The Right Hand of God

The Bible clearly teaches that God is One: “There is no God with Me” (Deuteronomy 22:39). “I am Jehovah (Yahweh) and there is none else. There is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me” (Isaiah 45:5, 21). “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11).

Some people who know these teachings find it confusing to read passages about Jesus being “at the right hand of God.” If Jesus is God, how can He be “at the right hand” of God? Jesus is called “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6), “God-with-us” (Matthew 1:23), and “the True God” (1 John 5:20). Can God be at His own right hand?

Human Limitations Ascribed to God

To understand “the right hand of God” we need to know that the Bible often describes God in ways that aren’t meant to be taken literally. For example, the Bible describes God in terms of imperfect human qualities—not because He actually has those qualities, but because it is a way for us imperfect humans to understand Him better.

For example, the Bible says that God rests (Genesis 2:2, 3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Deuteronomy 5:14; Hebrews 4:4, 10) and wakes up (Psalm 44:23;78:65), when in actual fact the Lord is never weary (Isaiah40:28) nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). It says God goes “down” (Genesis 11:5; 18:17; Numbers11:25; Exodus 3:8) and “up” (Genesis 35:13) or “away” (Genesis18:33), when He already is present everywhere. (Psalm 139:7; 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23; Acts17:28). It says the Lord “forgets” (Jeremiah 23:39; Hosea4:6; Psalm 13:1; 42:9) and “remembers” (Genesis 9:16; 19:29;Ex 2:24; 6:4; Isaiah 43:26; 49:13, etc.) even though He never forgets. (Amos 8:7; Hebrews 5:10; Psalm 111:5). It describes Him as repenting or changing his mind (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Judges 2:18; 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 24:16;1 Chronicles 21:15; Psalm 106:45; Jeremiah 26:19; Amos 7:3; Jonah 3:10), even though He never does. (1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19; Romans 11:29; Psalm 33:11; 132:11; Proverbs 19:21, Malachi 3:7; Job 23:13; Ecclesiastes 3:14).

Other Figurative Language

Furthermore, God is often described in symbolic terms: God is a rock, a fortress (2 Samuel 22:2), a sun, a shield (Psalm 84:11), a fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), a banner (Exodus 17:15), and many others. Each of these metaphors tells us something about God, but will only confuse us if we take them literally.

When Jesus was telling His disciples about Himself He used a figure of speech: He spoke of “the Father” and “the Son.” He told His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father” (John 16:25). Jesus spoke in parables or symbolic language so often that the Bible says, “without a parable He did not speak to them” (Matthew 13:34).

The Right Hand Is Symbolic

It was in other Gospels, but at about the same time, that Jesus said to His disciples that they would see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of God. Like other figurative language, the “right hand” and “arm” are often symbolic, as we can see from many examples:

“I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8). If we think of God spatially, it doesn’t make sense that He is both always in front of us and always at the right hand, and that we never move. But this passage is not about the outward appearance, but the inward reality: God is in always in front of me in the sense that I am always thinking of Him, and always at my right hand in the sense of always giving support and strength.

“Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house” (1 Samuel 2:31). These words to Eli did not mean the Lord would literally cut off his arm, but that Eli and his family would lose their strength.

Other passages are obviously symbolic: “…Whose mouth speaks vain words, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood” (Psalm 144:8). “Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor” (Proverbs 3:16). “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…” (2 Corinthians 6:7). “O LORD, be gracious to us; We have waited for You. Be their arm every morning, Our salvation also in the time of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2).

God’s Right Hand

The Bible is especially symbolic when speaking of the hand or the arm of God. Perhaps a simple person might have thought of God as being like Zeus, an old man up in the clouds who throws thunderbolts down at the earth with his powerful right hand. But looking at passages in the Bible, we can see that God’s “right hand” is a metaphor for God’s power.

The connection with power is obvious: “You have a mighty arm; Strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand” (Psalm 89:13). Moses speaks of “the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out” (Deuteronomy 7:19).

Many of these passages are clearly metaphorical. For example: “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces” (Exodus 15:6). This was speaking of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. No one literally saw a big arm reaching down from heaven and grabbing the Egyptians. But they did see the Lord’s power at work.

“For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, Nor did their own arm save them; But it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance” (Psalm 44:3). Again, this refers not to a literal arm reaching down from the clouds, but to the Lord’s power working in people and nature to help them conquer the land.

Other passages are obviously symbolic, almost as if the right hand is a person: “And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things” (Psalm 45:4). “Your right hand is full of righteousness” (Psalm 48:10). “Awake, awake, put on strength, O Arm of the LORD!” (Isaiah 51:9) “Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him” (Isaiah 40:10).

Everyday Language

We speak metaphorically in our everyday language. A “right hand man” is not someone who is always at a person’s right hand. Rather it means someone who is a chief assistant or strong supporter. To sit at the right hand of someone is symbolic of being very close to them, indispensable, useful, and honored, like the youngest child of Jacob, named Benjamin or “Son of the Right Hand.” We speak of an arm of a government or organization meaning a branch or division of it. When we speak of the long arm of the law, we know we mean the power or authority of the law. Why would we think any differently of the “outstretched arm” of the Lord?

Jesus Has All Power

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said to His disciples, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In the Gospel of Mark the same idea is stated metaphorically: “After the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). Being at the right hand of God is taking on the power of God, not being in a certain location.

Jesus had predicted that some would see Him at the right hand of the power of God. (Luke 22:69; Mark 14:62; Matthew 26:64). One who saw this was Stephen, who just before his death cried out, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56) These passages mention seeing Jesus, but do not describe any other God or mention seeing God standing beside Jesus. This is because “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has manifested Him” (John 1:18, 1 John 4:12). The Father is invisible: “You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (John 5:37; 6:46). But in Jesus, the Divine Soul has taken on a visible, Divine, Human form. Christ is called the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the form of God. (Philemon 2:6). As Paul said, we see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We are not to think of Jesus beside another person who is also God, but to think of the Father as being within Jesus, for He says, “the Father dwells in Me” (John 14:10). “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).