This article is the second one dealing with aspects of our service involving our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The first, in the previous issue, entitled “Lord, Teach us to Pray”, considered the matter of prayers in relation to him. They are important matters not often considered in detail. It is felt that readers will be helped and enlightened by them.
The question has been asked, “Should we worship the Lord Jesus Christ today?”
Of course, we shall want to be guided by Bible teaching and practice, and we shall therefore seek a biblical answer to this question. But first, let us be clear about what we mean by “worship”. We are not speaking of prayer. The subject of prayer to the Lord Jesus has been discussed in a number of other recent articles. Neither are we speaking of praise, or thanksgiving, or confession, or supplication, or other God-directed acts. We are speaking of worship: and we are looking for a biblical understanding of worship, particularly of worship directed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Worship: awe, honour and submission
What is worship? The defining act of worship is homage – the prostration of oneself on the ground before a greater and more worthy being in respect and submission.
Some Old Testament examples illustrate. Eliezer, acknowledging God’s extraordinary fulfilment of his prayer for guidance in finding a wife for his master’s son, bowed his head in worship (Gen 24:26, 48). When Rebekah and her family agreed to let her return without delay, he was even more struck by God’s providence, and “bowed himself to the earth” (v 52). Israel, believing that God had indeed seen their affliction and visited them, bowed their heads in worship (Ex 4:31). Awestruck by fire from heaven at the dedication of the Temple built by Solomon, Israel “bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement” (2 Chron 7:3 esv). Job, reeling at the series of catastrophes that had brought his life crashing down about his ears, “fell on the ground and worshipped” (Job 1:20 esv). There are many more illustrations.
Falling down on the ground was not always possible, of course. Jacob’s aged knees and back were much too stiff to get down on the ground. But bowing on his bed-head or his staff carried the same significance (Gen 47:31). Later bed-ridden, David did the same (1 Kgs 1:47). Clearly, it is the thought that counts: the form is less important. The bowing of the head or the prostration of the whole body is an act that expresses physically what is felt by heart and mind: awe, honour and submission.
These feelings were expressed in a similar way to angels. Abraham and Lot bowed before the angels who visited them (Gen 18:2; 19:1). Balaam fell flat on his face before the angel of Yahweh (Num 22:31), and so did Joshua (Josh 5:14).
And there are also many examples of homage being paid to notable men and women – not all of them worthy. Esau, Absalom, Joab and Joash are on the list alongside Joseph, David, Bathsheba and Elisha. Mordecai refused to bow before Haman, even when his life was at stake; but Daniel accepted the worship of Nebuchadnezzar, who prostrated himself before him, paid homage and commanded that incense be offered to him (Dan 2:46). Many hundreds of years later Peter would refuse Cornelius’ worship courteously but firmly with the words, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). Given Nebuchadnezzar’s accompanying words – “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (Dan 2:47) – Daniel probably reasoned that he was accepting the worship as God’s representative.
So this defining act of honour and submission was offered not only to Yahweh, the God of Israel; but also to many others, including angels, and mortal men and women.
Worship directed to the Lord Jesus
In the New Testament worship is more focused. It is offered to Peter by Cornelius, but gently refused (Acts 10:26). The saints of Philadelphia were under great pressure from the synagogue of Satan – those who claimed to be Jews, but were not. The glorified Son of man promised that he would compel their persecutors to worship at their feet and acknowledge that they were beloved by God (Rev 3:9). John begins to worship an angel, twice – and is twice refused with the command, “Worship God” (Rev 19:10; 22:8–9).
Other than these occasions, worship is offered only to God and the Lord Jesus – or, wrongfully, to the dragon and the beast.
Wise men from the east worshipped the infant King of the Jews (Matt 2:2, 8, 11). It is noteworthy that this story is recorded by Matthew. His gospel was directed to Jewish readers, and he appears to go out of his way to use the Greek proskuneo, which unambiguously means “to worship”. His gospel challenged his fellow-Jews to accept the Lord Jesus’ unique status, and his use of this word puts a sharp edge on that challenge.
During his ministry the Lord accepted worship from Peter (Luke 5:8); from the leper (Matt 8:2 cp Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12); generally from the unclean spirits (Mark 3:11); from Legion (Mark 5:6 cp Luke 8:28); from Jairus, the synagogue ruler (Matt 9:18, cp Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41); from the woman healed of an issue (Mark 5:33; Luke 8:47); from his disciples (Matt 14:33); from the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt 15:25; Mark 7:25); from the man born blind (John 9:38); from the Samaritan healed of leprosy (Luke 17:16); from Mary (John 11:32); from Salome (Matt 20:20). He received symbolic worship from those sent to arrest him (John 18:6), and a terrible travesty of worship from the soldiers who brutalised him (Mark 15:19). The point of this detail is surely the great irony that Jesus was truly entitled to their sincere worship: their mockery could not change the reality of who he was.
On the day of his resurrection the risen Christ accepted worship from the women (Matt 28:9, cp John 20:17). In Galilee he was worshipped by the disciples as a group (Matt 28:17), and again they worshipped him as he was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:52).
Clearly, therefore, it is not wrong but right to worship him. And now that he is resurrected and ascended to heaven in unimaginable power and great glory, “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Pet 3:22), he is even more worthy of our awed honour and submission.
The message of Hebrews – none greater but God
This is underlined by the writer of Hebrews. Every sentence in the first chapter of this letter is designed to elevate and honour the Son. He is “the heir of all things”. Through him God “created the world”, by which we understand that the great plan of God was framed around His central purpose – to bring into the world the Son who would glorify Him. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3, esv). He is “as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (1:4), and they worship him (1:6). He is anointed “above his fellows” (1:8–9). The angels are servants who do God’s will: he is a king, who sits at his Father’s right hand (1:13–14) – indeed, shares His throne (Rev 3:21). His kingdom is “forever and ever”; he is more unchanging than the fabric of heaven and earth; his immortality and his enduring Kingdom make the angels appear as fleeting as wind and fire by comparison (1:7–12). Even more boldly, the writer cites Old Testament passages which exalt God as King, mostly from the Psalms, and appropriates them to the Son. This emphasis on his greatness carries through to the very end of the letter, where he writes of “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (13:8) – language which reminds us directly of his Father, the One “who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8).
It is not only Hebrews, of course: similarly exalted language is used of the Lord Jesus Christ in Ephesians (1:20–23), Philippians (2:5–11) and Colossians (1:15–20; 2:1–5). Readers will no doubt find other passages.
In the nineteenth century some Christadelphians who wanted quite properly to distinguish the Son clearly from the Father went too far, and called him a “mere man”. Brother Robert Roberts would have none of it, and we can see why. It is profoundly true that the Lord Jesus Christ came as a man, physically constrained, sorely tempted, suffering, dying – but utterly faithful, sinless and obedient unto death. This is the great truth of his humanity. But in resisting the unbiblical viewpoint of the Trinitarian we must not make the equal but opposite mistake of the Unitarian, who minimises the Lord’s unique status as the Son of God, and thinks of him as a man no different from ourselves: for it is part of the glory of the Son of God that he was “the holy thing”, conceived in Mary’s womb by the overshadowing power of the Highest, the only begotten of the Father, the Word of God become human flesh, born to be king not of Israel only, but of all things.
Born the Son, forever the Son
Hebrews calls him “the Son” (1:2,5,8), “the heir” (1:2), “the firstborn” (1:6), “God” (1:8) and “Lord” (1:10). Believers in God-manifestation will have no problem with these titles: but they will also recognise that God-manifestation is not simply a way of speaking. It states the great truth that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor 5:19–20); that in Jesus, “Yah saves” (Matt 1:21); that in him from the moment of his birth, “God [is] with us” (1:23); that standing before us he is “my Lord and my God” (John 20:27–29).
It is true that on the day of his resurrection he became “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), and God announced “the decree”: “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance” (Psa 2:7–8; also v12). The psalm is quoted or alluded to frequently in the New Testament to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the consecrated priestking with authority over the nations (Acts 4:25–28; 13:33–34; Rom 1:3–4; Heb 5:5; Rev 2:26–27; 11:15; 12:10; 19:15).
But this decree was an announcement to the world. His true status as Son of God was always secure from the moment “the power of the Highest” conceived a new life in the womb of Mary. That is why he was declared to be the Son of God by Peter (Matt 16:16). In John’s Gospel his status is four times confessed (6:69; 9:35–38; 11:27), including once by his enemies (19:7): John urges us to make our own confession (20:31). That is also why he was worshipped explicitly as the Son of God during his ministry (Matt 8:29; 14:33; Mark 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:41; 8:28; John 1:49; 9:35–38), and why on the mountain God filled him with glory and announced, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35 cp 2 Pet 1:17–18). Even in his death his true status was acknowledged by awestruck bystanders (Matt 27:54; Mark 15:39).
There are other passages, but these are more than enough to demonstrate that he has not earned a greater status than the angels: he was born with that status, and is incomparably greater than any ordinary man or woman. Those who worshipped him at his first coming recognised this even when he was just a swaddled baby in a dirty, crowded stable. Their worship was repeated throughout his ministry – and it was utterly right.
Hebrews is at pains to stress that this status is not time-dependent. He was always the Son of God, and his status is now confirmed forever. It is right, therefore, that we should continue to follow the example of the apostles, and worship the Son. The Lord himself referred to God’s commitment of authority to resurrect and judge into his hands, and said: “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23).
Worship the Son with the Father
But there is a balancing truth. It is right to worship the Son, but it is not right to worship him in a way which detracts from the glory and supremacy of his Father. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9–11). To magnify and glorify God should be our great purpose in all praise and worship. Our proper worship of the Son must glorify the Father.
John’s writings, in particular, show us the way. Time and again he presents us with the Father and the Son together, in the same paragraph, often in the same sentence. He extends greetings and fellowship from the Father and the Son. He tells us that to be in God, we must be in the Son. He urges us to acknowledge and continue in the Father and the Son. He shows us the Father and the Son working together, sharing the same spirit, doing the same things, speaking the same words. It is John who records the Lord’s declarations of unity with his Father: “I and my Father are one” (10:30); “that they may be one, even as we are one” (17:20–23).
God is first, and God is foremost – but the Lamb is not sidelined. That is why, in the book of Revelation, John first presents us with a vision of “the Lord God Almighty”: and as the living creatures praise him, the twenty-four elders, representatives of the new order of priest-kings, fall down before him in worship (ch 4). But next to the throne, closer to God than the living creatures, standing among the elders, he sees the Lamb smeared with blood. And when the Lamb has taken the scroll of history from the right hand of God, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before him and sing his praises in turn, to which “myriads of myriads and thousands and thousands” (esv) of angels add their loud voice (5:1–12).
The scene of this great worship ends with combined worship of God and the Lamb by “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them” (5:13–14). From that moment the Lamb begins to break the seals on the scroll of history, a sure sign of the authority that God has given into his hand.
Let us, therefore, follow the example of the angels, the apostles and prophets, indeed, “every creature”, in worshipping the Son for who he is, and for his tremendous work in redeeming us. But let us not lose sight of God’s pre-eminence. Without in any way sidelining the Son, or dividing him from the Father, let us exalt and worship first and foremost the God and Father of all, “in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him” (John 4:23–24).
Reference This passage uses a different Aramaic word, but the meaning is similar.