“God…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:2f

Every once in a while you come across someone who does not believe that Jesus Christ is God. The discussion often takes various turns. There will be efforts of trying to describe the tri-unity of God. Questions will be posited about whether Jesus ever claimed to be God. Disputations will arise over the significance of sonship. Bible passages will be consulted all the way from Deuteronomy 6:4, Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 48:6, John 8:58f, to Colossians 1:15. Perhaps our little study of the opening verses of Hebrews will serve the purpose of assisting you to explain the uniqueness and the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The author of Hebrews was in the process of introducing his treatise comparing the old dispensation to the new one ushered in by Jesus Christ. He compares Jesus’ priesthood to the Old Testament priesthood, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and delivers five warnings to those who fail to embrace by faith Jesus Christ as Lord since He is all the Old Testament ritual and law foreshadowed. In these first verses he lists seven excellences concerning Jesus.

Verse two contains two of the excellences. There is a chronological logic to the order of the seven excellences and so it begins with an event, the Council of the Godhead. Jesus Christ, the Great Revealer of God’s Word, has been appointed heir of all things. In fully prophetic symbolism (“last days” to the Jewish ear resoundingly associates messianic fulfillment), the author declares the fact that in the person of Jesus Christ all the prophecies of the Old Testament kingdom and reign find their realization (Psalm 2:8f, 89:27, Daniel 7:13f). He was born King of the Jews and is King of Creation (Psalm 110).

The second excellence is the next step to the first. The author reveals that God made the worlds through the agency of Jesus Christ. Worlds includes the idea of successive ages and eons as well as the celestial bodies and all the universe contains. This sheds light on the Genesis passages where there is discussion between the Persons of the Godhead and assists in understanding the recounting of creation itself.

The rest of the seven excellences appear in verse three. Numbers three and four are closely paired in seeking to describe the nature of who Jesus is in His person, especially as He is God come in the flesh. Both phrases employ words only occurring once in the New Testament and therefore deserve extra care in discovering their meaning. The first unique word is “brightness,” and the second is “express image.” Brightness is often explained as radiance, effulgence. Some think that this refers to beams of light streaming from a star or the rays of light falling on another body (Wuest), but the text does not allow for such an explanation.

Jesus Christ is, as Vincent would explain, the “out-raying” of God. Much the same as we see the sun in the sky and say, “Isn’t the sun bright (or hot) today!” so Jesus Christ is God. The lack of a definite article before brightness indicates that the author is talking about the character and nature of Jesus Christ. He is indeed God’s glory and splendor that meets the human eye.

The fourth excellence is the fact that Jesus Christ is the express image of His person. Once again, a unique word is used, it is the word from which we get our word character. From extra biblical sources we discover the word was used to describe “an engraver, one who mints coins, a die, a stamp on coins and seals” (Wuest). It was a Greek idiom for a person’s features (characteristic, character) and could also denote the tool used to engrave.

It is not Jesus upon whom the image of God is stamped, but He, in all His actions, is the “Impressing Tool” upon the world, and especially upon you, if you are born again. His “Person” is His substance (that which stands under, foundation, as in Hebrews 11:3). He is the very essence of God. Wherever He reveals Himself, and upon whomever He reveals Himself, He is the Engraving Tool, the Engraving Seal, of the image of God in our world.

The last three excellences of Jesus Christ follow along quickly in the reading. He is the One who upholds (maintains both by sustaining and by orchestrating) the entire universe and the ages referred to in the second excellence. He acted Himself upon the cleansing of our sins, once for all. There is no more purging or state of purgatory awaiting the absolving of sin, Jesus Christ has finished and vanquished sin! (Hebrews 9:26) One final excellence is listed, that of His seating Himself by the right hand of the Father in glory (Acts 7:54, Psalm 110:1). He has finished the task of our redemption and has taken His exalted and rightful place.

Jesus Christ is fully God (Colossians 2:9). He is the glory of God we will see for eternity, He is the image that we bear in fallen form from creation, and in regenerated form from conversion (Romans 8:29). Have you become more like Him today? Trust and obey.