Hebrews 1:3 Commentary

31 Aug

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,

Here I think our English translation, in trying to make the text more clear, has actually obscured its meaning. In most English translations, a clarifying phrase “of God” is added to the phrase, “He is the radiance of the glory.” This seems to make is clear that Jesus is the shining glory of God, maybe bringing to mind the transfiguration as the visible illustration of the reality of Jesus’ life. But when you just read the Greek text straight up, it says, “who is the radiance of the glory and the exact imprint of His nature.” Now this brings quite a different sense to this verse. I was puzzling over this at first. Does this word “radiance” mean that Jesus is somehow a reflection of God or somehow just that Jesus’ glory shines through God? And then it hit me. How was the glory of God manifested in the OT? The pillar of cloud and fire at the temple. Jesus is the radiance of the glory. On this side of God’s revelation, He is the presence of God manifested on earth. Amen! That is exciting.

The word translated “exact imprint” was used of a mark or impression placed on an object, especially on coins, and came to signify a ‘representation’ or ‘reproduction’. The Son of God bears ‘the very stamp of [God’s] nature. There is no doubt that the author of Hebrews regards Jesus as divine. The next line shows this as well.

The phrase “upholds the universe by the word of His power” is a pointer to Christ’s divinity, as God created by His Word (see 11:3). There is a link between God who creates by His Word and Christ who upholds all by His Word, thus showing that Jesus is God. So the universe is created through words, God’s salvation is revealed by words and the universe is sustained by words. Words matter. Words wield authority, most of all when they come from God. God’s words have power, power enough to uphold all things.

But Jesus is not only Creator and Sustainer, He is Redeemer. “After making purification for sins . . .” I love this phrase. It is the language of the priest. You see, there’s already a lot of OT language in this introduction, from creation through the spoken word to the radiance of the glory and now here the priestly purification. The book of Hebrews will draw out the contrast between Jesus’ priestly service and that of the OT priests and even the priests still serving in Jerusalem when Hebrews was written. We will see this emphasis especially in chapters 9 and 10.

The sitting down of the Son at God’s right hand will be revisited in 10:11-14 as Jesus is contrasted with the priests, who stood day by day in their never ending sacrificial service while Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. I want to wait for that passage to really draw out that contrast but it is a significant contrast that we will see. The sitting at God’s right hand is the position of authority and rule and it is the connection to Psalm 110:1 which is such an often quoted OT verse in the New Testament. The present reign of Christ is a strong emphasis in the NT. The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is just as important as the phrase “Jesus is Savior.” It is unthinkable in the NT to separate those two phrases. They go together. I love this “right hand” language as it relates to a couple of other passages. First, the last verse of Psalm 16, “You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of life, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David spoke more than he knew, since it is “at the right hand of God where we find Jesus, and all the treasures of life, all the pleasures of life are found in Him. When we connect this to Colossians 3, we see the wonderful truth unfold, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

The other passage I always think of in regard to the right hand language is the sermon of Stephen in Acts. As he is being killed, Stephen looks up and says, “I see the heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” What a picture! We see Jesus at the right hand of God but He is standing! We are not told why He is standing but I think it is probably that He is standing as an advocate for Stephen and as a witness of His sufferings. It is just such a beautiful picture. I never cease to be moved by the vivid imagery of the one seated at the right hand of God rising from His throne to stand in the presence of one of His precious saints as He bears the stones for His sake.

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