If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is jealous of His worship. Therefore, “worship” is a very serious thing! However, the Bible also teaches that a lesser form of worship can be given to others besides the Lord God, with His approval. For example, when Solomon was crowned king of Israel, and “sat on the throne of the Lord” at Jerusalem, I Chronicles 29:20 says:
And all the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshiped the Lord, and the king.”
Yes, you read that correctly! Israel on this awesome occasion, worshiped the Lord God as God, and king Solomon, God’s “son” (II Sam. 7:14) as the king, with God’s approval. Thus we see two different levels of “worship”, primary worship to God, and secondary worship to another. It is this secondary worship that is seen in Revelation 3:9, when Jesus says to the overcoming saints of Philadelphia regarding their enemies:
“I will make them to come and worship before thy feet… .”
Jesus also spoke of secondary worship in Luke chapter fourteen, when he gave the lesson regarding taking the lower or humble seat when invited as a guest to a wedding feast. He said it is better to be promoted to a higher seat:
“…then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee” (v. 10).
They Did Not Worship Jesus as God
Now we are better able to understand what occurred on those occasions when Jesus Messiah was “worshiped.” Here are some examples of Jesus receiving worship:
The wise men from the east, when they found the baby Jesus in Bethlehem,“fell down and worshipped him” (Matt. 2:11).
A leper needing healing came and worshiped him and was healed (Matt. 8:2).
A certain ruler needing resurrection for his daughter, came and worshiped him and she was raised (Matt. 9:18).
After Jesus walked on the sea and calmed the storm, those who were in the ship worshiped him (Matt. 14:33).
The mother of James and John came and worshiped him, and made a request of Jesus that her sons be given a place of honor in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20).
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, when they saw the risen Lord, came and held him by the feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9).
The man possessed with a legion of demons in Gadara, when he saw Jesus afar off, ran and worshiped him (Mark 5:6).
The blind man who was healed when he washed mud from his eyes in the pool of Siloam, found Jesus and worshiped him (John 9:38).
But, lets take a closer look at these occasions and see if any of these people were worshiping Jesus as “God.”
Did the wise men who found the babe in Bethlehem, think they were looking at God? No, they had come to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). When Herod had his scribes search the Scriptures to see where Christ would be born they said:
“In Bethlehem of Judah: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Matt. 2:5-6).
So, they were not searching for God, but “a Governor” sent by God. And how did they know he would be “King of the Jews.” They had “seen his star,” but there is no way they could have read all of this in the stars. They had no doubt read it in the chronicles of Babylon, for centuries before, Daniel, a wise man and prophet in Babylon, had seen visions and foretold the coming of Israel’s Prince Messiah.
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” [69 weeks – 483 years] (Dan. 9:25). And he was right on time!
Did the disciples who worshiped Jesus in the boat, after he calmed the sea in Matthew 14:32-33, think they were worshiping him as God? Let’s see. In chapter 13:37-41, he had taught great lessons in which he twice called himself “the Son of man,” a human being. He closes out the teaching by referring to himself as “a prophet” (Matt. 13:57). In chapter 14, Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the sea and calms it.
“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33).
Did they think they were worshiping one in the boat with them who was in fact “God” or “God the Son?” No! They ate with him, slept with him, saw that he grew weary, tired and hungry and had bodily functions as they did, and knew he was a man. They had asked among themselves on a previous and similar occasion “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him” (Matt. 8:27)! He is the perfect man, but “man” nevertheless. This incident helped their understanding that this man is indeed Messiah, Son of God, proven by his resurrection as well (Rom. 1:4). Listen to their words again; “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”
Did the mother of James and John believe she was requesting that her sons sit on the right and left hand side of “God?” No! As a Hebrew, this mother knew what all Hebrews knew, that no man could be God. But in her heart she believed that the one whom she worshiped and made her request to was God’s promised Messiah. As such, he would soon have a kingdom, and she wanted a special place for her sons.
Jesus’ answer is very enlightening:
“To sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (Matt. 20:23).
His response to her teaches us several things about Jesus. One, there is someone over him, with greater authority than he, who has not told him all of His plan (Mark 13:32, Rev. 1:1). Number two, God had not given everything into his hands. Look at his words again:
“It is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.”
This agrees with what Jesus said in Acts 1:7 in response to his disciples question, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” (v. 6). “And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (v. 7).
Jesus made no claim to be God, and would never have accepted God’s worship. But he did receive secondary worship. God the Father has even decreed this form of worship from His mighty angels for His son Jesus. Look at Hebrews 1:6:
And again, when he [God] bringeth in the first begotten into the world [not before, as he was not there], He saith, and let all the angels of God worship him.”
Jesus came as a man (Matt. 8:20, Luke 9:58, I Tim. 2:5) and as such was made, as are all men, lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5, Heb. 2:7). Hebrews 2:9 says:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
But by birth he is the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and has been exalted by his Father above the angels. Look at Hebrews 1:4-5:
“Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a son?”
Yes the angels worshiped him. God commanded it saying, “Let all the angels of God worship him” [the Son]. Not as God Almighty, whose angels they are, but as God’s virgin-born, sinless Son, under whom He has “put in subjection the world to come” (Heb. 2:5).
Did the angels of God who worshiped him at his birth (not before his birth) think they were worshiping God? No! They saw God’s face continually in heaven and knew that this baby was not God, but Messiah, Son of God (Matt. 18:10; Rev. 5:11-13). No one in the scriptural accounts worshiped Jesus as the Lord God, and we must not! There are several Greek words in the New Testament that are translated “worship,” and are pictured as being offered to God, Jesus, a guest at a wedding, the saints of Revelation, and improperly to angels (Col. 2:18) and idols (Rev. 9:20). But there is one word “latreuo” (Strong’s #3000) which means “to minister to God – render religious homage,” and is not in Scripture given to Jesus or anyone else but God (Acts 24:14; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 10:2). To give Jesus the Son, God the Father’s place in our hearts and in our worship is to flirt with idolatry. “Thou shalt have no other gods [plural] before me [singular]” (Ex. 20:3). Jesus called his Father “the only true God” in John 17:3, and He alone should be worshiped as God.
To continue reading on this subject see: Hemphill, Joel W. (2010). Secondary Worship. In, Glory to God in the Highest (pp. 192-196). Joelton, TN: Trumpet Call Books.