He Lifted Up His Hands

If you don’t go to synagogue, you might not guess what the Gospel of Luke means when it says that Yeshua “lifted up his hands and blessed” his disciples.

The Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is performed in a synagogue in Ofra, Israel. (Image: Wikimedia Commons/יעקב)

Before Yeshua ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his disciples. “While he was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). In Judaism, to say “He lifted up His hands and blessed them” means pronouncing the priestly blessing.

A Jewish reading of the story implies that the Master pronounced the priestly blessing over His disciples. The Master lifted up His scarred hands above His head with His open palms toward the disciples. His fingers connected to make the sign of the priesthood. He spread the thumb and index finger of each hand to touch the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand. He spread the third and fourth fingers of his hands to make the holy sign of the priesthood, the shape of the ancient letter shin and symbol for God’s Name. (In ancient Hebrew, before the introduction of Aramaic characters, the letter ש looked like a ‘W’.)

As Yeshua lifted his hands and spread His fingers over the disciples, He blessed them:

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

The Talmud refers to the blessing as “the lifting of the hands (nasa kappayim, נשא כפים)” because in Temple times, the priests lifted up their hands and made the sign of the Hebrew letter shin (ש) with their fingers while bestowing the blessing. Jewish symbolism regards the letter shin as an abbreviation for the name of God. The priests made the sign of God’s name to fulfill the commandment, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27, NIV).

Why did Yeshua lift his hands to make the priestly blessing if he was not a priest? The blessing alludes to the messianic priesthood He had obtained in the heavenly Temple (Hebrews 7:24-8:2). Although he was not a priest on earth, he was entering into the spiritual priesthood at which he serves before the throne in the supernal Temple above.

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