Originally published in Issue #31 on October 29, 2021
We return to the introduction to the letter to the Hebrews. This one long sentence in the original Greek is packed full of beautiful theology.
(There is also a podcast version)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 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. 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
— Hebrews 1:1–4 (ESV)
Last time, we looked at three comparisons in the first part of the introduction all pointing to the central point: “God has spoken to us by his Son.” We looked at how the original Greek says, “a son,” and how this may point us to the claim that Jesus is a Son of God, which points to a category of spiritual beings from the Hebrew Scriptures. To just claim that someone is “a son of God” does not take us to the full divinity of Jesus as a member of the Triune God, but it does take us to Jesus as a divine being who is more than human. Last, we saw how every other part of this introduction is a dependent clause expanding on the central point that “God spoke through a son.”
In this study, we will be looking at how the author of Hebrews expands on the identity of this Son.
…his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 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,
— Hebrews 1:2b–3 (ESV)
After a bit of work and thought, I cut off the last verse from this study. We will pick that up as we begin looking at the comparison with the angels in the next study. In this study, we will focus on how the author expands on the identity of this son, the Son God spoke through in the last days.
These two verses form a chiastic structure:
- A—whom [God] appointed heir of all things
– B—through whom also [God] created the world
– C—He is the radiance of the glory of God– C—And the exact imprint of [God’s] nature– B—and [the Son] upholds the universe by the word of [the Son’s] power
- A—After making purification for sins, [the Son] sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high
That’s…a lot to process. Chiastic structures are common a common feature of Jewish writing, and it helps us understand the points being made. We’re going to look at each of these points in order: A, B, C.
A—Jesus Is the Appointed Heir
a Son, whom [God] appointed the heir of all things…After making purification for sins, [this Son] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
— Hebrews 1:2b, 3b
According to the author of Hebrews, God appointed Jesus to be the heir of all things—all of creation. After Jesus made purification for sins through his death, resurrection, and ascension, he sat down at the right hand of God in the heavenly throne room.
This isn’t new theology. The Hebrew Scriptures prophecy about the truly human one who will inherit all things on behalf of mankind.
In Genesis 1, we learn about the powers in the heavens and the powers of the earth:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
— Genesis 1:14–18, 26 (ESV)
Two groups are given rulership and dominion, the lights in the heavens and the humans of the earth. A variety of passages link the stars with heavenly beings—angels or sons of God (Isaiah 14:12-13, Job 38:6-7, Jude 1:13, Revelation 12:3-4, 6-9).
But as we saw in the last study, the heavenly sons of God failed in their duty to reign well (Genesis 6:1-4, Psalm 82). We already know that humans failed in their duty to reign (Genesis 3, 6, 11…and the rest of world history).
Hebrew prophecy foresaw a human from the line of David who would inherit all things.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
— Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)
This is just one example of a recurring theme. A “son of man” (a human) will come to be glorified with glory that only God is due, and will inherit all of creation, heaven and earth. Jesus drew on this prophecy with his favorite way to refer to himself, “The son of man.”
The right hand of God is a place of honor and co-rulership, and Jesus took that place of honor upon himself. The author of Hebrews almost quotes Jesus’ words at his trial before the Jewish authorities:
“…You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
— Mark 14:62 (ESV)
The author of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus is not merely a human and not merely a son of God, but is the Son. The Son is not the Father, but the Son is God.
B—Jesus Is the Agent of Creation
(a Son) through whom also [God] created the world…and…upholds the universe by the word of his power…
— Hebrews 1:2b, 3b
Not only is this son the inheritor of all creation, heaven and earth, but he was also intimately involved in both the creation and sustaining of the world.
One mark of a splinter religion of Christianity is the denial that Jesus is God. One way that they try to claim that Jesus is not God is by claiming that Jesus was created and then God used Jesus to create everything else. But this is a misunderstanding of “the world” and “the universe” here. These terms are all-inclusive. God created everything that was created through the Son.
We also know from Genesis 1 that God himself created the world. To deny that Jesus is God is to deny that God created the world. As John says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
— John 1:1-3 (ESV)
The author of Hebrews and Paul are right on the same page:
[The Son] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
— Colossians 1:17
In A, we saw that Jesus is the inheritor of heaven and earth. He is the true human and the true heavenly Son of God who is worthy to rule. In this section we see that Jesus was intimately involved in the creation of heaven and earth.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
— Romans 11:36 (ESV)
All of creation comes from God, is sustained by God, salvation comes through God, and all creation is inherited by God.
Once again the author of Hebrews is showing us that Jesus, this son of God, is not merely a human, and not merely another heavenly being. He is not the Father, but he is God.
C—Jesus Is Very God of Very God
[this Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature
— Hebrews 1:3a
Last we come to the heart of this chiasm, two direct statements on the nature of this son.
Radiance of the Glory of God
To understand this statement, first, we need to know what the glory of God is. The Faithlife Study Bible defines God’s glory as, “A state of being bright, radiant, or magnificent; honor; majesty.” It’s closely connected to “brightness” or the light emanating from God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6, Revelation 21:23).
This makes more sense of the word “radiance.” As the Father is a brilliant light in his glory, so is the Son the very rays of light that burst from that light. We should not try to pull too much from the metaphor. The point is clear: this Son is not the Father but is intimately and uniquely tied to him.
The Exact Imprint of His Nature
Once again I want to start in reverse. What is God’s nature? “Nature” is God’s very essence or substance. It is what makes God, God. This son is the exact “imprint,” “stamp,” or “representation” of the Father’s nature.
As closely as the imprint of a stamp on a coin is related to the stamp itself, so is this son’s nature related to the nature of the Father. This is related to Paul’s use of “image” language in his writings when writing about the Son (2 Corinthians 4:4, Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15).
This son of God is unique. There is none other like him. He is not the Father, but he is intimately tied with him. Their natures are intertwined in a way that is not like creator and creation.
We’ve looked at three ways the author of Hebrews shows us that this son is unique; he is not like any other son of God. He is not merely a human, and he is not merely a spiritual being. He is something wholly unique.
The Nicene Creed of 325 A.D. says that Jesus is “very God of very God…of one substance with the Father.” The author of Hebrews introduced us to a son that reveals the Father. Now he has shown in three distinct ways that this Son is not like other angelic beings. The Son is creator and sustainer, the Son is the worthy inheritor, and the Son’s essence is exactly like the Father. The Son is God.