The Radiance of the Glory of God | Hebrews 1:1-3

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 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. 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,

Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV

Hebrews is a bit like Revelation in the sense that both can be summarized easily with only a few words yet are infinite caverns to explore and discover. Revelation, of course, can be boiled down to two simple words: Jesus wins. Hebrews similarly can be summarized in three words: Jesus is better. Yet as simple to grasp as Hebrews is, it is also deep, very deep. For example, John Owen, who was easily one of the greatest theologians of all time, wrote a seven-volume exposition on Hebrews, and the epistle’s depths have still not been exhausted. Thus, as we dive headlong into this majestic book, our hope is not to leave no stone unturned, for that is an impossible task even if we spent the next four decades doing so. Instead, our aim will be better able to grasp the book’s scope and content and to consider Jesus, which is what the author is ultimately intending for us to do.

To that end, we naturally begin at the beginning, where we find a prologue that is perhaps only rivaled in its depth and vision of Christ’s glory by the prologue to John’s Gospel. These first four verses set the context, tone, and theme of the entire sermon-letter. First, we are presented with the audacious claim that God has spoken to us. Second, we are called to consider the superiority of God’s speech through His Son over the prophets of old. Third, we are summoned to consider Jesus, the Son of God, who has spoken God’s Word to us in these last days.


Advocates of religious pluralism have sometimes presented the quest to know God and truth as being like blind men encountering an elephant. Here is how the Jainism Global Resource Center tells the parable (Jainism being a fundamentally pluralistic religion):

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree too. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” This way we don’t get in arguments. In Jainism, it is explained that truth can be stated in seven different ways. So, you can see how broad our religion is. It teaches us to be tolerant towards others for their viewpoints. This allows us to live in harmony with the people of different thinking.

That might sound pleasant enough, but when it comes to knowing God, there is one glaring omission: God is not silent. You see, God has not left humanity to grope around for Him in the dark like blind men around an elephant. Twice in verses 1-2, the author of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken, which means that He has not been silent about Himself.

The theological term for this self-disclosure is revelation, that is, what God reveals to us about Himself. In Romans 1-2, Paul tells us that God has revealed to everyone that He is the Creator, through the cosmos that He has created,  and the Lawgiver, through the moral conscience that each person has. We call this general revelation because it is what God speaks about Himself to all people everywhere. In other words, God’s handiwork reveals His nature somewhat like how Starry Night testifies to having been painted by an artist rather than spontaneously existing and also reveals the skill of Van Gogh as a painter.

But the author of Hebrews is not referring to God’s general revelation to humanity but God’s special revelation made to His people, first through the prophets, then through His Son. This special revelation was given in human speech and recorded in the Scriptures for us to still read and hear today. And as we have seen repeatedly in the book of Exodus, He did not stutter or mumble; rather, He clearly made it known that He was redeeming His people so that everyone would know that He is the LORD, Yahweh.

Thus, from the very beginning of this sermon, the author is presenting us with the God who speaks, and because His words have been written down, we can hold the very Word of God before our eyes today and read what the Creator of heaven and earth has said to us. This invites us to set two very important questions before us right from the outset of our study: First, do we believe that God has spoken? Second, are we listening to what God has spoken?

Hebrews will repeatedly call us to consider that second question, but it would benefit us both in this first sermon and in our age of unbelief to honestly consider the first. Do you really believe that God has spoken? If so, is that belief reflected in how you read the Bible?


Having considered that God has spoken, now let us consider how He has spoken.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… A distinct contrast is being made, and the author will continue to make them throughout his letter. On the expositional side of Hebrews, the author will contrast the various elements of the old covenant with Jesus and the new covenant (i.e., Jesus and the angels, Jesus and Moses, Jesus and the Levites, etc.). On the exhortation side, he will contrast various urgings and warnings: (i.e., pay attention to what you have heard vs. you have become dull of hearing, hold fast vs drift away, draw near vs fall away, etc.) Indeed, sharp, eternal contrasts run through this God-breathed sermon, and they are each rooted in this first contrast in how God used to speak with how He has now spoken.

The revelation of the old covenant is described first. By fathers the people of Israel are clearly intended, and God made Himself known to them through the channel of His prophets in a great diversity of manners (at many times and in many ways). R. Kent Hughes writes:

The emphasis here is on the grand diversity of God’s speech in the Old Testament. God utilized great devices to instruct his prophets. God spoke to Moses at Sinai in thunder and lightning and with the voice of a trumpet. He whispered to Elijah at Horeb in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV). Ezekiel was informed by visions and Daniel through dreams. God appeared to Abram in human form and to Jacob as an angel. God declared himself by Law, by warning, by exhortation, by type, by parable.

And when God’s seers prophesied, they utilized nearly every method to communicate their message. Amos gave direct oracles from God. Malachi used questions and answers. Ezekiel performed bizarre symbolic acts. Haggai preached sermons. And Zechariah employed mysterious signs.[1]

We could add that spoke to Job through a whirlwind, to Balaam through a donkey, and also through the wickedly greedy mouth of Balaam himself. To read through the Old Testament is certainly to read about how God spoke in many times and in many ways by the prophets. Notice, however, that the author distances himself and his readers from those times from the very beginning through the phrase long ago. That is how God previously spoke to His people, but those times and methods have now passed away.

Verse 2 then presents the contrast: but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… This revelation of God does not belong to a bygone era but to these last days, which is to say this last epoch of human history. The coming of Christ and the establishment of His church ushered in earth’s final time period. The author of Hebrews saw himself as belonging to these last days, and two thousand years later, we are still in the last days.

This revelation of God did not come by the mouths of God’s prophets, who throughout the Old Testament era declared, “Thus says the LORD…” Instead, this final revelation has come through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who spoke saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” Despite the claims of so many scholars today, Jesus’ fellow Jews knew that He did not speak to them as just another in a long line of prophets but spoke as if He were actually God in the flesh. We know this because they crucified Jesus on that very charge of blasphemy.

Therefore, in speaking to us by His Son, God had no reason to speak to us in a diversity of times and forms, for as verse 3 will testify Jesus fully and perfectly displayed God’s nature and character. After all, did Jesus not say to Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’” (John 14:9)?

Indeed, we are now living in the final era of human history precisely because there is no further revelation for God to give, for what more could He give to us than His Son? Against the religious pluralists who laud Jesus as a great moral teacher, against Muslims and Mormons who honor Jesus as a prophet, and against Roman Catholics who place church tradition on equal footing with the Scriptures, we confess Jesus as God’s final and sufficient revelation to humanity.


While studying through Mark’s Gospel, we noted that the entire book centered around the question that Jesus asked His disciples: who do you say I am? And that question still stands as the most important question for us to answer. Cutting through all the fog of how people today and throughout history have sought to remake Jesus in their own image, the author of Hebrews presents us with seven descriptions of who Jesus is, which we can hold onto as a continual reference throughout the rest of Hebrews and as we read the rest of the Bible to make certain that we are worshiping the true and living Jesus rather than pale imitation of Jesus fashioned after our likeness. Though each of these descriptions could be the subject of whole libraries of books, let us consider them briefly and together in order to have them as the glimpse of Jesus’ glory and grandeur that the author intended them to be.

First, Jesus has been appointed the heir of all things. Being the Son of the Creator of all things, Jesus has been appointed the rightful heir of all things. Just as a prince receives his father’s kingdom as an inheritance, creation itself is Christ’s inheritance. As the One through Whom the world was made, Christ has certainly a divine right to own His own creation; however, what is being described here is the inheritance that Christ won as the glorious prize for His perfect obedience to the Father, which Paul describes in Philippians 2:5-11 and the author of Hebrews will describe in 2:8-9. Dennis Johnson calls it two different kinds of Sonship. According to Jesus’ divine Sonship, He is already has possession of His creation; however, according to Jesus’ messianic Sonship, He earned His claim as Lord over all things through His active obedience to the Father.

Second, God the Father created the world through Jesus. Of course, this is not a revelation that is unique to Hebrews. John 1:3 tells us plainly that “all things were made through [Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made.” And writing to the Colossians, Paul wrote in verse 16 of chapter 1: “For by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

Third, Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. Though we often talk about God’s glory, it is important to periodically pause to remind ourselves what those words signify. I find John Piper’s definition the simplest and the most biblically accurate: God’s glory is the outward display of God’s nature, character, and attributes. To put it another way, God’s glory is God revealing Himself and making Himself known. That is why we call the signs that marked God’s descent upon Sinai manifestations of His glory, for the LORD was displaying His holy and mighty presence in the sight of His newly redeemed people. Jesus, however, is the perfect display of God’s glory. He is a more perfect display of God’s glory than all of the glorious signs and wonders recorded within Scripture combined. Of course, for us today, the Scriptures also manifest God’s glory as the Holy Spirit enables us to know Christ through them.

Fourth, Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. Colossians 1:15 expresses this same truth by saying that “he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Or as we already once read from the mouth of Jesus in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” To behold Jesus is to behold the fullness of God because Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature.

Fifth, Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power. Not only was the world created through Jesus, but it is also actively sustained by Him. John Brown writes:

The term uphold seems to refer both to preservation and government. “By Him the worlds were made”—their materials were called into being, and arranged in comely order, and by Him, too, they are prevented from running into confusion, or reverting into nothing. The whole universe hangs on His arm; His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing and directing the complicated movements of the animate and inanimate, rational and irrational beings, to the attainment of His own great and holy purposes; and He does this by the word of His power, or by His powerful word. All this is done without effort or difficulty. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast.[2]

Sixth, Jesus made purification for sins. This is the gospel in miniature. Sin and its effects are the great problem and ruin both upon creation and within our very hearts. It is a cancer, a virus, a plague, and a corruption; Jesus is the cure. He has made purification for sins through the sacrifice of Himself. He has begun to reverse sin’s curse. The One through Whom God created the world is also the One through Whom God is also recreating the world.

Seventh, Jesus is seated presently at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Using majesty as a name for God the Father is meant to emphasize His royalty over all things, that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is seated at His right hand because He has become the heir of all things and is, therefore, now ruling over all things. 2:8 rightly notes that “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Yet the day will soon come whenever Christ’s reign and exaltation is made visible to all, for Philippians 2:9-11 states:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

With a very brief of this sevenfold description of Jesus now before us, Calvin gives us a potent thought to consider:

It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shows itself impressed as it were on his image. They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to show what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us.[3]

We ought to take Calvin’s point to heart, for there is nothing more practical and more applicable than setting our hearts and minds upon Christ through His Word.

Let us marvel at Jesus as the radiance of God’s glory and exact imprint of His nature, for as Calvin said Christ makes the fullness of God known to us. Presently, we see His glory by faith through the sacred Writings before us, but one day we will see Him face-to-face.

Let us rejoice that Christ is the heir of all things because through His atoning blood we have been adopted as children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

Let us meditate upon Jesus, not as a good moral teacher, but as the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the universe, for then we are rightly summoned to follow Christ, not as a role model, but as Lord and Master. And since He is reigning at the right hand of Majesty, let us serve Him with full confidence and reverential fear, knowing that the fear of God drives out all lesser fears.

And let us come to the Table set before us in awestruck humility that this Jesus, the King of glory, broke His body and shed His blood to purify us of our sins. 1 Corinthians 11:26’s statement that our eating and drinking at this Table proclaims Christ’s atoning and purifying death until He comes also ought to call our minds back to two glorious words in verse 2: in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Because the Holy Spirit both inspired and preserved Hebrews for us today, we are the us. God has spoken to us by His Son. We have heard Christ speak through His Word, and now we come to proclaim Him through this visual sermon.

Therefore, let us now taste and see the goodness of Jesus the Inheritor, the Creator, God’s Radiance, God’s exact Imprint, the Sustainer, the Purifier, and the reigning Lord and the full and final Word of God through the bread and cup which He has given us to receive.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 19.

[2] John Brown, Hebrews, 32.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries Vol XXII, 35-36.


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