Saturday, January 09, 2010

Heir, creator, radiance, image, sustainer, priest, regent

I mentioned earlier that the author of Hebrews loves to talk, or write, about how great Jesus is. The author's theme in chapter 1 is about how Jesus is greater than the angels. But take a look at what he says before he even gets started on that:
God... has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high...
from Hebrews 1:1-3
(from memory; NIV here)
Quite a mouthful, I'd say. In at least one version, verse 4 is part of the same sentence as verse 3 -- "sat down at the right hand... 4having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs" -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. OK, so let's list 'em up -- before even getting into the angels thing, what does he say about Jesus?

"whom he appointed heir of all things"

The picture I have of "heir" is the one who inherits stuff when the master dies. But since God isn't going to die, how will the son inherit anything? Well, even before the master dies, the son has some authority. And the entire estate knows that the heir will be the master someday, so the servants (angels in this case, but again I'm getting ahead of myself) obey him.

A biological heir (Jesus is that, too, as the only begotten son John 3:16) also inherits the master's hair and eye color and a bunch of other physical and psychological characteristics.

"and through whom he made the universe."

The Bible begins, "In the beginning God created" and this part tells us that the Son, Jesus Christ, was the agent in creation. Paul tells us (Colossians 1:16) that all things were created by and for Jesus.

"the radiance of God's glory"

Some translations say "reflection of God's glory"; I think one says "brightness". The Message has "This Son perfectly mirrors God". Which is correct?

The word translated "radiance" (ἀπαύγασμα) is apparently used only here in the New Testament, so that makes it a little harder to tell. According to Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich (BAG), the word is used in contemporary literature in both the active and passive sense. Probably it's not that important that we know the exact sense, though what I like about the active sense is that it supports a nice illustration of the trinity that I heard from the teenager: if we imagine the sun as being like God the Father in some way, and the sunlight like Jesus Christ, and the warmth we feel (and the photosynthesis that happens, etc.) like the Holy Spirit, we can appreciate that the sun and the light and the warmth are three aspects but one identity.

"and the exact representation of his nature"

Paul reinforces this again, and again in Colossians 1: "He is the image of the invisible God."

By the way, this was never said about anyone else.

"sustaining all things by his powerful word"

I should have combined this with the previous one. Paul in Colossians 1 says: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

"provided purification for sins"

This shows Jesus as a great high priest (which the author will have a lot more to say later on in the book) -- but wait, he provided purification for sins; he himself is the sacrifice! John tells us a little more:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2
Remember that Christmas song, "We Three Kings"? There's a line in there too:
Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and Sacrifice

"sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven"

We'll see more about this near the end of the chapter.

And that's just the first three verses

What a great introduction to this marvelous book about our glorious Lord!

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