The Right Hand Of God

The Right Hand Of God
By David K. Bernard

The Bible teaches that God is an invisible Spirit, yet it also describes Him in terms that relate to the human body. Many Trinitarians use these descriptions to support their doctrine, particularly passages that speak of the right hand of God and the face of God. Let us investigate what the Bible means by these terms.

John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit,” or “God is spirit” (NIV). This means His eternal essence is not human or physical. Apart from the Incarnation, God does not have a physical body. “A spirit hath not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). God the Father is not “flesh and blood” (Matthew 16:17).
Because He is a Spirit, God is invisible to humans. “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). “No man hath seen, nor can see” Him (I Timothy 6:16).

Moreover, the Bible teaches that God is omnipresent: His Spirit fills the universe. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).

These facts about God show that we cannot understand the physical descriptions of Him in a grossly “letteristic” way. We are to interpret the Bible according to the ordinary, apparent, grammatical, historical meaning of its words, just as we do with other forms of speech and writing. In doing so, we will recognize that all human communication, including the Bible, uses figurative language. We are not free to impose an allegorical interpretation upon Scripture, but when the Bible itself indicates that we are to understand certain phrases or passages in a figurative way, then that is how we must interpret them.

When we read about God’s eyes, nostrils, heart, feet, hands, and wings, it is clear from the rest of Scripture that we are not dealing with a human, beast, or fowl. The Bible does not use these terms to describe a physical being, but to give us insight into the nature, character, and attributes of God. For instance, God expresses His sovereignty by saying, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). The Bible describes God’s miraculous power as “the finger of God” and “the blast of thy nostrils” (Exodus 8:19;15:8); His omniscience and omnipresence by saying, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place” (Proverbs 15:3); His protection by speaking of “the shadow of thy wings” (Psalm 36:7); and His sorrow over human sin as having grieved him at his heart”(Genesis 6:6).

It would be foolish to conclude from these passages that God is a giant who props up His feet on the North Pole, blows air from His nostrils, focuses his eyes to see us, uses wings to fly, and has a blood-pumping organ. Rather the Bible uses concepts taken from our human experience to enable us to understand the characteristics of God’s spiritual nature.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RIGHT HAND

This principle is especially true when the Bible speaks of the right hand of God. Since most humans are right-handed, in most cultures the right hand signifies strength, skill, and dexterity. The very word dexterity comes from the Latin word dexter, meaning “on the right side.” In ancient times, the most honored guest was seated on the right hand of the host. As a result, in Hebrew, Greek, and English the right hand is a metaphor for power and honor.

The Bible uses this metaphor repeatedly with reference to humans as well as God. Of course, in some passages the Bible uses “right” or “right hand” in its locational meaning, in contrast to “left” or “left hand. ” But many times the use of “right hand” is figurative. Since God does not have a physical right hand (apart from the Incarnation) and is not confined to a physical location, when the Bible speaks of His right hand, it speaks figuratively or metaphorically.

A study of the “right hand” passages in the Bible reveals that the right hand of God represents His almighty power, His omnipotence, particularly in bestowing salvation, deliverance, victory, and preservation. “My right hand hath spanned the heavens” (Isaiah 48:13). `Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy…. Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them” (Exodus 15:6,12). “His right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory* (Psalm 98:1). “Thy right hand shall save me” (Psalm 138:7). “I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). There are numerous other examples where the Bible uses “right hand” as a metaphor for power. [1]

In Scripture, the right hand also signifies the position of honor, blessing, and preeminence. “At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Thy right hand is full of righteousness” (Psalm 48:10). “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left” (Ecclesiastes 10:2).

When Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons, Joseph wanted him to put his right hand upon Manasseh, the older son, to signify that he would have preeminence. Joseph insisted, “This is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head” (Genesis 48:18). Jacob refused, in a reversal of normal procedure, saying, “Truly his younger brother shall be greater than he” (Genesis 48:19). (For other examples where the right hand means a position of favor or preeminence, see Exodus 29:20; Leviticus 8:23; 14:14-28; Psalm 45:9; 110:1; Jeremiah 22:24; Matthew 25:33-34.)

JESUS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God (Mark 16:19).

Many passages in the New Testament tell us that Jesus sits on the right hand of God. As we have already seen, it would be a mistake to interpret this description to mean that Jesus sits eternally on top of a giant divine hand or at the side of another divine personage. How could we determine what is the right hand of the omnipresent Spirit of God?

The obvious purpose of this description is to exalt the Lord Jesus
Christ. By using this phrase, the New Testament tells us that Jesus is not merely a man, but He is a man who has been invested with the almighty power of the indwelling Spirit of God and who has been exalted to the position of highest honor.

Since verses like Mark 16:19 speak of Jesus as being “on the right hand of God,” some people suppose that in heaven they will see two divine, the Father and the Son, sitting or standing side by side. But no one has ever seen or can see God’s invisible presence (I Timothy 6:16); no one can see God apart from Christ. Moreover, God has emphatically declared that there is no one beside Him (Isaiah 43:11 ; 44:6,8). Christ is the visible “image of the invisible God,” and the only way we can see the Father is to see him (Colossians 1:15; John 14:9). There is only one divine throne in heaven, and only One on that throne (Revelation 4:2; 22:3-4).

New Testament passages make clear that Jesus is “on the right hand of God” in the sense of having divine power, honor, glory, and preeminence. Jesus Himself said, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man
sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 16:64). “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). These words do not imply that we will see two divine persons in the clouds or in heaven, but one divine human person who has all he power and glory of the invisible Spirit of God.

Jesus was “by the right hand of God exalted” (Acts 2:33). He “is gone
into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (I Peter 1:22). God “raised him [Christ] from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is lamed, not only in this world, but
also in that which is to come” Ephesians 1:20-21). “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

When Stephen was stoned, he “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). He did not see two personages, but he saw the glory of God surrounding Jesus, who was revealed in the
position of supreme power and authority. While on earth Jesus appeared to be an ordinary man and He lived as such with His disciples, but after His resurrection and ascension He appeared with visible glory and power as the almighty God. Although John had been Christ’s closest associate while He was on earth and knew Him well, when He saw the ascended Christ in a vision he “fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). Unlike Christ’s typical appearance on earth, John saw Him in His divine glory.

That is what Stephen beheld also. The only divine person he saw was Jesus, and the only divine person he addressed was Jesus. He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Arts 7:56). He died “calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

F. F. Bruce, one of the foremost evangelical theologians of the twentieth century, explained that biblical scholars past and present recognize Christ’s right-hand position to be metaphoric, not physical:

Christ’s present position of supremacy is described in the Pauline writings as being “at the right hand of God.”… The apostles knew very well that they were using figurative language when they spoke of  Christ’s exaltation in these terms: they no more thought of a location on a literal throne at God’s literal right hand than their twentieth-century successors do…. Martin Luther satirizes “that heaven of the fanatics … with its golden chair and Christ seated at  the Father’s side, vested in a choir cope and a golden robe, as the  painters love to portray him!” [2]

Several passages carry a further connotation relative to the Christ’s  right-hand position: they use this term to describe His present  mediatorial role. “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen  again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh  intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

This does not mean that Christ has been kneeling for two thousand years, praying to some other deity. As a man, He has been glorified and  has no further need to pray. As God, He never needed to pray and never  had anyone to whom He could pray. Moreover, there is nothing He needs  to add to the Atonement; His one sacrifice on the cross is sufficient  to cover the sins of the whole world. When He said, “It is finished”  and then died, His atoning work was complete (John 19:30). He “offered  one sacrifice for sins for ever” [Hebrews 10:12).

What Christ’s present intercession means is that His sacrifice is  continually effective in our lives. His blood can cover our sins today.  If we sin, we still have “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the  righteous” (I John 2:1). When we confess our sins to God, no one needs to convince Him to forgive us; He looks at the Cross, and that event is  all the advocacy we need.

To remind us that Christ was a “real man who died for our sins and so  became our advocate, mediator, and high priest, the New Testament  speaks of Him as at the right hand of God.” At the same time, it shows  us the completeless and finality of His work on the cross by saying  that after His mediatorial work, He “sat down” on the right hand. “When  he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the
Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

“We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the  throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). “But this man,  after he had offered one sacrifice for sins foever, sat down on the  right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Jesus “is set down at the right  hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Significantly, the Book of Revelation never describes Jesus as being on  the right hand of God. It looks forward to the time when His  mediatorial role will no longer be necessary. In eternity to come, we  will not see Him in the right hand position as an exalted man who  serves as our mediator, but we will see Him as the One on the throne,  the One who is both God and the Lamb at the same time (Revelation 22:3- 4).

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains the significance of Christ’s  right-hand position and its reference to the present age:

The position occupied by Christ [is] the place of authority and of  priestly service. For believers, he both rules and intercedes…. The  rule of Christ will become actual. Meanwhile he patiently waits for the  time when his enemies will be vanquished. There will then be no more  opposition to Christ or his rule. [3]

[1] Deuteronomy 33:2; Job 40:14; Psalm 16:8; 17:7; 18:35; 20:6; 21:8;  44:3; 45:4; 60:5; 63:8; 73:23; 77:10; 78:54; 80:15, 17; 89:13, 25, 42;  108:6; 109:31; 118:15-16; 137:5; 139:10; Isaiah 62:8; 63:12;  Lamentations 2:3-4; Ezekial 21:22; Habakkuk 2:16; Acts 5:31; Revelation  1:16.

[2] Bruce, Epistles, 132-33. The quote from Martin Luther is from  Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe 23, 131.

[3] Robert Ross, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in the Wycliffe Bible  Commentary, ed. Charles Pfeiffer and Everett Harrison (Chicago: Moody  Press, 1962), 1419.

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Brother Bernard is the associate editor in the Editorial Division. He  is also the pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church in Austin,  Texas. This article was excerpted and adapted from The Oneness View of  Jesus Christ, published by Word Aflame Press. This article is from the  Pentecostal Herald, August 1994, Pages 13 & 15-16.

Christian Information Network.

The above material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form  without permission of the author and is to be used for study and  research purposes only.

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