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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Please explain the phrase “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (Heb. 1:3)?*
It is a little difficult to explain the phrase you quoted without taking its context into consideration. Hebrews 1:1-3 functions as an introduction to the letter, and provides a powerful description of the role and nature of Christ. He is the final revelation of God, appointed by Him as heir of all things created (verses 1, 2). Two statements deal with the nature of the Son (“the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”), and the next two with his role (“sustaining all things,” “provided purification”). He is the exalted one who sits as king at the right hand of the Father (verse 3). I will deal with three of the four statements.
1. The Radiance of God’s Glory: This phrase is a little difficult to understand because the Greek word for radiance (apaugasma) is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. Based on its use in Greek literature, it could have two basic meanings: “Radiance/effulgence” or “reflection.” Obviously the translation one chooses determines the meaning of the phrase. If we render it as “radiance,” the phrase would be about the nature of the Son. “Reflection” would emphasis His function as a means of revelation. In our context the two ideas can hardly be separated. The Son, through whom the Father has spoken to us, is the final revelation, because He who revealed God’s glory to us is by nature the very effulgence of that glory.
The glory of God is the light of His mysterious nature made manifest to humans (e.g., Ex. 24:16). Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God, and that radiance is inseparable from God. In other words, we cannot have glory without radiance, though they can be distinguished from each other.
We can illustrate it by looking at the sun. We cannot separate light from the sun, because the nature of the sun is to give light. We could say that Jesus is by nature the light of light. In His presence we are in the presence of God. Only the One who participates by nature of God’s glory can reveal the brightness of that glory. It is from the mystery of His indissolable union with the Father that He has come to us.
2. “Exact Representation [Greek: charakter] of His Being [hupostasis]”: This phrase is parallel with the previous one and helps us to understand it. In the New Testament the Greek word charakter is used only here. It was employed in Greek literature to refer to the distinctive characteristics of a person or an object. It came to designate what is engraved on an object (e.g., on a seal) and the imprint of the object on wax. Here it is used in conjunction with the word “being” (hupostasis: “substance, nature”) and refers to the unique characteristics of the very reality or being of God. Jesus has by nature the distinctive marks of God because only God can have them. These define who He is, and consequently He can reveal God to us. Jesus and the Father participate of the same distinctive nature. Here nature and function are inseparable.
3. “Sustaining [pherein, “bear, support”] All Things”: The previous statements were primarily about the Son in relation to God, but this one is about the Son’s relation to the cosmos—everything created. The Greek verb could express quite a number of ideas, such as to sustain, to lead, to establish. The idea that God created all through the Son has been expressed in verse 2, thus identifying the Son as Creator. In this case the topic is not creation, because the verb is in the present tense and creation is a past event. The idea of bearing the universe in the sense of leading and sustaining it seems most appropriate. The Son not only created, but He sustains His creation, and leads it to the goal He intended for it. He does this through “his powerful word” (verse 3). The power that brought the universe into existence is the same one that continues to sustain it.
*Scripture quotations used in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.Copyright: