The Radiance of God’s Glory
The fact that God Himself came to planet earth in human form is the biggest news that any planet in the whole universe could possibly boast. He created all the planets, but He visited this one.
Can you believe it?? God came to earth! This is astonishing news! This is amazing! This… is Christmas! The only way this would be less than amazing to any of us is if we somehow failed to consider who Jesus was before He came to live among us. He was and is the High King of Heaven. Jesus is the Creator through whom the worlds were brought into being—and apart from Jesus, nothing came into being that has come into being.
This Christmas, I want you to spend some time with me in the first chapter of Hebrews… this Sunday, next Sunday, and then on Christmas Eve. This morning we’ll consider what Hebrews 1:3 tells us about Jesus Christ and the reason He came to earth.
Our greatest need in life (as Christians) is to see and savor the Son of God. Everything else either serves that purpose, or works against it. For this reason, I want to read the entire first chapter of Hebrews so we can hear out loud and publicly the glories of the Son of God incarnate. When Jesus walked on earth, He quoted Scripture out loud. I believe the forces of evil tremble when the Word of God is carefully read in public. This first chapter of Hebrews ought to leave them shaking for awhile! In honor of God and His Word, let’s stand for the reading of this chapter.
[Hebrews 1:1-14—Read the entire chapter, then come back to verse three.]
[Prayer] Let’s consider verse 3 this morning.
3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for
sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. [NIV]
First, the writer of Hebrews is inspired by the Holy Spirit to record that… the Son [Jesus] is the radiance of God’s glory. Consider the word “Son”. The Son was always the Second person of the Trinity and therefore He was the Son before the incarnation. To say that Jesus was begotten of the Father doesn’t mean that Jesus came into being in Mary’s womb. Jesus is said to be eternally begotten of the Father. He took on human form at conception; but His being is without beginning and without ending. Micah 5:2 prophesied: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth one for me to be ruler in Israel; His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” The word “Son” connects this verse to Christmas and the incarnation for us.
Then notice the word radiance. This word for radiance occurs only once in the entire NT, and is very rare elsewhere in Koine Greek writings. The writer uses this rare word to describe some-thing about the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son.
What is radiance? It’s often associated with heat. Radiance is what makes light visible to the human eye. When any light is made less radiant, it also becomes less visible. Likewise, when any light is made more radiant, it becomes more visible. When Jesus came to earth in human form, the earth had a “shining” knowledge of God’s glory that had never been known before. In Jesus Christ, the glory of God was made manifest so they were without excuse.
Habakkuk 2:14 prophesies about the coming of Jesus when it says: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” This was true in a local sense at the first coming of Jesus and it will be universally true at the Second Coming.
Christmas is the time when we acknowledge the Son’s incarnation as Immanuel—God with us. Christmas means that God the Son took on a real human body, a physical body of flesh and blood, yet without sin. It was this body that revealed the glory of God.
In the Gospel of John the eyewitness testifies that when Jesus came the first time, “We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14b). To say that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory” is to say that Jesus makes God’s character and nature visible (apparent) to humanity. When you see Jesus, you have seen God. This is amplified in the next phrase of Hebrews 1:3.
Second, [the son is] the exact representation of [the Father’s] being. This statement helps us define the radiance in the first statement. In other words, the radiance that Jesus represents is not just a reflection of God’s glory as some interpreters have rendered it; nor is this radiance merely similar to the glory of God; here we are told that Jesus represents the exactness of His being.
Like the word radiance, this word for “exact representation” occurs only here in the entire NT. It’s just one word in the Greek: χαρακτὴρ (it’s like our English word “character”, but it’s much stronger). The author of Hebrews uses this rare and technical word to convey as emphatically as he could his inerrant conviction that Jesus Christ is the perfect, visible expression of the fullness of God. Think of it! In the Bethlehem manger, the baby Jesus was the exact representation of God’s character. From the radiance, to the character, he now goes to the power of the Son.
Third, [the Son is] sustaining all things by His powerful word. This phrase ascribes absolute sovereignty to God the Son as the ruling Governor of all creation. As the pre-creational Wisdom of God, the Son not only embodies God’s glory, but He also reveals this glory to the universe. He sustains all things and bears them to their appointed end by his omnipotent word. The jarring reality is that the little baby in the manger is the King of kings and Lord of lords at whose word the universe by fiat leaped into existence; at His word barren fig trees withered on the spot; at His word winds were ceased and waves were stilled; at His word the lame could walk and the dead came forth from the tomb. His call is sovereign and compelling.
The same is true today. He is the incarnate logos of God. His word is still the sovereign word. Jesus upholds or sustains “all things” by His powerful word. This means everything is under His power and control and nothing is out of His control. If you are a Christian who loves Jesus and obeys His word because it’s the passion of your life, this is tremendously good news for you.
If you’re not living in obedience to King Jesus, then you have a choice to make this morning. Because it is appointed that every person will die once and after that the judgment (Heb 9:27), and the Judge you will face is not just the little baby in the manger, but the sovereign King of all creation. Before His throne, they can be no indecision: you are either with Him or against Him at this present moment. To say you are a Christian means you agree with God that you are a sinner who needs the grace of God to be saved from the wrath of God.
The best evidence of the Christian life is obedience to the Word of God. Simple obedience is the best interpretation of Scripture. The decision you make about Jesus in this life will determine your destiny beyond the grave. Are you moving toward Him… or away from Him? Choose this morning whom you will serve. Christmas asks every observer to accept the light that Jesus came to bring. Will you walk in the light revealed by the radiance of God’s Son… or will you hide in the darkness until the light of eternal judgment exposes you before God’s throne?
We celebrate Christmas because in the incarnation, God became like us in human form. Jesus left heaven, to become like us, to die for sins He never committed; He did this so that those of us who are guilty sinners could receive His grace through faith, that we might not face the second death of Hell, that we might become like Him, and reign under His authority forever in Heaven.
From the radiance, to the character, to the power, he now goes to the position of the Son:
Fourth, after Jesus had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. This sentence describes the High Priestly role of Jesus on behalf of all who hear His word and follow Him. Like the priesthood of Aaron, Jesus has provided a purification for sins; only in Jesus’ case, the purification was permanent.
Whenever Aaron or one of the priests of Levi offered a sacrifice in the tabernacle or in the temple, they could never sit down in God’s presence. In the temple furniture, there was no place for a priest to sit—because his work was never finished. To sit down in God’s presence is an image of completion. It would mean that all the work was finished and there was nothing more that could possibly be done to satisfy God. The high priest of the Levitical tribe would be struck dead if he were to sit down in God’s presence—because his sacrifice was never complete and he had to keep coming back year after year after year. This is made clear in Hebrews 10:11-14—
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
There’s a reference here to Psalm 110, where the Lord says to the Messianic Servant: “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” That tells us what Jesus is doing right now. He is seated at the right hand of God. Having conquered sin and death, He has ascended where He waits for that coming day when all His enemies will be crushed beneath His feet.
That’s what makes the offering of Jesus so amazing! The writer of Hebrews says, when Jesus provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. The right hand is the position of authority and dexterity. The work was done. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no other work that can possibly satisfy God the Father.
Tetelestai! It is finished! Paid in full! That’s what Jesus said from the cross. The offering of Jesus for His people was a perfect sacrifice that satisfied the Father in every conceivable way. So, when Jesus ascended bodily back to heaven, He entered the Father’s presence and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
There was no furniture on which the priest could sit
For ceaselessly his work went on and never quit.
But when my Jesus came and wore my thorn-filled crown,
He paid the price to please my God… and He sat down.
Christmas is when we celebrate the fact that God the Son took on human form in a real, flesh and blood body, and yet without sin. He was born to die. This was spoken to Joseph by the angel who told him to name the child “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Jesus was born to die. The sentence of death was written on His birth announcement. The long and bloody road to the cross began in the quiet manger in Bethlehem; and the shadow of the cross loomed large over the peaceful bed of hay.
We cannot separate Christmas from Easter… and we don’t want to. Real men run to Jesus and don’t care what others think. They’re not afraid to stand up and be counted for Him. Real women run to Jesus and don’t care what their friends may say. Real men and women aren’t afraid to be associated with Jesus… because it is Jesus who makes us real. Put fears aside and worship the King this Christmas.
© Charles Kevin Grant
December 14, 2003