God's Final Word in the Son
Topic: Trinity/Christology Passage: Hebrews 1:1–1:4
In 1972, Francis Schaeffer published a short book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Schaeffer wrestles through life’s biggest questions—questions about existence and first causes; questions about morality, the source of right and wrong; questions about how we know something, and know that we know. With each chapter, Schaeffer demonstrates that if we’re honest about the way things are—if we’re logically consistent and not logical only when it’s convenient—then we can’t help but admit that the infinite, personal God exists and that this God has made himself known in creation and in the Bible.
He is there and he is not silent. Schaeffer’s answer aligns with the testimony of Hebrews. Hebrews begins with the God who speaks. The Creator communicates with his creatures. God speaks through the created order—the nature and beauty of the things God made proclaim his glories. But the focus of Hebrews is how God speaks in the Scriptures and in the Son who fulfills the Scriptures. Before getting too specific, though, let’s talk more about Hebrews in general. What is it? Why was it written?
Anonymous But Apostolic
Hebrews is like other letters—it explains the Scriptures in light of Jesus’ coming; it ends like other letters with a final greeting. But unlike other letters, we don’t know who wrote it. Proposals have included Paul, Apollos, or Luke. But in the end, all we know is what he says in 2:3: “it was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…” Whoever the author may be, his message stems from the testimony of the eyewitnesses and apostles authorized by Jesus.
A "Word of Exhortation"
Another difference is that Hebrews reads more like a sermon than how we’d characterize most letters. The author calls it a “word of exhortation” in 13:22. That phrase also appears in Acts 13:15. Paul attends the synagogue, and the rulers tell them, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement…say it.” Paul then stands up and gives a sermon, he reasons with them from the Scriptures. That’s how Hebrews reads. It reads just like a homily presented in a Jewish synagogue.
For Christians Wavering in Faith
The audience, however, are already Christians. More specifically, Hebrews exhorts Christians who were well-versed in the Law and customs under the old covenant. They knew the priesthood and sacrificial system. But through the preaching of the gospel, God saved them. As time has passed, though, a looming danger presents itself: they’re wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Some are on the verge of apostasy.
Part of that is due to what we might call internal passivity. They’re drifting away; they’re neglecting their salvation (Heb 2:1, 3). They’ve become dull of hearing (Heb 6:12). Some stopped gathering with the church (Heb 10:25). The other part is due to what we might call external persecution. Enemies do terrible things to persuade them to forsake Jesus—public verbal abuse, imprisonment, plundering their property.[i]
Internal passivity, external persecution—and it wouldn’t be surprising if the two were related. You can imagine a Jewish Christian thinking, “Why the need to keep suffering so much? Wouldn’t it be easier to return to our old ways in Judaism? The Jews would leave us alone; the Romans would get off our backs—we’d be a recognized religion. Besides, didn’t God speak to us in the old covenant as well? Wasn’t the old covenant God’s word too? Why bother with this anymore?”
Solution: Magnify Jesus' Greatness
Hebrews exists to address that problem, to exhort the church, “Don’t let go of Jesus! To do so would be to abandon your salvation.” That’s why God wrote this book. I get lots of good questions as a pastor. But the questions I answer most have to do with perseverance. Why? Because we feel the same pressures, inside and outside! “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love”—we feel that in our sinful flesh. We feel that when life sucks and things are hard. We hear the world’s objections and we feel like life might be a whole lot easier if I just weren’t a Christian anymore.
Hebrews meets us there. But you know how it addresses the problem? By magnifying the greatness of Jesus. When you look at a star, you see but a teeny-tiny dot far away. But put a telescope on it, and all of a sudden that star is far more glorious than you thought; it’s a million times bigger than the earth. Hebrews is like a telescope on Jesus. His person, his creative power, his cross, his crown, his covenant, his kingdom—they’re all way, way, way greater than everything! What keeps you laying hold of Jesus is seeing Jesus as he really is in all his manifold glory. That’s how Hebrews keeps the saints persevering. Once you see him truly—the superior prophet, the superior sacrifice, the superior priest, the superior king, the superior covenant—you never want to let go! With that said, let’s get into! I’ll start in verse 1…
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 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, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
God’s Final, Decisive Revelation in the Son
That is a rich paragraph. It’s actually one sentence in the Greek; and that sentence has two main parts. The first has to do with God’s final, decisive revelation in the Son. The rest tells why the Son is uniquely qualified to be this final revelation.
Let’s begin with the first part: God’s final, decisive revelation in the Son. Notice the key verbs in verses 1-2: “God spoke…he has spoken.” God is not silent. He communicates. Some of what he communicates comes generally through the created order. Romans 1 says his eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in the things he made. But that revelation has limits. By observing the created order, we can know that we’re accountable to God. But we can’t know fully who that God is or how that God saves or what his purposes are for us.
In order to understand those things, God must reveal them in a further, special way. Hebrews 1 asserts that God has done just; but there was a progression in the way he did it. Notice first the contrast in time. “Long ago,” referring to the days of “our fathers,” that history covered on the pages of your Old Testament. He contrasts that with “in these last days.” In the New Testament, “the last days” stretch from Jesus’ first coming to Jesus’ second coming. In other words, a decisive shift has occurred in the drama of God’s saving plan. Jesus kicked it into overdrive. You ladies saw this in Mark, when Jesus says, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
But with this shift comes God’s fuller and final revelation in the Son. Notice the other contrast implied. When God spoke long ago, he did so, the ESV says, “at many times and in many ways.” Or better, “in many parts and in many ways.” God revealed his plan in a fragmentary way spread out over time; it came in bits and pieces by various types and shadows and events and promises—many of which he recalls in Hebrews.
It may seem, at first, unclear what he means by “many parts” and “many ways.” But read the letter; and you know exactly what he means. Because he’s pulling from David’s psalms and Moses’ faithfulness and Joshua’s rest and Melchizedek’s office and the priestly sacrifices. He’s picking up all the pieces by which God spoke in the Old Testament; and then he’s pulling them together to show how the person and work of Jesus Christ brings the types and shadows to their fruition.
Why doesn’t he repeat that God has spoken by his Son in “many parts and many ways”? Because in the Son, God has given his ultimate word. His final word. His decisive word that cannot progress any further. It progresses up to Jesus and reaches its fulfillment. Nothing more needs to be said. God said it all when he sent his Son.
Of course, we’ll receive further revelation when Jesus returns. No longer will we see through a glass dimly; we will see him face to face. But until then, God has given us his final, decisive word in Jesus. That doesn’t mean we unhitch the Old Testament from our Christianity. Hebrews will teach that God still speaks (present tense) to the church by the Old Testament; he speaks in it about Jesus. It’s just that Jesus embodies the promises. In Jesus the shadows become reality. The mysteries become revealed. The types reach their fulfillment. No prophet could ever claim that role for himself.
The Son’s Unique Qualifications
Something else the prophets couldn’t do: not a single one could boast in being God’s unique Son. That’s where he goes next. Seven remarks describe the greatness of this particular Son. They reveal why the Son is uniquely qualified to be God’s final word. By the time you reach verse 4, this Son isn’t just one among other sons. He’s in a class all by himself. He’s also not just another prophet in a long line of other prophets. Nor is he some kind of angelic, heavenly being. This Son is much, much more.
1. The Son is heir of all things.
Verse 2, “[God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things.” Very likely, Psalm 2:8 stands in the background here. He will soon quote from Psalm 2:7 down in verse 5. He does this to explain Jesus’ sonship further. But God says this in Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” In one sense, the Son inherited the nations upon completing his work as a man on earth. The point here, though, seems to be that God the Father appointed him heir even before that happened. He was heir by virtue of simply being Son of the Father. To be Son is to be heir; and if your Father owns all things, guess what belongs to you? All things. The nations, the earth, the heavens, angelic forces—everything that’s not God belongs to Jesus by virtue of him being Son. Chapter 2 will explain that even the world to come belongs to Jesus already.
2. The Son created the world.
End of verse 2, “through whom also [God] created the world.” That assumes the Son’s preexistence. The Son already existed with the Father before creation. The Father created the world through the Son.[ii] Someone might say, “Hmm. It says ‘through whom.’ Maybe the Son preexisted the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s God”—real thought in church history. That would be a wrong inference.
Consider John 1:3 alongside Hebrews 1. John writes, “All things were made through him”—that’s what Hebrews said. Then John adds this: “and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Only two basic categories of existence: there’s “any thing made that was made;” then there’s God. According to John 1, which category does the Son fit into? Not the “any thing made” category. He’s in the God category. At the same time, John and Hebrews maintain the Son’s personal distinction from the Father. As God, the Father creates. As God, the Son creates. But he creates as Son to the Father.
Returning to Hebrews 1, it’s interesting that the Son being heir of all things precedes the Son creating all things in the text. It suggests that he created the world to inherit it. But how can you inherit something you already own by virtue of being Creator? The Father created the universe through the Son for the Son to inherit it all as a man. The plan was set from the beginning. As Colossians 1 says, “all things were created through him and for him.” The universe exists for Jesus.
3. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature.
That’s verse 3. The radiance of God’s glory. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:16 that God dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. 1 Timothy 1:17 says God is invisible. But we also have repeated testimony in Scripture where people encounter God. What are they witnessing? The glory of God. God’s glory is the weighty display of the intrinsic worth and goodness of the invisible God. His glory is when his worth goes public. The Son is the radiance of that glory.
Meaning, to witness the Son is to witness God’s glorious worth. When you look at the sun in the sky, you can’t actually see it with your naked eye. But you can see its glory, its radiance—and when you do, you say, “Hey, that’s the sun!” The analogy doesn’t do full justice, but that’s similar to what Hebrews is saying. When you see the Son, you say, “That’s God’s glory! His intrinsic worth and beauty and goodness—I can see it revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ!” He tells the whole story.
The Son is also the exact imprint of God’s nature, or essence, God’s being. The imagery involves that of stamping out coins. We went to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. These giant printers covered with hundreds of engraved plates would press Ben Franklin’s face onto the hundred-dollar bills. So you had the plate and then the stamp revealing the plate. That’s what the Son does when it comes to the very essence of God. To see the Son is to see God in his very essence. Hence the church’s early confession that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”
4. The Son upholds the universe by his powerful word.
That’s further into verse 3. Not only does he create the universe; he sustains the universe moment by moment. Everything that exists—visible, invisible, supernovas, subatomic particles, angels, the pew you’re sitting in, the ear drum with which you’re hearing my voice, you name it—the Son upholds it by his powerful word. And if he ceased doing so, the universe would cease to exist as well. That’s power! That’s a quality that belongs only to the God of the universe; and it’s applied here to the Son.
So he’s the heir. He created the world for it to become his inheritance as a man. If he sustains the universe by his powerful word, can his purpose ever fail? Even his greatest enemies can’t exist without him sustaining them. His powerful word will ensure that all things get where he wants them to go in the New Heaven and Earth. But something else he does before then is save a people to inhabit the New Heaven and Earth with him. Which leads us to number 5.
5. The Son made purification for (our) sins.
Second half of verse 3, “after making purification for sins.” Hebrews will develop this further in relation to the priestly sacrifices in the Old Testament. Humanity has a problem. We reject our Maker. We defy his word. We don’t acknowledge him. In response to that evil, God must judge us. Our sin deserves death, separation from God, eternal punishment. The only solution is the right substitute.
The Old Testament prepares us for this. The people were unclean, like us; they broke God’s Law, like us; they were guilty, like us. In order for their sins to be removed, something perfect had to die in the place of the sinner. So the priests would offer a bull or a goat in place of the people. What was lacking in these sacrifices, though, is that the blood of bulls and goats could never actually take away sins (Heb 10:4).
What was their significance, then? They were but shadows of the good things to come (Heb 10:1). They pointed to a day when God would take away sins through a superior sacrifice. The Son became that superior sacrifice. The Son took to himself a human nature, obeyed everywhere we failed, and then suffered and died under the wrath of God for all his people. He died to purify his people from their sins. Notice how it says, “after making purification…” It’s a done deal, in other words. Nothing more needs to happen to purify his people. It’s done. How do we know? Look at what it says next…
6. The Son sat down at God’s right hand.
Verse 3, “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The Son didn’t stay dead. God raised him up. Even more, he seated him as a man at the place of highest honor. God doesn’t literally have a right hand. But earthly kings did. To sit at the king’s right hand was to sit in the place of honor. Applied to the Lord, though, it’s the place of absolute honor and absolute rule. Look at verse 13. He quotes Psalm 110: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” It’s the place of absolute dominion, from which Christ rules the world.
Important, though, is that the Son sat down there. There’s a sense of finality to it. I say that because in 10:12, Hebrews will contrast Jesus sitting with the priests standing—they have to stand daily to make their sacrifices. But Jesus sat down. Why? Because another sacrifice isn’t needed. His death was sufficient, complete. Nothing more needs to be added. All our sins are taken away. So he sits.
7. The Son became as much superior to angels.
Verse 4, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Now, the Son was already more excellent than angels. After all he preexisted them, he created them. So in what sense does he become as much superior? It implies the humility of his incarnation, in which the Son was born in the likeness of men. Like us, he was made for a little while lower than the angels. But once he finished his Father’s work on earth, the Father exalted him now as a man, the God-man, above the angels and gave him a name more excellent than theirs.
That name could be “Son,” since he goes on to explain in verse 5—“for to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son.’” At the same time, the other Old Testament quotes, especially verses 7-9, imply that Jesus bears the name Yahweh, Lord.[iii] Either way, the name is far more excellent than the angels.
In comparison to the other six qualifications, you might be asking, “What’s the big deal with angels?” Eventually he explains that in 2:2—God declared his message in the Old Testament by angels and it proved to be reliable. If his word through angels proved reliable, then how much more his word in the Son—he made the angels; he’s got a better name… Question is are you listening to him?
Truly listen to God’s final word in his Son.
No really, are you listening to him? God has spoken to us by his Son—this Son...heir of all things, Creator, Sustainer, the radiance of God’s glory, enthroned above all, the one who humbled himself to purify your sins. Are we listening to God’s word in him? He is there and he is not silent. A lot of other voices compete for your attention. Which ones drive you the most? Which voices determine your steps each day? Whose words govern your pursuits and inspire your passions?
According to verses 1-4, only One is worthy of all our attention and adoration, Jesus Christ the Son. He is God’s final, decisive revelation. How do you listen to his word? Open this book, beloved. Open it and read. Meditate on these words. Memorize them. Turn them around in your head and preach them to yourself till they become part of you, till you begin to think God’s thoughts after him.
Never move beyond God’s final word in the Son.
Also, never move beyond God’s final word in the Son. Whether it’s a teacher or prophet or spokesmen, what all false religions hold in common is either dismissing God’s revelation in the Son or trying to add to God’s revelation in the Son.
Judaism acknowledges the Old Testament to be God’s word. But they ignore the climax of God’s revelation in the Son. They reject the Messiah, that the Son came to deliver them. Roman Catholicism at various points in history have added to God’s revelation in the Son, giving the Pope authority to speak ex cathedra. Islam will say that God did reveal his will to Jesus, that Jesus was a prophet. But they add that Muhammed was God’s final messenger, the prophet superior to Jesus. Mormonism does likewise claiming Joseph Smith as their prophet, adding to God’s decisive word The Book of Mormon. Yes, they claim that it’s another testament of Jesus Christ, but the contents clearly contradict the doctrine of Christ laid down by the apostles.
But hitting closer to home, beloved, we too move into dangerous territory when we ignore God’s word in his Son—when we fail to acknowledge his moment by moment sustaining of our lives; when we assign false guilt when Jesus has purified our sins; when we live as if he’s not enthroned above all. We too move into dangerous territory when we move beyond God’s revelation in the Son, elevating our traditions and personal preferences and cultures to a place of authority that belongs solely to Christ.
Guard yourselves from this by returning to the Jesus of the apostles’ teaching. Keep Jesus at the center of our teaching and fellowship. Don’t ever move beyond the gospel. As William Guthrie once put it: When the believer looks in faith to Jesus Christ, she/he says, ‘Less would not satisfy, but nothing more could be desired.’”
Remember the gospel order: God comes down to save man.
Also, remember the gospel order: God comes down to save man. Be amazed that God the Son took on humanity. Our God is unlike the god of Islam, who can’t be closely involved with creation. He’s unlike the god of Docetism, who can only disguise himself as human. He’s unlike the god of Deism, who doesn’t make himself known to us. He’s unlike the god of all other religions, who requires man to work his way up to him.
Our God condescends. He speaks. He sustains. He comes down. He makes himself known. He enters the world he made. He is high; but he also draws near. He identifies with our humanity. He even becomes one of us to save us from our desperate predicament. That’s the gospel order the incarnation teaches: not man works his way to God or man becomes a god; but God comes down to save man.
And when God the Son comes down in the person of Jesus, we can know God. If you want someone who tells the whole story about God, don’t look to a Muhammad or a Joseph Smith or an angel from heaven or your favorite preacher even. Look to Jesus Christ! Knowing God isn’t a mystery. He’s not hiding from you. He communicates glory to us. He gives the written word; he sends the Living Word. If you’re searching for God, don’t look further than Jesus Christ. To know Jesus is to know God.
To persevere, meditate on and celebrate the Son’s person, work, and status.
Lastly, to persevere, meditate on and celebrate the Son’s person, work, and status. Again, Hebrews was written to help wavering and weary saints persevere. The way Hebrews does this is by helping Christians see Jesus as he really is in all his greatness. You will hear repeated exhortations, “Consider Jesus…Fix your eyes on Jesus…Hold fast to Jesus.” Only by looking to Jesus will we make it, beloved.
Some of you feel guilty for sins you committed this week. The Holy Spirit has convicted you. You’ve broken God’s word. Rightly, you’re ashamed. But that doesn’t mean your fight is over. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the race. Consider Jesus, who made purification for your sins. You know what else he did. He sat down at God’s right hand. Which means you don’t have to do anything else to have your sins cleansed. Christ did it all for you. Trust in him and his work. He has you covered.
Some of you have been treating Christ’s words lightly. You hear them week in and week out, but they don’t impact you all that much. You’re like the man James says looks at his face in the mirror, but then leaves forgetting what he was like. A hearer but not a doer. Consider Jesus’ authority. Consider Jesus’ kingship. Consider Jesus’ worth as God the Son. Then let that motivate you to obey him and spend your life for him.
Some of you have grown weary of the world’s chaos, the political turmoil, the constant slander, the inconsistent logic leaders use to get what they want. Disputes even within the church at large leave you disheartened. Maybe things at home aren’t working out as you planned. Maybe you’re praying for even good things, but those good things don’t come. Consider the word God has spoken in his Son.
He sustains all things by the word of his power. He’s the appointed heir of all things. He’s on the throne. Nothing will keep his plans from happening. That’s good news for those who belong to him. The King has gone before us; and his present status means our future and the world’s future is secure; a new heaven and earth will come. But consider this too: if he’s the heir of all things, guess what you inherit when you’re united to him? All things. Through his purifying death, we’ve become heirs together with Christ. As you eat the bread and drink the cup this morning, consider Jesus the Son. In these last days, God has spoken to us in him.
[i] Heb 10:33-34; 13:3.
[ii] Cf. also 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16-17.
[iii] That would also fit Paul’s words in Philippians 2, where it says, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”