Laying on of Hands

by Jay Atkinson

The laying on of hands is something so foundational to Christianity that it is easy to recognize the churches with a form of godliness but denying the power. For those with the effective power of the Holy Ghost able to impart that power, there is no denying. Jesus asked the question, "When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?" The answer is yes for some and no for others.

The laying on of hands in the Old and New Testament were for the following purposes:

  1. Blessing.
  2. The setting in place and anointing of leaders.
  3. Consecration.
  4. Impartation of spiritual gifts, strength, authority or wisdom.
  5. Substitution and the transfer of punishment.
  6. Healing.
  7. Deliverance.
  8. Prophecy.
  9. To receive the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, the laying on of hands often conferred spiritual blessings. Israel stretched out his hands on the two sons of Joseph as a blessing, "guiding his hands wittingly." An impartation was received in this action, being the right hand placed on the head of Ephraim and setting him before Manasseh who was given the left even though Ephraim was the younger, though he was still blessed. Speaking words of wisdom, Jacob's hands were prophetically guided by the Holy Ghost in the blessing.

When Moses was soon to die, the Lord had Moses lay his hands upon Joshua in order to put some of his honor upon him to charge him with authority and take his place. Because the Lord had commanded Moses to do this, the children of Israel listened to Joshua as their divinely-appointed leader. Joshua was already "a man in whom is the spirit," but through the laying on of hands, Joshua became full of wisdom and the anointing of Moses was transferred onto him. Joshua is a type of Christ as our leader. If only the leaders of our nations and ministers of our churches could be so charged up. One like the son of man touched Daniel's lips and opened his mouth so he could speak and again touched him and gave him strength. David thought of God's hand upon him as a blessing and comfort. In the New Testament, Jesus blessed the little children and laid His hands on them.

The Levites were brought before the Lord and the children of Israel put their hands on them. Aaron offered the Levites for an offering so that they may execute the service of the Lord. Aaron and his sons place their hands on the offering. Aaron represents our high priest Jesus and his sons represent us. This same idea was passed onto the Christian church in ordination and consecration through impartation. The Levites then laid their hands upon the heads of the bullocks, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering unto the Lord to make an atonement for the Levites. This does not mean that the actual sinfulness of the people was transferred to the substitute but rather that the liability to punishment was transferred. In other words, the substitute bore the punishment of the people's sins. Through the hands being laid on the sacrifice, they identified themselves with the offering and the sin was transferred from the sinner to the victim so that their hands would be clean to serve. Hands were laid on the victim and the sin of the sinner confessed over it. The substitute then bore the sins of the people, and their sins were said to be "laid upon it" thereby being removed. This is a type of the atonement of Jesus, through our confession, our sins are transferred to Him so we can become holy. The Levites were then separated from among the children of Israel and belonged to the Lord completely for His service. This is also a type of the salvation in the Christian church that differentiates those who are merely justified from those who are wholly sanctified. Through faith, we lay our hands upon the Lamb of God, He takes away our sin, purifies us and consecrates us to service.

If the whole Israelite community sins through ignorance and does what is forbidden, even though it may be hid from the community, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly offers a young bull for the sin and presents it before the Tabernacle of the congregation. The elders of the congregation lays their hands upon the head of the bullock and it is killed before the Lord. The anointed priest would then bring the blood to the tabernacle (which represents the atonement of Jesus), sprinkle a portion seven times before the Lord (which represents the seven spirits of the church) and upon the horns of the altar (representing purification) and then all the blood is poured upon the bottom of the altar (sanctification and reconciliation.) We may not always know what sins we commit but we may know that the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. Aaron laid both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confessed over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel. Aaron, as the anointed high priest, like Jesus, is acting on behalf of the whole nation to make atonement. Praise the Lord. King David ordained trumpets at this time of atonement and instruments and singing. They bowed themselves and worshipped, singing praises with gladness.

When Elisha fell sick and was about to die, Joash, the king of Israel, came and wept over him. Elisha told the king to take a bow and arrow and put his hand upon the bow and Elisha put his hands over the kings hands. Elisha instructed the king to open the east window and shoot the arrow being "the arrow of the Lord's deliverance, you shall smite the Syrians in Aphek, till you have consumed them." Elisha laying his hands on the kings hands represented the divine impartation through Elisha to the king as the appointed leader who (like Jesus) would deliver Israel. The shooting of the arrow represented the defeat. This acknowledged both an impartation of leadership and the special grace and anointing to accomplish God's will.

The laying on of hands in consecration and ordination is used today by many churches as a ceremonial function with no real power. The Holy Ghost separated Paul and Barnabas for the work and the prophets and teachers laid hands upon them and sent them on their way in the power of the Holy Ghost. Today, officers of the church have hands laid on by those who confer the authority of the Holy Ghost to equip those who will serve in the church. The officers of the early church were ordained by prayer, fasting and the laying on of hands. This action did not equip them with spiritual gifts, the Seven Deacons of Acts were men chosen already "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom." True servants of God are ordained because they are qualified, not qualified by being ordained.

Jesus laid hands on those to be healed. Even though a leprous man was considered to be unclean, Jesus stretched forth His hand in love and touched the leper. The leper called out to Jesus in faith, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." Jesus said, "I will, be clean." The leper was healed immediately. He touched blind eyes and they saw, He touched ears and they heard, a tongue was loosed. He touched the hand of Peter's mother-in-law and a fever left her. Jesus took the daughter of Jarius by the hand and she arose from the dead. A woman had a bowed back for eighteen years and Jesus laid His hands on her and she was immediately made straight. "He laid His hands on every one of them, and healed them." In His own town Nazareth, because of their unbelief, Jesus could do no mighty work but He could at least lay His hands on the sick and heal them. Those in Nazareth were healed through the laying on of hands thereby suggesting that the laying on of hands will at least work when nothing else will.

Jesus did not say the sick would be immediately healed but promised, "they will recover" leaving the question of timing open. Sometimes healing is received immediately and at other times it is a gradual process. Nonetheless, Jesus promised and we should stand firm on it. Much of the faith in healing depends on the person being healed as well as in the gift of faith in the person laying his hands, but even the ear of the servant of the high priest was healed by Jesus in the garden as He was being arrested. The glory of the power must always be given to God as the source and transmitted through us. The laying on of hands is an act of faith in cooperation with the Holy Ghost and obedience to the Word. The Lord honors such faith with signs and wonders following.

Before Jesus was received into Heaven, He told us that those that believe in the gospel and are baptized will also be able to lay hands on the sick in His name and they will recover. The book of Acts is full of examples of the apostles using their hands with the same power that Jesus had with "many signs and wonders." Ananias laid his hands on Paul, restoring his sight. The apostles Barnabas and Paul had the power, Paul healed many by laying on of hands and God's power is described as "special miracles by the hands of Paul." When Paul laid his hands on the father of Publius and healed him, others also came and were healed, so many that they were honored with many necessary provisions. James writes, "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Jesus in the Apocalypse held seven stars in His right hand and laid His hand on John.

Early in church history, the anointing with oil replaced much of the laying on of hands. The Biblical imperative of laying on of hands is the reason given for chrismation (anointing with oil) following baptism in the Orthodox church, marking a convert with myrrh. Chrismation represents the seal of the grace-giving powers that are bestowed through the ceremony for spiritual life. The practice of laying on of hands were retained in the Middle Ages through the ceremonial functions and the custom of applying relics and the prayers of healing. It has always been used for ordination or setting apart for service. The laying on of hands was considered a sacrament and divine mystery, a visible representation of receiving the Holy Ghost. The Wesleyan and Whitefield revivals, the Great Awakening and the holiness movement saw the power and faith restored apart from mere ceremony, tradition and formality.

Many churches today still use the laying on of hands as a ritual to confirm people with no real power. The Holy Ghost is supposed to be received at this time when nothing necessarily happens. Leadership positions are conferred by the laying on of hands yet there are no instances of any in the New Testament confirming or bestowing leadership, in all cases it was the power received and spirit led. We must avoid the abuses and excesses of fleshly leadership but not draw back from the practice of the laying on of hands. More holy hands power even with little faith is sufficient to drive out demons, heal the sick, anoint true servants and bring us closer to unity.

With prayers, fasting and the laying on of hands, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned and empowered for the work God had for them to do. God had opened "the door of faith unto the Gentiles." Elders, deacons and bishops were consecrated by the laying on of hands. The gift that was in Timothy was given him by prophecy with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Paul was to remind Timothy to stir up this gift of God. When Paul wrote the Romans, he longed to see them so that "I may impart to you some spiritual gift." That had to be in the laying on of hands or there would be no need to see them in person. The Holy Ghost came upon those at Ephesus that Paul would lay hands on and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Peter and John laid hands upon the Samaritans and they received the Holy Ghost. The reality of the Holy Ghost had to be readily apparent for Simon the sorcerer offered money to the apostles for the power of laying on of hands. Simon believed but his heart was not right. Peter rebuked Simon saying, "Your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." According to Peter, then, the laying on of hands for the Holy Ghost is a gift from God. Many prophets today try to peddle their gift by asking for money. The Didache calls them false prophets.

Many today have received the Baptism with the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. This is not the only way to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost for God gives His gifts as He wills. At Pentecost, the Holy Ghost was given to the whole group through the spontaneous action of God. Others, like myself, receive it through repentance. We stand in prayer lines to be prophesied to and receive the impartation of the Holy Ghost and spiritual gifts. Many in the healing and revival ministries lay on holy hands and many fall back from the power. Many of us report the same experiences when we receive the power, many "slain by the spirit." The simultaneous feeling of peace and power, the tingling sensations and the compulsion to lift up our hands and drink of the spirit, sometimes just a relaxing surrender reassuring us that He is in control, and that His love for us is greater than we will ever be able to comprehend. Many report of the power to stretch out our hands in prayer and spiritual agreement toward others, feeling the virtue and power leaving us through our hands. And it can also work when the person receiving has little or no faith. If you are going after the sensations or manifestations, however, instead of a true relationship with Jesus, you are in danger of receiving another spirit besides the Holy Spirit.

Jesus at His ascension said that in His name, believers would lay hands on the sick and that they would recover. According to this, any believer can lay hands upon others and expect that person to be healed. You want the power to heal, remember this promise from Jesus. Being in his name is being a part of His body and in fellowship with all who know Him, our authority is delegated authority and not from our own personal power or goodness. We should have radical faith, not conservative faith. We must believe in an all powerful, loving limitless God, one that can accomplish these things. As has been said, "a lot of faith in a small God will only produce limited results. With just a little faith in an immense God, miracles can occur." Abundant faith is the key.

We must be careful however. There is a great need for wisdom in ministering through the laying on of hands. Paul writes to Timothy to "lay hands suddenly on no man." In context, it follows that we should do nothing by partiality but it is in reference to elders and not being a partaker of other men's sins. We are to call for the elders of the church to anoint with oil and pray for healing, not the novices. We should not be in a hurry to choose a pastor or elder of a church because you could overlook the lack of an anointing and it would look like you approve of their sin. We should not feel pressured to ordain someone out of status or a ministry opening or need. The building of Gods house is not something to take lightly, and cannot be done with human wisdom. We must not lay hands on someone that God is not ready to put His hand on. We must be willing to wait on God but the fact remains that He is not willing that any should perish.

Through our discussions, we know from the gospels that demons can leave a person and enter into another. Those that lay hands on others in pride can take on sins instead of them being transferred to Jesus. Those in pride can inadvertently impart curses instead of blessings. Those weak in the faith can receive a malediction instead of blessing. Those with the power to cast out demons from a man should stretch out their hands from a distance. This is why if you are not led by the Holy Spirit to lay on of hands, you could receive their sins. In that a spirit can "jump on a person", I have heard that happening. Whether this can happen to any one of us deserves the question whether we have the authority to be laying hands on others or not. Can a person without the power of the Holy Ghost lay hands on another to receive the gift? Many try without the power but there is no effect except the same pretentious impotent power. Certainly the Lord has given believers that authority but remember the story of the vagabond Jews and the seven sons of Sceva? They tried to cast out demons and the demons leaped on them. They did it in the name of Jesus without the authority and the power of Jesus through them. Paul cast out demons from a person from a distance but it would not be someone who came for prayer. But then He had the power. Would a demon have attacked Paul? Not successfully and it should be so with us.

The issues here are a lack of maturity and power, not God's but in our ability to use that power. If we go around looking for guidance and wisdom on who to lay hands on, we do not have the power or the compassion. Anyone who is in need of Jesus for any reason, believer or non-believer is fair game for one with the power to lay hands on them in love and compassion. If you are worried that an unclean spirit will touch you, you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit all over again because my Jesus has power over those unclean spirits and He should protect you from them unless you do not have the faith to believe it. Only some have the faith to know that Jesus is greater. If a man is so demon possessed that those demons can be transferred to one that is laying on of hands, then there is not sufficient spiritual power to repel those demons and you have no business laying hands on anyone at all.

I would suppose that in my own misplaced idealism that there are those times that I expect the same for everybody according to that ideal. This is obviously wrong and I repent of it but we are all learning here and that would certainly include me. This idealistic nature that I seem to be afflicted with is due to a hope for a brighter future that conforms to a restored church with the purity and power of the original apostolic church that we are to be restored to and not business as usual. This puts me in a position of impatience that causes me to speak out of turn sometimes. We should be slow to speak and there is a time for everything.

Putting away this idealism is not easy, nor do I wish to, but I realize that we live in an imperfect world where the natural is more real than the ideal. We need to pray that the Lord will make us into that type of person that is deserving of using us as a vessel to bring His healing touch regardless of the risk involved.

I must confess that there are no lines waiting for me to pray and lay hands on them but I have had a lot of experience in casting out demons and in Jesus' name, they went. In that I have felt that surge of spiritual power many times through my arms and out the palms of my hands gives me the desire to bless others in a way that puts my complete trust in the Power of God over those demons. Since His power also has the ability to rebuke as well as bless, my prayer would be for God to please, never put me in a position where I could not have control over either.
[135, 66, 364, 12, Genesis 48, Exodus 29, Numbers 8, 27, 28, Leviticus 4, 8, 16, Deuteronomy 34, II Kings 13, II Chronicles 29, Daniel 10, Matthew 8, 9, 10, 19, 20, Mark 6, 7, 8, 16, Luke 4, 13, 18, Acts 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 19, 28, Hebrews 6, I Timothy 4, II Timothy 1, Revelation 1, laying on of hands was an item of the latter rain discussion list and the prophetic mentoring group]

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