What does it mean to sit at the right hand?
There are numerous biblical attestations to the fact that Jesus sat(sits) at the right hand of God.
Here are just a few examples.
Mark 16-19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
Colossians 3-1 1If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
But what does it actually mean to sit at the right hand of God?
Surely we cannot and should not understand this as meaning God the son sat literally at the right hand of God the father in heaven.
We actually do not need to guess or surmise as to what this means.
Unsurprisingly, for those that believe that the Bible interprets the Bible, anyway, the Bible itself gives us the explanation as to what the right hand and sitting at the right hand of God or in fact anyone actually means.
The right hand is actually a common phrase in scripture. It often denotes a direction. Literally to the right hand side. It often means to stay straight as in following God, not turning away from him either to the left or to the right.
But it also has other meanings.
God’s right hand is stated as being full of righteousness
Psalm 48-10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
This is obviously in a metaphorical sense. The right side being connected to that which is righteous.
The right side in Jewish tradition is given honor over the left. Which included turning right during ceremonial duties.
In some traditions the Jewish people would even put preference over the right when dressing and undressing
In the book of Psalms we are told that the right hand of God does valiantly and that it is exalted
Psalm 118-15The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.
16The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.
God himself is said to be at the right hand of Israel when he protects them against their enemies.
Psalm 110-5The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
Isaiah 63-12 12That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
Isaiah 45- 1Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
God stands at the right hand of the poor to save them from those who condemn them
Psalm 109- 30 I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
31For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.
Therefore God being on the right hand would indicate protection
God’s right hand is depicted as defeating the enemies of the Israelites
Exodus 15- 6 Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
Exodus 15- 12 Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
This indicating the right hand signifies power.
In the Old Testament the right hand was used to bestow a blessing, to put one above another .
We see this in the book of Genesis when Israel (Jacob), blessed Ephraim over Manasseh. Even though Manasseh was the firstborn, Israel used his right hand in order to bestow this blessing upon Ephraim while he used his left hand to bless Manasseh.
Genesis 48- 13And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him. 14And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
Joseph saw that Israel was using his right hand to bless Ephraim and fully understanding the significance of blessing with the right hand tried to put Israel’s right hand upon Manasseh’s head instead, stating that Mannesseh was the firstborn.
Genesis 48- 17And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head. 18And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
It was the firstborn that would normally be the one that inherited the superior blessing.
However Israel refused to do so and stated that the younger, Ephraim would be greater than his elder brother.
Genesis 48 19And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
Israel set (which is the Hebrew שׂוּם sum) meaning to put or set , Ephraim before Manasseh
Genesis 48-20And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.
Ephraim was put in a position of authority over Manasseh by him being blessed by Israel with his right hand.
So the right hand was used to denote the giving of or the bestowing upon of authority.
Aaron, when he was given the authority of the high priesthood, was “anointed” with the lambs blood on his right side, including his hand.
Exodus 29-20 Then shalt thou kill the ram, and take of his blood, and put it upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron, and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about.
Again the right hand showing the bestowing upon of authority.
We also see that to sit at the right hand of someone was to be placed in a position of closeness when Bathsheba the Kings mother sat down on the right hand of King Solomon while he was on his throne.
1 kings 2-19 Bathsheba therefore went unto king Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand.
Being at the right hand of the king indicated either authority or extreme closeness to the king whose right hand they were on.
This understanding can be seen in the new testament also when the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked if her children could sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom.
Matthew 20 – 20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
Jesus however told her that it was not for him to decide who would sit on his right and or on his left.
Matthew 20-22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. 23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to themfor whom it is prepared of my Father.
Now before his crucifixion Jesus himself stated at his trial, that from thereon that he would be sat at the right hand of the power of God.
Luke 22-69 Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.
This was in response to the Chief priests questioning of hi and asking if he was the Christ
Luke 22- 67Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe: 68And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go.
Jesus here knowing that he was to be crucified and that he would then be raised by God and also knowing that he was to be exalted by God at this point.
It had been stated in the Old Testament that the Messiah would sit on the right hand of the LORD until the LORD had made his enemies his footstool.
Psalm 110-1 A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
So Jesus associated the meaning of to sit at the right hand of God as to sit in the place of authority, having been given that authority.
And we are told that Jesus was by the right hand of God exalted
Acts 2- 32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
He was declared the son with power at his resurrection.
Romans 1-4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
Jesus himself stated after his resurrection, when he appeared to his disciples, that all power had been given to him
Matthew 28-18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
He was set at the right hand of God after he was raised from the dead.
Ephesians 1- 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
All things were put under him
This included Angels, authorities and powers which were all made subject to him
1 Peter 3- 22Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
So Jesus who sits at the right hand of God is given authority over everything and everyone by God who put everything and everyone under him, in authority.
Except him that put all things under him
1 Corinthians 15-27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
Just as all power was given to Joseph who was above all in Egypt (except the one who gave him that power)
Exodus 41-39And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. 41And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
Jesus sitting at the right hand of God and being given all authority doesn’t make Jesus God anymore than Joseph being given all power by Pharaoh made Joseph Pharaoh.
Jesus being at the right hand of God simply metaphorically and symbolically demonstrates the closeness of Jesus to God and his being given all authority by God over everything but God.