Since Hebrews is more a first-century sermon than letter, it begins not with a greeting but rather with an enormously staggering statement about Jesus (1:1-4). This introduction is like the lavish entrance to a magnificent estate. The writer wants his audience to (once again) be overwhelmed with Him. They had been that way before (10:34-35), and could be again if they will see Jesus for all that He is.
He begins by summing up God’s previous disclosures to the Jewish people as speaking “through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (v. 1). Moses hearing God through a burning bush in the middle of the desert, Elijah being spoken to in a gentle whisper, Joseph hearing Him in a dream, the glory and terror of Sinai, the adventures of Jonah, communications through angels, and Yahweh’s intimacy with Moses (Exodus 33:11)—it’s all encompassed by these few words. This brevity is not meant to trivialize these messages or messengers, but to minimize them relative to God’s ultimate message in Jesus.
God has spoken through Him in a way that makes all previous revelations pale. He has communicated through His Son. Jesus is not a son of God (as men and angels are sometimes referred as being); He is the Son of God. The word “son” can take on a meaning beyond that of filial and carry the idea of possessing a similar nature. Joseph is called Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement” because of his encouraging nature (Acts 4:36-37). James and John are referred to as the “son of thunder” due to their rash dispositions (Luke 9:54). Similarly, Jesus is the Son of God because He is God in the flesh (John 1:1,18). Not a man like Moses, David, or Abraham. Not an angel like Gabriel or Michael, but God the Son.
As the Son, He is the ‘the radiance of God’s glory” (v. 3). You’ve probably noticed that when God is spoken of in any way that comes remotely close to a physical description—it is in terms of light (1 Timothy 6:16; Exodus 33:18-23). The essence of the sun is dazzling light that radiates to us in waves and particles. In the same way, Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (nature).
The sun is different than anything else. The moon reflects light from the sun but it won’t harm our eyes when we look at it directly. Some of the other planets in our solar system are visible to us but their distance makes their light even less. But the sun is unique. It is the one object in the sky whose brightness absolutely overwhelms us.
This is exactly what the Hebrew writer wants us to see about Jesus. God spoke through lots of people in lots of ways in the past. Israel and even other nations could look upon their brightness and appreciate its source. God has now spoken through His Son. He is not a light like one of the prophets or even Moses—He is the dazzling light of God’s glory that overwhelms us.
Are we overwhelmed by Jesus? If not, why not?