excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1.1-4)
While these questions are interesting, from a biblical point of view there are more important questions surrounding the incarnation. Who is Jesus? How is he the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant? What is the apparent conflict between the earthly throne of David and the heavenly throne? How are we to understand Jesus the Christ as the revelation of the second person of the Trinity? These questions have more to do with the glory of God veiled in human flesh and thus are the loci of the incarnation narratives. Jesus is the unique and special revelation of God to man. Jesus is God’s last word of revelation. The author of Hebrews argues that the Christ is superior in every way: to man, angels, the Aaronic priesthood, Moses and the law, and the old covenant. In the opening three verses he gives us seven reasons why Jesus is superior in his incarnation to everything in creation.
1. In these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things (1.2). The meditations of the psalmist are at the root of the declarative statement of the author of Hebrews: Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession (Psalm 2.8). Jesus is in a singularly unique position, not just as the head of the church (Ephesians 1.22; 5.23), but as sovereign over the entire universe (cosmos), in this age and the age to come. The first man, Adam, brought ruination to his offspring; Jesus, the last Adam, brings the old order to an end (1 Corinthians 15.45). As the second man (1 Corinthians 15.47-49), Jesus begins a new race by the salvation he offers (Romans 5.12-14). He alone is able to accomplish this because he alone is the rightful heir of his Father’s kingdom. As God’s one and only Son (John 3.16-17) he has all the rights and privileges of Sonship. John the Baptist had this in mind when he said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1.15).
2. Through whom also he created the world (1.2) – That is to say, everything in time and space was made through him (cf. John 1.3). This is the clear and definitive witness of Scripture. For example, consider Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1.16). The Bible DOES NOT PERMIT one to draw the noxious conclusion that Jesus was an exceptional child who turned out to be an unusually gifted moral philosopher, whose revolutionary ideas grew to mythological proportions by which he came to be viewed as the savior of the world. Consequently, those who follow his teaching are somehow inwardly transformed and the world becomes a better place because of Jesus’ pervasive moral influence down through the centuries. To the contrary, the Bible portrays Jesus as the second person of the Triune God who was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary; he lived a sinless life, and in his death provided a vicarious atonement for the sins of men and women. His resurrection from the dead is the basis of the believer’s hope for eternal life. The New Testament speaks of Him as God, and his disciples worshiped Him as God (… Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God! [ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου] John 20.28). These are the words of a radically devout monotheist for whom to claim a mere mortal as God would be anathema. In modern philosophical parlance Jesus as the Son of God is the uncreated necessary cause.
The choice presented to the reader is simple: either acknowledge the Son as the supernatural creator of the universe and its sovereign Lord and savior or reject Him in favor of a theory of a mechanistic universe in which we have a world without purpose, final cause, or any sort of spiritual dimension. Those who seek solace in agnosticism will not find an intellectual retreat. It is not an option in which one may find a permanent refuge. James Orr, a 19th century theologian and Christian apologist, states the problem clearly: “Agnosticism is not a state in which the mind of an intelligent being can permanently rest. … It will press on perforce to one or other of the views which present themselves as alternatives – either to Theism, or to Materialism and dogmatic Atheism” (James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, p. 51).
3. He is the radiance of his glory (1.3). The glory of the Son is the glory of the eternal second person of the Trinity. It is that same shekinah glory which was manifested in the tent of meeting by God (Exodus 33.9). With Christ’s incarnation the glory of God is revealed to man. Just as the radiance of the sun reaches the earth, so in Christ the light of God shines in the hearts of men (cp. Exodus 40.34-35; John 1.1, 14; 2 Corinthians 4.6). “It was, moreover, the glory manifested on the occasion of Christ’s transfiguration, again accompanied by the resplendent cloud of the shekinah (Mark 9:2ff., par.), an event which demonstrated that this glory belongs to the Son and was not just a reflection of a glory not his own: … The brilliant light, brighter than the midday sun, seen by Paul at his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13) was the same radiant glory of the divine presence” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews, p. 42). It was this same glory that John witnessed and recorded in the opening chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1.12-16).
4. [God’s Son is] the exact imprint of his [God’s] nature (1.3). What God is in essence is precisely manifested in the person of Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4). As a coin is the image of the die in which it was cast, so Christ is the image of the Father. To see what Christ is like is to see what God is like. Jesus does not reveal to us all that God is, but what Jesus reveals of God is precisely what God is like. It is important for the Christian to examine the whole life of Jesus in order to grasp something of the person and nature of God. That is why a view of the incarnation from the perspective of Bethlehem, while vitally important, is nevertheless insufficient to present to us the full import of the incarnation. We need to examine the whole corpus of the New Testament to have a complete portrait of Jesus.
The heir of all things, the maker of the ages, he who shines with the Father’s glory and expresses in himself the Father’s person, has all things that the Father himself has, and is possessor of all his power; not that the right is transferred from the Father to the Son, but that it at once remains in the Father and resides in the Son. For he who is in the Father is manifestly in the Father with all his might, and he who has the Father in himself includes all the power and might of the Father. (Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomius, ii. 6)
5. He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1.3). This is the ongoing dynamic working of Christ, not something that was done once for all in ages past. What Jesus has wrought he will carry forward to its completion. What God has created, God will sustain; what God sustains, God will bring to its final completion. Because of this the believer may have a supreme confidence in the providential works of God on behalf of his children. It is the theology behind the petition in the Lord’s prayer, give us our daily bread (cp. Colossians 1.15-17). Jesus will bring creation to its final destination; indeed, his incarnation is God’s final word. “The word of the Son is not less or other than the word of the Father for he who himself is the Word is the perfect and harmonious expression of the mind and will of God” (op. cit. Hughes, p. 46).
6. After making purification for sins (1.3). This is what gives purpose to the manger event. As John relates the events of Jesus’ life, he constantly points to the words of Jesus, my hour has not yet come (John 2.4); that is, the time to fulfill His purpose as mediator between God and man. The theme of redemption is the primary theme of Scripture and the author of Hebrews highlights that purpose by demonstrating that only the superiority of the Son is sufficient to be the atonement for our sins. Men and women who are made aware that God is holy and that they are personally sinful either respond to God in hatred and rebellion or in fear and repentance. God’s holiness demands that He act justly with regard to His personal righteousness. His just nature demands that His wrath be satisfied. This He has done by punishing His innocent Son instead of His guilty children (cp. Isaiah 53.4-10; 2 Corinthians 5.21): there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4.18).
7. He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High (1.3). The phrase right hand is a periphrasis (substitution) for God and is not meant as a literal location; it connotes Christ’s exultation (Psalm 110; cp. Philippians 2.9), which is the pivotal idea for this epistle. The work of redemption is now completed as is indicated by the image of Christ sitting. This is not to suggest that Jesus is inactive, only that the work of purification is completed. There is the further contrast which is developed later in this epistle between Christ and the Aaronic priesthood. The Messiah is seated. The Aaronic priest (Hebrews 10.11) remains standing because his sacrificial service never came to an end. There is a mystery to the incarnation.
Once seated upon the throne Jesus is exalted to the highest place, possessing the name that is above every other name and, at the mention of his name, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2.9-11). Thus it was appropriate that the Magi brought gifts fitting for a mortal man, a king, and a Lord. Jesus is the prophet through whom God has spoken His final word. Jesus is the Priest who accomplished the purification of humanity’s sins. Jesus is the King who is now seated at the right hand of God.
Though it is proper to celebrate the festivities of Christmas with our families, it is good to remember that there is much more. Behind the pastoral scene of the incarnation a cosmic battle is raging: while the angels are singing to the shepherds on the hillside, Satan is roaring in his den. We do but see through the glass darkly. The causes are often concealed, but, if one’s eyes and ears are attentive to the things of God, then he may be granted an insight into heaven. Jesus is the great and final epiphany of God: God’s final word to man about salvation. God has spoken in Jesus Christ; there is nothing left to say. He who is heir of all things; the one who has as an inheritance all nations; the last Adam; the maker of worlds; the radiance of God's glory shining forth as a bright light; the divine Logos; the upholder of all things by the word of his power; it is he who speaks, and says, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4.18-21).