Why does the minister raise his hands at the end of the worship service and pronounce a blessing on the people of God? Where does this practice come from? Many Christians are unclear on the meaning of the benediction and treat it as little more than a pious way of saying, “That’s all folks. The service is over.”
The benediction is God’s good word to us. That’s essentially what benediction means. It is a compound word from Latin: bene, which means ‘good,’ and dicere, which means ‘to speak.’ From that comes the Latin word benedictio, which means “blessing.” It is a pronouncement of God’s blessing upon his people.
This practice originated in the old covenant. The Lord commanded Aaron, the high priest, to bless the people with these words: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6.24-26). The high priest would lift his hands in a posture of peace. His hands were empty, meaning that God holds no weapon against his people as he pronounces his blessing of peace upon them.
Christ himself did the same just before his ascension into heaven (Luke 24.50). Now, in the new covenant, Christ blesses us in his name. The name of the LORD (YHWH) is more fully manifested in that name above every name: the Lord Jesus Christ, YHWH Incarnate. It is into this name that the Christian is baptized, and through him that we are the recipients of God’s grace. This is why the benedictions in the New Testament usually emphasize the name of Christ (see Rom 16.20; 1 Cor 16.23; 2 Cor 13.14; Gal 6.18; Eph 6.24; Phil 4.23; 1 Thes 5.28; 2 Thes 3.18; Heb 13.20-21; 1 Pet 4.14; Rev 22.21).
Each week, our great High Priest in heaven sends us an ambassador to pronounce his blessing upon us. A minister of the Gospel has been given the responsibility to lift his hands and declare the blessing of Christ to the people of Christ. The minister is not the source of the blessing; Christ is. And yet, Christ uses human means by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring that blessing to his people. This has been the practice in the church since the days of the apostles, and it continued during the early church, medieval era, Protestant Reformation, and into the present day.
This is God’s final word to us in the covenant assembly of worship. God tells us that, because of Christ, we are not under his judgement, but under his grace and the objects of his love. The benediction is God’s holy announcement that our whole life is covered by his grace.
How we need to hear this each week! We live in a world where things are uncertain. Any number of tragedies can befall us at any given time. But whatever may happen in your life, whatever set of circumstances you may face, know this: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with you. His grace is sufficient for you. He will hold you, sustain you, and even enable you to rejoice in tribulation. His grace will strengthen you, establish you, keep you, and cause you to persevere to the end. He will see you through and cause you to attain the resurrection from the dead. This is God’s Word to you in the benediction. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
~ Pastor Brown