The making of coins is an ancient art. First, a skilled craftsman with a good engraving tool would carve out a die. Then this die would be used to stamp a piece of precious metal with the official insignia. A coin produced in this way would have precisely the same image as the original die. Any coin without this exact image stamped on it was a counterfeit.
In early Greek the word for the engraver was character (car ack TARE). Later the same word was used for his engraving tool, then for the die he made, and finally for the image that was stamped on the coin. By the time of the New Testament, it was this last use—the exact image on the coin—that was the common meaning of the word.
The book of Hebrews says that Jesus is the character of God’s being. Just what does this mean? It means that Jesus is the “exact representation” of who and what God is. It means that just as a coin bears exactly the image of the original die, so Jesus shows us exactly what God is like. The underlying reality of God’s nature has been precisely reproduced in his Son.
No one, perhaps, could appreciate this truth better than the Apostle Philip. In the Upper Room he was the one who asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied with these bold words: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has
seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).
In modern English we could say that Jesus was “the spit ‘n image” of his Father. (This has nothing to do with spit. It comes from an Old English expression, “the spirit and image,” as the exact inside and outside copy of someone.) Although no one has ever seen God, Jesus shows us exactly what God is.