The Preeminence of Christ
In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (1:2–3)
Someone has said that Jesus Christ came from the bosom of the Father to the bosom of a woman. He put on humanity that we might put on divinity. He became Son of Man that we might become sons of God. He was born contrary to the laws of nature, lived in poverty, was reared in obscurity, and only once crossed the boundary of the land in which He was born—and that in His childhood. He had no wealth or influence and had neither training nor education in the world’s schools. His relatives were inconspicuous and uninfluencial. In infancy He startled a king. In boyhood He puzzled the learned doctors. In manhood He ruled the course of nature. He walked upon the billows and hushed the sea to sleep. He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for His services. He never wrote a book and yet all the libraries of the world could not hold the books about Him. He never wrote a song, yet He has furnished the theme for more songs than all songwriters together. He never founded a college, yet all the schools together cannot boast of as many students as He has. He never practiced medicine and yet He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors have healed broken bodies. This Jesus Christ is the star of astronomy, the rock of geology, the lion and the lamb of zoology, the harmonizer of all discords, and the healer of all diseases. Throughout history great men have come and gone, yet He lives on. Herod could not kill Him. Satan could not seduce Him. Death could not destroy Him and the grave could not hold Him.
Fulfillment of Promises
The Old Testament tells us in at least two places (Jer. 23:18, 22 and Amos 3:7) that the prophets were let in on the secrets of God. Yet at times they wrote those secrets without understanding them (1 Pet. 1:10–11). In Jesus Christ they are both fulfilled and understood. He is God’s final word. “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). Every promise of God resolves itself in Christ. All the promises become yes—verified and fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the supreme and the final revelation.
In these last days. The last days are days of fulfillment. In the Old Testament the Jew saw the last days as the time when all the promises would be fulfilled. In these days Messiah would come and the Kingdom would come and salvation would come and Israel would no longer be under bondage. In the last days promises would stop and fulfillments begin. That is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to fulfill the promises. Even though the millennial, earthly aspect of the promised Kingdom is yet future, the age of kingdom fulfillment began when Jesus arrived, and it will not finally be completed until we enter into the eternal heavens. The Old Testament age of promise ended when Jesus arrived.
Has spoken to us in His Son. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God climaxed. God fully expressed Himself in His Son. That affirms Christ as being more than just human. It makes Him infinitely superior to any created being, for He is God manifest in the flesh. He is the final and last revelation of God, in whom all God’s promises are fulfilled.
We have looked at the preparation for Christ and the presentation of Christ. Now we will look at His preeminence. In this brief but potent section (1:2–3) the Holy Spirit exalts Christ as the full and final expression of God—superior to and exalted above anyone or anything. In these verses we see Christ as the end of all things (Heir), the beginning of all things (Creator), and the middle of all things (Sustainer and Purifier).
When the question is brought up as to who Jesus Christ really was, some people will say He was a good teacher, some will say He was a religious fanatic, some will say He was a fake, and some will claim He was a criminal, a phantom, or a political revolutionary. Others are likely to believe that He was the highest form of humankind, who had a spark of divinity which He fanned into flame—a spark, they claim, that all of us have but seldom fan. There are countless human explanations as to who Jesus was. In this chapter we are going to look at what God says about who Jesus was, and is. In just half of verse 2 and in verse 3 is a sevenfold presentation of the excellencies of Jesus Christ. In all these excellencies He is clearly much more than a man.
Jesus’ first excellency mentioned here is His heirship: In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things. If Jesus is the Son of God, then He is the heir of all that God possesses. Everything that exists will find its true meaning only when it comes under the final control of Jesus Christ.
Even the Psalms predicted that He would one day be the heir to all that God possesses. “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’ ” (Ps. 2:6–7). Again we read, “ ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’ ” (Ps. 2:8–9). And still again, “ ‘I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth’ ” (Ps. 89:27). “First-born” does not mean that Christ did not exist before He was born as Jesus in Bethlehem. It is not primarily a chronological term at all, but has to do with legal rights—especially those of inheritance and authority (which will be discussed in more detail in chapter 3). God’s destined kingdom will in the last days be given finally and eternally to Jesus Christ.
Paul explains that all things not only were created by Christ but for Him (Col. 1:16) and that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Everything that exists exists for Jesus Christ. What truth better proves His equality with God?
In Revelation 5, God is pictured sitting on a throne, with a scroll in His hand. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals” (v. 1). The scroll is the title deed to the earth and all that is in it. It is the deed for the Heir, the One who has the right to take the earth. In New Testament times Roman law required that a will had to be sealed seven times, to protect it from tampering. As you rolled it up, you sealed it every turn or so for seven times. The seals were not to be broken until after the person whose will it was had died.
John continues his vision: “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ ” (v. 2). Who, the angel wondered, is the rightful heir to the earth? Who has the right to possess it? “And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it” (v. 3). Perplexed and saddened, John “began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals’ ” (vv. 4–5). As he continued to watch, he “saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (v. 6). Jesus Christ, the Lamb, came and took the scroll out of the right hand of God. Why? Because He, and He alone, had a right to take it. He is Heir to the earth.
Chapter 6 of Revelation begins the description of the Tribulation, the first step in Christ’s taking back the earth, which is rightfully His. One by one Christ unrolls the seals. As each seal is broken, He takes further possession and control of His inheritance. Finally, “the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’ ” (11:15). When He unrolls the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet blows, the earth is His.
In his first sermon, at Pentecost, Peter told his Jewish audience, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This carpenter who died nailed to a cross is, in fact, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will rule the world. Satan knew this truth when he approached Jesus in the wilderness and tempted Him to take control of the world in the wrong way, by bowing down to Satan. As the temporary usurper of God’s rule over the earth, Satan continually tries every means of preventing the true Heir from receiving His inheritance.
When Christ first came to earth He became poor for our sakes, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich. He had nothing for Himself. He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Even His clothes were taken from Him when He died. He was buried in a grave that belonged to someone else. But when Christ comes to earth again, He will completely and eternally inherit all things. And, wonder of wonders, because we have trusted in Him, we are to be “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). When we enter into His eternal kingdom we will jointly possess all that He possesses. We will not be joint Christs or joint Lords, but we will be joint heirs. His marvelous inheritance will be ours as well.
Some Still Reject Him
Amazingly, though Christ is the Heir of all God possesses, and though He offers to share His inheritance with anyone who will trust in Him, some still reject Him. Many rejected God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament. Now God has perfectly revealed Himself in the New Testament of His Son, and people continue to reject Him.
Jesus illustrated this tragedy in a parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.” And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” Matt. 21:33–44)
That parable needs no explanation.
To willfully reject Jesus Christ brings on the utter damnation and destruction of a vengeful God. To Israel that parable says, “Since what you have done was so blatant, not only rejecting and killing the prophets but rejecting and killing the Son, the promise has been taken away from you and given to a new nation, the church.” Israel was set aside until the time of her restoration.
The second excellency of Christ mentioned in Hebrews 1 is His creatorship: through whom also He made the world. Christ is the agent through whom God created the world. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). One of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ divinity is His ability to create. Except for His complete sinlessness, His total righteousness, nothing more sets Him apart from us than His creatorship. Ability to create belongs to God alone and the fact that Jesus creates indicates that He is God. He created everything material and everything spiritual. Though man has stained His work with sin, Christ originally made it good, and the very creation itself longs to be restored to what it was in the beginning (Rom. 8:22).
The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word used in Hebrews 1:2. The word here is aiōnas, which does not mean the material world but “the ages,” as it is often translated. Jesus Christ is responsible not only for the physical earth; He is also responsible for creating time, space, energy, and matter. Christ created the whole universe and everything that makes it function, and He did it all without effort.
Sir John C. Eccles, nobel laureate in neurophysiology, said that the odds against the right combination of circumstances occurring to have evolved intelligent life on earth are highly improbable, but he went on to say he believed that such did occur but could never happen again on any planet or in any other solar system (“Evolution and the Conscious Self,” in The Human Mind: A Discussion at the Nobel Conference, John D. Rolansky, ed. [Amsterdam: North Holland, 1967]). If you do not recognize a Creator you have quite a problem explaining how this marvelous, intricate, immeasurable universe came into being.
Yet thousands upon thousands of men believe that man emerged out of primeval slime. Man just evolved—that wondrous creature whose heart beats 800 million times in a normal lifetime and pumps enough blood to fill a string of tank cars running from Boston to New York; that same man whose tiny cubic half-inch section of brain cells contains all the memories of a lifetime; that same man whose ear transfers sound waves from air to liquid without losing any sound.
A.K. Morrison, another brilliant scientist, tells us that conditions for life on earth demand so many billions of minute interrelated circumstances appearing simultaneously, in the same infinitesimal moment, that such a prospect becomes beyond belief and beyond possibility.
Consider the vastness of our universe. If you could somehow put 1.2 million earths inside the sun, you would have room left for 4.3 million moons. The sun is 865,000 miles in diameter and is 93 million miles from the earth. Our next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 5 times larger than our sun. The moon is only 211,463 miles away, and you could walk to it in 27 years. A ray of light travels at 186 thousand miles per second, so a beam of light would reach the moon in only 1 ½ seconds. If we could travel at that speed, it would take 2 minutes and 18 seconds to reach Venus, 4 ½ minutes to reach Mercury, 1 hour and 11 seconds to reach Saturn, and so on. To reach Pluto, 2.7 billion miles from earth, would take nearly 4 hours. Having got that far, we would still be well inside our own solar system. The North Star is 400 trillion miles away, but is still nearby in relation even to known space. The star Betelgeuse is 880 quadrillion miles (880 followed by fifteen zeroes) from us. It has a diameter of 250 million miles, which is greater than that of the earth’s orbit.
Where did it all come from? Who conceived it? Who made it? It cannot be an accident. Somebody had to make it, and the Bible tells us the Maker was Jesus Christ.
Third, we see Christ’s radiance, the brightness of the glory of God. And He is the radiance of His glory. Radiance (apaugasma, “to send forth light”) represents Jesus as the manifestation of God. He expresses God to us. No one can see God; no one ever will. The only radiance that reaches us from God is mediated to us from Jesus Christ. Just as the rays of the sun light and warm the earth, so Jesus Christ is the glorious light of God shining into the hearts of men. Just as the sun was never without and cannot be separated from its brightness, so God was never without and cannot be separated from the glory of Christ. Never was God without Him or He without God, and never in any way can He be separated from God. Yet the brightness of the sun is not the sun. Neither is Christ God in that sense. He is fully and absolutely God, yet is a distinct Person.
We would never be able to see or enjoy God’s light if we did not have Jesus to look at. Standing one day before the Temple, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, and He can transmit that light into your life and my life, so that we, in turn, can radiate the glory of God. We live in a dark world. There is the darkness of injustice, of failure, privation, separation, disease, death, and of much else. There is the moral darkness of men blinded by their godless appetites and passions. Into this dark world God sent His glorious Light. Without the Son of God, there is only darkness.
The great tragedy, of course, is that most men do not want even to see, much less accept and live in, God’s light. Paul explains that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). God sent His light in the Person of Jesus Christ, that man might behold, accept, and radiate that light. But Satan has moved through this world to blind the minds of men and prevent the light of the glorious gospel from shining on them.
Those, however, who receive His light can say, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). That is what happens when God comes into your life.
The hymn writer said, “Come to the light. ’Tis shining for thee. / Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.” What a wonderful thing to realize that Jesus Christ, who is the full expression of God in human history, can come into our lives and give us light to see and to know God. His light, in fact, gives us life itself, spiritual life. And, His light gives us purpose, meaning, happiness, peace, joy, fellowship, everything—for all eternity.
Christ’s next excellency is His being. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. Jesus Christ is the express image of God. Christ not only was God manifest, He was God in substance.
Exact representation translates the Greek term used for the impression made by a die or stamp on a seal. The design on the die is reproduced on the wax. Jesus Christ is the reproduction of God. He is the perfect, personal imprint of God in time and space. Colossians 1:15 gives a similar illustration of this incomprehensible truth: “He is the image of the invisible God.” The word “image” here is eikōn, from which we get icon. Eikōn means a precise copy, an exact reproduction, as in a fine sculpture or portrait. To call Christ the Eikōn of God means He is the exact reproduction of God. “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).
Also in Hebrews 1:3 is given the fifth of Christ’s excellencies, His administration, or sustenance. He upholds all things by the word of His power. Christ not only made all things and will someday inherit all things, but He holds them all together in the meanwhile. The Greek word for upholds means “to support, to maintain,” and it is used here in the present tense, implying continuous action. Everything in the universe is sustained right now by Jesus Christ.
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.
If the physical laws varied, we would have an unbelievable mess. We could not exist. What we ate could turn to poison. We could not stay on the earth; we would drift out into space. We would get flooded by the oceans periodically. Countless other horrible things would happen, many of which we could not even guess.
Consider, for example, what instant destruction would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed down just a little. The sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If it were any closer to us we would burn up; if it were any farther away we would freeze. Our globe is tilted on an exact angle of 23 degrees, providing us with four seasons. If it were not so tilted, vapors from the oceans would move north and south and develop into monstrous continents of ice. If the moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth the ocean tides would inundate the land completely, twice a day. After the first flooding, of course, the others would not matter as far as we would be concerned. 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 animal or plant life could exist. If the atmosphere did not remain at its present density, but thinned out even a little, many of the meteors which now harmlessly burn up when they hit the atmosphere would constantly bombard us. We would have to live underground or in meteor-proof buildings.
How does the universe stay in this kind of fantastically delicate balance? Jesus Christ sustains and monitors all its movements and inter-workings. Christ, the preeminent Power, maintains it all.
Things do not happen in our universe by accident. They did not happen that way in the beginning. They are not going to happen that way in the end, and they are not happening that way now. Jesus Christ is sustaining the universe. He is Himself the principle of cohesion. He is not like the deist’s “watchmaker” creator, who made the world, set it in motion, and has not bothered with it since. The universe is a cosmos instead of chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it.
Scientists who discover great and amazing truths are doing nothing but discovering a few of the laws that Jesus Christ designed and uses to control the world. No scientist or mathematician, no astronomer or nuclear physicist, could do anything without the upholding power of Jesus Christ. The whole universe hangs on the arm of Jesus. His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing the universe. And He does it by the word of His power, without effort. The key to the creation story in Genesis is in two words, “God said.” God spoke and it happened.
When I think about Christ’s power to uphold the universe, that truth goes right to my heart. We read in Philippians 1:6 the wonderful promise, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” When Christ begins a work in your heart, He holds onto it and sustains it all the way through. We can imagine Jude’s excitement when he wrote, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25). When your life is given to Jesus Christ, He holds it and sustains it and one day will take it into God’s very presence. A life, just as a universe, that is not sustained by Christ is chaos.
The sixth excellency of Christ is His sacrifice: When He had made purification of sins. What a tremendous statement!
The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Jesus Christ went to the cross, died our deserved death for us, and thereby took the penalty for our sin on Himself. If we will accept His death and believe that He died for us, He will free us from the penalty of sin and purify us from the stain of sin.
It was a wondrous work when Jesus Christ created the world. It is wondrous that He sustains the world. But a greater work than making and upholding the world is that of purging men of sin. In Hebrews 7:27 we are told that Jesus “does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” In the Old Testament the priests had to make sacrifice after sacrifice, for themselves and for the people. Jesus made but one sacrifice. He not only was the Priest, but also the Sacrifice. And because His sacrifice was pure, He can purify our sins—something that all the Old Testament sacrifices together could not do.
And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:12–14, 26b)
Jesus Christ dealt with the sin problem once and for all. It had to be done. We could not communicate with God or enter into fellowship with Him unless sin was dealt with. So Christ went to the cross and bore the penalty of sin for all who would accept His sacrifice, believe in Him, and receive Him. Sin was purged, wiped out.
This truth must have seemed especially remarkable to those to whom the book of Hebrews was first written. The cross was a stumbling block to Jews, but the writer does not apologize for it. Instead, he shows it to be one of the seven excellent glories of Christ. His words are as straightforward as those of Peter: “[You know] that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
We are all sinners. And either we pay the penalty for our own sin, which is eternal death, or we accept Jesus Christ’s payment for it in sacrificing Himself, for which we receive eternal life. If the desire of our heart is to receive Him as Savior, to believe in and to accept His sacrifice, our sins are washed away at that point. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin (Heb. 9:22) and that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus came as the perfect Sacrifice. The man whose sins are forgiven has them forgiven only because of Jesus Christ. But the blood of Jesus Christ will never be applied to us unless by faith we receive Him into our lives.
Yet again, there are people who reject Him! Hebrews 10:26 warns, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If we reject Jesus Christ there is nothing in the universe that can take away our sin, and we will die in it. Jesus said to such persons, “[You] shall die in your sin; where I am going you can never come” (John 8:21).
The last of Christ’s excellencies mentioned in this passage is His exaltation. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. The Majesty on high is God. The right hand is the power side. Jesus took His place at the right hand of God. The marvelous thing about this statement is that Jesus, the perfect High Priest, sat down. This is in great contrast to the priestly procedure under the Old Covenant. There were no seats in the Tabernacle or the Temple sanctuaries. The priest had no place to sit because God knew it would never be appropriate for him to sit. His responsibility was to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, over and over again. So the priests offered sacrifices daily—and never sat down. But Jesus offered one sacrifice, and said, “It is finished.” He then went and sat down with the Father. It was done. What could not be accomplished under the Old Covenant, even after centuries of sacrifices, was accomplished once by Jesus Christ for all time.
Jesus’ sitting down at His Father’s right hand signifies at least four things. They are, briefly:
First, He sat down as a sign of honor, “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). To be seated at the right hand of the Father is honor indeed.
Second, He sat down as a sign of authority. “[He] is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). He sat down as a ruler.
Third, He sat down to rest. His work was done. “But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).
Fourth, He sat down to intercede for us. “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for all of us who belong to Him.
Here we have God’s portrait of Jesus Christ. We have seen the preeminent Christ in all His offices. We have seen Him as prophet, the final spokesman for God. We have seen Him as priest, atoning and interceding. We have seen Him as King, controlling, sustaining, and seated on a throne. This is our Lord Jesus Christ.
A man who says that Jesus Christ is anything less than this is a fool and makes God out a liar. God says that His Son is preeminent in all things.
What does this mean to us? It means everything. To reject Him is to be shut out from His presence into an eternal hell. But to receive Jesus Christ is to enter into all that He is and has. There are no other choices.
2b–3a Seven arresting statements now fill out the unique status of “the Son” and make it unmistakably clear he is much more than a passing historical figure like the prophets. The first five statements focus on his relationship to God and to the created universe in such a way as to place him outside the natural order as its originator and sustainer. Two further clauses in v. 3b will then bring his historical work of redemption into focus, but first we are invited to contemplate the eternal glory of the Son since before the world was made.
Three clauses trace the role of the Son in relation to the universe, covering respectively its past, present, and future. It was “through” the Son that God made the universe in the past; in the present that same Son upholds everything “by his powerful word”; and the future destiny of the universe is understood also in relation to him who has been made the “heir of all things” (perhaps echoing Ps 2:8; cf. the quotation of Ps 2:7 that follows in v. 5). This is the same threefold relation to the creation, embracing all eternity, which is succinctly expressed in Paul’s formula in Romans 11:36: “from him and through him and to him are all things”; Paul was speaking there of God, not of Christ, but in Colossians 1:16–17 he says the same of Christ: “all things were created by him and for him …, and in him all things hold together.” The author of Hebrews, like Paul (and John in 1:1–3), has no hesitation in saying of Jesus what in Jewish orthodoxy was reserved for God the Creator.
The double clause that opens v. 3 describes the Son’s relation to God more directly and even more unequivocally, not now in his creative role but in his essential nature: he is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” He is, in other words, as in John 1:14, 18, God made visible. To see what God is like we must look at the Son. “Radiance” (apaugasma, GK 575) means literally the “outshining” (though it is sometimes also used of a “reflection”) of the glory that is God’s essential character, while “exact representation” translates the vivid Greek metaphor charaktēr, “imprint, stamp” (GK 5917), used, for instance, of the impression made on a coin, which exactly reproduces the design on the die. (The idea is the same as the more familiar phrase “the image of God.”) Again there is a close echo of Colossians 1:15, 19: “He is the image of the invisible God.… God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”
3b The glory of the Son consists not only in his eternal nature but also in his role in bringing salvation to human beings. The two clauses that conclude the description of the Son take up this theme and thus introduce two of the most prominent themes of the letter as a whole. First, he has “provided purification for sins.” The theme of the sacrificial work of Christ will come into focus especially in chs. 9–10 as the outworking of his office as our great high priest, where the author will emphasize that this work of purification is now fully complete. While at this point he does not yet spell out the means by which this “purification” has been achieved, his readers would be well aware that it must be through the shedding of blood (9:14, 22, etc.). The way is thus prepared for the paradoxical argument of ch. 2 that it is in his humiliation and death that the superior glory of the Son, as our perfect redeemer, is revealed.
But humiliation is followed by exaltation, and the author’s first allusion to Psalm 110:1 introduces the language of “sitting at the right hand,” which will echo through the letter (cf. 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The Son, his earthly work complete, now occupies in heaven the place of highest authority next to God himself.
Such is the nature of the Son, who has now added to his unique creative work by coming into the world he made in order to bring the final and perfect revelation of God by making the true nature of the invisible God visible on the canvas of a human life, and by his redeeming work has fulfilled God’s purpose of salvation. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14). Here is a work of God on a different level altogether from what the prophets could offer.
1:3 / The third and fourth phrases in this characterization of Christ turn to the manner in which the Son is a true expression of the father. The Son (lit., “who”) is the radiance of God’s glory. The word radiance or “radiant light” means intense “brightness.” Barclay effectively paraphrases: “The Son is the radiance of his glory just as the ray is the light of the sun.” Again a parallel exists between the personification of wisdom, this time in the apocryphal book the Wisdom of Solomon (7:25f.): “For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; … she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (rsv). Other nt writers hold a similar view of Christ. In the prologue of the Gospel of John, Christ is designated “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9), in whom “we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (John 1:14). For John, as for our author, Jesus expresses the brilliant glory of God. Paul, too, speaks of the light that Christ brought, referring to “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6; cf. 4:4).
The next phrase, he is the exact representation of his being, is simply a more explicit way of expressing what the author has just said. The Son is a perfect representation of God’s being “just as the mark is the exact impression of the seal” (Barclay). The thought is again reminiscent of Christology elsewhere in the nt, for example in Paul’s statements that Christ is “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15); although in these two instances, the Greek word (eikōn, from which comes the English word “icon”) is different from that used here. John expressed the same idea in the words “anyone who has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). It is to be noted further that it is God’s own being that is expressed so accurately, the word being here to be understood as “substance” or “essence.” These two parallel phrases at the beginning of verse 3 obviously speak of the uniqueness of the Son. They also point to the extraordinary connection between the Father and Son. In order for the Son to be the kind of direct, authentic, and compelling expression of the Father described in these phrases—for him to be the radiance of God’s glory and the impress of his very essence—he must participate somehow in the being of God itself, that is, he must himself be deity to accomplish the wonderful mission described here. Our author would have us conclude, without denying the distinction between Father and Son, that the Son is of the same order of existence as God, and so with God over against all else that exists.
As the Son was instrumental in the creation of the universe (v. 2), so the continuing significance of the Son is seen, in the fifth phrase, in his sustaining all things by his powerful word. Philosophers of every age are prone to ask what it is that underlies reality—that is, what dynamic sustains and makes coherent all that exists. Our author, further revealing his christocentric perspective, finds the answer in the mighty word of the Son. This view also finds parallels in Paul and John. When John uses “Word” (logos) to describe Jesus, he uses a term that has both Jewish and Greek associations. For the Greek Stoic philosophers logos was the underlying principle of rationality that made the world orderly, coherent, and intelligible. Without using the technical term logos, Paul argues in similar fashion: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Although the author of Hebrews does not use the specific term logos in this passage, the idea that Christ sustains the universe, is behind it all, and keeps it all going (as the present participle sustaining indicates), is parallel.
Our author, however, is not content simply to mark off the incomparable character of the Son against all others and all else, as he has done in the first five phrases. He wants also to get to one of the main points of the epistle, the atoning work of the Son, for this, too, is vitally a part of and dependent upon the Son’s uniqueness. What makes these the last days is that “once-and-for-all” (to borrow language that will be encountered later in the epistle) he … provided purification for sins. This indeed is the preeminent work of the Son. The “cleansing of sins” (a literal translation) may seem strange in the midst of glorious clauses pointing to the deity of the Son. This phrase, after all, describes the work of the high priest and, though impressive in itself, would seem familiar enough to a Jewish reader. With the insertion of this clause, however, the author anticipates a main argument of the book (cf. chaps. 9 and 10): the work of the high priest is not efficacious in itself but rather foreshadows the priestly work of the one who alone can make atonement for sins. Only God in the Son can accomplish the sacrifice that makes possible the cleansing and the forgiveness of sins (see Rom. 3:24–26). Thus the cleansing of sins rightly belongs with phrases that describe the uniqueness of the Son in his relationship to God.
When he had thus accomplished the purpose of his incarnation, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. The words of this final and climactic clause convey a sense of completion and fulfillment of God’s purpose. They are drawn from a messianic psalm of the ot (Ps. 110) that is exceptionally important to our author’s argument. Psalm 110:1 is cited or alluded to here and in 1:13 (more fully); 8:1; 10:12–13, and 12:2. Psalm 110:4, the Melchizedek passage, is cited or alluded to in 5:6, 10; 6:20; and throughout chapter 7 (vv. 3, 11, 15, 17, 21, 24, 28). Why is this psalm so important to our author? Two main arguments of the epistle can be supported by Psalm 110: the incomparable superiority of Christ (as revealed in his exaltation to the right hand of God) and the extraordinary high priesthood of Christ (as paralleled and prefigured by Melchizedek). The ascension of Christ to the position of power and authority at the side of the Father is the vindication of the true identity of the one who suffered and died in accomplishing the forgiveness of sins. This view is found often in the nt and is regularly associated with the ascension of Christ. “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Eph. 4:10); Christ, “who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus alludes to Psalm 110:1 in the synoptic tradition (see Mark 12:36 and 14:62, both with parallels in Matthew and Luke). What the psalmist promised now had come to pass—hence the note of completion and finality. That he has sat down signifies the completion of his atoning work (cf. 10:11–12).
1:2–3. What God announced through the prophets was important. What he spoke through his Son was climactic, definitive, and superlative. We are living in the last days, not in a chronological sense but in a theological sense. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension showed that we have entered new territory in God’s plans. In these final days God has spoken through his Son. God wants us to hear him. We had better listen. Anyone neglecting what Jesus says faces the spiritual danger of a driver crashing through road signs announcing, “Bridge out ahead!”
The overwhelming superiority of the Son is described with seven majestic phrases. The first two show the relationship of the Son to creation. Jesus is the heir of all things in that he will ultimately have control over all creation (Heb. 2:8). God worked through his Son to make the universe of time and space (Col. 1:16). The Son was God’s intermediate agent in creation.
The next two phrases show the Son’s relationship to the Father. As the radiance of God’s glory, the Son reflects God’s spotless purity; he shined into human hearts (John 1:9). As the exact representation of God’s being, the Son has the divine substance of the Father. This was a bold proclamation of Jesus’ deity. Jesus is God.
The fifth phrase shows something the Son is now doing in the world. God’s creative word formed the world of time and space (Heb. 11:3). The sustaining word of the Son maintains it. As the sustainer of the world, the Son carries God’s plan to its conclusion. With Jesus in charge we know that the world will not fall into utter chaos. God’s plans will triumph.
The sixth and seventh phrases focus on the redemptive work of Christ. The Son brought us God’s grace because his death removed the stain of sin. Jesus has provided purification for sins as an act of supreme grace without any merit on our part. After dealing with our sins, Jesus ascended the throne. In his resurrection and ascension he assumed a place of honor at God’s right hand. Today we proclaim him as Lord.
The Son is a Prophet through whom God spoke his final word to human beings. The Son is a Priest who has removed the blot of sin from our ledger. He is a King exalted by God to a supreme place of honor.
3. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
- “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.” The word radiance is to be preferred to variations of the word reflection, which many translations provide. The moon receives its light from the sun and simply reflects these light beams to the earth. The moon itself does not possess nor emanate light, because it does not produce light. The sun as a heavenly body radiates its light in all its brightness and power to the earth. By way of comparison, we may see Christ as the radiant light coming from the Father as sunlight emanates from the sun.7
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); he is light, and in him there is no darkness. He radiates the light of God’s glory, perfection, and majesty. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes observes that Jesus’ radiance “is not so much … the glory of the Son’s deity shining through his humanity, but … the glory of God being manifested in the perfection of his manhood completely attuned as it was to the will of the Father.”
Jesus’ radiance is derived from the Father, even though he himself is the light. The Son causes the radiance of the Father to shine forth. As John writes in the prologue to his Gospel, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). The Son’s radiance, therefore, is an extension of God’s glory.
- “And the exact representation of his being.” The Son is the perfect representation of God’s being. That is, God himself stamped upon his Son the divine imprint of his being. The word translated as “exact representation” refers to minted coins that bear the image of a sovereign or president. It refers to a precise reproduction of the original. The Son, then, is completely the same in his being as the Father. Nevertheless, even though an imprint is the same as the stamp that makes the impression, both exist separately. The Son, who bears “the very stamp” (R.S.V.) of God’s nature, is not the Father but proceeds from the Father and has a separate existence. Yet he who sees the Son has seen the Father, as Jesus explained to Philip (John 14:9).
The word being is really a parallel of the word glory, for both terms describe the essence of God. Although existing separately, the Son, as the exact representation of the Father’s being, is a perfect copy of God’s nature. The Son is the mediator who possessed God’s glory by nature before he assumed his mediatorial role. The Son bears the exact imprint of the Father’s being from eternity.
- “Sustaining all things by his powerful word.” The Son is not only the Creator of the universe (1:2); he is the upholder of all things as well (1:3). The two passages complement each other and reveal the divine power of the Son. He speaks, and by his word all things are sustained, preserved, upheld.
This part of the verse in the original is closely connected to the preceding portion by means of the particle and, which unfortunately many translations omit. It directly ties the participial phrase to the verb is in the first part of the sentence.
The first part of the verse stresses the person of Christ; the second, the work of Christ. From a discussion about the being of the Son, the writer proceeds to an explanation of the Son’s activity, which involves caring for all things. In fact, the word that has been translated as “sustaining” basically means carrying. That word in itself signifies a forward motion, although not in the sense of an Atlas whose movement is torturously slow because the weight of the globe nearly crushes him.
The Son carries “all things” to bring them to their destined end. And he does this by a mere utterance (“by his powerful word”). Christ, the ruler of the universe, utters a word, and all things listen in obedience to his voice. No other motions are necessary, for the spoken word is sufficient.
- “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” This sentence indicates a sequence in the redemptive deeds of Christ.
He performed his mediatorial work by completing and yielding his earthly life as a sacrifice on the cross for the removal of sins. In a rather pithy phrase the high-priestly work of Christ is summarized: Christ himself “provided purification for sins.” According to the Mosaic law the high priest had to make atonement on the Day of Atonement to cleanse the people of Israel of all their sins (Lev. 16:29–34). The Aaronic high priest was a sinner and therefore did his work imperfectly, whereas Christ as the sinless One and the true High Priest completed the work of purification perfectly. The high priest in the Old Testament era needed animal sacrifices, first to cleanse himself and afterward to remove the sins of the people. Christ was simultaneously the High Priest and the sacrifice when he offered himself for the purification of the sins of his people. The Son once for all offered himself up on the cross in order to atone for our sins. The plural is used for the concept sin (see Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 2 Peter 1:9).
After his mediatorial work was completed, the Son ascended to heaven and took his rightful place of honor next to God the Father. In typical Hebraic style, perhaps to avoid offending any of his Jewish readers, the author refers to God as the Majesty in heaven. Of course, elsewhere in the epistle he freely uses God’s name.
- “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (cf. Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:2; Col. 3:1). The expressions sat down and the right hand must not be taken literally, but rather symbolically. The idea of sitting at the right hand of someone signifies a privilege granted to a highly honored person. In this instance it means that the Son now has authority to rule his worldwide kingdom on earth and is enthroned above all spiritual powers “in heavenly places.” The kingdom belongs to him and God has given him “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11).
2. Who being the brightness of his glory, &c. These things are said of Christ partly as to his divine essence, and partly as a partaker of our flesh. When he is called the brightness of his glory and the impress of his substance, his divinity is referred to; the other things appertain in a measure to his human nature. The whole, however, is stated in order to set forth the dignity of Christ.
But it is for the same reason that the Son is said to be “the brightness of his glory,” and “the impress of his substance:” they are words borrowed from nature. For nothing can be said of things so great and so profound, but by similitudes taken from created things. There is therefore no need refinedly to discuss the question how the Son, who has the same essence with the Father, is a brightness emanating from his light. We must allow that there is a degree of impropriety in the language when what is borrowed from created things is transferred to the hidden majesty of God. But still the things which are evident to our senses are fitly applied to God, and for this end, that we may know what is to be found in Christ, and what benefits he brings to us.
It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hearest that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shews itself impressed as it were on his image. They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to shew what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us. It is indeed a profitable philosophy to learn Christ by the real understanding of faith and experience. The same view, as I have said, is to be taken of “the impress;” for as God is in himself to us incomprehensible, his form appears to us only in his Son.2
The word ἀπαύγασμα means here nothing else but visible light or refulgence, such as our eyes can bear; and χαρακτὴρ is the vivid form of a hidden substance. By the first word we are reminded that without Christ there is no light, but only darkness; for as God is the only true light by which it behoves us all to be illuminated, this light sheds itself upon us, so to speak, only by irradiation. By the second word we are reminded that God is truly and really known in Christ; for he is not his obscure or shadowy image, but his impress which resembles him, as money the impress of the die with which it is stamped. But the Apostle indeed says what is more than this, even that the substance of the Father is in a manner engraven on the Son.
The word ὑποστάσις, which, by following others, I have rendered substance, denotes not, as I think, the being or essence of the Father, but his person; for it would be strange to say that the essence of God is impressed on Christ, as the essence of both is simply the same. But it may truly and fitly be said that whatever peculiarly belongs to the Father is exhibited in Christ, so that he who knows him knows what is in the Father. And in this sense do the orthodox fathers take this term, hypostasis, considering it to be threefold in God, while the essence (οὐσία) is simply one. Hilary everywhere takes the Latin word substance for person. But though it be not the Apostle’s object in this place to speak of what Christ is in himself, but of what he is really to us, yet he sufficiently confutes the Arians and Sabellians; for he claims for Christ what belongs to God alone, and also refers to two distinct persons, as to the Father and the Son. For we hence learn that the Son is one God with the Father, and that he is yet in a sense distinct from him, so that a subsistence or person belongs to both.
And upholding (or bearing) all things, &c. To uphold or to bear here means to preserve or to continue all that is created in its own state; for he intimates that all things would instantly come to nothing, were they not sustained by his power. Though the pronoun his may be referred to the Father as well as to the Son, as it may be rendered “his own,” yet as the other exposition is more commonly received, and well suits the context, I am disposed to embrace it. Literally it is, “by the word of his power;” but the genitive, after the Hebrew manner, is used instead of an adjective; for the perverted explanation of some, that Christ sustains all things by the word of the Father, that is, by himself who is the word, has nothing in its favour: besides, there is no need of such forced explanation; for Christ is not wont to be called ῥῆμα, saying, but λόγος, word. Hence the “word” here means simply a nod; and the sense is, that Christ who preserves the whole world by a nod only, did not yet refuse the office of effecting our purgation.
Now this is the second part of the doctrine handled in this Epistle; for a statement of the whole question is to be found in these two chapters, and that is, that Christ, endued with supreme authority, ought to be head above all others, and that as he hath reconciled us to his Father by his own death, he hath put an end to the ancient sacrifices. And so the first point, though a general proposition, is yet a twofold clause.
When he further says, by himself, there is to be understood here a contrast, that he had not been aided in this by the shadows of the Mosaic Law. He shews besides a difference between him and the Levitical priests; for they also were said to expiate sins, but they derived this power from another. In short, he intended to exclude all other means or helps by stating that the price and the power of purgation were found only in Christ.
Sat down on the right hand, &c.; as though he had said, that having in the world procured salvation for men, he was received into celestial glory, in order that he might govern all things. And he added this in order to shew that it was not a temporary salvation he has obtained for us; for we should otherwise be too apt to measure his power by what now appears to us. He then reminds us that Christ is not to be less esteemed because he is not seen by our eyes; but, on the contrary, that this was the height of his glory, that he has been taken and conveyed to the highest seat of his empire. The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Phil. 2:10.) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 9–20). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 38–39). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 23–26). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 9). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 29–31). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 35–39). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.