Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jesus as the Radiance of the Glory of God

Thank you for praying for me while I was on retreat! In the next several posts, I will share some of what I was thinking and praying about.

“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” (Hebrews 1:3).

The word used for “radiance” in the Greek text of the Bible has both an active and a passive sense. In the active sense it means “effulgence, radiance, or brilliance,” and in the passive sense it means “reflection.” For example, this word would be used of the sun in the active sense because its radiance is self-produced, but it would be used of the moon in the passive sense because its radiance is borrowed and reflected. Thus, the question becomes, Is this word being used of Jesus in the active or passive sense in Hebrews 1:3? Is Jesus the radiance of God’s glory, or is Jesus the perfect reflection of God’s glory?

It seems to me that it must be the former for at least these three reasons:

1. The angels of heaven worship Jesus: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him’” (Hebrews 1:6).

2. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end’” (Hebrews 1:8-12).

3. Jesus prayed the following in John 17:5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Certainly, the glory of the Son proceeds from the Father because Jesus prayed in the passive, “Glorify me.” But he prayed that the Father glorify him with the glory he had “with” the Father, not from the Father. That is to say, Jesus shares in the Father’s glory, he does not simply reflect it.

The Bible teaches that the children of God will be glorified (e.g., Romans 8:30), but any glory we have from the Father will be an unspeakable act of grace. Jesus’ glory is proper to his nature. Our glory is that of the moon—it is completely borrowed and reflected glory. Jesus’ glory is that of the sun—it is self-generated, rightfully his, and radiates from his being with the Father.

The case for translating the Greek word in the active sense is very strong, and all that is left, then, is to behold the truth of these words in utter awe and wonder and breathlessness. What is left is to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, and to be changed by that glory evermore into his very image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Oh Lord, that you would grant us such grace.

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