John Calvin: Hebrews 1:3 Commentary

Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. – Hebrews 1:3

These things are said of Christ partly as to his divine essence, and partly as a partaker of our flesh. When he is called the brightness of his glory and the impress of his substance, his divinity is referred to; the other things appertain in a measure to his human nature. The whole, however, is stated in order to set forth the dignity of Christ.

But it is for the same reason that the Son is said to be “the brightness of his glory”, and “the impress of his substance:” they are words borrowed from nature. For nothing can be said of things so great and so profound, but by similitudes taken from created things. There is therefore no need refinedly to discuss the question how the Son, who has the same essence with the Father, is a brightness emanating from his light. We must allow that there is a degree of impropriety in the language when what is borrowed from created things is transferred to the hidden majesty of God. But still the things which are indent to our senses are fitly applied to God, and for this end, that we may know what is to be found in Christ, and what benefits he brings to us.

It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shows itself impressed as it were on his image. They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to show what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: 11 for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us. It is indeed a profitable philosophy to learn Christ by the real understanding of faith and experience. The same view, as I have said is to be taken of “the impress;” for as God is in himself to us incomprehensible, his form appears to us only in his Son.

The word ἀπαύγασμα means here nothing else but visible light or refulgence, such as our eyes can bear; and χαρακτὴρ is the vivid form of a hidden substance. By the first word we are reminded that without Christ there is no light, but only darkness; for as God is the only true light by which it behoves us all to be illuminated, this light sheds itself upon us, so to speak, only by irradiation. By the second word we are reminded that God is truly and really known in Christ; for he is not his obscure or shadowy image, but his impress which resembles him, as money the impress of the die with which it is stamped. But the Apostle indeed says what is more than this, even that the substance of the Father is in a manner engraven on the Son.

The word ῦποστάσις which, by following others, I have rendered substance, denotes not, as I think, the being or essence of the Father, but his person; for it would be strange to say that the essence of God is impressed on Christ, as the essence of both is simply the same. But it may truly and fitly be said that whatever peculiarly belongs to the Father is exhibited in Christ, so that he who knows him knows what is in the Father. And in this sense do the orthodox fathers take this term, hypostasis, considering it to be threefold in God, while the essence (οὐσία) is simply one. Hilary everywhere takes the Latin word substance for person. But though it be not the Apostle’s object in this place to speak of what Christ is in himself, but of what he is really to us, yet he sufficiently confutes the Asians and Sabellians; for he claims for Christ what belongs to God alone, and also refers to two distinct persons, as to the Father and the Son. For we hence learn that the Son is one God with the Father, and that he is yet in a sense distinct from him, so that a subsistence or person belongs to both.

And upholding (or bearing) all things, etc. To uphold or to bear here means to preserve or to continue all that is created in its own state; for he intimates that all things would instantly come to nothing, were they not sustained by his power. Though the pronoun his may be referred to the Father as well as to the Son, as it may be rendered “his own,” yet as the other exposition is more commonly received, and well suits the context, I am disposed to embrace it. Literally it is, “by the word of his power;” but the genitive, after the Hebrew manner, is used instead of an adjective; for the perverted explanation of some, that Christ sustains all things by the word of the Father, that is, by himself who is the word, has nothing in its favor: besides, there is no need of such forced explanation; for Christ is not wont to be called ῥη̑μα, saying, but λόγος, word. Hence the “word” here means simply a nod; and the sense is, that Christ who preserves the whole world by a nod only, did not yet refuse the office of effecting our purgation.

Now this is the second part of the doctrine handled in this Epistle; for a statement of the whole question is to be found in these two chapters, and that is, that Christ, endued with supreme authority, ought to be head above all others, and that as he has reconciled us to his Father by his own death, he has put an end to the ancient sacrifices. And so the first point, though a general proposition, is yet a twofold clause.

When he further says, by himself, there is to be understood here a contrast, that he had not been aided in this by the shadows of the Mosaic Law. He shows besides a difference between him and the Levitical priests; for they also were said to expiate sins, but they derived this power from another. In short, he intended to exclude all other means or helps by stating that the price and the power of purgation were found only in Christ.

Sat down on the right hand, etc.; as though he had said, that having in the world procured salvation for men, he was received into celestial glory, in order that he might govern all things. And he added this in order to show that it was not a temporary salvation he has obtained for us; for we should otherwise be too apt to measure his power by what now appears to us. He then reminds us that Christ is not to be less esteemed because he is not seen by our eyes; but, on the contrary, that this was the height of his glory, that he has been taken and conveyed to the highest seat of his empire. The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence.

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John MacArthur: What Faith Does

At the heart of the no-lordship error is a disastrous misunderstanding of the nature of faith. No–lordship teaching depicts faith as inherently inert—even antithetical to works, obedience, and surrender to the will of God.

Scripture paints a different picture. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the “Faith Hall of Fame” presented in Hebrews 11. Over and over throughout the chapter we’re reminded that faith is not a static object to merely obtain. Instead, we’re given vivid, poignant descriptions of what faith does.

Faith Obeys and Endures

Faith obeys. That, in two words, is the key lesson of Hebrews 11. Here we see people of faith worshiping God (Hebrews 11:4), walking with God (v. 5), working for God (v. 7), obeying God (vv. 8–10), overcoming barrenness (v. 11), and overpowering death (v. 12).

Faith enabled these people to trust God with their dearest possessions (vv. 17–19); believe God for the future (vv. 20–23); turn away from earthly treasure for heavenly reward (vv. 24–26); see Him who is unseen (v. 27); receive miracles from the hand of God (vv. 28–30); have courage in the face of great danger (vv. 31–33); and conquer kingdoms, perform acts of righteousness, obtain promises, shut the mouths of lions, quench the power of fire, escape the edge of the sword, from weakness be made strong, become mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight (vv. 33–34). This faith has overcome death, withstood temptation, undergone martyrdom, and survived all manner of hardship (vv. 35–38).

If anything is true about Hebrews 11 faith, it is that it cannot be killed. It perseveres to death (Hebrews 11:13–16); it endures torture, and outlasts chains and imprisonment. It endures no matter what—holding to God with love and assurance no matter the assaults the world or the forces of evil might bring against it.

A Different Kind of Faith

No-lordship theology posits an altogether different kind of faith. No-lordship faith is a fragile, sometimes temporary, often nonworking faith. No-lordship faith is simply being convinced of something or giving credence to historical facts. [1] No-lordship faith is confidence, trust, holding something as true—but without any commitment to the object of faith. [2] No-lordship faith is theinward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true—that and that alone. [3] No-lordship faith is “a single, one-time appropriation of God’s gift.” It won’t necessarily continue believing. [4] In fact, no-lordship faith might even turn into hostile unbelief. [5]

Is faith merely the illumination of human reason, or does it transform the whole being? Some advocates of the no-lordship view resent the accusation that they see faith as merely a mental activity. But they consistently fail to define believing as anything more than a cognitive function. Many use the word trust, but when they define it, they actually describe assent.

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John MacArthur: Why do we call Him Lord?

Jesus is Lord.

That is the single, central, foundational, and distinguishing article of Christianity. It is also the first essential confession of faith every true Christian must make: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The belief that someone could be a true Christian while that person’s whole lifestyle, value system, speech, and attitude are marked by a stubborn refusal to surrender to Christ as Lord is a notion that shouldn’t even need to be refuted. It is an idea you will never find in any credible volume of Christian doctrine or devotion from the time of the earliest church fathers through the era of the Protestant Reformation and for at least three and a half centuries beyond that. The now-pervasive influence of the no-lordship doctrine among evangelicals reflects the shallowness and spiritual poverty of the contemporary evangelical movement. It is also doubtless one of the main causes for evangelicalism’s impoverishment. You cannot remove the lordship of Christ from the gospel message without undermining faith at its core. That is precisely what is happening in the church today.

Jesus’ teaching and ministry always kept the issue of His lordship at the center. He never once shied away from declaring His authority as sovereign Master. He proclaimed it to disciples, to enemies, and to casual inquirers alike—refusing to tone down the implications of His demand for unconditional surrender. So the true gospel according to Jesus is a message that cannot be divorced from the reality of His lordship. When Jesus called people to follow Him, He was not seeking companions to be His sidekicks or admirers whom He could entertain with miracles. He was calling people to yield completely and unreservedly to His lordship.

A Word About Words

The expression most often translated “Lord” in the English New Testament is the Greek wordkurios. It speaks of someone who has power, ownership, and an unquestionable right to command. A nearly synonymous Greek term also sometimes translated “Lord” in the New Testament is despotes. That word (the root of our English word despot) describes a ruler with absolute power over his subjects. Professor Murray J. Harris distinguishes the two terms this way:

Clearly despotes and kyrios largely overlap in meaning; both may be rendered “lord” or “master.” If we are to distinguish the two terms with regard to emphasis, kyrios signifies “sovereign Lord,” and despotes “absolute Lord.” [1]

Both words are very powerful. They were part of the vocabulary of slavery in New Testament times. They describe a master with absolute dominion over someone else—a slave owner. His subjects are duty-bound to obey their lord’s directives, not merely because they choose to do so but because they have no rightful liberty to do otherwise. Therefore, wherever there was a lord (kurios) or a master (despotes), there was always a slave (doulos). One idea necessarily and axiomatically implies the other. That explains Jesus’ incredulity at the practice of those who paid homage to Him with their lips but not with their lives: “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

You may recognize the Greek word doulos because it is quite a common term in the New Testament. The word and its derivatives appear more than 130 times in the New Testament—frequently as a description of what it means to be a true Christian: “He who was called while free, is Christ’s slave [doulos]. You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23).

Doulos is not an ambiguous term. It suggests a very specific concept, which—while repugnant to our culture and our natural minds—should not be toned down or backed away from. It is the main Greek word that was used to describe the lowest abject bond slave—a person who was literally owned by a master who could legally force him to work without wages. In other words, a douloswas a person without standing or rights.

Unfortunately, readers of the English Bible have long been shielded from the full force of the worddoulos because of an ages-old tendency among Bible translators to tone down the literal sense of the word—translating it as “servant,” or “bond servant” rather than “slave.” No doubt that reflects our society’s longstanding discomfort with the practice of slavery and the severe abuses that have always occurred in institutionalized versions of human slavery.

Still, service and slavery are not really the same thing, and it is extremely unfortunate that the full impact of the expression doulos has been obscured in our English translations for so long.

Doulos speaks of slavery, pure and simple. It is not at all a hazy or uncertain term. It describes someone lacking personal freedom and personal rights, whose very existence is defined by his service to another. It is the sort of slavery in which “human autonomy is set aside and an alien will takes precedence of one’s own.” [2] This is total, unqualified submission to the control and the directives of a higher authority—slavery, not merely service at one’s own discretion.

For example, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “No one can be a slave to two masters” (literal translation). That translation is much stronger (and actually makes better sense) than what you will find in most versions: “No one can serve two masters.” An employee with two jobs could indeedserve two masters. But slavery—not merely service—is what the word doulos and all its derivatives speak of.

As Harris points out, “there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone.” [3] It is not merely a nuance. Scripture repeatedly and emphatically places Christians in the latter category: “Do you not know that . . . you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We have a Master who purchased us (2 Peter 2:1). To be specific, we were purchased for God with the precious blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9). This is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian:

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7-9)

The Problem with a Feel-Good Gospel

The idea of the Christian as a slave and Christ as Master is almost totally missing from the vocabulary of contemporary evangelical Christianity. Not only is slave a bad word loaded with political incorrectness, but our generation also loves the concepts of freedom and personal fulfillment. Modern and postmodern people crave autonomy, and as the church has become increasingly worldly, the biblical truth of our duty to Him as our absolute Lord and Master has all but disappeared from the evangelical consciousness. The church in our generation has reduced all of saving faith and Christian discipleship to a thoughtless (but more politically correct) cliché: “a personal relationship with Jesus.” The ambiguity of the phrase reflects the destructive vagueness with which evangelicals have been handling (and mishandling) the gospel for the past several decades. As if Christ could be someone’s intimate friend without being that person’s Lord.

That is, after all, the whole gist of the no-lordship message: You can have Jesus as Savior and Friend here and now and decide later whether you really want to submit to His authority or not. It is hard to imagine a more disastrous twisting of what it means to be a Christian. Remember that among the original twelve disciples, only one wanted to be seen as Jesus’ “friend” without ever really bowing to His authority as Lord and Master—and that was Judas. A lot of people (and Satan as well) had some kind of “personal relationship” with Jesus during His earthly ministry without submitting to Him as Lord.

We need to let Scripture speak for itself, and it is time to face squarely the reality of this difficult truth. Slavery to Christ is not a minor or secondary feature of true discipleship. This is not merely symbolic or illustrative language devoid of any literal sense. It is exactly how Jesus himself defined the “personal relationship” He must have with every true follower (John 12:26; 15:20).

As a matter of fact, the fundamental aspects of slavery are the very features of our redemption that Scripture puts the most stress on. We are chosen (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9); bought(1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23); owned by our Master (Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Titus 2:14);subject to the Master’s will and control over us (Acts 5:29; Romans 6:16-19; Philippians 2:5-8); and totally dependent on the Master for everything in our lives (2 Corinthians 9:8-11; Philippians 4:19). We will ultimately be called to account (Romans 14:12); evaluated (2 Corinthians 5:10); andeither chastened or rewarded by Him (Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Corinthians 3:14). Those are all essential components of slavery.

What Would Jesus Say?

Jesus himself introduced the slave metaphor in the New Testament. He frequently drew a direct connection between slavery and discipleship. In Matthew 10:24-25, for example, he said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.” In the parables he told, He often used slavery as the symbol of discipleship. The words of Matthew 25:21 are what every true disciple should hope to hear at the end of life: “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Jesus always described true discipleship in such terms, and he did so with no effort to adjust the message to make it sound more appealing to worldly minded sinners. Both his preaching and his private discourses were notable for their unvarnished directness. Nothing he said about the cost of discipleship was ever toned down, dumbed down, lightened up, glossed over, mitigated, understated, or pillowed in soft words.

He was not the least bit encouraging toward people who wanted to follow Him around just for the food and the miracles. In fact, He did everything possible to discourage people like that (John 6). He called only broken people who were sick of their sin, who understood their hopeless condition, and who were therefore willing to forsake everything else to be His disciples (Luke 5:32; 14:33). He never muted His description of what it would cost to follow Him. And (contrary to what some church leaders advocate today) He didn’t reserve the hard words for people who were already believers. He said the same things whether He was speaking to unconverted crowds (Luke 14:25-35) or to individual would-be followers who claimed they were ready to follow Him anywhere (Luke 9:57-58). Sometimes He sounded almost as if He were trying to turn away as many inquirers as possible—and indeed, He did turn away multitudes of merely curious and halfhearted admirers (John 6:66-67).

He demanded that people deny themselves completely. He required their implicit obedience. He instructed them to be ready to die for Him. He called for them to relinquish all their normal priorities—including family, friends, personal plans, ambitions, and everything else in this world. Their whole lives were explicitly and irrevocably placed under His authority. His lordship was total and nonnegotiable. Those were His terms, and would-be disciples who tried to dictate different terms were always turned away (Luke 9:59-62).

This Article: Why do we call Him Lord? , originally appeared at Grace to You, Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

Steven Lawson: No Hope without It: The Life of Christ

God requires us to be holy as He is holy. As sinners, we deserve to be eternally punished for breaking God’s law. To satisfy our guilt before God, we need a substitute not only to die for our sins but also to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf. We need a mediator to succeed where Adam failed in keeping God’s commands. In this session, Dr. Steven Lawson details the significance of the active obedience of Christ in His role as the second Adam and explain why there is “no hope without it.”