Last week we began looking at how the author of Hebrews amasses evidence that Jesus is superior to the angelic beings, even though He came in the flesh.
We are looking at Hebrews 1:2b-3
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
We had discussed the first description of the Son as “heir of all things” and were discussing this second description as the one “through whom [God] created the world.” So, we’re going to finish His work in creation before moving on in our passage.
He created all things, we have created nothing. He can do it ex nihilo, out of nothing. Only God can do that!
God was sitting in heaven one day when a scientist said to Him…
“God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing – in other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.”
“Oh, is that so? Explain…” replies God. “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating man.”
“Well, that’s very interesting… show Me.”
So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil into the shape of a man. “No, no, no…” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt.”
God created from scratch—there was absolutely nothing here. No raw elements. So God created those (Genesis 1:1-2) and then shaped and filled it (Genesis 1:3-31).
Neither did this world come about by chance and time, but rather through the active, creative power of God. He spoke, and the universe began. The active agent of creation was the word, and Jesus is that Word.
John 1:1-3 says
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him [there’s that word of active agency again, “through him”], and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In other words, Jesus made all things and there is nothing that exists that Jesus did not make. Nothing.
If He is the creator of all things, then He is not a created being Himself.
That’s important because Arius, back in the 3rd century, argued that “if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing.”
Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons believe in this same idea today.
Arius stumbled over words such as “begotten” and “firstborn,” thinking that these words signaled a beginning for Christ, and if a beginning, then He too was created. He held that Christ had a “similar” nature to the Father, as the only begotten, but Arius was condemned at the Council of Nicea, which maintained that Christ had the “same” nature as God.
In his “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” Athanasius reports that Arius stated, “God was not always a Father… Once God was alone, and not yet a Father, but afterwards He became a Father. The Son was not always… [He was] made out of nothing, and once He was not.”
But the Scriptures we’ve looked at today, especially John 1:3, tells us that Christ created “all things.” He was Creator, not created. His eternal existence is expressed in John 1:1 and John 8:58—“In the beginning (already) was the Word…”
John Piper asks the question, “why is the Son described first as the “heir of all things” and second as the one “through whom God made the world?” That seems backwards. You create first, then possess.
He suggests that what the author of Hebrews is doing is starting with the most significant, most important issue. In other words, if I am called to stake my life on something, and may literally lose my life for it, don’t I ultimately want a Savior who is heir of all things and makes it possible for me to experience everlasting joy?
Sure, it is glorious that He created all this, but what I need is a word of surety about my future. What is it all going to come to?
Well, the author of Hebrews starts by saying that it all wraps up in Christ.
So we have a double reason to give heed to the Son of God. He is heir because He made it all and He was appointed heir because He died and rose again to redeem for himself a people and to destroy all enemies, including Satan, and everything that has ruined our lives.
He can make good on his word because he is God, because he is Creator, and because he is the Triumphant Heir over all evil and misery. This is a better word than anything the prophets ever spoke in many ways in the Old Testament.
The Son, to whom all of creation will be subjected in the end (cf. 1 Cor 15:28; Heb 1:13; 2:5, 8), is he through whom it originated in the beginning. (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 47).
Now, Philip Edgecumbe Hughes notes that the next two descriptions of Christ, as the “radiance” of God and the “exact representation of his nature” may seem to make Christ less than God. Isn’t a radiance a mere emanation and a copy, however perfect, something other than the real thing?
Chrysostom, in the 4th century, had to encourage a church being torn apart by Christological controversies, not to be “sick of the disease of Marcellus and Photinus,” whose doctrines were among those condemned at the Council of Constantinople.
However, I do believe that it is possible to see in this language precisely what is needed to arrive at a correct understanding of the relationship between the Father and Son—a relationship that requires both sameness and distinctiveness.
Third, Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God.” The ancient Greek word for brightness is apaugasma, which speaks of the radiance that shines from a source of light.
In this sense, Jesus is the “beam” of God’s glory. We have never seen the sun, only the rays of its light as they come to us. Even so, we have never seen the God the Father, but we see Him through the “rays” of the Son of God. In this way we have seen His brilliance.
Light comes to us in two forms: radiant and reflective. There is a vast difference between the two. The moon reflects light, but the sun radiates light because it is its source.
The run radiates at 15,000 degrees. That heat-light radiates through the heavens 93 million miles away, through the earth’s atmosphere, and heats up our planet just right. If you stand out in the sunlight very long, you are likely to get a sunburn. But I bet you’ve never gotten a moon burn.
We reflect God’s glory; it is not inherently ours by nature. But Jesus radiates it because that is His nature.
Jesus is more like the rays of the sun than the reflection of the sun on the surface of the moon. He is the manifestation of God to us.
This is nothing less than the essential glory of God himself, corresponding to the shekinah glory which in the OT signified the very presence of God in the midst of his people. It was the radiant glory of Yahweh’s presence which settled as a luminous cloud on Mount Sinai when Moses went up to meet with God (Ex 24:15ff.), and which was seen at the door of the tabernacle when Yahweh “used to speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:9ff.). It was, moreover, the glory manifested resplendent cloud of the shekinah (Mk 9:22ff., par.), an event which reflection of a glory not his own: the apostles who were present were witnesses for a brief while of the glory which the Son had with the Father before the world was made (Jn 17:5). The brilliant light, brighter than the midday sun, seen by Paul at his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13) was the same radiant glory of the divine presence. (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 42)
Looking at Christ in the way we see most fully the glory of God. It is the glory of God in the face of Christ that we need to see for salvation. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6:
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Verse 4 speaks of the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” and Verse 6 says that God speaks to “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is the visible expression of the glory of God.
Of course, Jesus revealed God in a veiled way during His incarnation. Only on the Mount of Transfiguration did Jesus reveal a small and brief glimpse of His glory. John, however was promised a greater glimpse of that glory, which we see in Revelation 1.
Jesus does not simply reflect God’s glory; he is part of it! This was shown on the Mount of Transfiguration when “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:3). It was his own essential glory, but it was also the Father’s….This is why the Nicene Creed sings of Christ, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.” (Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Hebrews, 29)
He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and can make our lives full of light so that we are called “children of light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5). We can radiate the glory of God—truly but not nearly like Christ—so that people can see our light shine and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).
Fourth, Jesus is “the exact imprint of [God’s] nature.” The idea here is of exact correspondence. The Greek word for “exact imprint” is charaktēr. John Owen believes that two things seem to be intended.
- That the Son in himself is ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ , “in the likeness of God,” (Phil. 2:6)
- That unto us he is εἰκὼν Θεοῦ , “the image of God,” representing him unto us, (Col. 1:15).
He goes on to say…
The whole manifestation of the nature of God unto us, and all communications of grace, are immediately by and through the person of the Son. He represents Him unto us; and through Him is every thing that is communicated unto us from the fullness of the Deity conveyed.
Jesus is the full and definitive representation of God, because He is God. He is the “exact imprint,” the fully reliable expression of the real being, the essence of God. We get a perfect picture of God when we look at Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 14:9).
Herveus insists that the Son is the express likeness of the Father “not in an external sense but in substance” and links this truth with the declaration of the Incarnate Son: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
Thus, the Son is identical in substance to God, being himself fully God. In all attributes and abilities, the Son is exactly like the Father.
Philip Edgecumbe Hughes says, “The principal idea intended is that of exact correspondence. This correspondence involves not only an identity of the essence of the Son with that of the Father, but more particularly a true and trustworthy revelation or representation of the Father by the Son” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 43).
This is saying that Jesus exactly, and faithfully, represents God to us. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “He’s the spitting image of his father,” meaning he looks just like him. Maybe you’d even mistake one for the other.
By the way, that colloquialism has nothing to do with spewing spittle out of our mouths. It was originally “spirit and image.” Some say, “He’s the carbon copy of his father.” It’s the same idea, but not quite. A human son is never exactly like his father, but Jesus Christ IS exactly like His Father.
When you see Jesus, you see the Father. Christ, the Son, is the visible image of the invisible glory of God. The invisible God can be seen and known in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Paul said it like this: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). In essence, Jesus is just as much God as the Father, but He is a distinct person. Because He has the same nature, He is the perfect visible representation of God to us.
The prophets could only tell God’s people what they saw and heard. Jesus was God himself–his message was firsthand. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 5)
The whole point: Jesus was a fundamentally different type of message from God. Other prophets gave the word of God; Jesus is the Word of God.
When you take the radiance and the representation together, you get a very strong expression of the likeness between the Father and the Son—that they are the same in nature, though distinct in person. As radiance he is part of the source flowing out and being seen. As representation he is distinct from that source.
John says, “The Word was God…and the Word was with God.” This too expresses the sameness and the distinctiveness of the Son. He is the same in essence with the Father, but distinct in person.
“The apostle, calling the Son of God ‘the stamp of the Father’s hypostasis’ [nature, v. 3], doubtless assigns some subsistence to the Father wherein he differs from the Son” said John Calvin (Institutes of Christian Religion, 1.13.2)
Jesus is a superior revelation of God. When we see him, we know just what the God of the universe is like. We know how he thinks. We know how he talks. We know how he relates to people. God has spoken in his Son. It is his ultimate communication, his final word, his consummate eloquence. Oh, the superiority of the Son!
Here we have the reality of that doctrine we call the Trinity. Although that word is not found in the Scriptures, the concept is.
Even as early as the opening chapter of Genesis we find God speaking “Let us make man in our image…” (Gen. 1:26). We find not only God creating, but the performative word (cf. John 1:1-3) and the Spirit (Gen. 1:3).
The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:
- There is one and only one true and living God.
- This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
- While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical. The differences among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and the role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible clearly affirms monotheism—that there is only one God. Every morning the faithful Jew would repeat a prayer known as the Shema: “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). Isaiah also speaks with clarity that there is no God but one (Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 45:5; see 1 Cor. 8:4). Jesus too affirms this belief when explaining the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29).
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are clearly distinguished from each other by the way they interact with one other in personal ways. For example, at Jesus’s baptism, as the Holy Spirit descends on the Son, the Father says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22).
All three persons of the Trinity are fully God. The Father is repeatedly called God (1Cor. 8:6; 1 Pet. 1:3). Paul writes, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The Son is called God on numerous occasions (John 1:1; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13–15; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). For instance, Thomas boldly calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Finally, in the inception of the church, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead after lying to the Holy Spirit since they had “not lied to people but to God” (Acts 5:1–4).