The express image of His person
I remember in my youth when I worked at a retail outlet and at one point we were having issues with counterfeit money. Our storeowner provided to us a machine with a special light to detect that which was authentically printed in contrast with that which was a counterfeit. Either way, these two bills, either true or false, were an exact representation of the stamp and there was certainly a need of a gadget to sort out the good from the bad. Not only is the Son the “brightness of His glory” but also the writer then furthers an even greater statement concerning the Son, mainly that He is “the express image of His person”. The New American Standard Bible translates it “the exact representation of His nature in which we feel would be in greater accordance with the original meaning.
The term “express image” or “exact representation” is a translation of the term “charakter” which, in its original form would have referred to an instrument used to engrave a coin. The term then progressed in its meaning during the time of the writing of this epistle in which it would have found it’s meaning as that of a stamp or the print of a signet ring. Whatever it was that you saw on the coin or stamp was exactly what was on the ring. There was no difference at all; it was identical![i] In other words the Lord Jesus is the exact nature of the Father. Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest explains:
The words “express image” are the translations of charakter. This word was used in classical Greek of an engraver, one who mints coins, a graving tool, a die, a stamp, a branding iron, a mark engraved, an impress, a stamp on coins and seals. Metaphorically it meant “a distinctive mark or token impressed on a person or thing, by which it is known from others, a characteristic, the character of.” It was a Greek idiom for a person’s features. It was used of the type or character regarded as shared with others. It meant also an impress or an image. The classical usage of this world should throw some light upon its use in the New Testament.[ii]
Dr. A.T. Robertson continues:
Charakter is an old world from charasso, to cut, to scratch, to mark. It first was the agent (note ending=ter) or tool that did the marking, then the mark or impress made, the exact reproduction, a meaning clearly expressed by chargma (Acts 17:29, Rev. 13:16f.)[iii]
The next portion defines exactly what the term exact representation is linked to. The relation of this perfect image is with His “person” or “nature” (NASB). The term used is “hupostasis” which seems to imply the nature, essence or substance of someone. It denotes “that which has actual existence; a substance, real being” and “the substantial quality, nature, of any person or thing”[iv]. It must be stated that this is not His bare essence, but His whole nature with a correspondence as close as that which an impression gives back to a seal[v]. Greek scholar W.E.Vines explains its relation to the former:
Hupostasis came to denote essence, substance, the inner nature. Christ is the very representation of the divine essence. The whole phrase expresses the fact that the Son of God is a distinct person from the Father and yet one with Him in the Godhead. He is His equal, as being the perfect representation of His essence.[vi]
The terminology used reflects much of what Paul was conveying in Philippians 2 with the expression “form of God”. Paul used the term “morphe” which denotes the very nature all that God is. Truly, In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9 NASB) The Lord Jesus proclaimed He who has seen Me has seen the Father;(John 14:9) since only the Son could manifest the Father to these disciples.
Upholding all things by the word of His power
We previously examined the heirship of the Son as well as the issue surrounding His creatorship but now we further this regard with a step towards viewing Christ as the sustainer of all that He has created! We are in essence entering into the study of the providence of God[vii]. Not only did the Lord Jesus make the worlds but He is also active in upholding them as well. Christ is the one who is accomplishing that which He had decreed before the foundation of the world and He does so perfectly. There are those who would see God as creating all things but then becoming passive in their history yet, as we can see from this wonderful passage, the Lord Jesus is still active today! It should come as a comforting thought that He is governing and preserving all things as we speak so that we can know that all His purposes are being consummated. The writer uses the present participle “pheron” (upholding) which denotes “to carry along”. There is the sense of movement in this work of Christ since it involves action to be able to continuously accomplish this. What the writer is also stating by this term “upholding” is the fact that God had a decree[viii] when creating all things. Nehemiah knew well the providence of God:
You alone are the LORD;
You have made heaven,
The heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth and everything on it,
The seas and all that is in them,
And You preserve them all.
The host of heaven worships You. (Nehemiah 9:6)
The lengths by which the Lord Jesus is in control goes beyond mere natural laws or being the pedestal of the earth. We read in scripture that the steps of a man are determined by God (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 16:9; 20:24), that He determines the fate of kings (Prob. 21:1), the birth of children (Psalm 127:3), the affairs of nations (Job12:23, Psalm 22:28; 66:7) and all things He has willed He accomplishes (Ephesians 1:11)
The next portion deals with how the Lord Jesus upholds all things in that this is accomplished by the word of His power! This is the word that spoke in Genesis chapter one and everything came into existence, the word that the psalmist hailed “He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9) and this is the same word that is able to sustain all things. The thought in this passage is almost parallel with that of Peter in His second epistle, we read: “but the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word…(2 Peter 3:7). The word of Christ is everlasting (Mark 13:31), authoritative (Luke 4:32), Spirit (John 6:63), Judgment (John 12:48 and Divine (John 14:24). This must have brought great conviction to the reader and we pray brings great conviction to us today!
[i] Some have come to the conclusion that this expression is actually evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ is not God. The argument states that in order for there to be an print or engraving there had to be something that existed firstly to have engraved or made the print. This argumentation fails to take into account that the term charakter is in a noun form and not a verb. The term charakter is not the act of printing or engraving but the fact that there is perfect resemblance between the two.
[ii] Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, Eerdmans, Pages 37-38
[iii] Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V, A.T. Robertson, Broadman, Page 336
[iv] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Joseph Thayer, Hendrickson, Page 645
[v] The Lord of Glory, B.B. Warfield, Solid Ground Christian Books, Page 279
[vi] The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, W.E. Vine, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Page 254
[vii] God is continually involved with all created things in such as a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes– Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 1994, Page 315
[viii] We call this plan, in terms, the decree of God. Within the term “decree” we find the thought of a decision or an order given by an authority. It is also the thought of the implementation of His purposes and intention of future things. This is actually intertwined with respects to His foreknowledge and Sovereignty.
The issue surrounding the decree of God relates also to His kingship. The very idea of the power of a monarchy or a king is within the bound of his decrees. God has put forward His eternal purposes and has pronounced His authoritative will with wisdom and might. We are especially given the affirmation of an eternal decree by the purpose of sending Christ into the world. We read that this was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:11), This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23) and that in His death, the men that committed the evil acts against Christ did whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:28)