This doctrine is of critical importance to Christianity because it shows that God works and deals with mankind through fallible, imperfect human beings He chooses and sets apart for His purpose. From the books of Moses to the book of Revelation, we find the laying-on-of-hands ceremony used in a wide variety of circumstances. It was performed as an official ceremony, generally by an individual ordained or commissioned by God. The ceremony centered around God's servant praying aloud as he placed his hands on the recipient of his petitions. It was a formal request to God, usually for a specific blessing, gift or authority as in ordination. Usually a simple, short ceremony, but filled with meaning. Let's notice some of the interesting and varied ways in which men of God have used the laying on of hands.
One of the earliest recorded biblical examples of this doctrine is found in Exodus 29 during an ordination ceremony. And strangely enough, the hands were laid on animals by the persons being ordained. Here is how it happened. In Exodus 28:1 God commanded Moses to set apart Aaron and his four sons to be priests. In Exodus 29:10 we read: "Then bring the young bull to the Tabernacle, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon its head; and you shall kill it before the Lord, at the entrance of the Tabernacle" (The Living Bible).Verses 15-20 state that they were to do likewise with the two rams. Why did they do this? Aaron and his sons were commanded to lay their hands on the animals' heads to symbolize their sins, their guilt being transferred to the animals which then suffered the penalty of sin Aaron and his sons should have received — death. Of course, this all had symbolic meaning since only Christ's blood really atoned for sin. The laying on of hands in this example symbolized the cleansing and purifying of the priests through the transferal of their sins to the animals. We will soon see that the laying on of hands often symbolizes a transfer, transmittal or granting of special gifts, blessings or authority — elements that are literally priceless. Things that are only God's to give.
"Then bring the Levites to the door of the Tabernacle as all the people watch. There the leaders of the tribes shall lay their hands upon them, and Aaron, with a gesture of offering, shall present them to the Lord as a gift from the entire nation of Israel. The Levites will represent all the people in serving the Lord… In this way you will dedicate the Levites from among the rest of the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. After you have sanctified them and presented them in this way," they shall go in and out of the Tabernacle to do their work" (Numbers 8:9-11, 14-15; The Living Bible). Of course, the leaders' hands had no magical or mystical qualities. They merely symbolized and formally emphasized that God, not man, gave them authority and set them apart for a particular job. God commissioned them and issued them authority and jurisdiction to do His work. This again demonstrates one of the great lessons of the laying on of hands — that God works through man — — even in ordaining His own servants.
The Worldwide Church of God practices this doctrine today in ordaining qualified men to be deacons and ministers (and qualified women to be deaconesses). Notice the New Testament example of ordaining deacons in Acts 6. The twelve apostles had chosen seven men to be deacons, "Whom they set before the apostles and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (verse 6). Acts 13:2-3 records the ordinations of Barnabas and Paul. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost [Spirit] said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." Again, God's will was carried out by His ministers praying and laying hands on the ones He had chosen. This was another example of God's issuing authority through His already ordained and chosen human servants.
Christ gave the ministers of His Church the authority to baptize those who have truly repented of their sins. Along with the physical act of baptism is promised the Holy Spirit — through the laying on of hands. Millions have supposedly been baptized, but very few have had hands laid on them for the receiving of the Holy Spirit after baptism. Notice the example in Acts 8. Philip went to the city of Samaria to preach the gospel. Many believed and were baptized. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the gospel had been preached at Samaria, they sent Peter and John, "Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit"(verses 5 -17). Notice, they had been baptized days or even weeks before and had not received the Holy Spirit. God had withheld it until Peter and John had laid hands on them. God respected the order and authority He vested in His ministers. He granted His Spirit when they laid hands on them. (Write for our free reprints "How You Can Be Imbued With the Power of God" and "You Need God's Holy Spirit.")
An interesting side light to Acts 8 is the story of Simon the sorcerer. He too was baptized in Samaria when the others were. After he saw that the others received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed, he desperately wanted the power to do the same. "And when Simon saw that through laying on the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying. Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I Iay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost [Spirit]" (verses 18 -19). The point is, Simon recognized that the apostles really did have God given authority — authority which he saw demonstrated through the laying on of hands.
Christ set the example in healing. Luke 4:40 states, "Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them." Mark 6:4-5 relates another example. When Christ came to His own community. He found such little faith that He remarked: "... A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them." In Acts 28:8 we find that Paul also laid his hands on Publius' father to heal him. Concerning His true ministers Christ stated: "... They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover"(Mark 16:18).While many professing Christians know nothing of God's promise to heal, others make a public mockery and display of what they think is the healing power of God. James 5:14 is a command from God to those who are sick: "Is there 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." No minister's hands are special or holy. No olive oil has any mysterious power. It is God Himself who heals through His Holy Spirit; but He has prescribed a physical act to show our faith and trust in Him and to show our acceptance of the authority He has placed with His servants.
The book of Genesis contains a very moving example of the laying on of hands when Jacob blessed his two grandsons. Jacob was an old man and knew his time was short. He asked his son Joseph to bring the two boys to him. "Israel [Jacob] was half blind with age, so that he could hardly see. So Joseph brought the boys close to him and he kissed and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, 'I never thought I would see you again, but now God has let me see your children too.' "Joseph took the boys by the hand, bowed deeply to him, and led the boys to their grandfather's knees — Ephraim at Israel's left hand and Manasseh at his right. But Israel crossed his arms as he stretched them out to lay his hands upon the boys' heads, so that his right hand was upon the head of Ephraim, the younger boy, and his left hand was upon the head of Manasseh, the older. He did this purposely. "Then he blessed Joseph with this blessing': May God, the God of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, the God who has shepherded me all my life, wonderfully bless these boys. He is the Angel who has kept me from all harm. May these boys be an honor to my name and to the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they become a mighty nation" (Gen. 48:10-16, The Living Bible). Jacob went on to bless the boys individually, handing down the blessings promised to Abraham. The laying on of hands was symbolic of this transferral by God's authority.
The laying on of hands ceremony is very relevant to this society — to you and me! God is alive and actively dealing with mankind today through a physical group of human beings, a Church doing His Work. And He has provided in this day, as the Bible records He always has, spiritual guides, ministers, to represent Him, to oversee His Church. And He has given them a certain amount of jurisdiction to carry out their jobs. The laying on of hands is the outward ceremony used in the delegation and use of that authority. God respects it and we should too!