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 1:3a ESV)
It is easy to simply say that Christ is in every way like God, but Hebrews 1:3 says that he is “the exact imprint of his nature.” It is as if God himself thought that he would like to put himself in a box, a container called a human being, and yet even within that container retain all of himself. Personally, I can see how everything that is true about Christ could be true about God the Father, but to think about it being just as true the other way around is nothing that I am competent to explain, except to take it on faith.
This fusion between the way we view Christ and the way we view God the Father is quite the challenge. Admittedly, I grew up hearing about a wrathful, vengeful God in the Old Testament and then a compassionate merciful God in the person of Christ in the New Testament. It had always seemed to me that those differences were far greater than the 4 centuries that separated the testaments.
Yet, on closer examination there are many times that God says in the context of the Old Testament that he is both merciful and compassionate. A simple search for the words “mercy” and “compassionate” turn up numerous times where God declares his mercy and compassion on his people. God, even in the context of his judgment, gives grace to his people, is slow to anger, and in context with the first verses of Hebrews has made a way from the beginning for reconciliation.
Where, then, does Christ demonstrate the same judgment? It may seem to be a stretch, but taking off the filters of mercy and compassion for a moment we can see that Christ definitely declared his distaste for the sin of this people. Read through the Sermon on the Mount, study the encounters he had with the religious leaders of the day. Christ inaugurated the game-changing nature of who would be his people by pressing against the inheritance by birth and upholding the nature of the heart as what shows God’s mark of adoption. Look at how John the Baptist put it as the forerunner of Christ:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(Matthew 3:7-10 ESV)
Throughout his years on earth Christ declared his judgment on those who did not have a heart of God, but who saw themselves as entitled simply by nature of their birth. Born Jews, they believed that this was all that was required of them. However, Christ declared to them the judgment that they would be held accountable for what they did, and that the true nature of sin was the condition of the heart. Look at what was prophesied by Jeremiah:
“In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:29-34 ESV)
The God of the Old Testament here declares that he will fulfill his promise, and make with his people a new covenant. And in the process he redefines what it means to be his people, holding each individual person accountable for his or her own sin. When Christ came to become the atonement, he also ushered in a time that continues to this day where God no longer judges people according to what country they are from or their nationality, but on the condition of their individual hearts.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
(Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)
Perhaps no more profoundly can this be seen in the book of Revelation. The Apostle John records a very impressive sight when he finds himself in the presence of the glorified Christ:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
(Revelation 1:12-20 ESV)
Pillar of the Universe
The exact imprint of the nature of God is also evident by the authority of Christ. Rather than speaking through a prophet, as is referenced in Hebrews 1:1-2, but Christ, God himself, speaks for himself. The weight and authority of that word is not just spiritual truth or a declaration of the will of God, but it is the reason for all of existence. The words “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” hearken back to the first chapters of the chronicle of time. In Genesis chapter 1, God creates the world and the universe not by his hands, but his very word. The fact of existence testifies not only to the existence of God, but they testify to the authority and majesty of who God is and who Christ is as God’s “exact imprint.”
And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.
(John 5:37 ESV)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
(John 14:10-11 ESV)
Comically, in the 1999 film Dogma, two angels (played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) discover a theological “loop hole.” Having disappointed God and as a result sentenced to live out human existence in Wisconsin, they discover that a Catholic church is offering forgiveness of sins under the doctrine of “plenary indulgence,” which would thus allow them admittance back into heaven, thus proving God to be wrong. The plot heats up when this truth expressed in Scripture is stated: “To prove [God] wrong would unmake the world.”
Fortunately, the day was saved and the world continues on. But the thought that all of life, all of existence is solely supported by the word of God is mind boggling. To think that God is so powerful that just uttering a word would change everything. It can be frightening to think about, but at the same time it is completely securing. This also means that God does not change his mind. If every word that he utters has such power and authority, then to utter a word to the contrary… not sure how that would be even possible.
What wonderful news! This means that God’s word is to be trusted. When he declares his chosen to be righteous and without blemish in light of the sacrifice of Christ, then we can trust that word to be true. The very essence of all of existence testifies to the fact that God is who he says that he is, and that his word is the final on every matter. It means that we can have security that God will not at the last minute undo everything that he has done, that he will not turn white to black again. It means that the sacrifice of Christ, the fulfillment of the promise, is what he says that it is.