“Who being the brightness of (His) glory” (verse 3). In this verse the Holy Spirit continues to set forth the excellencies of Christ, and in the same order as in the preceding one. First, the Divine dignity of His person, His relation to the Father—He is the Brightness of His glory.
The Greek verb from which “brightness” is derived, signifies “to send forth brightness or light,” and the noun here used, such brightness as cometh from light, as the sunbeams issuing from the sun. The term is thus used metaphorically.
So ably has this been developed by Dr. Gouge we transcribe from his excellent commentary of 1650: “No resemblance taken from any other creature can more fully set out the mutual relation between the Father and the Son: “1. The brightness issuing from the sun is the same nature that the sun is—cf. John 10:30. 2. It is of as long continuance as the sun: never was the sun without the brightness of it—cf. John 1:1. 3. The brightness cannot be separated from the sun: the sun may as well be made no sun, as have the brightness thereof severed from it—cf. Proverbs 8:30.
4. This brightness though from the sun is not the sun itself—cf. John 8:42. 5. The sun and the brightness are distinct from each other: the one is not the other—cf. John 5:17. 6. All the glory of the sun is this brightness—cf. John 17:5; 2 Corinthians 4:6. 7. The light which the sun giveth the world is by this brightness—cf. John 14:9 . . . Thus the Son is no whit inferior to the Father, but every way His equal. He was brightness, the brightness of His Father, yea, also the brightness of His Father’s glory. Whatever excellency soever was in the Father, the same likewise was in the Son, and that in the most transplendent manner. Glory sets out excellency; brightness of glory, the excellency of excellency.”
That which is in view in this third item of our passage so far transcends the grasp of the finite mind that it is impossible to give it adequate expression in words. Christ is the irradiation of God’s glory. The Mediator’s relation to the Godhead is like that of the rays to the sun itself. We may conceive of the sun in the firmament, yet shining not: were there no rays, we should not see the sun. So, apart from Christ, the brightness of God’s “glory” could not be perceived by us. Without Christ, man is in the dark, utterly in the dark concerning God. It is in Christ that God is revealed.
“The express image of His person,” or, more literally, “the impress of His substance” (verse 3). The Greek for “express image” is a single word, and the verb from which it is derived signifies “to engrave,” and in its noun form “that which is engraved,” as the stamp on a coin, the print pressed on paper, the mark made by a seal. Nothing can be more like the original mold or seal than the image pressed out on the clay or wax, the one carrying the very form or features of the other. The Old Testament saints did not perfectly “express” God, nor can angels, for they are but finite creatures; but Christ, being Himself God, could, and did. All that God is, in His nature and character, is expressed and manifested, absolutely and perfectly, by the incarnate Son.
“And the very impress of His substance.” Here again we are faced with that which is difficult to comprehend, and harder still to express. Perhaps we may be helped to get the thought by comparing 1 Timothy 6:16 with Colossians 1:15: “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see,” “Who is the image of the invisible God.” All true knowledge of God must come from His approach unto us, for we cannot by “reaching” find Him out. The approach must come from His side, and it has come, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18).
“The very impress of His substance.” This is the nearest approach to defining God’s essence or essential existence. The word “substance” means essential being or essential existence; but how little we know about this! God—self-existent: One who never had a beginning, yet full of all that we know of blessed attributes. And Christ, the incarnate Son, is the very “impress,” as it were, of that substance. As we have said, the original term is taken from the impress of a seal. Though we had never seen the seal we might, from beholding the impress of it (that which is exactly like it), form a true and accurate idea of the seal itself. So Christ is the Impress of the substance of God, the One in whom all the Divine perfections are found. Though essentially Light, He is also the Outshining of the “Light”; though in Himself essentially God, He is also the visible Representation of God. Being “with God” and being God, He is also the Manifestation of God; so that by and through Him we learn what God is.
“The very impress of His substance.” It is not enough to read Scripture, nor even to compare passage with passage; nor have we done all when we have prayed for light thereon; there must also be meditation, prolonged meditation. Of whom were these words spoken? Of the “Son,” but as incarnate, i.e., as the Son of man; of Him who entered this world by mysterious and miraculous conception in the virgin’s womb. Men doubt and deny this, and no wonder, when they have nothing but a corrupt reason to guide them. How can a sin-darkened understanding lay hold of, believe, and love the truth that the great God should hide Himself in a frail human nature! That Omnipotence should be concealed in a Servant’s form! That the Eternal One should become an Infant of days! This is the “great mystery” of godliness, but to the family of God is “without controversy.”
But if the human mind, unaided, is incapable of grasping the fact of the great God hiding Himself in human form, how much less can it apprehend that that very hiding was a manifestation, that the concealing was a revealing of Himself—the Invisible becoming visible, the Infinite becoming cognizable to the finite. Yet such it was: “And the very impress of His substance.” Who was? The incarnate Son, the Man Christ Jesus. Of whose “substance?” Of God’s! But how could that be? God is eternal, and Christ died! True, yet He manifested His Godhead in the very way that He died. He died as none other ever did: He “laid down” His life. More, He manifested His Godhead by rising again: “destroy this temple” (His body) said He, “And I will raise it again”; and He did. His Godhead is now manifested in that “He is alive forever more.”
But God is immutable and self-sufficient, and Christ hungered and thirsted/ True; because He was made “in all things like unto His brethren,” and because that from actual experience of these things, He might be able to “succor them that are tempted.” Moreover, He manifested His self-sufficiency by miraculously feeding the five thousand, and by His absolute power over all Nature—ruling the winds and waves, blasting the fig tree, etc.
But God is Lord of all, and Christ was “Led as a lamb to the slaughter”: He seemed so helpless when arrested and when hanging upon the cross! But appearances are deceptive; sometimes it is a greater thing to withhold the putting forth of power than to exert it! Yet glimpses of His Lordship flashed forth even then. See Him in the Garden, and those sent to apprehend Him prostrate on the ground (John 18:6)! See Him again on the Cross, putting forth His power and “plucking a brand from the burning”: it was the power of God, for nothing short of that can free one of Satan’s captives! Yes, Christ was, ever was, the “very impress of His substance,” “for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). (Online source)
A. W. Pink