First of all, a general blessing can be given through the laying on of hands. Jesus did this with the children who were brought to Him. “After laying His hands on them, He [Jesus] departed from there.” (Mat 19:15); “And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” (Mar 10:16)
I often lay hands on my children and bless them. As I lay hands on them, I speak a blessing over them or pray for them. And any parent , who is a disciple of Christ, can do the same to bless a child or any other person. This is so basic to faith in Christ, and yet it's surprising to see how many churches and families do not practice it. This is not a something that only religious clerics can do for you or your child. This is a sacred privilege of every disciple.
We find many examples in the New Testament where healing and miracles occurred through the laying on of hands. Jesus often laid hands on the sick to heal them. “Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’” (Mar 8:23);
“While the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on each one of them, He was healing them.” (Luk 4:40);
But not only Jesus practiced this. Mark indicated this as a sign that would follow all those who believe: “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mar 16:18);
God commanded to Ananias to go and pray for Saul of Tarsus, saying, “And he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” (Act 9:12); “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’" (Act 9:17).
You might wonder why you can't just pray for the person long distance or speak healing over them from across the room. Well, the truth is that you can do that, and I'm sure many people have been healed that way. But healing is closely connected with the faith of the person receiving the blessing. And somehow the laying on of hands -- that holy and loving physical contact -- helps the faith of the recipient, so that they can believe and receive.
I've received healing this way many times when others have laid their hands on me and prayed. And many times I have laid hands on others to release healing into them. Both as a recipient and as the one laying on hands, I have often sensed the power of God flow through this practice.
One instance that comes to mind happened fairly recently when I was asked to pray for a young lady, who was around thirteen years old. She had an obstruction in her chest that was interfering with her breathing. I and another brother laid hands on her, as I prayed for her. As I prayed, I felt the power of God released. It's much more powerful than electricity, but it doesn't hurt you. She didn't fall down or jerk her body, but simply stood still. Afterward, I asked how she felt and she was able to breath normally. She said she felt something like heat passing through her body when the healing occurred. The next day, it was definitely confirmed by her mother that she was completely healed. And weeks later we heard that she was still completely well.
Praise the Lord. This is just one of many experiences that I could give to show that it is still God's way of healing.
Conferring the Baptism in the Spirit
Another purpose for laying on hands is to confer the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was the experience of the early church and still is today. “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money.” (Act 8:17-18). Notice that Simon the sorcerer saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of hands. He was so fascinated by it that he mistakenly tried to buy the power to do so.
Then there was Ananias, the man the Lord sent to pray for Saul of Tarsus. “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’" (Act 9:17);
That same Saul, who was later renamed Paul, wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2Ti 1:6)
Once again, I have experienced this personally. I still recall the evening in 1986 when I asked the Lord to baptize me in the Holy Spirit. A young man named Alan, who led me to Christ, and some intercessors from our church laid hands on me and prayed for me. As they did so, I received the Holy Spirit with power, just as the first disciples did on the day of Pentecost, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. What a glorious experience it is to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. You can read more about this in my previous post on the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Conferring the gifts of the Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit (1 Co 12) are bestowed upon people through the laying on of hands of the elders. Paul wrote to Timothy not to neglect the gifts that he received when the elders laid hands on him. “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (1Ti 4:14);
Later Paul admonished Timothy to rekindle the gift of God that was deposited in him when Paul laid hands on him. “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2Ti 1:6)
This is another thing I can personally verify through my own personal experience. The gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are still active today. They didn't cease during the first century! I've seen them manifested authentically in my own life, as I have ministered to others. And I have also seen them in the lives of others who have ministered to me. I've witnessed all of the gifts in operation, and I'm here to tell you they are real.
There are many examples I could give, but one will suffice. One time I was in a famous submarine sandwich shop in Pinardville, NH, called Bob Nadeu's. I crossed paths with an old acquaintance, named Paul, whom I had previously worked with in high school several years earlier. As I waited for my steak and cheese sub, I prayed at my booth for the Lord to give me a word of knowledge for him, so that I could share the gospel with a demonstration of power. The Lord showed me that his feet were bothering him. So when I joined him at his table, I was able to share that word of knowledge with him, which I could not have known, except that the Holy Spirit revealed it to me. It turned out that he had worn some new snake skin boots to work the previous day, and now his feet were sore. This led to an opportunity for me to share the gospel, and he prayed right there in the sub shop to give his life to Christ that day. Glory to God! It was not done by my power or my might, but by the Holy Spirit.
Consecrating elders for service
The laying on of hands is used to consecrate people for service to the Lord. In the Antioch church of the first century, they sent out an apostolic team this way – “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Act 13:3)
It’s amazing to me that God chose this mode of operation. It's personal, relational, and requires physical contact. Blessings and gifts are actually released through the laying on of hands.
Maybe someone reading this would like start laying hands on everyone they meet. But the apostle Paul warned Timothy not to lay hands on anyone too soon. He wrote: “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” (1Ti 5:22) Paul did not state specifically which kind of laying on of hands he was referring to in this passage, so it is possible that it could be applied generally to all five types that we have just listed. However, since this same letter of Paul to Timothy outlined the qualifications for overseers, it is more likely that he was referring to the consecration of elders.
Paul explicitly stated the reason he gave this warning. He said that it was to avoid “sharing responsibility for the sins of others.” It was so that Timothy could keep himself “free from sin.” In saying this, Paul meant that Timothy should first build relationship with men, and allow them to be tested first, before he laid hands on them to appoint them as elders. In doing so, this would give opportunity for any besetting sins in the lives of these men to become apparent before they were set in as elders.
Paul went on to say, “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” (1Ti 5:24). In other words, with some men, it’s a "no-brainer" to determine that they are not qualified to be elders. The reason is that their sins go before them and are readily evident to others. But the ones Timothy needed to beware of were the men whose “sins followed after them” and were not immediately apparent to the general public. If Timothy were to lay hands on such men too hastily, he would bring trouble upon himself by sharing in their sins.
When I was sent out with my wife and children for service to the Lord in Eastern Europe in 2008, the elders of our home church laid hands on us and prayed for us. We had walked with them as our overseers for many years, and we had served alongside them in the church. They knew us well, and concurred that the Holy Spirit was sending us out. So we went out with the blessing of the elders and other brethren there in Manchester, NH. We waited many years for the Lord to do this, even though we knew all along He was calling us to an apostolic work overseas. Instead of trying to make something happen in our own strength, we let the Lord do it, and we've witnessed the blessing of God upon it through the good fruit it has born.
The laying on of hands dates all the way back to the Old Testament in the early days of Israel’s history.
This was how they consecrated men for service to the Lord in the Levitical priesthood. Moses states: "So you shall present the Levites before the tent of meeting. You shall also assemble the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, and present the Levites before the LORD; and the sons of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites.” (Num 8:9-10)
The prophet Elisha laid himself upon a dead child and raised him back to life. “And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm.” (2Ki 4:34)
When a person was sentenced to death by stoning, the witnesses of his sin would lay hands on his head. The Law states: "Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. (Lev 24:14)
In the Old Testament, laying on of hands was even used to lay the sins of God’s people on the head of a sacrificial animal (Lev 16:21; Num 8:12). When the priest laid his hands on the animal and confessed over it the sins of the sons of Israel, an actual transfer of those sins occurred. Afterward, the animal was killed.
But since Jesus Christ has become our sacrificial Lamb, He Himself took all our sin upon himself in His body on the tree, and died in our place. Therefore, this particular Old Testament practice is obsolete. In the New Testament, laying hands on people is always beneficial to the recipient. It's never used to pronounce a death sentence, to put a curse, or to lay sin on anyone.
Putting it All Together
As we can see from Scripture, this practice dates back thousands of years. And its usage continues in the New Testament in a fresh, renewed way, according to the grace of Jesus Christ.
Laying on of hands is still the way to confer general blessings, to release healing upon people, to confer the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as well as the gifts of the Spirit, and to consecrate people for service in equipping ministries to which God has called them.
While you may not understand it completely, every disciple should at least have a basic understanding of it, and practice it, since it is one of the elementary truths of the faith. It’s God’s way of transferring blessing, and we need to follow it if we are disciples of Christ.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar. I recommend reading The Name of Jesus, The Power of God to Heal, and Healing is in the Atonement. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He is based in Eastern Europe, where he is helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, and planting churches that multiply. www.dmiworld.org. You are invited to view his collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.