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JESUS SUPERIOR TO ANGELS

Hebrews 1:4-1:15
Key Verse: 1:4

Let’s begin by briefly reviewing what we have studied thus far. Verses 1-2a say, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various way, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” God spoke through the prophets and his Son. The Son Jesus is the full and final revelation of God through his words and life. We have the written words of the Bible. Now he speaks to us through the Scriptures.

The chapter continues, “…whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe.” We know that the future is in the hand of the heir. So his being appointed heir comes first concerning the Son. And through him God made the universe. When we think of the universe, a term more realistic and sensible than the world or worlds, we can grasp better the vastness of what was made thanks to science. According to these verses, God made the universe through him the Son. And we can say that he made the universe when we refer to John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16. Yet the very following verse supports the truth that he made the universe. It says, “The Son is radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all this by his powerful word.” As the Nicene creed describes, he is the very God of the very God. Then it says, “After he had provided purification for sins…” This description clearly shows that the Son this Creator of the universe and all things in it, the great and holy God, died shedding his blood to provide purification for our sins. What an amazing grace! His sacrifice is truly sufficient for the salvation of each and every one. His sacrifice is one for all. He purifies anyone who comes to him, purifying from all sins, and he will continue to purify us when we come to him. His sacrifice is truly great, yet this is a process for God’s ultimate purpose. So the description of his sacrifice is written not in a complete sentence even not in a main clause, but in a subordinate clause as it is written, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” The main clause is “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” It is God’s exaltation of him to eternal glory through his resurrection and ascension. This shows that his work of purification and redemption pleased God and was completed as the conformation of Jesus’ words, “It is finished.” And the place of Christ in heaven at God’s right hand also alludes to his work of intercession for us (Rom 8:34). Now he is the Sovereign Ruler as King of kings and Lord of Lords. The first three verses of this Epistle are some of the most remarkable in all of Scriptures.

The Son Jesus is truly incomparable and matchless in the world and in the heaven also. After telling who Jesus is, the author concluded in verse 4 that Jesus became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs (4). It seemed to be obvious to us, even needless to say. Why would the author of Hebrews spend such a significant amount of time in writing the next 10 verses in 5-14, demonstrating that Christ is superior to angels? Yet, when we look at the historical background of Hebrews, we find that this section is absolutely necessary for the author’s overall argument.” The Hebrew people held angels in high regard because the law had been given through them and they served as God’s messengers. Jewish rabbis developed an intricate system of angelology. They taught that each person had each one’s own guardian angel (Mt 18:10), and even “every blade of grass has its angel.” Among the billions of angels, a few special angels stood in the presence of God: Raphael, Uriel, Phanuel, Gabriel, Michael. People considered them spiritual intermediaries. They prayed to angels to intercede with God for them. Some people even worshiped angels (Col 2:18). These days, people trust and honor spiritual beings without discernment, not knowing that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2Co 11:14).

What we have considered thus far in verses 1-3 concerning who the Son Jesus is so important. Now, in the following section, the author wants to make clear that Jesus is superior to angels. This teaching must have challenged his audience. To support this claim, he quotes seven Old Testament references in verses 5-14. Again in verse 4, “So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Why was the part “as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs” added, instead of just “So he became much superior to the angels”? What does this latter part mean? One’s name represents the very person, who he is, his identity. We know that his human name is Jesus, which was given before his birth. However, he has many great names which represent who he is such as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the lamb, the lion, the living stone, etc. Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:10-11, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Here his name is Lord. Now the author introduces Jesus’ name based on the Old Testament to confirm Jesus’ superiority over angels.

First, Jesus is superior to angels because he is the Son (5-6). Among the seven the first three reference verses are related to his Sonship. In verse 5, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’?” This word is from Psalm 2:7. And verse 5 continues, “Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’” This is from 2 Samuel 7:14 (which is also written in 1 Chronicles 17:13). As we studied in 2 Samuel, this was God’s promise to David, when his kingdom was firmly established, which would be the shadow of the Messiah’s kingdom. The coming Messiah would be God’s Son. The quotation from 2 Samuel 7 shows this sonship refers not only to Jesus as the eternal Son of God, but to Jesus as the messianic Son—the fulfillment of the Davidic promise. When Jesus was about to begin his public life, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:17). Though angels are spiritual beings, God never called them sons. They have no part with the sonship at all. However, God calls the Messiah “my Son”, which is clearly written in the Old Testament. As the Son, Jesus is in very nature God and shares the same attributes as God. So he is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.

And verse 6 says, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” This is written in Deuteronomy (32:43; see Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint; NLT), one of five books of Moses. In verse 6a, we find the word “firstborn.” This refers to his preeminence. God the Father and God the Son were both there before the creation of all things.

The Old Testament passages quoted here are each taken from one of the major divisions in the Hebrew Scriptures: Psalm 2:7 from the Writings, 2 Samuel 7:14 from the Prophets, and Deuteronomy 32:43 from the Law. Through a rhetorical question, the author makes the point that God never makes any claim of sonship for any of the angels. An angel may serve as God’s agent, messenger, and witness, but not as God’s Son.

The final quotation, from Deuteronomy 32:43, is particularly interesting. In its original context, the statement about the angels bowing down in worship is in reference to God, whom the writer of Hebrews now identifies as Jesus! The argument is clear. The angels worship Christ; it is not Christ who declares the ministry of angels. The angels are not called sons, but that is the very name that Christ himself, the Davidic Messiah, has inherited.

Here it is important to remember that we are not merely reading the author’s random devotional reflections when he refers to different sections of the Old Testament. Through the author of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit is providing his own inerrant, infallible commentary of the Old Testament. It is good to know that we should read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and vice versa.

Again in brief, Jesus is the Son and angels, though spiritual beings, were created to worship the Son. So Jesus and angels are fundamentally different in nature. In the New Testament the Jews tried to kill Jesus because he was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (Jn 5:18). Jesus’ divinity of Sonship has been the very target of criticism and attack by sinful human beings generation after generation. Yet, this is a core of Christian faith on which we stand in this world. John 20:31 says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” And 1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And it is written 1 John 5:5, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

Second, Jesus is superior to angels because he is God with eternal throne (7-9). Verse 7 continues, “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.’” This is from Psalm 104:4. The psalmist uses exalted language to describe the angelic host. They are a flame of fire; they enjoy God’s presence and carry out his purpose. However they are only “servants” in God’s court. The contrast is made even more explicit in verses 8 and 9: “But about the Son, he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing with the oil of joy.” This quotation is from Psalm 45:6,7. These verses are very interesting. Who is you? The psalmist said, “Your throne, O God” and “God, your God, has set you…” When we know that “you” is the Son, then it completely makes sense. Here the Son Jesus is called “God” with eternal throne. Angels may surround the throne of God, but the Son sits on the throne. He is eternal king with an everlasting throne. While the kingdoms of the world rise and wane, the kingdom of the Son Messiah is forever. Before Jesus’ birth, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “His kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:33). He is never replaced by another, nor is his reign overthrown. If a wicked king reigned forever, this would be terrible. However, the Messiah’s reign is characterized by righteousness. His kingdom is the kingdom of righteousness with intolerance of evil. Evil cannot exist in that kingdom, even a hint of it. At the time of trial, when Pilate said, “You are a king, then!” Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listen to me” (Jn 18:37). And only the kingdom of righteousness and truth is forever.

And again in verse 9b, “therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Here “your companions” might refer to angels or to other men who were similarly anointed for their offices: the OT prophets, priests, and kings. Angels might be sent, but Christ is the Anointed One, anointed by God with the oil of joy. His kingdom is characterized with righteousness and also joy as it is written in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is…of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Third, Jesus is superior to angels because he is the Lord of creation (10-12). In verses 10 and 11, “He also says, ‘In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” This is a quotation from Psalm 102:25-27. Again, in the Old Testament context these verses are about God. Yet the Holy Spirit, through the author of Hebrews, identifies the Son with “you” (God), adding the word, “O Lord.” Jesus is the Lord who laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands. In 1:3 it is written that God made the universe through the Son Jesus. Here by quoting these words from Psalm 102, inspired by God, the author straightforwardly says that in the beginning the Son Jesus laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands. He is the Lord, Creator.

At the beginning of this message, we thought of the vastness of the universe. But here it says, “They will perish.” The earth and the heavens and the universe all will perish. They will all wear out like a garment. What an expression! It means they will wear out and perish so soon and so easily in the eyes of the Lord. And it says continually, “You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.” Again, what a description! All the created things change to perish. This is the nature of created things. Nonetheless to say man-made things change and perish. Human knowledge will change and perish. But he remains; he remains the same; his years will never end. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” When we put our hope in him, we will never be put to shame (Isa 28:16; Ro 9:33; 10:11). On the contrast those who put hope in other than this Jesus will be put to shame and everlasting contempt.

Fourth, Jesus is superior to angels because he is the Sovereign Ruler (13-14). The final Old Testament citation comes from Psalm 110:1, which says, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” The author ends his argument the same way he started it: with the rhetorical question, “to which of the angels did he ever say…?” (1:5). After Jesus finished his salvation work, God exalted him to a position of privilege and power. God promised him utter dominion over the world. He is the Sovereign Ruler. It is as it is written in 1:3, “…he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Finally verse 14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Again, this verse draws a contrast between the reigning Christ and angelic servants. Yet it also speaks of the role of angels in the lives of God’s people who have inherited salvation through Christ Jesus the Son. They are “ministering spirits” who are sent for the people of God. What is this ministry that they have among God’s people? A good short course in “angelology” might be helpful here, especially since North American Christianity is often confused by the unbiblical, pop culture portrayal of angels. The commercialized, cute, chubby, cupid-like angels seen in get-well cards could not be further from the biblical portrait of angelic beings. When an angel shows up in Scripture, people fall down in sheer terror. Just think about the response of the shepherds to the angelic visitation in Luke 2:9. Clearly we need to recover a biblical doctrine of angels.

Both the Old and the New Testament make clear that angels are creations of God. While they may have distinct privileges and even extraordinary powers, they are by no means divine. Angels reside in the heavenly assembly and are part of the throng worshiping before the throne of God. The Bible also indicates that angels are messengers of God and carry out his purpose. The angels function as witnesses of major redemptive-historical events. Right before sending his Son into the world, God sent an angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth to deliver God’s message that the Son of God would be conceived in her a virgin by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan, he was with the wild animals and angels attended him (Mk 1:13). And when Jesus prayed at Gethsemane at the very night before his death on the cross, an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him (Lk 22:43). They are also agents of God’s justice. After the fall, God placed an angel with a flaming sword at the border of the garden of Eden to exact vengeance on anyone who would try to eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:25). Also at the time of arrest Jesus said to Peter who attempted to fight with his sword, “Do you think I cannot on my Father, and he will at once put my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53). Revelation indicates that Christ will lead an angelic army in the last day to execute his judgment on the world. Hebrews 1:14 underscores the glorious reality that those of us who believe in Christ, angels are sent from God’s throne room for the good of each of his people and the church. We may not know exactly how angels are engaged in spiritual warfare on behalf of the church, but we can be confident that there agents of God’s throne are sent out for that very purpose. This includes the ministry of angels. Yet, while this passage gives us a clear understanding of the function of angels in God’s purposes of redemption, we must not miss the main point. Angels are ministering spirits. Angels are indeed remarkable. But they pale in comparison Jesus, whose name is Son, God with everlasting throne, the Lord of creation. Angels are to worship him, the Son. They may surround the throne of God, but he sits on the throne as God. They were created beings, but he is the Lord, Creator, and he is the Sovereign Ruler. He is superior to every angel—indeed to the entire angelic host. May we deeply recognize him and adore him, and truly put our faith and hope in him while we live in this world.

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