A quick immersion into the Christology of the apostles and the writer of the book of Hebrews based on Hebrews 1:2-3: “… His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
What role in the creation of all things did the Son play? From where did the apostles derive their high view of Messiah in His divinity?
-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Five: Radiance of Glory
Originally presented on January 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series
Lancaster starts his message by taking his audience through a brief summary of last week’s sermon focusing on his conclusions. Those conclusions are going to be important in just a few moments, and again at the end of this review.
This week, the topic is Christology or the study of Christ and particularly his Divine nature. This is something not really (or at all) studied in the Church because it’s pretty much assumed (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, three in one). People pray directly to Jesus, people interchange the Father and the Son, even in song lyrics with statements like, “thank you God for dying on the cross for me.” I personally have always been bothered by how most Christians treat the three persons of the Trinity (and remember, the word “Trinity” never shows up in the Bible) as if they’re interchangeable units, like spark plugs or kitchen knives. One’s just as good as the other, one’s exactly the same as the other.
Lots and lots of what Lancaster calls “Father-Son confusion.”
Lancaster manages to compress a lot of complex concepts into his almost forty-four minute sermon which is reflective of how densely packed he says is Hebrews 1:1-4:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Remember from last week, Lancaster said the first few sentences in Hebrews 1 were the premise of the writer of Hebrews, and now that writer has to spend the rest of the chapter and into Chapter 2 to support this thesis, that Messiah is higher and more exalted than Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and even the Angels.
The question of Christology is summarized by Lancaster in a question asked of him by one of his sons:
“How can Jesus be God if he’s the Son of God?”
Oh, is that all?
Lancaster spends the rest of his sermon trying to answer this question and with the goal of being able to read Hebrews, as well as the rest of the apostolic scriptures, with the same understanding as the apostles and early disciples. This has the benefit, from my point of view, of not having to wade through nearly two-thousand years of subsequent anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Torah, and anti-Temple theology and doctrine that was spawned from the early centuries of Church history by the so-called “Church fathers” and certainly cemented in place five-hundred years or so ago by the authors of the Reformation (who are by and large the authors of the Christianity we have today).
…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…
–Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)
When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
–1 Corinthians 15:28 (NASB)
Here’s where we start getting into “deep stuff” about Messiah. We’re talking about Fathers and Sons and Sons as heirs and all that’s supposed to mean. We’re also starting to decouple our brains from the literal meaning of these ideas because the world of mysticism speaks in metaphor and in symbols. Literal access to scripture is no help in comprehending the Divine nature of Messiah. To do that, we have to travel much more dangerous roads.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
–Genesis 1:1 (NASB)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
–John 1:1-3 (NASB)
Prepositions play a part in Lancaster’s narrative as he tries to weave together the role of Father and Son in Creation. Was the world created “through,” “by,” “in” the Word, the Son, the Word made flesh? Not very much help, according to Lancaster. It doesn’t sound very Jewish.
Next he takes us into a Rabbinic argument (words are flying past much too quickly for me to pick up all of the references) where the sages are debating on what basis did God create the world.
Was it for the sake of Abraham? No? For the sake of David? For the sake of Moses? No? How about for the sake of Messiah? Saying the world was created for the sake of someone is another way of saying that such a person is highly exalted. For the sake of Messiah was the world created. Don’t worry if these abstract mystical concepts are beginning to give you a headache. They affect me the same way.
Plunging deeper into the wine dark waters of mysticism, the sages teach that God created the world through the agency of wisdom, as if wisdom was a separate being from God, an agent where God was the owner of the plan but giving the plans to wisdom, she (yes, wisdom is a “she”) executed those plans by being the agency of creation.
Proverbs 3:19 and 8:22-23 give us a portrait of wisdom as creator but let’s not be too literal. We are talking about God’s wisdom, and here’s the important part when considering Messiah…wisdom is an attribute which does not encompass the totality of God’s transcendent being, but neither is wisdom not God.
This is wisdom “talking:”
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.
–Proverbs 8:22 (NASB)
Lancaster links various texts such as the one above with the Targums in terms of “Beresheet” or “In the Beginning,” the creation narrative and the agency of creation. Is it IN the beginning or BY the beginning or something else? Some examples are:
From the beginning with wisdom God created and perfected the heavens and the earth.
Or how about…
In wisdom the Lord created the heavens and the earth.
According to Lancaster, THIS is how the apostles learned the Torah, not how we are taught the Bible in the Church today, and it explains John’s highly mystical introduction to his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and…”
…but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
–1 Corinthians 1:24 (NASB)
…but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory…
–1 Corinthians 2:7 (NASB)
I realize there’s a lot of connections happening here and again, it’s important to look at all this in a somewhat fluid manner, not trying to understand a literal reality here, since we have definitely crossed over, not really into the Twilight Zone, but into a metaphysical realm where mere human beings, even being apostles, are trying to relate in human language, explaining their Christology to us across the long march of post-apostolic history.
Lancaster takes this even further and references something called “The Wisdom of Solomon” contained in a book called the Catholic Published Bible. “The Wisdom of Solomon” was supposedly written by King Solomon and existed about a century before the earthly ministry of the Master, thus we know the apostles would have had access to this material. I won’t go into everything Lancaster cited, but he did produce a nice, numbered list of attributes of wisdom we can make use of:
- Wisdom is the worker of all things.
- Wisdom passes through all things holding everything together.
- Wisdom is the breath of the power of God.
- Wisdom is the expression of God’s Glory.
- Wisdom is the brightness of everlasting light.
- Wisdom is the image of God’s goodness.
- Wisdom makes all things new.
And now back to the text for today:
He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
–Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)
From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s as if the writer of the book of Hebrews is stating that what was said of wisdom is true of the Son — the Divine wisdom is within him.
And if that isn’t enough, how about Paul’s Christology?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
–Colossians 1:15-16 (NASB)
Hopefully you are starting to see the connections. Anti-missionaries jump on the word “image” in terms of the Torah prohibition to not worship an “image,” but again, we’re not talking about a stone statue or a painting and the word “image” isn’t quite literal. Adam was created IN the image of God but the Divine Messiah is THE image of the invisible God. Take the mystic concept of the image of the Heavenly Adam, the Divine Messiah, the agency of creation, God’s powerful Word, and unite it with the earthly Adam, human nature, human beings and we have the person of Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.
Lancaster quoted someone saying of a Maggid (I didn’t catch the specific reference because I can’t write that fast) that he taught Hassidism as if it were Mussar, that is, he taught mysticism as if it had life applications. Often teachings such as these, while intellectually fascinating (for me, anyway), don’t really do much to change our day-to-day lives, but Lancaster said something that impacted mine. It’s what I learned for today.
Before I go on, I must respond to what should be a natural objection of most Christians (and I’ve mentioned this before). Lancaster is crafting the apostolic Jewish understanding of scriptures in general and Hebrews in specific based on Talmud and various mystic writings in Judaism that were authored (for the most part) after the apostolic era, sometimes many centuries after. Is it valid for Lancaster to construct an ancient Jewish perspective of Hebrews and the related Biblical texts based on subsequent Jewish perspectives? That’s the $64,000 question. I think (but this is an assumption on my part), that Lancaster believes the concepts and ideas contained in these later writings, existed in oral form or in some earlier but now lost documents during or before the apostolic era, and thus are valid material to project into an apostolic Jewish framework. If that assumption is wrong, then it’s quite possible some or all of the elements of Lancaster’s premise and thus his conclusions are wrong. But, on the other hand, Christianity bases it’s interpretations of the Biblical texts entirely on material, commentary, and tradition created after the close of Biblical canon, by many hundreds if not thousands of years, so we might as well say that Christian Biblical understanding is just as “anachronistic” as Lancaster’s “Messianic” perspective. Lancaster’s assumptions at least have the benefit of possibly really existing during the time of the apostles. I don’t have the same confidence in the Gentile Church Fathers, those involved with the various Church Councils, the Reformationists of five centuries ago, and the Fundamentalists of a century ago to be able to represent the thoughts, comprehension, and intent of the original apostolic writers of what we now call the New Testament. Now on with the show.
What Did I Learn?
Lancaster said that the only practical application some of these lessons seem to have is only relevant to hating on people who don’t have the same interpretation as we do.
That immediately reminded me of this incident and all of the other similar situations I’ve managed to get myself into. I didn’t create this blog with the idea of tilting at windmills or “going after” people who disagreed with me. I didn’t even create this blog with the idea of having to defend myself from the attacks of people who don’t agree with me. Nevertheless, reading back over the last several blog posts, I seem to be repeatedly taking the adversarial role. It’s a role that’s very seductive and also very undesirable.
Lancaster said that it’s the job of every disciple to internalize the teachings of his or her Master, to eat of the bread, so to speak, and drink of the Spiritual water, to incorporate our Master’s lessons into our very flesh and blood and being. Then, if we consider ourselves a Tabernacle, we bring the Divine wisdom into ourselves and into our families, and into our communities, and finally into the world, which is the lived expression of praying “Thy Kingdom Come!”
Pay attention. To what? The teachings of our Master? Why? Lest we drift away from him.
5 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Radiance of Glory”
I have to say that was a very deep study. Lancaster is a pretty good teacher.
I loved your Caveat! And laughed that you can’t write that fast…I know as I try to take notes as well. LOL Great job as usual. I am now on Sermon 13. SUCH good stuff! I really loved the discussion on Wisdom from this sermon. Blessings.
It’s also a pretty good summary of how Lancaster sees Christology from a Messianic point of view. Of course, there’s more than one Messianic point of view on the topic. Thanks again for reading and commenting, Tracy.
@ James I think you posted some in the area of Lancaster’s claim to later writings as being questionable in the 1st century. But Lancaster makes a good case that Paul used the same ‘mystic’ stuff that is in later writings, although not 100% evident.
I’m not saying Lancaster is wrong, but we are making something of a leap, in my opinion, to say that later published Jewish writings existed in oral form and were the basis for writing the apostolic scriptures and further, that we can “retrofit” the Rabbinic perspectives we have today back to the first century.
Again, I’m not saying it *couldn’t* happen the way Lancaster explains, but I don’t see an undeniable trail of evidence saying it *must* be that way either. If I’m missing something or there’s some paper or book I can read that will clarify things for me, please let me know.