What do you think about when you see a nativity scene? We might recognize the baby in the manger as God in flesh. But seeing Christ as a helpless and vulnerable infant can delude us into thinking that the humility of the incarnation was not isolated to His physical form—that somehow, His deity was also diminished.
And it’s easy to read the birth narratives in the gospel accounts without gaining a full sense of Christ’s eternal glory and supremacy. Those attributes figure more prominently at the end of His earthly sojourn rather than the beginning.
The birth narratives in the gospel accounts place Christ at the center of the story, but all the action happens around Him. There’s the amazing appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she would bear God’s Son. There’s the unprecedented account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. And there are the profound human responses to His birth such as the wise men’s worship and Herod’s murderous rampage.
But it is in the New Testament epistles that we gain real insight into the person of Christ and His eternal character—insight that can be easily obscured by the birth scene in Bethlehem.
For instance, Romans 1 asserts that Jesus was both the Son of David and the Son of God. Galatians 4:4 says that in the fullness of time God brought forth His Son, born of a woman and subject to the Law. Ephesians 3 introduces the concept of the mystery of Christ, that God has now revealed the truth of His Son in human flesh to the Jews and the Gentiles. Colossians 2 makes the sweeping and profound statement that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Jesus Christ. And then there’s the crowning passage in Hebrews:
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. (Hebrews 1:1–3)
Here in a few short verses is an insightful, divine description of who the baby born in Bethlehem really is. It is probably the most concise and comprehensive New Testament summary statement of the superiority of Christ. And the writer includes three key features in composing his classic statement: the preparation for Christ, the presentation of Christ, and the preeminence of Christ.
The Preparation for Christ
Hebrews 1:1 refers to the Old Testament as it focuses on the preparation for Christ: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.” The Old Testament was simply God speaking to the Jewish people (“the fathers”) through the prophets in many different ways and at a number of different times.
In other words, God’s Spirit spoke through the Old Testament writers in thirty-nine different books. And these books come to us in various literary forms: Much of the literature is narrative prose and history, much is prophecy, some is poetry, and a little appears as the Law.
Furthermore, God’s servants received His words “in many ways,” or by different methods. Sometimes He spoke to them directly in audible words. At other times He spoke to them indirectly and prompted their minds with the thoughts He wanted conveyed. Then there were other methods by which God communicated His truth—parables, types, symbols, ceremonies, and even stone tablets (the Ten Commandments). But all of it was inspired, inerrant, and truly what God wanted written, the way He wanted it written.
By affirming its features and character, the writer of Hebrews shows that the Old Testament is the preparation for Christ, because he also knew that its theme was Jesus Christ. From Genesis 3:15 (the first allusion to Christ and the gospel) to Malachi 4:1–3 (a reference to Christ’s returning in judgment against the ungodly), the Lord Jesus is the subject all the way through the Old Testament. He’s the One pictured in the sacrifices and ceremonies detailed in the five books of Moses. He’s the great Prophet and King who’s promised time and again (Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Psalm 2:6; 24:7–10; 45:6; 89:27; Isaiah 9:7; 32:1; 42:1–2; 52:7; 61:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Daniel 7:14; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9).
However, the Old Testament preparation for Christ is incomplete and fragmentary. Not one of its books or writers presents the entire picture of the Savior. As the apostle Peter says:
As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:10–11)
The prophets couldn’t sort everything out; they wondered exactly whom they were writing about and precisely when everything would occur. No one saw a complete picture of the Messiah until He actually came in the New Testament.
The Presentation of Christ
The writer of Hebrews affirms that Christ is the full revelation of God when he says that God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). When Jesus came, God presented the entire picture. Christ revealed God fully by being fully God. “For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
We can see in Christ everything we need to know about God. That includes the full array of God’s attributes—such characteristics as omniscience, miracle-working power, the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead, compassion for sinners, and the desire for justice and holiness.
And all of that was evident “in these last days,” a familiar phrase the Jews would have understood as meaning the messianic age. Thus, in the time of Messiah, God ceased speaking in fragments and instead presented His complete revelation in the person of His Son. That, of course, established Jesus as superior to previous revelation. The complete and final New Testament came forth in the person of the sinless Son of God. Jesus Christ, as the full expression of His Father, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The Preeminence of Christ
Once the writer of Hebrews presents Jesus as God’s Son, he immediately gives us a sevenfold summary of the preeminence of Jesus Christ:
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. (Hebrews 1:2–3)
That grand summation defines the identity and preeminence of the Child who entered the world at Bethlehem. They are glorious truths often left lingering in the shadows of nativity scenes and Christmas pageants. Yet Christ’s supremacy over all things is what His incarnation ultimately put on display.
We’ll explore those aspects of His superiority in the days ahead.
(Adapted from God in the Manger.)