“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The letter to the Hebrews isn’t an easy book to read, which might be why I haven’t heard much about it in the churches I’ve been a part of, aside from a couple of well known passages. But the above three verses offer us brilliant insight into something not often discusses: the position and role of the Son in the Trinity beyond his incarnation as Jesus.
The human Jesus is a man Christians believe was born to Mary, lived for around 30 years during the rule of the Roman Empire, died on the cross, rose again, and ascended to sit at ‘the right hand of the majesty in heaven’.
The thing about the Jesus that Christians believe in is that he is not simply a human, but he is also God. The gospel of John says that God (whom he calls the Word) was made flesh (i.e. human) – that’s Jesus.
As both John 1 and the above passage in Hebrews make clear, the Son (the Word), existed at least as early as the creation of the universe (Christian orthodoxy teaches that, in fact, the Son is eternal, based on verses like Hebrews 13:8). However, the name Jesus, and the body of the human Jesus, only came about with the conception and birth of the Son as a human.
What was the role of the Son in the Trinity before his incarnation? The Old Testament, as far as I can see, offers little that is beyond doubt. The actions of God the Father and even the Holy Spirit can be seen beyond reasonable doubt in the Old Testament, but there is no consensus on the presence of the Son. Instead, the Old Testament looks forward to the coming human Messiah through prophecies that were fulfilled in the Son’s incarnation: Jesus.
Passages like Hebrews 1:1-3, John 1, and Colossians 1:15-20 give Christians the biggest clues as to the role of the Son throughout the arc of Biblical narrative. As far as I can see, his role can be broadly categorised into three areas:
- Creator: ‘Through him all things were made’ (John 1:3).
- Sustainer: ‘Sustaining all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3).
- Reconciler (including the Son’s roles as high priest and intercessor): ‘Through [the Son] to reconcile to [the Father] all things’ (Colossians 1:20).
Anyone who knows me well will know that I enjoy to learn things, and if anyone would happily learn for learning’s sake, it’s me. I could leave this post here, and just let you absorb some intellectual information about the role of the Son of God.
But I’m not going to.
Because I can’t just leave this information without feeling the need to do something more. Few passages in the Bible inspire me to worship God more than the three passages quoted above. There is something uniquely powerful in recognising the power of the Son throughout creation, not just in his work on the cross. These passages inspire me (and hopefullly you) to worship the Son – Jesus – not just as the redeemer, but as the creator and sustainer of everything we see as well.
His role in the Trinity and creation is characterised by life-giving grace. Even had humanity never fallen, I believe that the love of the Son would have been evident in his faithful and ongoing provision of life.
The other response – and the challenge from passages like these – is to understand how we can be more like the Son, because Christians believe that we are being moulded in his image. Thankfully, through the incarnation, we can hold on to the humanity of Jesus. I don’t think I would be able to relate to God at all if it wasn’t for him becoming a man.
To mirror the three aspects of the Son that I have already written about, I think there are three areas that we can look at in our lives, and through growing in those areas we can look more like Jesus in all his fullness:
- Encouragement (creator). Through the Son’s words, the universe came into being, and through Jesus’ words lives were made new both spiritually through teaching and physically through healing. By encouraging each other and building one another up, Christians can help each other to continue pursuing Jesus, through the creation of healthy churches, healthy outreach projects, and healthy friendships.
- Prayer (sustainer). Jesus sustained his relationship with the Father through regularly praying in solitude, and we can do the same. If we want to persevere in the new lives we’ve been given, we simply have to take time to talk to God.
- Forgiveness (reconciler). One of the biggest calls of Christians’ lives is that we need to forgive each other. Jesus made peace between us and God through forgiveness, and if we want to follow him, we have to make peace between ourselves through forgiving one another.
In the words of S. M. Lockridge: ‘That’s my king!’