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The Lord Jesus Christ – The Divine Recipient of Worship

Examining the Synoptic Gospels’ use of proskyneo in relation to Christ

Sam Shamoun

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, worship or proskyneo should be given to God:

“And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship (proskyneses) me, it shall all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship (proskyneseis) the Lord your God, and him ONLY shall you serve (latreuseis).”’” Luke 4:5-8; cf. Matthew 4:8-10

Since Jesus’ words imply that proskyneo should be rendered to God, and not to someone else, it shouldn’t surprise us to find God-fearing individuals refusing to receive proskyneo from others:

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him (prosekynesen). But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’” Acts 10:25-26

Astonishingly, Jesus is pictured as receiving proskyneo all throughout the Gospels as in the following examples:

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him (proskynesai).’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel. Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him (proskyneso).’ When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him (prosekynesan). Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:1-11(1)

“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold, a leper came to him and bowed down (prosekynei) before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’” Matthew 8:1-3

“While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and bowed down (prosekynei) before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’” Matthew 9:18

In this next example, the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God who is the I AM that controls the seas and winds:

“And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, I AM (ego eimi); have no fear.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him (prosekynesan), saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Matthew 14:25-33

Here, Jesus carries out the very same Divine functions which the OT ascribes to Yahweh:

“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:23-30

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There are additional examples of Jesus receiving proskyneo:

“And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and bowed down (prosekynei) before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” Matthew 15:22-28

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’ Then the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee came up to him, with her sons, and bowing (proskynousa) before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Matthew 20:18-28(2)

“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hail!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him (prosekynesan). Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’” Matthew 28:9-10

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him (prosekynesan); but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority (exousia) in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” Matthew 28:16-20(2)

This last passage is truly amazing when we recall that Jesus rebuked Satan for requesting worship in the context of the authority he had been given over the kingdoms of the world which he could then grant to others (cf. Matt. 4:8-10; Lk. 4:5-8). Jesus’ attitude in Matthew 28:18 shows that his disciples’ worship of him was entirely appropriate seeing that he had received authority over the entire universe!

Hence, what Jesus refused to accept from Satan he received from his Father, namely, the authority to rule over the world as well as the rest of creation. And even though Jesus refused to worship Satan – insisting that such worship truly belongs to God – he himself accepts worship from his disciples in the very same context where he claims to have complete sovereignty over the entire cosmos!

To put it another way, Satan was not to be shown any kind of proskyneo even though he had received authority to rule the world. Jesus, however, receives proskyneo for being the resurrected Lord who reigns over all creation! In the words of the blessed Apostle Paul:

“Therefore God has highly exalted (hyperhypsosen) him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11(3)

And whereas Jesus rebuked Satan, an evil spirit, for demanding worship Christ on the other hand even receives worship from other wicked, unclean spirits!

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Ger'asenes. And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped (prosekynesen) him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’” Mark 5:1-7

And now to our final text:

“And behold, I [Jesus] am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped (proskynesantes) him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.” Luke 24:49-53

In this context proskyneo is used alongside such words as “praising” and “blessing”— terms that clearly have a religious connotation. Moreover, the disciples worshiped Jesus after he had been taken into heaven. This indicates that they weren’t merely bowing before some earthly potentate, but were engaging in religious worship, offering proskyneo to one who was now exalted to heaven as the risen and glorious Lord of all creation.

A note of caution at this point. It does seem unlikely that in every instance the people were worshiping Jesus as God. It is more probable that in some cases Jesus was receiving honor and obeisance as the Messianic King and/or a miracle-working Prophet.

However, the point of Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8 is that proskyneo should be properly given to God, which explains their reluctance to use this word in relation to the respect and homage given to someone other than God or Christ. And since Jesus doesn’t reject or prevent people from giving him proskyneo, much like Peter did, but actually embraces it clearly points to his absolute Deity.

With this in mind it seems certain that the inspired writers’ purpose in recording all of these instances of people rendering proskyneo to Jesus is to show that Christ is fully God in the flesh, even though those giving him such reverence may have not recognized or fully understood that this is what he truly was.(4)

This can be more clearly seen from one of Jesus’ own parables:

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him (peson oun ho doulos prosekynei autou), saying, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant fell to the ground (peson oun sundoulos autou) and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.’”

The king in the parable represents God and the servant stands for individuals who think they are Christians but are not. Interestingly, Jesus speaks of the king receiving proskyneo whereas the Lord doesn’t use this specific word in relation to the respect shown to the wicked servant. This shows the hesitance of the Gospel writers to ascribe proskyneo to anyone other than God, and yet Jesus approvingly receives proskyneo all throughout the Gospels!

The Gospel of John brings out this implication more fully:

“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, JUST AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” John 5:22-23

The Son is to receive exactly the same honor that the Father does. Hence, just like the Father receives proskyneo,

“‘Our fathers worshiped (prosekynesan) on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship (proskynein).’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship (proskynesete) the Father. You worship (proskyneite) what you do not know; we worship (proskynoumen) what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers (hoi alethinoi proskynetai) will worship (proskynesousin) the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship (proskynountas) him. God is spirit, and those who worship (proskynountas) him must worship (proskynein) in spirit and truth.’” John 4:20-24

So does the Son,

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe’; and he worshiped him (prosekynesen).” John 9:35-38(2)

In conclusion, our analysis has shown that the Gospels – specifically Matthew and Luke – teach that proskyneo should be rendered only to God. At the same time, the Gospels depict Jesus as receiving the very same kind of worship or proskyneo that God receives, which really isn’t surprising since this is consistent with their view that Christ is the unique Divine Son of God and sovereign Lord of all creation.(5)


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(1) The prophecy that Jesus fulfills speaks of a King whose origins are eternal:

“Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the Ruler of Israel. But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from ancient times/long ago (miqqedem), from days of eternity (olam). Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” Micah 5:1-4

And here is how the rabbis explained this prophecy:

And you, O Bethlehem Ephrath, you were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth THE MESSIAH, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from before, from the days of creation. Then they shall be handed over for the length of time it takes a woman in labor to give birth, and the children of Israel shall rely upon the rest of their brethren. And he shall arise and rule with the might of the Lord, in the exalted name of the Lord his God; and they shall be gathered in from the midst of their Dispersions, for now his name shall be great into the ends of the earth. (Targum Jonathan, found in Samson H. Levy, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation [Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institue of Religion: Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, 1974], p. 93; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before me the anointed One, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from of old, from ancient times. (Targum Micah, The Targum of the Minor Prophets, translation with a Critical Introduction, Apparatus, and Notes by Kevin J. Cathcart and Robert P. Gordon [Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1987], The Aramaic Bible, Volume 14, Micah 5:2; bold emphasis ours)

What makes this prediction rather amazing is that these very specific Hebrew words are used in relation to Yahweh. For instance, Yahweh is said to be qedem, whose goings forth have been from qedem, being the One who is and reigns from olam:

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God (el olam).” Genesis 21:33

The eternal God (elohey qedem) is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting (olam) arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you, and said, Destroy.” Deuteronomy 33:27

"Yet God my King is from of old (miqqedem), Who works deeds of deliverance in the midst of the earth." Psalm 74:12

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (ume‘olam ad-olam ata el).” Psalm 90:2

“The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting (me‘olam ata).” Psalm 93:1-2

“Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago (miqqedem)? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.” Isaiah 45:21

“Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times (umiqqedem) things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” Isaiah 46:8-11

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old (qedem), the generations of long ago (olamim). Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon?” Isaiah 51:9

Are You not from everlasting (miqqedem), O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct.” Habakkuk 1:12

These examples conclusively prove that this specific Ruler from Bethlehem is actually an eternal Being who comes to reign over his people Israel.

This shows that Jesus is God (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit) since he is this eternal Ruler who came to be born in Bethlehem. And this also confirms that Jesus is properly receiving proskyneo as God, not simply as some high-ranking ruler or prophet.

(2) Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man who comes on the clouds and his reference to receiving all authority over creation are further indications that he is being worshiped as God. Christ is making himself out to be the Divine Son of Man whom the prophet Daniel saw in a vision:

“I beheld in the night vision, and, lo, one coming with the clouds of heaven as the Son of Man, and he came on to the Ancient of days, and was brought near to him. And to him was given the dominion, and the honour, and the kingdom; and all nations, tribes, and languages, shall serve him (douleusousin autou): his dominion (exousia) is an everlasting dominion (exousia), which shall not pass away, and his kingdom (he Basileia autou) shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14 LXX

It is apparent that this particular Son of Man is a fully Divine Being appearing as a man since he rides the clouds like God,

“An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.” Isaiah 19:1

And receives the same kind of service that God receives as well as ruling forever like God:

“And the kingdom and the power and the greatness of the kings that are under the whole heaven were given to the saints of the Most High; and his kingdom (he Basileia autou) is an everlasting kingdom, and all powers shall serve (douleusousin) and obey him.” Daniel 7:27

Hence, by identifying himself as this very same Divine Son of Man Jesus leaves absolutely no room to doubt that he was claiming to be God and therefore completely deserving of the very same kind of worship or proskyneo which all creation must render to God.

(3) Here, the inspired Apostle adopts and applies OT language to speak of Jesus’ exaltation and worship, language which the Hebrew Bible uses in respect to the exaltation and worship rendered to Yahweh God!

“For thou art Lord most high over all the earth; thou art greatly exalted above (hyperhypsothes hyper) all gods.” Psalm 96[97]:9 LXX

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in chaos.’ I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’” Isaiah 45:18-23

It is Yahweh who is highly exalted above all creation and it is to him alone that every knee shall someday bow and every tongue confess. And yet Paul believed that all of this applies to and is/will be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ!

(4) For instance, Matthew begins his Gospel by affirming the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us (Meth’ hemon ho Theos).’” Matthew 1:21-23

The angel explains that the reason why Christ is given the name Jesus is because he is the One who will actually save his own people from their sins. Those who are not familiar with the Hebrew form of Jesus’ name may not see the connection between his name and his function or role as the Savior.

Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua, which literally translated is “Yahweh saves/is salvation.” The name is intended to depict Jesus as Yahweh God coming to do that which the OT says that only Yahweh can do:

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.… O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:3-4, 7-8

“I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25

“Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:21-22

Matthew further identifies Jesus as Immanuel, the God who comes to dwell with his people. The inspired Evangelist even concludes his Gospel with this very same affirmation,

“and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always (ego meth’ humon eimi), to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

(5) It should be mentioned that just as Jesus cited the Hebrew Bible to demand that proskyneo be given to God, the Father himself also quotes from an OT text to command angels to give proskyneo to his glorious Son!

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of God’s glory God and the exact representation of his substance, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. For to what angel did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’? And again, when he brings the Firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship (proskynesatosan) him.’” Hebrews 1:1-6

Hence, the Son commands that proskyneo be rendered to God and yet the Father commands that proskyneo should be given to his beloved Son!