April 7, 1996
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Easter John Piper, Pastor
HE SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF MAJESTY
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 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. 3 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; 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Last Sunday -- Verses 1-2
Last Sunday we looked at the first two verses of this book. We saw that in history there are two phases of God's redemptive communication with mankind. One phase was the many times and ways he spoke through the prophets to the Jewish people of old -- recorded in the Old Testament. Verse 1: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways . . ." The second and last phase was his speaking through his Son Jesus Christ. Verse 2: "In these last days has spoken to us in His Son."
He calls these "the last days" because the coming of Jesus Christ the Son of God into the world was the decisive Word of God. There is no third phase of God's Word in history. Everything in history is either explanation or application of the meaning of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
And we saw in verse 2b that God has appointed his Son, Jesus Christ to be the heir of all things. This means that Christ can make good on all his promises. In the end everything will belong to Christ. He will own it and rule it. And so he can make everything serve the joy of his people.
And we saw that he is heir of all things, not only because he did all the Father gave him to do in history, but also because "through him God made the world." He is the Creator. He is heir of all things, because he made all things. These are staggering truths about the person, Jesus Christ. And the aim of the writer is to win our attention and admiration and trust and allegiance and worship for Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Maundy Thursday -- Verse 3
Then on Thursday night at the communion table we focused on the phrase in verse 3: "When he had made purification for sins . . ." We saw three things:
1) The word "he" -- we are dealing here with a person, not just an idea or a tradition or a religion or a practice. Jesus Christ was and is a living person. And he wills to be known, loved, trusted, followed, worshipped, enjoyed. He is alive and is in this room among us by his Spirit this morning receiving all that we do, and responding to us.
2) The words "of sins" -- he made purification "of sins." And we stressed that sin is a terrible and great reality in the world. We saw from 3:17 that God is angry at sin. And this holy anger is what makes the purification of sins necessary.
3) The phrase "made purification" (verse 3b). God gave his Son to die for our sins so that his anger could be removed from us and our sins could be forgiven and our hearts could be purified. This he did once for all -- never to be repeated, because his work of sin-bearing was perfect.
Now this morning is Easter -- Resurrection Sunday -- a day for pondering and celebrating the fact that after Jesus Christ had made purification for sins by dying in our place, he rose from the dead and sat down at the right hand of God to rule there until all his enemies are put under his feet. So what we want to focus on this morning is the rest of verse 3.
He Sat Down at the Right Hand of Majesty
Here is a crucial observation in the way that the writer originally wrote this verse: it is one clause with one subject and one main verb. Every thing else serves to shed light on that one main assertion. The subject is "He" (or "who" in the original) -- that is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The one main verb is "sat down." So the one main clause of the verse is: "He sat down at the right hand of Majesty." Everything else in the verse serves that assertion and sheds light on that.
The way to hear it is to translate it like this:
"He . . . being the radiance of God's glory . . . sat down at the right hand of Majesty."
"He . . . being the exact representation of God's nature . . . sat down at the right hand of Majesty."
"He . . . upholding all things by the word of His power . . . sat down at the right hand of Majesty."
"He . . . having made purification of sins sat down at the right hand of Majesty."
What the author here wants us to see is what makes it fitting for Christ to sit down at the right hand of God's majesty. He mentions four things:
He is the radiance of God's glory -- so he sat down at God's right hand.
He is the exact representation of God's nature -- so he sat down at God's right hand.
He upholds all things by the word of his power -- so he sat down at God's right hand.
He made purification of sins -- so he sat down at God's right hand.
Let's look at these connections. And as we do, ask God to illumine your mind and heart to see the true greatness and glory of Jesus Christ.
1. First, consider the connection between the work of Christ in making purification of sins and his sitting down at the right hand of God.
We can see the connection made explicit for us in Hebrews 10:12-14,
He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For [note this connecting word!] by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
What is plain from these verses is that Christ was seated at the right hand of God to honor him for the total completeness of his sin-bearing work on the cross. He sat down at the right hand waiting until all his enemies are subdued, for by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. This word "for" means that he sits in this place of honor and authority and power because his offering accomplished exactly what God wanted it to.
If you put trust and hope in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your Savior and Lord, Christ will be united to you in a saving relationship and you will be given his Spirit who starts a lifelong work of "sanctifying" you, that is, bringing your mind and heart and life more and more into conformity to Christ. That's what Hebrews 10:14 means here by "those who are being sanctified." It's those who are banking their hope on Christ and are being changed from one degree to the next into his image by his Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What did the self-offering of Christ accomplish for them? "By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." In dying for us, Christ covered our sin so completely that it can be said that we are perfected before God. That is, in Christ we are forgiven for all our sins and, to use Paul's language, acquitted and reckoned righteous. And not just for a while, but "for all time."
This is what why Christ was exalted to the honored place at the right hand of God. His sin-bearing work was perfect. The resurrection and exaltation and coronation of Christ at God's right hand is a declaration and celebration of his perfect work of sin-bearing. That's the meaning of Hebrews 10:13-14
He sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting . . . until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
So all our worship of the risen Christ on this great Easter Sunday is a reflection of the total sufficiency of the death of Christ to cover and cleanse and remove all the sins of everyone who trusts him and enters the road to life called sanctification.
Now back to Hebrews 1:3. When it says, "When he had made purification of sins he sat down at the right hand of Majesty," it means that the sitting down in this place of preeminence and honor and authority and power was a declaration of how perfect was Christ's work of purification of sins. Christ was fitted for this place of honor by the fullness and perfection of his sin-bearing work for us.
I pray that you will embrace this precious Biblical reasoning. This is meant to make you strong and unshakable against the terrible temptations to doubt that your sins can be forgiven. The resurrection and the enthronement of Christ to the right hand of God is meant to make you confident in the hour of trial and in the hour of death that the purification of your sins is sure and real and sufficient to give you an entrance to heaven. Don't take lightly this Biblical reasoning: Christ reigns today in heaven because he made purification of sins, once for all.
2. There is another great work Christ does to fit him for this exalted place at God's right hand.
Hebrews 1:3 says, "He upholds all things by the word of his power." Literally: "He, . . . upholding all things by the word of his power . . . sat down at the right hand of Majesty."
Why is this included here? Why mention that the whole universe hangs on the word of Christ for its moment by moment existence? Because it would be a great mistake to think that we depend on Christ only for our purification and not for our very existence.
There are two things that might keep you from entering heaven and enjoying the glory of God and all his works. One is if your sins were not forgiven. The other is if you went out of existence and all the works of God went out of existence. So if you are to have a happy future in God's presence, two great works are needed: a work of purification of sins, and work of preservation of your existence.
How this sounds strange, I think, to modern scientific people like us. And so it's very important that we hear it. The reason it sounds strange is that most of us have absorbed a worldview that treats material existence and human existence as the foundational reality in the universe. What we can see and touch and smell is real, and is the measure of what else is real.
Now this writer calls that whole approach into question. He says that the foundational reality in the universe is not us or material things that you can see and touch; the foundational reality in the universe is Christ and his Word. What we think is so real is, in fact, very fragile and on the brink of extinction. It hangs by a slender thread. One word from Christ and it goes out of existence -- or one word unspoken by Christ and we go out of existence.
We are all heirs of the modern mindset expressed in René Descartes's words from 350 years ago. He tried to build a system of certainty based on this famous saying: "I think, therefore I am." What's wrong with that statement? What's wrong with it is that it is superficial. That is, it doesn't go deep enough to say what is really significant about my thinking.
The writer to the Hebrews wants us to say, not, "I think, therefore I am," but, "I think, therefore Christ is." Because if Christ were not upholding my mind and my brain and my heart and my lungs, I would cease to be. My being is witness to the Word of Christ holding me in being. Forgetting this is precisely what defines fallen human beings. For us, what could be more real than our own existence and what could be more unreal than talk about an unseen person who sits on a heavenly throne!
So the challenge before us this morning from this writer is tremendous: will we just sing along with the modern song of human self-sufficiency? Or will we listen to the Word of God and learn that Christ upholds all things by the word of his power?
If we will learn from Scripture how to see ultimate Reality, we will see that we need Christ not only to make purification for our sins, but also to provide preservation to our souls and our bodies. So Christ is doubly worthy of our dependence and trust and love and worship.
When we see him sitting at the right hand of the Majesty it is not only to honor the work of his purification in saving us, but also to honor the word of his power in preserving us. We owe our purification to him and we owe our being to him.
And remember this is a person who is alive today. He is hearing everything that is being said in this room. He can be known and trusted and loved and worshipped. Which is exactly why these words are written and why he arranged it that you are here this morning.
3. There is one last reason Hebrews 1:3 gives for Christ's sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty.
There are two more phrases in the verse to look at, but they are easily combined, and in fact do go together: "He (Christ) is the radiance of His (God's) glory and the exact representation of His nature." Or, as we saw from the original words: "He, being the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature . . . sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
The difference between this qualification for sitting at God's right hand and the other two is that those described what Christ did, while this describes who he is. What he does is "uphold all things by the word of his power," and "make purification of sins" by the worth of his blood. But what is he? Who is he? That's our last question this morning. Who died for sins? Who rose from the dead? Who upholds the universe by the word of his power? Who is sitting at the right hand of God?
The answer is: Christ is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his nature." What does this mean? It's important that we take these two phrases together, because they control each other and keep us on track.
When it says that Christ is the exact representation of God's nature we are to realize that to see Christ is to see God. Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (John 14:9). Colossians 1:15 says, "He is the image of the invisible God." To see what God is like, you see what Christ is like.
But that could be taken in an entirely wrong way. Suppose you take it to mean that Christ represents God the way a photograph or a painting represents a person, or the way an authorized letter represents the king, or the way a wax impression represents a golden ring. That would be totally wrong. And the other phrase here is meant to protect us from that misunderstanding. He is the exact representation of God's nature not the way a painting represents a person, but the way radiance represents glory. Verse 3 says, he is "the radiance of God's glory."
In other words he relates to God the way radiance relates to glory, or the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun. Keep in mind that every analogy between God and natural things is imperfect and will distort if you press it. Nevertheless, consider for example,
1) There is no time that the sun exists without the beams of radiance. They cannot be separated. The radiance is co-eternal with the glory. Christ is co-eternal with God the Father.
2) The radiance is the glory radiating out. It is not essentially different from the glory. Christ is God standing forth as a separate but not essentially different from the Father.
3) Thus the radiance is eternally begotten, as it were, by the glory -- not created or made. If you put a solar-activated calculator in the sunlight, numbers appear on the face of the calculator. These, you could say, are created or made by the sun, but they are not what the sun is. But the rays of the sun are an extension of the sun. So Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, but not made or created.
4) We see the sun by means of seeing the rays of the sun. So we see God the Father by seeing Jesus. The rays of the sun arrive here about 8 seconds after they leave the sun, and the round ball of fire that we see in the sky is the image -- the exact representation -- of the sun; not because it is a painting of the sun, but because it is the sun streaming forth in its radiance.
So I close this morning by commending this great Person to you that you might trust in him and love him and worship him. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God with all power and authority and will one day come in great glory. He has that exalted place because he is himself God the Son; and because he upholds you and me by the word of his power; and because he made a perfect purification of sins.
Would you not know the one who holds you in being, and offers you purification from your sins, and reveals God to you the way light reveals the sun?
Copyright 1996 John Piper