The spiritual significance of laying of hands
In the beginning, when the church was first established on earth, the disciples boldly prayed that God would stretch out His Hand to heal and perform signs and wonders in Jesus’ name. God answered their prayers by filling all of them with the Holy Spirit as well as boldness, and doing many good works through their hands. The disciples’ faith and passion for God meant that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not stifled and quenched, but flowed powerfully through their hands as a blessing to many others.
Acts 4:29-31 ESV And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Although God is Spirit, there are many occasions in both the Old and New Testaments that God refers to His Hands. For example, Jesus committed Himself to His Father’s Hands and promised that no one would be able to snatch His people out of the Father’s Hand.
John 4:24 ESV God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 10:27-30 ESV My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Luke 23:46 ESV Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
God’s Hand is powerful. His Hand “laid the foundation of the earth, and His right hand spread out the heavens.” With His finger, He set the moon and stars into place. This is the same God who came to earth to live as a human being, so that he could break the power of the devil by dying for our sins. Wherever Jesus went, He laid hands on the sick and afflicted to heal them and drive out demons.
Isaiah 48:13 ESV My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.
Psalm 8:3 ESV When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
Hebrews 2:14 NLT Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.
Luke 4:40-41 ESV Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
Before Jesus left the earth, He called His followers to continue the work He had begun, including the laying of hands on the sick and praying for their healing.
Mark 16:15-18 ESV And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Examples of laying of hands found in the Bible
The Bible shows many examples of the laying of hands and how the Holy Spirit can move powerfully through our hands in Jesus’ name.
1. Passing on the infilling of the Holy Spirit
- The apostles Peter and John laid hands on those who were baptised so they would receive the Holy Spirit | Acts 8:16-17 ESV for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
2. Passing on of spiritual gifts
- Moses laid hands on Joshua to pass him the spirit of wisdom | Deuteronomy 34:9 ESV And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
- The apostle Paul laid hands on new believers so that the Holy Spirit would come on them and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy | Acts 19:5-6 ESV On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
- The apostle Paul laid hands on Timothy so he would receive his gift of God | 2 Timothy 1:6 ESV For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
- Jesus laid hands on the sick and afflicted to heal them and drive out demons | Luke 4:40-41 ESV Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
- Ananias laid hands on Paul (previously known as Saul) to remove his temporary blindness and so that he may be filled with the Holy Spirit | Acts 9:17-18 ESV So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;
4. Commissioning for God’s Kingdom work
- Moses laid hands on Joshua to commission him as the new leader of the nation | Numbers 27:22-23 ESV And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses.
- The prophets and teachers at the church in Antioch laid hands on Barnabas and Saul to commission them to go preach the gospel | Acts 13:1-3 ESV Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
- The apostles laid hands and appointed seven godly man to serve the church | Acts 6:3-6 ESV Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
- Jacob (also known as Israel) laid hands on his grandsons before he blessed his son, Joseph, and his grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim | Genesis 48:14-16 ESV And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
- Jesus laid hands on children to bless them | Matthew 19:14-16 ESV but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.
- Moses and the people laid hands on a man who blasphemed God and cursed, before putting the Lord’s judgment on him, which was the penalty of death | Leviticus 24:11,13-15 ESV and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.
God continues to work through faithful believers who continue Jesus’ work on earth, by doing the same things the early disciples did with their hands, as the following testimony shows.
Testimony 1 — Laying of hands for healing
“I recently joined a class on the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of the night, the leader said the Holy Spirit had pointed out that someone had a knee problem and needed God’s healing touch. I immediately raised my hand.
It had been a few months that I couldn’t stand up stable on my right knee after an hour of being in a sitting position. Even during that night, I still felt the pain.
A few of them then laid hands on me and prayed for healing over me. One prayed that I would open my heart to receive my Heavenly Father’s love. Another asked me if I could lay down and give all my emotional, financial and mental burdens from running my business to Jesus. (Things had been very tough, especially during Covid.) Then one prayed for healing, from my mind down to my knee.
After the prayer, with little faith, I stood up and … the pain was all gone!
Being a Christian over 40-plus years, I never experienced such Spirit-led healing. It was the first time. I told the group that God is good and real. It ended with praise and a lot of clapping of hands.
I had brought a knee warmer to help with the pain. But now … I don’t need it! It is amazing that miracles can happen every day. May we all continue this journey in Christ with more faith and freedom.”
Be careful with the laying of hands
Just as the laying of hands can lead to the infilling of the Holy Spirit or the ignition of new spiritual gifts, the opposite can also happen.
The apostle Paul warned Timothy not to be too quick to allow anyone to lay their hands on him, and therefore, share in their sins — implying that spiritually unclean things can also be passed through the laying of hands as well. This is especially true if we submit to someone who is considered a spiritual authority over us, as the following testimony goes to show.
1 Timothy 5:22 ESV Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
Testimony 2 — Defilement through the laying of hands in commissioning
“I have been serving God for some years, but I have never really been fully joyful and at peace about it. Instead, I often feel sorry and resentful about the journey that God has had me walk for Him.
Recently, I was going through some difficult circumstances, and I found myself again feeling very bitter, resentful, and in deep sorrow again. I spent hours crying and grieving over the circumstances. I picked up my phone and called a sister-in-Christ, hoping to receive prayer but most importantly, to have a listening ear. She comforted me and assured me that she would always be there to listen. I was grateful for the freedom and the space to express what was really going on inside me. She also said she would seek the Lord on my behalf.
On that very same night, God spoke to this sister. The Lord had given her a vision and a word of knowledge. The next morning, I received a text message from her. She told me that she had seen a vision of an evil spirit hiding on a window sill and the Lord gave her the word “mother load”. She felt prompted to ask me if anyone had laid hands on me and prayed for me when I was living aboard. She suggested that I cut spiritual ties with them because they may have transferred something over that I had not noticed (referring to the vision).
Immediately, a few women came to my mind. Two of them are mothers, and all of them share the same similarity. They all are great women of God who serve God faithfully, but they carry a lot of grief and sorrow, and mother guilt. Some even publicly admitted that even though they had served God faithfully for years, they still resent God for the major traumas they had gone through. I still vividly remember their pain and their tears when they were talking about it. Perhaps my soul was already yoked with them when they were sharing their tragic life stories and hardships, and their bitterness had defiled me spiritually as well.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15)
When I was recalling their life stories, I found that my thoughts were very similar to one of the women who had laid hands to pray over me. She had lost her son, but she kept serving God afterward. She said that even though many years passed, she still didn’t understand and had anger and grudges toward God. And that was how I often felt – upset, angry, and having grudges toward God!
After the Holy Spirit brought these women to mind, I began to cut spiritual ties with each one of them and unyoke myself with them. Because of their leadership positions, these women had laid hands on me and commissioned me as part of graduation ceremonies for various courses and programs. Right after the prayer, I felt lighter – and the feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment went down significantly!
In a very short time after that, God’s words entered my heart and spoke to me, to gently teach me and guide me. The Holy Spirit encouraged me to leave self-preservation and self-protection aside, and move into His ways because His plan is greater than mine. His ways are higher than my ways, and I need to trust that His plan is to prosper me and not to harm me. Then I would not need to be so resentful and angry. God is continuing to change my heart.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
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