Oh, how rich this passage is. Now, for the third week, we are mining the depths of this glorious expression of who Jesus, the Son, is, in Hebrews 1:2-3. We are picking it up today in verse 3…
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,
Fifth, Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
The Son who created the universe (Heb. 1:2), now upholds it by means of His powerful word. The present tense verb indicates the continuous word going out to sustain His creation.
Unlike the mythic Atlas, who passively upholds the world upon his back, straining under the weight, the Son of God upholds the universe with just the word of His mouth. Here the word is rhema rather than logos, to emphasize the spoken utterance.
In His earthly ministry Jesus constantly demonstrated the power of His word. He could heal, forgive, cast out demons, calm nature’s fury all at the expression of one word. Here we see that His word is so powerful that it can uphold all things.
“And this,” says Chrysostom on this place, “is a greater work than that of the creation.” By the former all things were brought forth from nothing; by the latter are they preserved from that return unto nothing which would be their natural course.
He holds the atomic elements, the quarks and leptons together through superstrings. These particles are flying around, bumping into one another, totally chaotic. If Christ weren’t actively speaking sovereign control, it would dissolve with a great conflagration at once.
We base our very lives on the constancy and dependability of what we call the “laws of the universe.” When things get out of whack (like tornadoes and earth quakes) it messes up our lives—and those are just little things.
Imagine what would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed down just a little bit. We would either burn up or freeze. If it sped up, we would be blown off the face of the earth!
If our moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth, the ocean tides would inundate the land twice daily—although just once would be enough to wipe out all life.
If the ocean floors were merely a few feet deeper than they are, the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance of the earth’s atmosphere would be completely upset and no plant or animal life could exist.
Tides come in and our heart beats because of the sustaining word of Christ.
It would be impossible to conduct science experiments if the universe did not run in an orderly fashion, as it does, only because Jesus Christ sustains it by the word of His power.
Hey, if Jesus can do all this, without any effort and at once, surely he can take care of our lives, right?
Jim Gerrish quips, “Our immediate universe is thus not helio-centric but huio-centric, huio being the Greek word for ‘Son.’”
Unlike the Deists, who believed that, yes, God created the world, but then he left it to run on its own and has no current interactions with His creation, the author of Hebrews says that Christ not only created this universe, but has an active part in keeping it running.
We base our entire lives on the continuance, the constancy, of laws. When something such as an earthquake comes along and disrupts the normal condition or operation of things even a little, the consequences are often disastrous. Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power over the laws of the universe? We would go out of existence. If He suspended the law of gravity only for a brief moment, we would all perish, in unimaginable ways. (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 16-7)
Because Christ is actively sustaining the universe it is a cosmos rather than a chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it.
Without Christ’s active, providential involvement this universe would fly apart. Paul, in Colossians 1:16-17, says it like this:
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Because Christ sustains everything, nothing in creation is independent from him. All things are held together in a coherent or logical way, sustained and upheld, prevented from dissolving into chaos. In him alone and by his word, we find the unifying principle of all life. He is transcendent over all other powers. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Hebrews, 5)
A. W. Pink notes:
Glimpses of this flashed forth even in the days of His flesh. The winds and the waves were subservient to His word. Sickness and disease fled before His command. Demons were subject to His authoritative bidding. Even the dead came forth in response to His mighty fiat. (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 38)
As the Creator and Sustainer, He brings the universe to its desired end, so that in the fullness of time He will “unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10). He is working all things according to His purpose (Eph. 1:9).
And if Christ upholds all things effortlessly, then He can uphold you and me. As Charles Spurgeon said: “If the word of His power upholds earth and heaven, surely, that same word can uphold you, poor trembling heart, if you will trust him”. (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, 10).
Sixth, Jesus “made purification for sins.
Here we pass from the grand statements about the divine-human character of Jesus and His cosmic activities, to the personal, redemptive work He has done for us. He is not only all-powerful; He is full of love for you and me.
Philip Hughes also notes that whereas Jesus is (now) the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature and is (right now) upholding all things by the word of his power, the writer turns intentionally to the past tense here to indicate what Christ did as our high priest, that it was done once for all. Ceaseless cosmic activity, and then boom! his once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins.
With the statement about the Son’s having effected purification of sins, the author comes to what is for him the heart of the matter. His whole epistle shows that the thing that had gripped him was that the very Son of God had come to deal with the problem of man’s sin. He sees him as a priest and the essence of his priestly work as the offering of the sacrifice that really put sin away. The author has an unusual number of ways of referring to what Christ has done for man: The Savior made a propitiation for sins (2:17). He put sins away so that God remembers them no more (8:12; 10:17). He bore sin (9:28), he offered a sacrifice (thysia) for sins (10:12), he made an offering (prosphora) for sin (10:18), and brought about remission of sin (10:18). He annulled sin by his sacrifice (9:26). He brought about redemption from transgressions (9:15). In other passages the author speaks of a variety of things the former covenant could not do with respect to sin, the implication in each case being that Christ has now done it (e.g., 10:2, 4, 6, 11). It is clear from all this that the author sees Jesus as having accomplished a many-sided salvation. Whatever had to be done about sin he has done. (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 14-5)
Other prophets gave instructions about what we must do to be reconciled to God. Jesus, on the other hand, did the work on our behalf. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves (made purification for sins). This is not a present tense action that we have a part in. Jesus has already done this. It is over and done with.
The Jewish people had a sacrificial system to cover over their sins. It was a great picture of what Jesus would do, but it was never complete. Sacrifices were offered daily. Each family had to participate at least yearly. The priest was always standing by the altar. Imagine what the altar looked like, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of animals offered daily for hundreds of years. Our author will go into this more deeply in Hebrews 7-10.
Listen to Hebrews 7:27
27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Also, Hebrews 9:12-14
12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal (how long? “eternal”) redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Then in verses 25 and 26 he once again contrasts the continuing work of the priests with Christ’s completed work:
25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The priesthood of Jesus is a major theme in the book of Hebrews. What our author wanted his audience (and us) to know is that Jesus has done everything that was necessary to bring about the instant, complete, eternal, never-to-be-repeated purification of our sins.
The Law said, “Do this and live.” Jesus says, “Trust this and live.”
Let’s break this down.
“He” refers to Jesus. This is the same Jesus who created and sustains all things. The same Jesus who is truly and fully God. Yet He is also man, having taken on flesh, and therefore able to die for our sins. So the personal cost was paid by Jesus Christ.
“Of sins” tells us what the problem is. This is why Jesus died on the cross. This word occurs 25 times in the book of Hebrews. It is the word hamartia, which means “missing the mark.” Our lives are supposed to glorify God, but our bent nature means that we always miss that mark, living for ourselves rather than God’s glory.
Sin is a grave reality with terrible consequences. It results in judgment and death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). Because we are sinners we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), already condemned (John 3:18).
“Had made purification” is the way Jesus solved that problem. The word katharismos has the idea of both cleansing and removal. Our sins had defiled us, making us unacceptable to God. Jesus purified us through His death on the cross.
Behind this treatment of this subject stands the Old Testament concepts of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and the blood of the covenant (Exodus 12, 24).
Again, it was through Jesus’ willing and gracious offering of Himself that purification is made. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:18-19…
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Having created the vast universe and sustaining it by a mere (but powerful) word should give us a sense of wonder and awe; but the grace and mercy which motivated Jesus Christ to give His life so that we might be forgiven, should surely bring forth a deep sense of grateful indebtedness offered from our knees.
And this accomplishment has as its proper sequel the seventh on the present series of fact which bring out the unequaled superiority of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
And seventh, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high.”
Once again, our author puts this in the past tense. This action was completed when Christ ascended. His redemptive work is done.
Jesus offered Himself once for all as the perfect sacrifice for sins and then He sat down. There was nothing left to do. As He said from the cross, “It is finished.” Everything has been done for forgiveness to be offered. It has been “paid in full.”
The overarching significance here is that priests never sat down. The Levitical priests always were standing, standing, standing—because no sacrifice was complete. They had to offer them day after day and year after year. By the way, there was no place to sit in the sanctuary because it was never appropriate for them to sit.
The borders of the high priest’s garment was sewn with bells so the people could hear him moving inside the Holy of Holies—and thus know he had not been struck dead. See him enter the Holy Place trembling as he bore the sacrificial blood before the glowing mercy seat. There he entered and stood year after year, high priest after high priest, for the work was never done.
But Jesus, a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, sat down. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11, 12). From the cross Jesus shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and then, reassured, took his seat forever.
What could not be accomplished under the Old Covenant, even after centuries of sacrifices, was accomplished once by Jesus Christ for all time. (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, p. 20)
Jesus’ colossal work underlines the utter blasphemy of the thought that we can pay for our own sins with works of righteousness. There is only one way to purity, and that is through the blood of Christ; not the blood of bulls and goats.
The only way to justification is by faith in his blood (Romans 3:25; 5:9). Paul says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22).
This sentence not only communicates that Christ’s work as redeemer is finished, but that His rule as King has commenced. He has taken the choice place, the highest place (at the father’s right hand), of honor and glory and authority in relation to the Father (cf. Eph. 4:10; Phil. 2:9; Luke 22:69).
Christ’s kingship was inaugurated when He ascended to heaven, so that now when we trust in Christ we are “transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His dear son” (Col. 1:13).
But this is not the final and fullest display of Christ’s kingly authority. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that they would become aware of the hope of their calling, the riches of their inheritance and the great power available to them, that power was demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20-21).
That age to come is when Christ will return to sit upon the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; et al.). Jesus will begin His rule over Israel and the whole world on earth as the Davidic Messiah after He returns to the earth at His second advent (Rev. 20:1-6).
Jesus being enthroned at the right hand of God goes back to Jesus’ own application of the opening words of the divine oracle of Psalm 110: “Sit at my right hand.” Paul expresses the same thought in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…”
Psalm 110 provides the key text of this epistle and the significance of Christ’s being seated as a high priest at God’s right hand is explicitly set forth in the following chapters, where it is contrasted with the Aaronic priests who remain standing because their sacrificial service never comes to an end.
But having sat down doesn’t mean that all His work is done. He is not inactive in heaven—besides ruling His church, He is praying for us. He sat down so that he could intercede for us before the Father, using His hard-won authority. That is why we pray in Jesus’ name.
Paul, in Romans 8:34, writes: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” He doesn’t condemn us for our sins—they’ve been paid for by Christ—but is praying for us.
The author of Hebrews adds:
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
The glory associated with Moses and Elijah was so eclipsed by the infinitely greater glory connected with Christ, that they faded from view.
Now it is something very much like this that we see here all through the Hebrews’ Epistle. The Holy Spirit takes up one object after another, holds each one up as it were in the presence of the all-excellent “Son,” and as He does so, their glory is eclipsed, and the Lord Jesus is “found alone.” The prophets, the angels, Moses, Joshua, the Levitical priesthood, the OT men of faith, each come into view; each is compared with Christ, and each, in turn, fades away before His greater glory. Thus, the very things which Judaism most highly esteemed are shown to be far inferior to what God has now made known in the Christian revelation. (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, 29)
Thus, the greatness of the Son of God receives sevenfold confirmation, and it appears, without being expressly emphasized, that he possesses in himself all the qualifications to be the mediator between God and the human race. He is the Prophet through whom God has spoken his final word; he is the Priest who has accomplished a perfect work of cleansing for his people’s sins; he is the King who sits enthroned in the place of chief honor alongside the Majesty on high. (F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the NT: Hebrews, 50)
Deity is not to be explained, but to be adored. The sonship of Christ is to be accepted as a truth of revelation, to be apprehended by faith, though it cannot be comprehended by the understanding. (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, 6-7)
Here is the final answer to the cults. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ was nothing more than an angel, the highest created angel. They identify Him with Michael, the Archangel. But this passage in Hebrews utterly demolishes that theory, for Christ is a Son and not an angel. To what angel did God ever say, Thou art my Son? (Ray C. Stedman, How to Live What You Believe, 13)