Read the series so far.
How can we be sure that, when John Mark gave Jesus the title “Son of God” (υἱοῦ θεοῦ), he meant that Jesus shared God’s intrinsic nature, makeup, and fundamental characteristics? What Scripture passages could we turn to which explain a bit more about “the Son,” so we can be certain we haven’t wandered off the theological reservation?
There are many passages we could turn to, of course; but one in particular stands out.1 We’ll briefly examine this passage and consider what it tells us about the doctrine of the Trinity.
This is a profound passage. It contains doctrine so precious and vital to a right understanding of who Christ is. When I preached through the Book of Hebrews, I called this section “Jesus’ Resume.” Let’s see what we can see.
God spoke to His people, the Jewish people, long ago by the prophets. He raised up prophets and gave them messages to deliver to the people; messages of encouragement, instruction, rebuke and impending judgment for sin. Now God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.”2 The writer is referring to Jesus. He is God’s Son, just as Mark said. What about this Son?
He is the Heir of Everything (Heb 1:2b)
He was appointed “heir of all things.” Christ is the One who will inherit everything in creation. Everything was created “through Him and for Him,” (Col 1:16). He is the One who will stamp out Satan’s rebellion and rule over the entire world. He is the Son who will be installed on Zion, God’s holy hill, who will have the nations as His inheritance and the ends of the earth as His personal property. He will break all enemies with an iron scepter, and smash them like a potter’s jar (Ps 2:5-8). “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death,” (1 Cor 15:25-26).
He Made Creation (Heb 1:2c)
The Son made creation itself. God’s revelation is progressive—this means things slowly got clearer for God’s people as He gave them more information. Genesis says that God created the heavens (i.e. universe) and the earth (e.g. Genesis 1:1; Ps 33:6). Yet, the New Testament tells us that God planned creation, but delegated to Jesus to actually make it happen. The Apostle John wrote, “all things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created,” (John 1:3).
He Reflects God’s Glory (Heb 1:3a)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory. This means Jesus perfectly reflects that glory. The Jesus we all think about in the Gospels is not Jesus Christ as He really is (cf. 1 Jn 3:2). That was Jesus Christ with a big, thick blanket thrown over Himself to intentionally mask His glory and power. He deliberately set His power, honor, glory and divine privileges aside and chose to not make use of them (cf. Phil 2:7).
There will come a day when God’s adopted children will see Jesus Christ as He really is. Three of the disciples saw a preview of Christ in His true, unveiled glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-3). Christians who know the Book of Revelation also know the day is coming when, on a new earth in a new creation, in the New Jerusalem, “the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23).
He Perfectly Represents God (Heb 1:3b)
Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). He told Philip, “the person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn 14:9). He is the only One who can make God known to us here in this world. “No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” (Jn 1:18). Nobody has ever ascended into heaven, but the Son of Man has come down from there to reveal the Father to us (Jn 3:13). The Apostle John testified, “we saw His glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father” (Jn 1:14).
Nobody can share God’s glory except the Son—not even angels (cf. Heb 1:5-14). Jesus Christ is a perfect and exact representation of God to men. He’s not like a copy from a vinyl record to a cassette tape, or a photocopy of an original. He isn’t a derivative reflection of the Father’s glory. Like a digital image; He perfectly represents His Father’s glory.3
This has profound implication for who Jesus is, and for the doctrine of the Trinity. No wonder the Son Himself could proclaim, “The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn 5:23).
He Upholds Everything in Creation (Heb 1:3c)
Do you know the maddeningly catchy children’s song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands?” That’s what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus. The sense is that Christ upholds, carries and guides along this entire world on the course God has charted and set.4 God is the navigator who has plotted the course of time. Christ has the helm of this big ship and steers it along His Father’s appointed course.
Jesus doesn’t struggle to do this. He’s not wrestling desperately with this world, wondering how this whole thing will turn out. He upholds, guides and carries the world forward on its appointed course by the power of His word. Jesus spoke and people’s sins were forgiven. Jesus spoke to rebuke the wind and the waves, and they obeyed. Jesus spoke to the dead, and they rose.
He Accomplished Cleansing for Sins (Heb 1:3d)
There is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved except Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12). He purges your sin. He purifies your soul. He cleanses your soul. He qualifies His elect to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, to be an adopted member of God’s family.5 He removes your guilt. He frees you from bondage from Satan—a bondage the Bible says you don’t even know exists unless the Holy Spirit removes Satan’s veil and changes your heart (cf. 2 Cor 4:3-4). He removes God’s wrath and anger for your sin, because He voluntarily took the punishment for you. He removes the hostility and alienation between you and God.
Only somebody free from the moral and spiritual corruption of this world could provide an atonement to satisfy God’s justice.6 This is what Jesus accomplished, and that finished work is being sovereignly applied to people from every tribe, language, people and nation on earth by the Holy Spirit.
He Is Seated at the Father’s Side (Heb 1:3e)
Christ’s work to save, redeem and reconcile sinners like you and me is finished and complete. The Son is not at the Father’s side, working feverishly like a blind, one-armed paperhanger to redeem and save people. He’s already done everything. His work is complete and final, and all that remains is for the Holy Spirit to convict, call and draw people to Christ until everybody whom God intends to save is redeemed and adopted into the family (cf. 2 Pet 3:9).
The Son is sitting at the right hand of God right now. He’s sitting in the place of supreme honor. The angels in heaven “never rest day or night.” They bow and worship over and over, yet the Son sits (Rev 4:8-11). He’ll continue sitting at God’s side in heaven until He inherits everything and rules over the whole world (cf. Ps 110:1-2). “[A]t the name of Jesus every knee will 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” (Phil 2:10-11).
The Son of God & the Trinity
Here is what we know about the Son:
- He is divine and equal with the Father. The Son created creation. He was made the heir of all things. He is the perfect representation of the Father’s glory. He upholds creation by His word. He is holy, sinless and perfect—thus He provided atonement for those who are “partakers of the heavenly calling,” (Heb 3:1). He is sitting at the “right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb 1:3). This tells us we were quite correct to regard “Son of God” as a title which emphasizes the holy and divine nature He shares with the Father.
- He is distinct from the Father. Jesus is not the Father; instead, He sits beside the Father. He reflects the Father’s glory. It was God who appointed Jesus “heir of all things.” The coming kingdom is one which belongs to both the Lord and His Messiah (Rev 11:15).
- He is eternal. You cannot make creation without being timeless and outside of it!
1 I wanted to cover Colossians 1:12-20, but did not have the space. You can make a similar list of characteristics from that passage.
2 The NASB and NET both take the preposition ἐν to be expressing some kind of spatial sense, so they translate it as “spoken to us in a son.” It is true the article is not present, but context surely indicates this is God’s unique one and only Son, in which case it ought to be translated “His Son.” The spatial use of the preposition is … different, and the idea of agency seems to better fit the bill (e.g. Tyndale, KJV, NKJV, ESV). The translators seemed to view the “prophets” and “a son” as the vehicles which contained God’s revelation.
3 I owe this analogy to Steven Ger, The Book of Hebrews: Christ is Greater (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2009), 33.
4 “He upholds the universe not like Atlas supporting a dead weight on his shoulders, but as one who carries all things forward on their appointed course,” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, in NICNT, revised ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990; Kindle ed], KL 680-681).
Likewise, Homer Kent observed, “It is one of Christ’s functions to sustain this universe in its existence and operation, and to carry it forward to reach the consummation which God has planned,” (The Epistle to the Hebrews [Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1972], 37).
5 The following is effects of the atonement are adapted from Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Detroit, MI: DBTS, 2009), 2:177-198.
6 “In substitutionary atonement the substitute must himself not be indebted to God’s moral law. He cannot be a debtor to justice and perfectly satisfy infinite justice. A criminal cannot substitute for another criminal in a perfect moral order,” (McCune, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, 175).