STUDIES IN HEBREWS

© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002

STUDY TWO: GOD'S SON IS GREATER THAN THE ANGELS

The word angel, aggelos, means 'messenger'. In 1:4-14 we learn that the Son is far greater than the angels, the heavenly messengers. He is the Messenger par excellence; indeed, he is the Message, as we have already seen. Here the writer speaks of the superiority of the Son in terms of his eternal divine sonship, the adoration and servanthood with which the angels relate to him, the eternal nature of his kingdom, the righteousness with which he rules, his creative power, his endurance, and his victory.

A. THE SON IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE IS THE ETERNAL SON OF THE FATHER: 1:4-5.

Jesus was the eternal Son before ever he came to earth in obedience to the Father (see 1:2). This name is his inheritance; it is his by right, and by divine appointment. The name 'Son' immediately makes him superior to the angels, as the writer argues from the Old Testament:

'For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"?' (1:5a, quoting Psalm 2:7.)

The whole of Psalm 2 is prophetic of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Probably used by men as a coronation liturgy for the kings of David's line, this Psalm has its ultimate application to Christ. The point that Hebrews makes is that God never said things like this to any angel. Though angels as a group are sometimes called 'the sons of God' (Job 1:6), one is never singled out and called 'the Son'. It is also clear in Psalm 2 that the person spoken of here is highly exalted:

  • He is the 'Anointed One' (2:2).
  • He is the object of worldwide opposition (2:1-3).
  • He is 'my King' (2:6).
  • He is 'begotten' not created (2:7).
  • He is 'my Son' (2:7).
  • He will rule the nations (2:8,9).
  • Failure to recognize his authority is inadvisable (2:10-12).
  • Dependence on him brings blessing (2:10).

All of this is in the writer's mind when he makes reference to this Psalm. In addition, the words of Psalm 2:7a are spoken by the Father to the Son immediately after his baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Then, when Satan tempts Jesus, he prefaces two of his temptations with 'if you are the Son of God ... ;' and in one focuses on the outcome of the worldwide authority of the Son identified in Psalm 2:8,9. So we see that both the testimony of the Father and the temptations of the devil acknowledge that Psalm 2, which the letter to the Hebrews quotes, makes direct reference to Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

The writer then quotes from 1 Chronicles 17:12-14, asking if God has ever said this to any of the angels:

" ... I will be his Father, and he will be my Son."

The original application of this passage was to David's son, Solomon, through whom his line would pass, and who would be the king to build the earthly house of God, the temple. In God's prophetic economy this verse also looks forward to the Son of David's line, through whom God would bring about his saving purposes and build a spiritual house, the church. Through this coming Son of David, whom God says is his Son, God's rule will be established forever, and the rule of this divine Son will be one of righteousness, mercy and peace:

'For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever' (Isaiah 9:6-7).

'"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land"' (Jeremiah 23:5,6; see also 33:15,16).

For your study: Read also Luke 1:68-79 for Zechariah's statement made at the birth of his son, John, only three months before the birth of Jesus Christ.

B. THE SON IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE THE ANGELS WORSHIP HIM: 1:6-7.

The Son is called God's 'firstborn'. This has reference to [1] his existence before creation, and [2] the fact that all creation belongs to him and he holds the position of rank and authority over it.

'I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth' (Psalm 89:27).

When God 'brings his firstborn into the world' - he commands all the angels to worship him:

'Rejoice, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels worship him' (Deuteronomy 32:43 - in Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls).

Not only are the nations of earth to rejoice at his coming into the world, but the angels are to worship him. We can see a partial fulfilment of this command in the angelic chorus recorded in Luke 2:9-15, and then again in Revelation 5:8-14.

Rather than being objects and recipients of worship, the angels are called God's 'servants' (1:7), and are called 'winds' and 'flames of fire' - things which, though powerful, are no more than transient tools in the hands of their master.

C. THE SON IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE IS THE EXALTED KING OF AN ETERNAL KINGDOM: 1:8-9.

In these verses the Son is

  1. addressed as 'God',
  2. said to have a 'throne' and a 'sceptre' - so is therefore King,
  3. told that his throne will last 'for ever and ever',
  4. set above his 'companions', and
  5. reminded that he has been anointed.

Here we are taught that, while the angels are servants, the Son is God, is King, is exalted, is anointed/appointed by God, and is eternal. In addition, his kingdom and rule are characterized by righteousness, and he is characterized by righteousness, joy, and a hatred of wickedness.

For your study: Check out other Scripture texts:
  1. on the exaltation of Christ - Colossians 1:18; Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 5.
  2. on the righteousness of Christ and his kingdom - Romans 1:15-17; 3:19-31.
  3. on the joy of Christ - Hebrews 12:3; Isaiah 53:10-12; 65:17; Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 21:1.

D. THE SON IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE IS THE LORD, THE ETERNAL CREATOR: 1:10-12.

In these verses the Son is again addressed, this time as 'Lord'. Again as in verse 2, creation is ascribed to him. By way of a quote from Psalm 102:25-27 he is then contrasted with the things he created: they perish, they wear out, they are subject to change: but the Son, the eternal Creator, remains the same, without change, without end.

E. THE SON IS SUPERIOR BECAUSE HE SITS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD: 1:13-14

We have seen in the title 'firstborn' that the Son is in the position of rank and authority in his Father's house - that is, over all creation (1:6); this position is his by right because of who he is - the Son of God.

Now we find in verse 13 another expression of this supreme authority of the Son: that God has said to him 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet' (quoting from Psalm 110:1). We are told of this exalted position elsewhere:

Mark 14:62: 'And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'

Ephesians 1:20-22: ' ... he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet ... '

Philippians 2:9: '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 ... '

Hebrews 10:12: 'But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.'

1 Peter 3:22: 'who is gone into heaven and is at God's right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.'

In these verses Christ sits in this exalted position of authority over all because of what he did: by his sin-bearing death and his resurrection he has confirmed his power and his authority, demonstrating that there is nothing that can stand against him. He sits in the position of power, not only by virtue of who he is, but also by virtue of what he has done. Having conquered sin and death, Satan and hell, Jesus rose victorious and now sits at the right hand of God; from this exalted position he will come again for the final establishment of his kingdom.

In contrast to this exalted Son of God, the angels are 'ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.' What a contrast! Christ, the exalted Son, Creator and Lord of all. Angels, the servants of saved sinners.

For further study: Read also Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1 and Hebrews 8:1.

For thought: We must be careful that our familiarity with Christ does not make us blind to the significance of the statements made about Jesus Christ in this first chapter of Hebrews. These are compelling and convincing statements. What they claim for Christ is the ultimate. He is called 'God' 'Lord' 'creator'. He is understood to be eternal. He is understood to have total authority. These claims are nothing less than claims that Jesus is God. The first readers of these verses were standing on the brink of deserting the faith, of reneging on their confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and turning from the salvation he purchased for them to a salvation based on their own performance of the ritual and ceremonial law. The stupidity of such a move the writer is about to point out.