RPM, Volume 16, Number 3, January 12 to January 18, 2014

Jesus: The Great Revelation of God

Hebrews 1:2-4

By J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me again to the Book of Hebrews as we continue that study. We have said already that the Book of Hebrews is about persevering in the faith. And that it reminds us of the various challenges to Christian faith and it points us to the one sure foundation and source of power for vital Christianity and that is an understanding of the supremacy and the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. Over and over, the Book of Hebrews points us back to Jesus as the answer to the question that we are asking, or Jesus is the answer to the problem we are facing. And so Hebrews will stress the finality of God's revelation in the Lord Jesus and as we say last week, the Book of Hebrews, Larry Richards says, begins with Jesus. Total confidence in Him must be the basis of our new life and of our identity as Christians.

It is important to realize all there is of salvation is to be found in Jesus. There is nothing higher or greater than knowing Jesus. There is nothing beyond knowing Jesus that is key to a supposedly higher spiritual experience. And so the first verses of the book stress this important theme. Look with me again to Hebrews 1, and we will look at the first four verses, and particularly verses 2, 3, and 4.

Hebrews 1:2-4

Father, we do thank You for Your word and we ask for Your Spirit's eye-opening guidance as we study. May this truth not only interest us, Lord, not only capture our attention, not only preoccupy us, but may this transform us. We ask that You would work it deep within our being and show us applications, Lord, that even we might miss were we simply skimming this truth. We ask all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

I want to come back to the same themes that we've looked at the last couple of weeks and see if I can get through this seven-part description of who Jesus is, especially in verses 2, 3, and 4. Whereas the Hebrew congregation, these people who are being written to, were tempted to think that New Testament revelation was less certain or less substantial than the Old Testament revelation that they had from the time of Moses. The author of Hebrews, and we might just say God, counter argues in the first four verses that the New Testament revelation, the revelation that we have of Jesus, is superior to the Old Testament revelation. It is the culmination. It's not that the Old Testament was wrong and that the New Testament is right, it is that the Old Testament was the initial part of the revelation, which was only fulfilled and culminated when we come to the New Testament. And that theme will become apparent throughout the book. In fact, over and over, you will hear the word better used. Therefore it is a comparative. It is not an absolute distinction between God's Old Testament revelation and God's New Testament revelation. It's not that God didn't reveal Himself in the Old Testament, but that He does in the New Testament. Nor is it simply that God revealed things about the New Testament in hidden forms in the Old Testament, then He revealed them in clear form in the New Testament. But that there is actually progress in the revelation. And so you will hear the phrase better over and over.

I. Christians grasp and trust in the Son, as He is set forth in the gospel

I want to go back to the point that we started on last week and stress again that Christians trust and grasp the Son as He is set forth in the gospel. What we have in verse 2 and 3 is a description of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are going to see when we come to the end of this description why the author has spent so much time in describing the Lord Jesus Christ. Last week we got through the first point of the description, that Jesus is the inheritor of everything. He is the cosmic inheritor. He is the heir of all things in the world. This week, we are going on to the second point which we also see in verse 2, Jesus the co-architect of the universe. He is the One through whom God made the world. And the author of Hebrews is stressing the fact that Jesus is the co-creator. Now there are a number of New Testament passages that also stress that truth. We're going to look at examples of this truth stressed elsewhere in the New Testament each time we go through one of these sections.

Turn with me to Colossians 1. Perhaps you will remember this in our Sunday morning series a year or so ago when we covered this. In Colossians 1:16 we are told this about Christ. "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authority; all things have been created by Him and for Him." And so Paul stresses the same thing that's being said here in Hebrews 1:2.

Turn back further to the gospel of John and the first chapter. Perhaps you will remember this one, you may be one of those folks who have memorized the first 14 verses of John 1. That's a good passage to memorize. We read this in John 1:3: "All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."

And so in Hebrews 1:2 and Colossians 1:16 and John 1:3, it is stressed over and over that the Lord Jesus is co-creator. He has brought everything into being. This is a clear testimony to Jesus' deity. Everything that has been made, the whole universe, in space and time, has been brought into being by and through and for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now let me point something very interesting out. Notice that the first thing the author tells us in Hebrews 1 is that He is the heir of all things. He is the inheritor of everything. But the next thing he tells you is that He is the Creator of everything. Now that's interesting. Usually heirs receive something that they did not create. In fact, that is one of the things that Solomon is frustrated by. If you remember Ecclesiastes, he says that a man works his whole life and then he gives his inheritance to someone who didn't work for it. But Jesus is the Creator of His inheritance. And so there is an unusual relationship between this inheritor because He is the Creator. He is both Creator and Heir. And so though many sons receive an inheritance that they cannot take credit for, He created that which He received is His inheritance. And He did that really in the work of redemption as well.

Why, again, is the author telling us that Jesus is the creator of all things? Because he wants to increase the esteem of Jesus in the eyes of his congregation. They're struggling. They have great respect and regard for angelic beings, to the point that they have subordinated Jesus in their minds perhaps, to some of the angels. In their minds, these angels are exalted beings and Messiah isn't quite up with the angels. The author of Hebrews is saying, "Look, Jesus created the angels. He is superior." He is trying to engender respect. You know how it is when you meet an author of a book that you really like. Sometimes there is a little bit of awe. "Oh, you mean I'm in the room with that person. Wow, that's neat!" When we first got to First Presbyterian Church, Anne was given a book called Easy Hospitality written by this lady named Patty Roper. She really liked that book and she was reading through it and we would find recipes by people at First Presbyterian Church and we would say, "Those people go to First Presbyterian Church!" And then, lo and behold, we found that Patty Roper went to First Presbyterian Church; and Anne said, "Wow, I want to get the autograph." You know how it is when you are in the room with an author.

I remember when I was sitting down to a breakfast at the University of Edinburgh one day and there was this stranger there in the summer and I decided I would be very friendly and I sidled up to this guy and said "How are you doing? Welcome to the University of Edinburgh." And we started chatting, and I can't remember if he told me his name, but we talked for a long time. It turns out that he was there researching on George Whitfield and I didn't know much about George Whitfield, but I know the library pretty well and so I was giving some pointers on some things that he might want to look at. At the end of this half-hour conversation, I said my good-byes and he said his. I said, "Now, tell me one more time what was your name?" He said, "I'm Harry Stout." And I said, "Nice to meet you Mr. Stout" and I started walking back to my room. As I walked back, I started thinking, "Harry Stout, Harry Stout," and then I suddenly remembered. "Harry Stout, not Dr. Harry Stout from Yale. Dr. Harry Stout who wrote the book and has received the Gold Medallion Award called The New England Soul, who is writing a biography on George Whitfield. Was I giving him pointers on things that he might look at?" Boy, did I feel stupid. I ran into him in the library that day, I was bowing and doing my best humiliation stance. You know, when you are in the presence of an author, it's kind of an awesome thing. Boy, he wrote that book. Well, this is precisely the kind of thing that the author of Hebrews is trying to impress upon this congregation. This Lord Jesus is the author. He wrote it all. He created it all. He tried to engender in them the awe and respect for the Lord Jesus.

Notice in verse 2 he says a third thing. He's not only the heir of everything and the creator of everything, He is also (and he uses this interesting phrase) the radiance of God's glory. He is an essential reflection of what God is. If you want to know what God is like, you look at Him because He is the very radiance of God's glory. He's the divine revelation. The Son is the revelation of God's glory. He is the radiance that shines forth from the source. That's what the word effulgence means. That's a wonderful word that you see from time to time in poetry and theology. Effulgence means the radiance shining forth from the source. If you want to know what the Father is like, as far as the author of Hebrews is concerned, you look at the Son. Because as the Anglican theologian once said, "In God, there is no un-Christlikeness at all." Isn't that a beautiful phrase? "In God, there is no un-Christlikeness at all." When you see Christ, you have seen what God is like. And the author of Hebrews want us to be impressed by that. That Christ is the very revelation of what God is like. He is the radiance of His glory. Monuments are designed usually to set forth the glory of their maker or of their sponsor. Today is the opening of "The Palaces of Versailles." You can't get a hotel or motel in town. My folks are coming into town and they couldn't get reservations because so many people are coming into town. Versailles is a monument to the glory of Louis XIV. The Sun King wanted to make it clear that he was the greatest king that there was. And Versailles is a monument to him. There was an Austrian architect in Vienna who wanted to build a palace to rival Versailles. He was the architect during the time of Maria Theresa's reign and he built a palace called "Schonnbrun" and I love Schonnbrun Palace, but it's not Versailles. It's very clear that Louis XIV was greater, his glory was greater and you could see it when you see Versailles, because as glorious as Schonbrun is, it's not Versailles. So the monument reflects the glory of the one who made it or sponsored it or paid for it.

So also, the Lord Jesus reflects the glory of God. He is the One who sets forth and reveals His glory. But the author isn't finished. He goes on and he says another thing. You'll see it again there. In verse 3, "He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature." So it's not only that He reveals God. It is that He is possessed of the same nature as God. He is a divine being. He not only reveals God, He is a divine being. You might say of people, you might have met a person whose loving qualities mediated something to you about God. You know, when you think of Daniel in the Old Testament, you might say, "Boy, you learn something about God when you look at that man." Well, that's true. But that doesn't make Daniel God.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus doesn't just reveal God, He is essentially identical; that is, His nature is the same as God. He is a divine being. There is an exact correspondence between Father and Son. Like a stamp and a seal is the picture in this passage. He is the very image of God's substance. This, too, is stressed in other places in the New Testament. Turn back again to Colossians. You'll see Paul's theology all through the book of Hebrews. In Colossians 1:15, Paul says the same things in these words: "He is the image of the invisible God." And in Colossians 2:16, 17, "Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink, or in regard to a festival or a new moon or the Sabbath, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." If you will go back and look at verses 9 and 10, you will see that ideal expanded on: "For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. And in Him you have been made complete." So again it stresses that Jesus is the very substance of God.

Turn back to see the same idea in Philippians 2:5, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." The stress is that He has the very form, the very substance of God. What God is, is manifests in the Lord Jesus Christ because of His nature. He shares in the nature or the substance of God, and Christ's likeness to God is because of the essence of who He is. You know, you can create a likeness that is fake. When I was in Istanbul for a basketball tournament at the end of the 1980's, one of the things we were all going to do was to head down to the bazaar. Because at the bazaar, they had all kinds of products that you could buy here in the United States, but they were fakes. And, of course, you could get them for a pittance. For instance, they had baskets after baskets of the Izod Lacoste alligators. You could buy the alligators and sew them on your K-Mart tee shirts and look very stylish. They were supposedly Izod Lacoste shirts and such, but they weren't. And eventually the international community was trying to clamp down on that in Istanbul, because it was a favorite in the bazaar. They looked like the real thing, but you wash those puppies one time and you found out they were not Izod Lacoste alligator shirts. I found out myself. It was probably vengeance against my greed for doing that. At any rate, you can look like something and not be or have the reality. But this is not how the Lord Jesus Christ is, He is like God, He reveals God, because in His essence He shares God's deity.

Notice also a fifth thing we learn in verse 3. He's not only the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, but He upholds all things by the word of His power. He's the divine sustainer of creation. He upholds everything by the word of His power. In that phrase, we are being told that Jesus is the providential upholder, He is the providential sustainer of the world. Again, if we turn back to Colossians 1, you will see Paul stress the same thing. In verse 17 we read, "And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." And so His involvement in the work of Providence is emphasized. He's not simply like Atlas in Greek mythology. Atlas' job was to hold the world on his back. But Jesus' upholding is far more dynamic than that. He is holding everything together. It's not just He is upholding a static object. He's holding everything together, and He is in providential control of history, which is an ongoing and a dynamic thing. So He is far beyond the picture of the Greek Atlas. His word is not just influential; it is effectual.

One of the things that blew my mind, and I don't know where I had been, but I didn't notice this until I was in Edinburgh. Maybe it was because the exchange rate was so important for me. When the exchange rate when up or down, it really was boom or bust, literally, for me in Edinburgh. I began to be interested about the fact that when President Reagan or Alan Greenspan made a statement, the stock markets would react to that statement. I would be reading in the International Herald Tribune or listening to Armed Forces Radio, and I would be told that there was this concern on Wall Street with these particular things happening and they are afraid that the Administration would do such and such. President Reagan would come on at that time and would say something like, "Well, you know we in the Administration really don't want the dollar to go down any more." And, lo and behold, the next day it wouldn't go down. I said, "Isn't this amazing, he can come out and make a speech and say we don't want the dollar to go down, and it doesn't go down. I can't do that. I wish I could. I could make a lot of money if I could do that." And Alan Greenspan does the same thing. It's amazing, isn't it? People hang on every word. If he puts the wrong phrase in, the market goes nuts. And so, it's almost as if they can speak into being a particular action from the market. And yet Christ's word is even more effectual than that. By His word He speaks reality into being.

Now all these descriptions are designed to convince us that Jesus is a superior mediator. Angels may be great, but the Lord Jesus Christ is greater. And they are designed to convince us that Jesus is divine. Every good Hebrew hearing these words would know that only God creates, only God is providentially in control, only God shares the nature of God. And listen to the author of Hebrews pile these things up. He is trying to convince us who Jesus is.

Let's go on and look at some of the other things that He says. Look again in verse 3. He is the only redeemer of God's elect, because we are told, "when He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." In this passage, we are moving from the Lord Jesus' universal functions to His redeeming functions. This isn't just having to do with the Lord Jesus' upholding of the world and of His deity, it has to do with His redeeming of us. And the text tells us that when He had made purification of sins, He sat down. And so this stresses that He had completed His work of redemption. He has completed His work of purification. This passage doesn't tell us how He purified yet. It just tells us that He purified, and it stresses the cleansing of sin. Notice not just the forgiveness, but the cleansing of sin. God forgives on the basis of Jesus' cleansing of sins. Notice that it stresses that His work is completed "having made purification." This is an idea that we are going to see again in Hebrews. In Hebrews 7: 26, 27, the author stresses it this way: "For it was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; Who does not need daily, like those priests who offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did this once for all when He offered up Himself." The stress is, His work is over. It doesn't have to be repeated. He has completed His work. He has done it once for all. That's a phrase that he will repeat a number of times.

Again, there are implications for the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Assurance of salvation. The work of our redemption is completed. It's not something that's going on. It's already been done. And that increases our ability to be assured of our salvation in Christ. It produces a certainty of our spiritual wholeness. Because He is already sitting down, having completed, having procured our redemption. He has already obtained purification for sins. Not just forgiveness, but He has brought purification for our sin.

I want you to see a stanza in one of the great hymns that speaks about this. This isn't a hymn that we know yet. One of these days we'll get around to learning it. But this is one of the hymns by Augustus Toplady who wrote Rock of Ages. Page 463, there is a wonderful stanza, which it stresses the assurance that we get from Jesus' completed work. "A Debtor to Mercy Alone. A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing." That is a beautiful phrase, but it is the last stanza that I want you to look at and it stresses how you are assured because of Jesus' completed work. It says, "My name from the palm of His hand, eternity will not erase. Impressed on His heart it remains, in marks of indelible grace." It can't be erased. "Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given. More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in Heaven." What is Toplady saying? That those who have already gone on to Heaven to be with Lord Jesus Christ, they may be more happy than I, but they are not more secure that I am because Jesus' work of redemption is done and I'm trusting in that completed work of redemption. So in Heaven, I'll be happier but I can never be more secure than I already am now.

That's a tremendous thought of assurance that we ought to glory in. And the author of Hebrews who has this congregation saying, "What is it that is better about this New Covenant religion. We had these wonderful sacrifices, and we could go and actually take something tangible that we could feel and put it up on the altar and now we don't have the sacrifices anymore, we don't have those rituals. You tell us to believe in Jesus and we can't see Him. What's better about that?" And the author of Hebrews said, "Let me tell you what is better about that. You're absolutely assured because the work, the priestly work of redemption is not something that has to be repeated week after week. It's already done. You can't be more forgiven than you already are now if you are trusting in Jesus Christ." He is saying, "Now, what do you think about that? That's much better. That's much better than those repeated offerings of the Old Testament that had to be offered because they couldn't cleanse the conscience of sinners. So the completed work of Christ is one of the better things about the New Covenant.

Now he is not finished yet. Look back at verse 3 because he wants to tell us a seventh thing about Jesus. He says that He is the exalted redeemer. He finished the redemption and He sat down at the right hand. Look at those words, "When He made purification, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." "He sat down" is not only a picture of having completed a work. You know what it is like to come in from the yard and you plop into that chair because the yard work is done. But there is more to it than that. He sat down at the right hand of Majesty. So it's not just that the work is over, it's now that the work is over, He is assuming an exalted position, a position of control in the universe. In fact, there's an interesting blend here: "He sat down" reminds us what? A throne. Here we have a kingly priest. A priest who sits down on a reigning throne. Now that's something you didn't have in the Old Testament. The priest was to be kept separate from the king. The king was not to offer sacrifices, the priest was not to rule the government. Here you have a kingly priest who sits down on the throne. And what's the background to this? Psalm 110. This picture of the Messiah reigning, exalted, is put forth. Psalm 110:1: "The Lord says to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet." And then verses 4 and 5: "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. The Lord is at Thy right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath."

Now you know that Psalm is referred to, quoted to, and alluded to over and over in the Book of Hebrews. And that picture of Jesus the reigning kingly priest is in the mind of the author of Hebrews when he tells us that after He had completed our redemption, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. By the way, only one time in the New Testament is Jesus spoken of as standing at the right hand. Do you remember where that is? It's when Stephen was being stoned. You remember he looks up and he sees the Lord Jesus standing (Acts 7:56) at the right hand, apparently indicating what? That He is interceding for Stephen. That He has not forgotten Stephen. Jesus is emphasizing to Stephen, "You haven't been forgotten. God's will hasn't gone awry for you. I'm still for you. I'm interceding for you." Because there was no furniture in the Holy of Holies for the priests to sit on. There wasn't any place for the priests to sit on. His job was to go in, sacrifice, and intercede. The only seat in the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat, which was the seat of God. And so the Lord Jesus, when He is pictured in the New Testament of sitting at the right hand of power, is a picture not just of His completed work, but of the divine honor that He has as the ruler of the universe. Only David. Only David's seed sat as a king before the Lord.

Let me give you an example of that if you will turn back with me to I Chronicles 29. After David had stepped down and Solomon was enthroned, we read this. I Chronicles 29:22: "And they made Solomon, the son of David, king a second time." This was the official enthronement ceremony. "And they anointed him as ruler for the Lord and Zadok his priest. Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord." That's an incredible statement. Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord. This identifies the throne of David with the rule of God in Israel. Only the king sits before the Lord. And so here in Jesus sitting at the right hand, we have a kingly priest. Remember those two components: king, priest.

What's the summary of what we have seen then in these two verses? We've seen that the inheritance belongs to the Son. The world belongs to the Son. The coming kingdom belongs to the Son. Creative power belongs to the Son. The manifested glory of God belongs to the Son. The original glory of God belongs to the Son. Sustaining power belongs to the Son. The work of redemption belongs to the Son. Reigning, exalted, majesty belongs to the Son. What conclusion do we draw from that? That the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant because of the Son. The greatness of the Son of God receives a seven-fold confirmation, F. F. Bruce says, and it appears without being expressly emphasized that He possesses within Himself all the qualifications to be the mediator between God and men. He is the prophet through whom God has spoken His final word to men. He is priest who has accomplished a perfect work of cleansing for His people's sins. He is king who sits enthroned in the place of chief honor along side the Majesty on high. Notice again that pattern: prophet, priest, and king. We'll say some words about that later on.

Notice when the author of Hebrews is responding to the doubts of people in this local congregation, he takes them right back to Jesus. If there are spiritual problems, he takes them right back to Jesus. If they are dissatisfied with Christianity, right back to Jesus. And he says, "If you are dissatisfied with Christianity, it's because you haven't thought about Jesus. Because there is no way you can know anything about Him and say, I'm not satisfied with that.'" After you have heard that about Christ, the only thing you can say is, "Well, I don't believe that." Because if you do believe that, you can't say, "Well, I'm not satisfied with that. I'm looking for something more." I mean, what is there more than that? The author of Hebrews takes them right back to Jesus and he says, "Jesus is the solution to your problems. You need to think about who He is that we are worshiping." And so he takes us back to a proper understanding of Christ as an antidote to the dissatisfaction in this local congregation.

It's very interesting that C. S. Lewis says, that even when he was debating atheists oftentimes in Oxford and Cambridge, he said the interesting thing was that they very rarely wanted to start the debate at the level of "Does God exist?" They always wanted to ask the question about who Jesus is. C. S. Lewis said, "I was really glad that they always wanted to start the debate there, because I was quite happy to start the debate with 'Who is Jesus' because I knew if we started the debate there, I would win easily." And so it is with the Christian life. If we will go to Jesus as the starting point question, so many other things fall into place.

Let me also remind you about Jesus' work is described in terms of a three-fold office here, as prophet, priest, and king. Listen to what Philip Edgcumbe Hughes says: "It has been well observed that in these opening verses of the epistle, we have the Son set before us in a three-fold character; (1) in His office as a prophet through whom God's final word has been spoken to us; (2) as the priest who has made purification for our sins; and (3) as a king who is enthroned as the right hand of the Majesty on high."

Now remember that theme of prophet, priest, and king. You know it because of the Catechism, because our Catechism organizes the work of the Lord Jesus Christ around prophet, priest, and king; and that was one of the important themes that Calvin used to explain who Jesus is. It stretches all the way back here to the first chapter of Hebrews, and it was used by early Christians as well. But you are going to see next week, when we get back to this passage again, how it was used to straighten out some problems that this local congregation was having.

II. Christians acknowledge Christ's superiority over the entire angelic host.

Let's look at verse 4 very briefly as we close. After that glorious description of Christ, we have a comparison made in verse 4. A comparative statement where it is asserted that Jesus is superior to the angels. Let me ask you a question, "Why?" I think if you are answering my exam, you say, "See above." That answers why, but we can say more and we can say more based on what the author of Hebrews is going to say in the next few verses, that the Hebrews were not attempted, apparently, towards angel worship. You remember when we studied the book of Colossians, there were people in Colossae who were apparently tempted to angel worship. There is no indication in the Book of Hebrews that these people wanted to worship angels. But, there is some evidence in this book that would indicate that these people were tempted to have a higher view of angels than they ought to have. In fact, they had a view that was similar to the Essenes. The Essenes believed that Michael was going to play a key role in the end times, and that under Michael the Archangel there would be three figures: a prophet, a messiah-priest, and a messiah-king, and that under Michael the Archangel, they would bring in the last days of the reign of God. Now just bear that in mind, because the author of Hebrews is going to correct that view. The Essenes believed that Michael was going to be the supreme figure in the kingdom, but in contrast the author of Hebrews is going to argue (turn to Hebrews 2:5) that the world to come was not subjected to angels, but to the Son. So in direct contradiction to that view held by the Essenes, the author of Hebrews is going to show that the world to come was subject to Lord Jesus Christ, Who made the angels. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.

"Father, we thank You for this great passage and we pray that You would burn its truth on our hearts. May we live for Jesus. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen."

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