“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The relationship of Jesus to God has long been one that has left people scratching their heads. Some of the sharpest debates and divisions in the history of the church have been on that very question. The orthodox position, though, has always been that the two are one and the same. The author of Hebrews here offers a powerful statement of support in that direction. Let’s explore it together.
In the first two verses of the whole letter, the author observes that while God spoke to us through prophets in the past, He now speaks by His Son. He goes on to immediately began describing that Son to us. What we saw yesterday was that this Son is both the heir of creation and its source. Here we find him exalting the image of God’s Son even further.
He describes the Son (and we’ll just stick with “Jesus” from now on since that’s who he’s talking about) first as “the radiance of God’s glory.” What exactly is meant by the expression “the glory of God” is a huge topic that I would not even dream of covering in a post like this one, but to wildly oversimplify things, God’s glory can be thought of as the light emanating from His presence. Throughout the Scriptures, God is understood to be so holy and righteous and good that He shines like a super lightbulb in a dark room. When Moses was given a glimpse of God’s glory, he came away with his own face shining so brightly the people made him wear a veil until it wore off.
By describing Jesus as the radiance of God’s glory, we are being asked to picture Him as the holiness, righteousness, and goodness shining forth from God, but in a single, approachable, human package. If God is light itself as the apostle John says, Jesus is the glow of that light. When we experience that light, Jesus is what (or, who, rather) we are experiencing. We don’t experience the Father directly. We experience Him mediated through the Son. When we look to God, we see Jesus. He is the lens through which we can engage with Him without being overwhelmed by the brilliance of His presence.
I’m convinced this is the right understanding of what the author is getting at here because of the next phrase describing Jesus. He calls Jesus “the exact expression of his nature.” Think about that one for just a second because it’s kind of a big idea. Jesus is the exact expression of the nature of God. Can you think of someone in your life who is the exact expression of your nature? My kids are like me in a whole lot of ways. In fact, our eldest’s personality is sometimes frighteningly reflective of my own. But he’s not by any means “the exact expression of my nature.” The only person who is the exact expression of my nature is me. For Jesus to be the exact expression of God’s nature, He would have to be God. These two ideas – Jesus’ being the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature – combine to make a simple, but powerful point (which will become more important as we move forward in the chapter, but that’s a conversation for tomorrow and beyond): Jesus is God.
The rest of the verse here just furthers the point. Who is it that sustains creation and keeps it all running as smoothly as designed? God, right? The author of Hebrews here says that Jesus is the one “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” One role, two people. (It’s actually three people when you include the Holy Spirit, but we have to go elsewhere in the Scriptures to unpack that part of the Trinity.) Jesus is God. The Son was sent from the Father to deal with the problem of sin and returned from His mission to take His seat in glory with Him. He is consistently presented as doing things only God could do. There’s a reason for that.
One more question here worth a moment’s worth of consideration: Why does this matter? Why does it matter that Jesus is God? You could fill a whole book with all the answers to that question, but here are three quick reasons. First, if He isn’t, then He’s a liar because He claimed such a distinction for Himself on more than one occasion. The resurrection proved Jesus wasn’t a liar, so we’re best to go with His claims of divinity. Second, if Jesus wasn’t God, He wouldn’t have been able to live a perfect life. And if He hadn’t been able to live a perfect life, He wouldn’t have been able to make atonement for our sin. Only a perfect sacrifice was acceptable to God. If Jesus had been possessed of only His human nature, the stain of sin would have infected Him, and He would not have been an acceptable sacrifice for sin. His being fully God as well means that our sins were indeed covered. Third, to know and experience Jesus – something we can do because He’s a person like we are – is to know and experience God. Much of our lives are spent trying to connect with God. We don’t all approach that in the same way, but we are God-haunted. We need to experience Him. Jesus is the way we can have that experience. There is no other way.
Jesus is God. There’s simply no getting around that fact if you take the Scriptures at face value. As we go forward from here, we’ll get to explore more and more of the powerful implications of that truth together. Stay tuned.