Do take your bibles and turn to “The Letter to the Hebrews,” to the opening chapter. Hebrews is found in the NT, following Philemon, and is immediately before James. Tonight we are going to be looking at how the author portrays the Son of God, the significance of who this Son is, and so, the significance of what he has accomplished. In the first four verses of Hebrews 1, the author writes, in a single Greek sentence, some of the most rich and concise theology concerning the person and work of Christ in all of Scripture. He outlines in summary form many of the key themes that are later unfolded in the letter to the Hebrews, helping us to see how God’s redemptive purposes in history find their climactic fulfilment in Christ.
He begins by showing how God has spoken to his people of old, to the patriarchs, and that he has done this by way of the prophets, through both the historical and prophetic books in the Old Testament. He contrasts the prophets of the Old Testament with how God is now climactically speaking to his people in the person of the Son. There is a unity that exists in the Old and New Testaments, a unity that is centered in the person and work of Christ. As early as Genesis 3:15, we see God’s promise of redemption proclaimed to fallen man, a promise that a seed from the woman, a redeemer, would come and ultimately triumph over the serpent, over sin and death, and reconcile man to God.
In the OT, we find that the Law points forward to Christ; the animal sacrifices point forward to Christ as the final sacrifice for man’s sin, and that this pattern is again reflected in the priests of the Old Covenant looking beyond themselves to Christ as the better and final High Priest. We find the temple in the OT has become obsolete, for Christ, who is the true and final temple, has come and is the ultimate manifestation of God’s presence.
We see Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David are all shadowy forerunners of what Christ would perfectly and finally accomplish. The prophetic anticipation and hope that is found in the Old, is ultimately realized in Christ, the fulfillment of OT promises.
In Christianity, distinct from other religions, the primary figure of the faith is not simply THE great prophet, one who would bring the primary revelation, showing a better way, or pointing more directly to God. But THE great prophet, this Son in whom God is now speaking, is the content of which all other prophets previously spoke. Christ is the fulfilment of their prophecy, the goal and end of all prophecy. Scripture’s central message is the person and work of Jesus Christ himself.
Having contrasted how God spoke to his people of old by the prophets with how he now speaks to us in his Son, the author uses a series of relative clauses to further explain who this person is. The identity of this Son is of primal significance because there is a necessary correlation between who this person is with what he has done. The identity of the person is what gives significance to the work itself.
We see this pattern reflected in all of life. I have three children, and they listen to me not simply because of what I say, but because of who I am as their father. There is an immediate correspondence between what we say and do with who we are as persons and the office that we represent.
And so we see the author detailing the unique identity of the Son in three primary ways:
He speaks of the incarnation and what it is that this Son has done.
He tells us about the relation of the Son to both creation & the preservation of all that has been made.
He shows the relation of the Son to the God the Father himself.
When Adam and Eve sinned, when they fell in the Garden, man lost his ability, not only to interpret spiritual things correctly, but also, to interpret the natural things around him aright. This highlighted the need for God’s gracious work of redemption, a redemptive activity that is ultimately centered upon the Word incarnate, the person of Jesus Christ.
1) This Son, of whom the author of Hebrews is writing about, is the incarnate Son of God.
The Latin, in carne, from which we get our English word “incarnate,” means, “in flesh.” And so, the Son who came, was the Son who become flesh, and dwelt among us. Calvin, referencing 1 Timothy 3:16, says, “The gospel is a public exhibition of the Son of God manifested in the flesh, (1 Tim. 3:16) to deliver a ruined world, and to restore men from death to life.”
In the first three verses of this letter to the Hebrews, we see a declaration that the greater prophet, priest and king, the one anticipated from old, has come. He has come in the flesh.
And, as profound as it is to contemplate who the Son of God is, and how it is that he could take to himself our human nature, we must understand that the incarnation is not simply a goal in and of itself. The consummate goal was not for the Son of God to be enfleshed, but rather that the incarnate Son, one born of a virgin, was to die on a cross. The incarnation is an incarnation unto death. The way of the Son involved first a humiliation, and then an exaltation. The crucifixion of Christ, with his final words, “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30), had to precede his resurrection, that this risen Son of God may ascend, as it says in Heb. 9:12, “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 redemption”, having made purification for sins, this great High Priest sat down, the work of salvation was now fully accomplished. What we see in the incarnation is the consummate realization of God’s promise to his people, that as covenant-keeping God, the long-anticipated redeemer has come, the promises of God to his people are now fulfilled in Christ’s finished work, and the kingdom of God has been inaugurated.
On the cross, we see Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, as a humiliated prophet, one who does not open his mouth; and as priest, he is the very sacrifice offered for man’s guilt and sin, as king, this Christ had no outward majesty to naturally attract men to himself as he hung on that bloodied cross, our sin-bearer, making satisfaction for the sins of his people.
Jesus fulfilled the OT prophecy that a descendent of David would rule forever; thus, the eternal Son of God, who is over all things, took on flesh to become the messianic King. When asked by Jesus in Matthew 16, “who do you say that I am?” we find Peter replies with a revelation from the Father in heaven, and he says, “You are the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One), the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16).
Paul tells us that this Son, who is manifested in the flesh, who is called the second Adam in contrast to the first Adam who fell in the Garden of Eden, that this Son of God by way of his advent, death and resurrection, is inaugurating a new creation as the possessor of resurrection life, as life-giving spirit.
In the incarnation, we see the work of God in redemption, dealing with the primary problems of fallen man: his ignorance, guilt and pollution/corruption. Christ deals with man’s ignorance as the consummate Prophet, of man’s guilt as great High Priest, and the tyranny and corruption of man’s sin as the conquering King.
Now, the author of Hebrews goes on still further to specify “who this incarnate one is.” “Who is this great prophet, priest and king, this long anticipated redeemer?” At the end of v.2 he says, “through whom (identifying this Son) also he created the world,” then again in v.3 he says, “and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
2) This incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth, in whom God’s redemptive purposes are ultimately accomplished, is shown here by the Hebrew author to be the very same one who is the creator and sustainer of all that has been made.
The writer is not making a case for some generic deity up in the sky, or a bare theistic system that is fashioned according to my liking, or a Jesus story that is divorced from his relationship to creation. Rather, he is articulating one of the most insightful and comprehensive accounts of who this Jesus is, in all of Scripture!
God speaks his final word to man through his Son, who comes to reveal God the Father to men. It is through this same Son, one who grew tired, who got hungry, who slept in his disciples’ boat in the middle of a storm, that the world was created, and it is through him that the universe is upheld and preserved. The writer to the Hebrews is peeling back for us the very identity of this Son. This is no ordinary man. This is not simply a good example or great moral teacher, someone who comes along and does a few kind deeds, even some miracles.
Paul says of Christ in Colossians 1:17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The Hebrew author is explicit in saying to us that this son, who came into our world, he who was manifested in the flesh, is fully man and fully God! He is the creator of this space and time universe in which you and I exist, and he upholds its very existence by the word of his power! The one that is in no way, shape or form like us, came into our world and took on flesh. The one who created this world, came into his very creation as a man. This blows our mind!
Herman Bavinck says, “It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged.”
John, one of the twelve disciples, begins his gospel account with,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)
There are a number of things that John says here that parallel what we find in Hebrews 1:1-4.
He says of creation that “all things were made through” the Word. John also says that this Word was with God, and so he highlights the Word being distinct from God, and yet, in the very next phrase, he says that this Word was God, now noting a real identity with the one God.
This speech concerning both identity and distinctions in God, is how the church has historically spoken of God in the light of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. We speak of an identity with respect to the divine nature, and distinctions with respect to the persons of the Godhead, as such, we can truly speak of the one God as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
John goes on to show us that this preexistent Logos or Word, through whom all things are made, also shines the light of God’s revelation into a fallen, darkened world, and this revelation of God is most clearly seen in this Word taking on flesh and dwelling amongst us (Jn. 1:14). And so, the world into which this Word was coming as the incarnate Son, is the very world which he made, in which he has always been present.
The incarnate Son, through whom the work of redemption has been accomplished, is the same person, as preexistent Son, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, through whom the work of creation is accomplished. And now, once more, we find the author in Hebrews 1:3 steps us back even further to show us that this incarnate Son is also “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
3) It’s here that we see the essential deity of the Son, and his equality with the Father.
In verse 2, we’ve seen that the Son is distinct from the Father, and now, in verse 3, though relationally distinct from the Father, the Son is shown to be essentially identified with the Father. This is very similar to John the disciple, who says that the Word was with God, but that the Word was also himself God.
The Son is shown in Heb. 1:3 to be the very radiance of the glory of God, a glory that is solely God’s and is never to be shared with another. The early church fathers spoke of the preexistent Son as an “outraying of the divine glory,” exhibiting in himself the glory and majesty of the divine Being. The author of Hebrews is not primarily speaking about the incarnate Christ being a reflection of the glory of the Father, but rather, he is speaking of the preexistent Son of God, one who is identified with the very glory of God, a shining out of his very being.
Not only does the Hebrew author specify the eternal Son of God as intrinsically having the glory of God, but, that he is also the express image of the being of the Father, or, to put it another way, God the Son has a distinct mode of existence as God from that of God the Father.
In Hebrews 1, the prologue in John 1, along with many other Scripture texts, we see that God’s self-disclosure in Scripture is triune. As such, it is necessary for us to affirm both the unity and distinctions in God to speak rightly of the one, true God are outlined in these texts:
There is an identity that the Father and the Son have with reference to the divine nature, such, that we affirm that the Father is God, and, the Son is God. They are what is termed ‘consubstantial’ – being of the same substance, of one being, having the same divine nature.
And, there is also a personal distinction between Father and Son, such, that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father.
Calvin, in the 16th century, is very helpful in showing how to be faithful in our Trinitarian language and worship. He helps us to understand that the eternal begotten Son is God of himself, that the very basis for the deity of the eternal Son of God is underived. Friends, in speaking of Christ, we are not talking about some domesticated, toned-down, cute little baby Jesus. In Matthew 1:23, we find Christ as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 7:14) which says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.” A literal Hebrew translation of Immanuel is “with us is God.” In other words, when we talk of the Son of God, we can truly say, that this is “God with us.”
Looking at the way in which Christ speaks of himself, his own self-disclosure both to his disciples and to those around as recorded in the gospels, we see him revealing his messianic identity as the promised Son of Man from heaven. In John 10, we find the Jews picking up stones for the purpose of stoning Christ. Stoning, in those days, was viewed as the prescribed method of punishment for the outrageous sin of blasphemy. They had picked up stones because he had said that he was the Son of God, which was to identify oneself as having the same nature as God. In John 10:30, Christ says, “I and the Father are one.” This is an echo back to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus’ statement of being united with the Father is a direct claim to divinity.
In John 8:58, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” He is claiming not only to exist prior to Abraham, one who lived more than 2000 years before the incarnate Christ, but more than that, Christ is identifying himself as the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, the God who identified himself as, “I AM WHO I AM.”
In Holy Scripture, we see an order in the Godhead, not with respect to deity, but rather with respect to the persons. In terms of order, we say that the first person of the Trinity is the Father, the second is the Son, the third is the Holy Spirit. But, we do not say that the Father is first God, the Son is second as to his deity, and the Holy Spirit third. Rather, the Father is first because with respect to his person for he is unbegotten, the son is second because he is eternally begotten of the Father as Son, and the Holy Spirit is third because he proceeds from both the Father and the Son.
Yet, we must affirm along with early church and the classical Trinitarian tradition that there is a real identity with respect to deity. There is no real distinction in the divine nature, for the one substance is simple and undivided. We affirm that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and there is but one God to whom we bow the knee, each sharing the perfections of the divine nature.
Now, if this Trinitarian talk at times appears a little difficult to fully grasp, you’re not alone. One of the things we most appreciated about Tenth, when we were first visiting, was the excellent children’s bible school. My two little girls are in one of the preschool classes and in their eyes, their teachers can do no wrong. Their teachers are right up there with Liam, our senior minister, as authorities on the word of God! A while ago, they came home and announced, “Mr. David knows EVERYTHING about the bible, but, the one thing he doesn’t get, is how it is that God can be three persons, he just doesn’t get that.” The trinity is indeed a mystery, one God in three persons, we joyfully affirm.
Some of the fiercest theological battles in the early church were over the deity of Christ. “What is the relation of the Son of God to God the Father?” “Is Christ truly God?” “How do we speak rightfully about the Son of Man?”
The Arians, in the early fourth century, argued that the Son of God was a subordinate being to God the Father, that the son was created by the father such that there was a time when the son did not exist, he was like God, but was not coeternal with the Father, or, of the same substance and nature. On the other hand, the Sabellians, who were also deemed to be heretical, so highlighted the unity in God, that they did not recognize the three persons of the Godhead as distinct, but rather they argued that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, were one God, having three differing modes or ways of manifesting himself, and that the persons were not truly distinct from one another, but rather that there is only one essential person in God.
The Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., in addressing controversies like these, spoke of the Lord Jesus Christ as “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” We affirm that the Son is not in any way subordinate or less than God the Father with respect to his divinity.
The Athanasian Creed is very helpful in how we can articulate this, being faithful to the way in which God reveals himself in Scripture. It says, “The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.” It goes on to say, “The whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.”
Now, you may be thinking that in the fourth century there wasn’t a lot to do, there was no I-phone, Xbox, trading on the stock market… the pace of life must have been a lot slower, and so these men must have been sitting around, sipping their adult beverage of choice (and so likely Presbyterian), but had nothing better to do than to debate petty religious issues.
The controversies seen in the early church concerning Christ, were not simply concerned with getting the hypostatic union right, of how we are to acknowledge the Son of God in two natures, having both a divine nature and a human nature; but, they were concerned with speaking rightly of who Christ is, as the true and final prophet, priest and king, as the mediator in God’s work of salvation.
The identity of the Son as God, as noted earlier, determines the significance of his work of salvation as our redeemer! Both the Nicene Creed and the Confession of Chalcedon say of Christ “Who for us men, and for our salvation” came down, was incarnate and was made man.
What we find in the first few verses of Hebrews 1, is that the eternal Son of God, who being one in substance with the Father, humbles himself and takes on flesh, dies on the cross and three days later rises from death in resurrection life, forty days thereafter he ascends into the heavens and is ultimately shown to sit down at the right hand of God, as the great High Priest and King. Five times (Heb. 1:3; 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), the author of Hebrews writes in his letter of Christ sitting down at the right hand of God, this specific emphasis being made to highlight the finality of what Christ has fully accomplished, having made purification for the sins of his people.
In the old covenant, every earthly priest would stand daily and would repeatedly offer the same sacrifice which could never take away sins. And here, Christ, the true high priest offers himself, the necessary and perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God, once for all, for the sins of his people. His sitting down in heaven as the exalted priest-king speaks of the completed nature of this sacrifice and the kingly nature of his rule, who as royal son now rules as heir over all things.
In Christ, there is a new and living way opened up for us through the veil of his flesh, that we may enter into the most holy place by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19-21).
One far greater than Moses has come. Christ’s glory is not like the glory that was upon Moses’ face after he descended Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Old Covenant, for the glory resting upon Moses’ face as Old Covenant prophet faded, but the glory of Christ is an eternal and underived glory, it is of himself. Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant, offering a better sacrifice—himself, the very Lamb of God.
We are never to separate the work of Christ from the wonder of who he is, nor are we to be so enamored with the benefits of the gospel that we forget the centrality of Christianity itself, Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man. Friends, “The incarnation of the Word (of the Son of God) is not a problem which we must solve, but a wonderful fact which we gratefully confess.” (Bavinck)
Written large on the human soul is the reality that you and I were made to make much of God. Each one of us were made to find our ultimate joy not in being significant ourselves, but in knowing the infinitely significant one!
Ayn Rand, the noted novelist, influential philosopher and atheist said, “Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.”
In the gospel, we see what we were made for… for God himself, that we may see Him, savor Him and be satisfied in Him. The son of God who identifies himself as the I AM, the mediator of both creation and the new creation, says of himself to you today, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), “I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
God walked with man in the Garden of Eden, he tabernacled with Israel in the desert, met with his people in the Holy of Holies, and is now climactically seen in Jesus, the final prophet, priest and king, our redeemer and hope, who is of himself God, and is called Immanuel, ‘with us is God.’