What is the area of your life that you feel you MUST control? How devastated are you when things don’t go according to your plan? Parents feel this pressure to protect every aspect of the life of their children to the point that their lives literally revolve around them. Fathers feel the the need to provide for their families to the point that their lives revolve around work. Single men and women get so preoccupied with finding a spouse that they lose sight of so many opportunities unique to their station in life.
My own sense of pressure from placing the success or failure of this church upon my own shoulders.
The culture was challenging the light of the gospel, so the author of Hebrews is enhancing their view of the Son. He has explained the glory and nature of God, but now he points to his role as the Sustainer of the world.
Since we cannot see the Son, we mistakenly assume that he is uninvolved in the minutiae of our daily lives. We think it’s primarily our responsibility to make things happen. And by sheer force of will, we attempt to secure the future we have planned for ourselves.
The Son’s physical absence does not diminish his interest in us nor our dependence upon him.
Read Heb 1:1-4.
The Son Sustains God’s World
There are two primary uses for this word “upholding.” The more common function is to take it in the sense of sustaining. It refers to carrying or bearing up something. But the word can also have the sense of carrying things forward or moving them along. This would refer to the idea of God ruling over all matters. The Westminster Divine’s referenced this verse to define “God’s works of providence” as a “powerful preserving” of all his creatures (WSC 11).
With this latter sense in mind, John Owen points to the throne of God in Ezek 1:15-21 as a helpful illustration. The wheels bear up the throne of God, they turn in all directions, and their rims were covered in eyes all around. It is a picture of God accomplishing all his holy will. He orders all things according to his sovereign will. F.F. Bruce puts it well:
The Epistle to the Hebrews A. God’s Final Revelation in His Son (1:1–4)
He upholds the universe not like Atlas supporting a dead weight on his shoulders, but as one who carries all things forward on their appointed course.
But, to whom is the author of Hebrews applying this language? Who sustains and governs God’s perfect plan? It is none other than the Son. Any Jew who attended synagogue for a time would have known that God preserves the universe (Neh 9:6). God alone knows all things. Isaiah describes this omniscient Creator in Isaiah 40:12-26. God knows the precise measurements of everything he created. He did not consult anyone when he established the boundaries of the water and the height of the mountains. God is the Holy One who cannot be compared to anyone.
In the author’s first description of the Son, he called him the “heir of all things.” The ESV obscures how the author comes back around to that same phrase. The Son is literally said to sustain “all things.” Like all of his other descriptors, this one also identifies the divine nature of the Son.
Jesus was continually pointing out things in the world that would illustrate his message. Throughout the gospel narratives you find Jesus describing the physical world his disciples were inhabiting. For just one example, he comforted his anxious listeners by telling them to consider the way in which God clothed the lilies of the field (Mt 6:28-29). From a human perspective, Jesus understood a great deal about the world in which he inhabited because he knew its origin.
And the same power by which the world was created, the Son continues to wield as he sustains the world, namely by his word. The world remains and history continues because the Son speaks. No amount of opposition or persecution can thwart the Son’s mission. Paul says, “In him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Peter says that “the same word” that created the heavens and earth now stores them up for the fiery judgment (2 Pt 3:4-7).
This explanation leaves no room for the deist’s proposal that God would set the evolutionary process in motion and then allow the laws of nature to keep it all going. God didn’t start the process and then leave the world alone. Natural law is obedient to the commandments of the Son. There is interaction between God and natural law. In fact, natural law would fail were it not for the powerful word of the Son sustaining it.
› But, maybe the more pressing question for us today is…
How Does the Son Sustain All Things?
Theonomists like Rousas Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen have argued that we should consider the civil laws of the Old Testament as a divine blueprint for modern society. If the laws of the Old Testament represent God’s application of his moral law, then the only alternative is to adopt man-made laws based upon some inferior standard of justice.
Is Christ not ruling and reigning over both his church and his world? Which square inch of this universe did he hand over to Satan? Or, to make the connection to our passage clear, which part of the universe is Christ not upholding? Christ is ruling, reigning, and upholding all things—including every institution (i.e., church, state, academy, marketplace, society, family).
There is a sense in which we must say a hearty “Amen!” Christ is seated on his throne. He has been given all authority and power—and he is wielding that power to uphold all things. Ultimately, no one disagrees with that. The question boils down to how he is reigning. What are the instruments of his reign? And there are basically three competing views within the Reformed camp:
1. Kuyperian Sphere Sovereignty: Abraham Kuyper presents various spheres of authority and power all of which are subsumed under the reign of Christ. For instance, Christ rules over the sphere of the family primarily through the father. Christ rules over the state through civil authorities. Christ rules over the church through religious authorities. The goal of the Church is to transform each sphere of society to adopt a Christian worldview (Christianize everything). This results in the loss of any distinction between the sacred and the secular, and has been called mono-kingdom theology as opposed to two-kingdom theology. Matthew Tuininga summarizes the problem this way, “When we emphasize all of life as kingdom activity, just as when we view all of life as worship, we lose sight of what is distinctive and vital about the church itself.”
2. Reformed Two-Kingdoms: VanDrunen presents the two kingdoms as “church” and “state”. Christ rules over the church through his moral law and he rules over the state through natural law. There is almost no overlap between these two kingdoms. The church ought to have very little to do with the state and vice versa. Thinking about the historical significance of this doctrine during the Protestant Reformation is helpful. Rome reserved all authority for the church—even dictating what the magistrates were allowed to do. When Protestant Churches began to think independently, Rome claimed the authority of the magistrate’s sword to squelch their rebellion. Luther used the two-kingdoms doctrine to refute the claims of Rome.
3. Classical Two-Kingdoms: Augustine labeled them the city of God and the city of man. We might think of them as spiritual and earthly realms—both of which include the church and the state. Christ reigns over the invisible spiritual realm by the power of his Spirit in the context of his covenant community. Every Christian has earthly responsibilities that he must carry out to the glory of God. He does not remove his faith when he enters public office, or any other secular institution.
In conjunction with all of this, we should also emphasize that there are two ages—this present age which is characterized by the presence of evil and the age to come which is characterized by righteousness. Christian’s living between these two ages “already” experience a foretaste of the eternal kingdom, but they are “not yet” experiencing it in its fullness. Again, Tuininga is helpful,
“Thus, the church is the only corporate expression of the kingdom in this age. It is only as we join ourselves to the body of Christ, the body of those who hold fast to Jesus, that we participate in the kingdom that is coming. And although we witness to our citizenship in this kingdom in every single thing that we do in this age, doing everything “as unto the Lord,” the primary form this witness to Christ’s lordship takes is that of submission, service, and sacrifice in an often hostile and oppressive world.”
There are valid aspects to each one of these views. Kuyper’s presentation is robust and seeks to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Whether that thought is regarding the church or state, all thoughts/ideas should find themselves sufficiently grounded in the authority of Christ. I also find value in VanDrunen’s critique of an overly politicized Church, or one that is obsessed with triumphal cultural transformation. It is all too easy for a Church to compromise the centrality of the Gospel by battling every secular political and social issue. Kevin DeYoung puts it well,
“[T]he church and its beatific message of Christ crucified and risen for sinners is ultimately more important than the culture. The one is not irrelevant to the other or disinterested in the other, but only the church will last forever, and only the church is promised to be built by Jesus himself.”
Now, we must admit this is a thoroughly Amillennial perspective. If, as Postmillennialists believe, the culture will experience a golden age—then there is no need to make any ultimate distinction between the church and culture. Eventually, the church and the culture will be united in fulfilling God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). At that point, the question is not so much about how Christ is reigning, but when will his reign become effectual in the present age.
› Regardless of our theological and philosophical persuasion, we should all recognize the tremendous weight that is lifted off our shoulders by this verse.
Conclusion: Lighten Up!
The success of this church is not resting on me, or the elders. That’s not to say we have no responsibilities, but it does ease the expanding pressure of trying to control the outcome of every decision the church has to make.
Trust that the Son will continue to uphold the universe. The pressure is not on you. You can also trust “that whatever evil He sends upon [you] in this vale of tears He will turn to [your] good” (HC 26). You can rest in the safety of your Savior’s arms, even in the face of hardship.
You can lay all of your anxious thoughts and fears about the future at his feet. Even as he sits upon his heavenly throne, he sustains all things. Christ is preserving his Church in the midst of worldly pressure. That means, if you believe in him, he is also actively sustaining your faith too!
Philippians 1:6 ESV
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
When we understand the fullness of what Christ has accomplished and how he continues to operate in this world, the only appropriate response is praise! That is what gives us the strength to persevere. I’ll conclude with this excellent turn of phrase from Raymond Browns commentary on this passage:
The Message of Hebrews 7. Jesus Is God’s Cosmic Sustainer
These first-century readers would be less likely to turn from him in adversity if they had looked to him in adoration. The opening sentences of the letter are designed to bring them and us to our knees; only then can we hope to stand firmly on our feet.