Christians all over the world regularly use this word, but what does it actually mean? Today, Barry Cooper explores the significance of “amen” and how this ancient word is intimately connected to Jesus.

Transcript

Back in good old England, if a few of you are praying in a group, and people are taking turns to pray, the way you know that one person has finished praying and it’s someone else’s turn to start is when the previous person says, “Amen.” That’s your cue to jump in.

But for some reason, this unwritten rule has not yet made it across the Atlantic. In my experience, most Americans just get to the end of what they want to say and then stop. No “Amen” or anything. It’s essentially impossible to tell the difference between a person who has actually finished praying and a person who is still praying but just likes to leave really very long, uncomfortable pauses in between sentences. So now I’m the rude British Christian talking over all the American Christians who are just trying to leave pauses between their sentences while praying. I can see some of them thinking, See this is why we fought for independence.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that “Amen” is simply the equivalent of saying “Over” on a walkie-talkie. It does have a much richer meaning than that.

Christians all over the world use the word “Ah-men” or “Ay-men,” regardless of their language.

I was nervous when I preached my first ever sermon—back in 2003 in a church in Georgia—so it was very encouraging, if a little startling to hear someone in the choir behind me bellowing “Amen” at strategic intervals. It’s a shame more British congregations don’t do it, to be honest. Later that same year, I preached the same sermon at a Cantonese church in Vancouver—via a translator—and though I understood hardly anything else the people were saying, I did recognise that single word “Amen.”

The word is a direct transliteration from the Hebrew Old Testament, and it meant back then what it means today. It’s a way for an individual or congregation to say, “I strongly agree with what you’ve said” or “Let it be so.”

The word is rooted in a Semitic word that means “truth.” When it was used among the people of God in ancient Israel, it was a way of affirming truth about God. In 1 Chronicles 16, for example, you have some of God’s people singing:

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!

And we read that in response “all the people said, ‘Amen!’ and praised the LORD.” Saying “Amen” here is a way of making the song their own, of saying, “Yes, I want to echo that praise of God myself.”

“Amen” was also used in ancient Israel to affirm judgments as well as praise. For example, in Deuteronomy chapter 27, the Levites are instructed to declare that those who disobey God’s laws will be cursed, and the people respond in agreement by saying “Amen.”

In that context, it was a way of saying, “What you’ve said is just; let it be so.”

Sometimes, as in Psalm 72, you get a double amen by the speaker himself, as if to doubly affirm what’s being said or written:

Blessed be his glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen.

In the New Testament, we find that Jesus Himself often began to speak using the words “Amen, Amen, I say to you . . .” (It’s usually translated “Truly, I say to you,” but it’s actually “Amen, I say to you.”) How fitting that you and I often respond to truthful speech with a concluding “Amen,” while Christ actually begins His speech with “Amen,” signaling to all that everything He is about to say is utterly truthful and binding.

The Apostle Paul makes a remarkable statement about “Amen” in 2 Corinthians chapter 1. He says:

. . . the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you . . . in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Paul is drawing a parallel between our saying “Amen—yes—let it be so” and Christ Himself. Christ is in Himself a kind of Amen, in that when we cry out to God for justice, for mercy, for compassion, for tenderness, for forgiveness, God the Son is God the Father’s way of saying a resounding “Yes, let it be so” to all these things. In Christ we are freely showered with all of these things, and so He is the ultimate Amen to all our prayers.

Even prayer itself, the very privilege of saying “Amen” and being heard by our heavenly Father, is made possible by Christ. Which is why you’ll often hear believers reminding themselves of that truth by concluding their prayers “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Tellingly, the word is written twice in the final two sentences of the final chapter of Scripture, Revelation chapter 22:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Those two “Amens” are more than mere agreement or affirmation of truth. They are expressions of yearning for the One who is Himself the truth.

The One in whom all God’s promises find their Amen.