The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 1 (Hebrews 1:4-5)

Angels are “in.”  You can walk into a bookstore and find a whole shelf devoted to the topic of angels.  The television show Touched by an Angel ran for nine seasons and movies such as Ghost and City of Angels delved into the world of angels.  There are magazines such as Angel Times, which is dedicated to recounting the contacts with numerous angelic beings.

For a long time, angel figurines were very popular.  Angels are created beings, grand and glorious beings and certainly are active for God’s service as well as for ours (Heb. 1:14).  The Hebrew word for angel is malak and the Greek word is angelos, both of which mean “messenger.”

The godly Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, as a little boy, fell into a well.  His playmates ran for help, thinking he had perished.  But when the adults arrived to rescue him they found the young boy out of the well, drenched, and declaring that “a bonny white man” had rescued him.

John Patton, the Scottish missionary to the Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific, experienced an unusual deliverance by angels.  He and his wife were surrounded by a group of headhunters, but as Patton prayed, the headhunters all fled.  Later the chieftain of the group described to Patton that they had seen a group of men in shining white clothes with drawn swords surrounding the hut; so they left without doing any harm.

That may remind some of you of the time that Elisha’s servant was afraid of the vast armies that were around the city and Elisha prayed

“O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.”  So, the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

While we might find our minds thrilled with such angelic feats, they all pale into insignificance when compared to our Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished for us.

Angels were also an important part of the Jewish religion, primarily because thousands of angels assisted in the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.  This fact is recorded for us in Deuteronomy 33:2, which says…”The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.”  This is also found in Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19.

The writer’s contrast of Jesus Christ’s authority and name with that of the angels suggests that his original readers may have regarded the angels too highly.  This was true of certain first-century sects within Judaism, one of which was the Essene community that lived at Qumran.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that this group had a highly developed angelology and that they regarded angels with more veneration than they should have.

Some people still believe that angels are mediators between us and God.  People who are hesitant to talk about Jesus are unashamed to bring up angels.

Since the writer of Hebrews is seeking to establish the superiority of Jesus Christ so that all faith would be placed in Him, he has to deal with this issue of the place of angels.  Warren Wiersbe notes:

“This long section on angels is divided into three sections.  First, there is an affirmation (Heb. 1:4-14) of the superiority of Christ to the angels.  The proof consists of seven quotations from the Old Testament.  Second, there is an exhortation (Heb. 2:1-4) that the readers (and this includes us) pay earnest heed to the Word God has given through His Son.  Finally, there is an explanation (Heb. 2:5-18) as to how Christ, with a human body, could still be superior to angels, who are spirits” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: NT, p. 805).

So we’ve just looked at seven facts about Jesus that make him superior, in vv. 2 and 3, now we’re going to look at seven quotations that continue to argue for His superiority.

Tom Constable points out these parallels:

Parallels between 1:1-4 and 1:5-13
A       Appointment as royal heir (2b)A’      Appointment as royal Son and heir (5-9)
B       Mediator of the creation (2c)B’      Mediator of the creation (10)
C       Eternal nature and pre-existent glory (3a-b)C’      Unchanging, eternal nature (11-12)
D       Exaltation to God’s right hand (3c)D’      Exaltation to God’s right hand (13)

Again, the number seven is significant to the Hebrews to communicate a sense of perfection or completion.

Why is it important to understand that Jesus is better than angels?  Why is important for us to compare and contrast them?

First, because we often understand things best when they are set in contrast to one another.  This way we can see the differences.

Second, since the Old Covenant came with the help of angels, the writer of Hebrews wants to establish that the New Covenant came through Jesus, giving it prime place.

Third, there has been a dangerous tendency to worship angels.  This is what Colossians 2:18 is referring to, and possibly Galatians 1:8, and Hebrews shows us that it is more important to worship Jesus, and Him alone, than any angelic being.

What the writer said here about angelic mediators applies especially to those who claim to mediate knowledge concerning God and the after-life to humankind.  Such self-proclaimed mediators today include leaders of some cults such as Theosophy, some New Age proponents, Shirley MacLaine, and other advocates of reincarnation.  Finding one’s spiritual “guide” and “channeling” to the unseen world, through that being, is popular in some circles.  

Fourth, there is a heretical idea that Jesus Himself was an angel.  Jehovah Witnesses believe he is the same person as the archangel Michael.

Finally, because understanding how Jesus is better than the angels, that helps us to understand how he is better than any of the “competitors” that come into our lives.

So, let’s begin looking at chapter 1, verses 4-14…

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice 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 you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 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.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

So this section is comprised of seven quotations from the Old Testament, each of which proves the superiority of Jesus Christ.  This writer favors the Greek version of the Old Testament, which we call the Septuagint, since seventy men were commissioned to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language.

First, Jesus has a superior name, and that name is “Son.”  The more excellent name that Jesus possesses is “Son.”  It is through this name, and relationship, that Jesus is superior to the angels.

While the angels collectively could be called “the sons of God” (as in Job 1:6), no angel could claim this title individually.  This is also true about us.  We are called “sons of God” in passages such as Romans 8:14 and 19 and Galatians 3:26.  But we don’t have special claim to that title like Jesus does.

From eternity Jesus Christ has been the Son to the Father.  While equal to God in substance and nature, in the economic Trinity, or the way that the Trinity works, is that Jesus is the Son, who submits to the Father.

“Inheriting” the name does not mean that he did not possess it before, yet he “inherited” it when it was “declared” by the resurrection, so Paul says he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4)  Although Jesus has been “Son” before the creation began, His resurrection declared that for all to see.

Jesus has a superior name, “Son,” and that makes him “much superior” to the angels.  He is not just a little better, but much better.  He is not temporarily better, but eternally better.

Now our author launches into seven quotations from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament to buttress his argument for the superiority of Jesus.

HebrewsOld Testament QuoteProves that…
Hebrews 1:5Psalm 2:7Jesus is God’s only begotten son
Hebrews 1:52 Samuel 7:14God is His Father; Jesus is the Son
Hebrews 1:6Psalm 97:7 (or Deut. 32:43Jesus is to be worshipped by the angels
Hebrews 1:7Psalm 104:4Angels are His ministers
Hebrews 1:8-9Psalm 45:6-7Jesus is God forever and ever
Hebrews 1:10, 11-12Psalm 102:25-27Jesus is immutable and eternal
Hebrews 1:13Psalm 110:1Jesus is honored as victor over all

One commentator notes that this was a common ancient practice, adducing a quantity of texts “to offer so much evidence that your listeners shook their heads in agreement with you by the end of these quotations” (Guthrie, p. 67).

The quotation in verse 5 begins with “to which of the angels did God ever say…? The passage also ends, in v. 13 with the same statement, forming an inclusio.

The quotation in verse 5 is from Psalm 2:7, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”  This verse pinpoints the time of Jesus’ begetting as the resurrection, when he was declared “Son.”  This verse, in its Old Testament context, was part of a coronation liturgy used by the Davidic dynasty.  On the day of coronation, he would be known as “Son.”  For Jesus Christ, that coronation took place at His resurrection.

The whole Psalm presents a glorious kingdom quashing rebellion and becoming an eternal kingdom.  It is alluded to in Luke 1:32, starting in verse 30…

30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The eternal Son of God “… entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by His Sonship when, after His suffering had proved the completeness of His obedience, He was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce).

When you “beget” something, you “beget” something of the same kind as yourself.  Thus, Jesus has the exact same nature as the Father.  He is equally God.

In the Old Testament context, this verse was about Solomon, whom God would love and discipline as a son (of the Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 7).  But the ultimate application is to Jesus Christ, the greater Solomon (Matthew 12:42).

Son of God is a title that referred to the Davidic kings (2 Sam. 7:14) and specifically to Jesus Christ: God the Son (Mark 1:11; Luke 1:32). 

The use of the word “begotten” throws some, thinking that this must mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning, that He is not, in fact, eternal.  First, recognize that this verse, nor any other, says that Jesus was “made” or “created.”  That he was begotten just speaks to his role as Son, not to His eternal nature.

Aside from that, where it speaks of Jesus being “begotten” in John’s gospel (John 1:14, 3:16), it uses the term monogenes.  Actually, the word “to beget” is gennao, with two “n’s.”  This word is genes, which means “kind” or “race.”  Thus, a better translation, rather than “only begotten,” is “one of a kind,” or “unique.”

He is the unique Son of God, there is none like Him in all creation.

According to Jewish thought, a person’s name revealed his essential nature and could express rank and dignity.  Jesus had the name “Son” from all eternity, and it is the name he will always keep, as the perfect tense of the phrase “the name he has inherited” indicates.

The second quotation, from 2 Samuel 7:14 or 1 Chronicles 17:13, like the first, ties in with the Davidic Covenant and advances the previous point.

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”

Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but He is also the promised son of David (Luke 1:32-33, 68-69; Rom. 1:3).  Even though Jesus Christ was always God’s eternal Son (in eternity past), in human history He becamethe Son prophesied to rule over David’s house.  He received permission to rule the whole earth after His ascension (cf. Ps. 2:8).

To summarize, the title Son refers to Jesus in three separate respects: He was always the pre-existent Son (v. 3a-b; cf. 5:8), He became the incarnate Son at His birth (v. 2a), and He became the exalted Son when He returned to heaven.

In all three ways Jesus is superior to the angels.

God never said to an angel, “You are my son.”  However, he said that several times to Jesus Christ.

First, at his baptism.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration, in Matthew 17:5:

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

At his resurrection (Psalm 2:7; Rom. 1:4; Heb. 5:5)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:3-4)

You will notice in verse 3 that Jesus was already God’s Son, but he was “declared to be the Son of God in power” when He rose from the dead.

So F. F. Bruce said:

“The eternity of Christ’s divine sonship is not brought into question by this view; the suggestion rather is that he who was the Son of God from everlasting entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by his Sonship when, after his suffering had proved the completeness of his obedience, he was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 54).

The early church understood these passages to refer to the induction of Jesus into His royal position as King of the universe at the time of His resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand.  These events vindicated Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and inaugurated His kingdom.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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