the Bible is that of 3 John: ‘Peace be with you.’

In Colossians we have: ‘Grace be with you. Amen.’

In Titus we have: ‘Grace be with you all. Amen.’

In Peter we have: ‘Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.’

In 1 Timothy we have: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.’

In Philemon we read: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’

In 2 Timothy it is: ‘The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.’

In Romans, Philippians, and 2 Thessalonians, it is: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.’

In 1 Corinthians it is: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’

In 1 Thessalonians it is the same, with the addition of the amen. In Galatians the apostle says, ‘Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’

In Ephesians he says: ‘Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.’

Read More