“Who being [the] radiant splendor of His glory and [the] exact imprint of His nature,” [author’s translation]
KJV, who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person,
NASB, And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature,
ESV, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,
As we have perhaps belabored the point in these posts, Hebrews starts as it does in order that we might understand who spoke in NT times. The writer says that God spoke – not just that God spoke in the prophets, but that He spoke in person, in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus is unique in history. The OT prophet spoke as a messenger of God; the NT preacher or teacher speaks as a messenger of God, though not in the same way. There are no prophets today in the sense of bringing new revelation from God or as their being God.
Jesus spoke as the manifestation of God.
Five words or phrases in particular describe what we mean by “manifestation of God.”
This is a present participle, denoting absolute and timeless existence. Cf. John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:6, 7; Hebrews 1:3 with 2:9, 17. Note again the contrast between “being God,” and “becoming Man.” There was indeed a point of origin for the humanity of Christ in the womb of His virgin mother. There is no such beginning for Him as deity, as God.
2. “radiant splendor”.
This is a difficult word of translate. It doesn’t simply mean a “reflection” of God’s glory, as the moon reflects the light of the Sun. Nor is it a part of it, like a “ray” of the Sun, or sunlight. It is, as it were, the Sun itself. In the OT, this “radiant splendor” was seen in the Shekinah Glory, and in the NT, we believe it was seen by the disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:2, by Saul on the Damascus road, Acts 9:3, and by John on Patmos, Revelation 1:16. It’s a word which seems to me to speak of “fulness,” not of partiality. It would tell us that what the Father is, the Son is, yet the Son is not the Father.
I’m afraid this word is sometimes used in Christian circles without particular thought about what it really means. What is the glory of God? We’ve already referred to the Shekinah Glory, but there’s more to it than that. It has been defined as “the expression of the divine attributes collectively.” In other words, God’s glory is seen in everything that He is and does.
There are different facets of God’s glory. There is what might be called “an essential glory,” that is, what comes from who He is, infinite and eternal, or “the three O’s” (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient). But there is also glory in what He does, whether in His common grace, as seen in His providential care of His creation, or in His special grace, as seen in His particular care of believers, His elect. There is also a glory in what Paul calls “His severity,” Romans 11:22, in which His just wrath is and will be poured out on the unbeliever.
All of these are present and revealed in and by the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. “exact imprint”.
The Greek word has come over into English: “character”. The word originally described an engraving tool, then came to mean the mark left by that tool. The image in the metal reproduced in every detail the image of the tool. It was also used of the mark on a coin which determined its value.
Though the Lord Jesus was human, yet He bore the exact imprint, the precise reproduction, of deity, so that even to the unsaved, it was evident that He was more than a mere man.
This word refers to a substructure, or foundation. It tells of the substance, the reality, underlying the appearance. In our verse, it refers to God’s essential being – what He is as God. Jesus Christ showed forth in faithful, clear, precise and exact detail what the Father was like. He could do this because in every clear, precise and exact detail, He is God.
There are just a couple of final thoughts. There are two names from Christian history which have influence even today because of the ideas they introduced into Christianity. If we may use the word, they lived before a clear understanding of the Trinity was developed. Indeed, they are the reason it was developed.
1. Sabellius, early third century. He taught that there was just one Person, with three names. Since his day, other views similar to his have been promoted. Most of the “illustrations” used today of the Trinity are actually Sabellian. For example, I am father to my son, son to my father, and, let’s say, husband to my wife. The egg consists of white, yolk and shell. Etc., etc. There is no adequate illustration of the Trinity.
Having said that, perhaps the one that comes closest may be the cube. A cube has length, width and height, yet it is one cube. Without any one of those three things, it’s no longer a cube. Yet the height isn’t the length or width, the length isn’t the height or width, and the width isn’t the height or length, still they all exist together at the same time in the one cube.
In a similar manner, the one Godhead is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit, the Son isn’t the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son, yet They all exist together at the same time as the one God. Without any one of them, there would be no God. To deny any one of them is to deny God.
The New Testament clearly teaches the individuality of each member of the Trinity. The baptism of our Lord is just one example. In the baptism we see the Father speaking, the Son praying and the Spirit descending.
2. Arius, early fourth century. He taught that the Son is merely a creature. He was the forerunner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others. We have certainly shown, or so we hope, that Jesus Christ is God, not a creature.
Some have sneered that Athanasius, the main opponent of Arius, was willing to split Christianity over a diphthong:
homoousios, one substance with the Father,
homoiousios, of similar substance – like God.
But, after all, there is a considerable difference in meaning between these two words, though they have only the difference of one vowel in spelling: