1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” 6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!” 7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire,” 8 but of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” 10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 12 and like a robe you will fold them up and like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out.” 13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?2
When I was in seminary, I took a class from Dr. S. Lewis Johnson entitled, “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament.” Dr. Johnson was an excellent golfer, and he had been asked to speak to a group of professional golfers at a golf tournament on the East coast. When Dr. Johnson finished giving us our homework for the week he would be gone, he turned to the blackboard to write something. Now Dr. Johnson wasn’t really a knee-slapping kind of guy, so I took it as my duty to try to make him laugh. With his back still turned to the class, I called out, “Dr. Johnson, why don’t you try the old ‘Billy Sunday’ approach at the tournament? You could title your message, “Where will you be at the lost hole?” Dr. Johnson’s shoulders began to shake a bit, and I knew that I had succeeded. He turned around and said to me, “If you think of any more like that before I leave, give me a call.”
I remember something else about that class. Each student in the class had to present papers. Each paper focused on one instance of Paul’s use of the Old Testament in one of his epistles. If I were to submit a paper on Hebrews 1:5-14, it would be a virtual doctoral dissertation because there are seven Old Testament citations in these verses. Needless to say, we will not be able to fully expound these verses as a seminary paper might require. We will, however, seek to show how these citations serve to establish the author’s premise that the Son – Jesus Christ – is vastly higher than the angels.
To do this, I will begin with an overview of chapters 1 and 2, and then we’ll take a closer look at the argument of chapter one, with an eye on how verses 4-14 fit into the argument. Next we will discuss how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament Scriptures, focusing on several examples. This will set the stage for us to look at how the author of Hebrews used these seven Old Testament citations to help prove that the Son is superior to the angels. We will then conclude by considering several areas of application.
The first 14 verses of chapter 1 convey this message: While God spoke to men in Old Testament times, He has spoken fully and finally in His Son, who is vastly superior to the angels. In the first 4 verses of chapter 2, the author pauses to make a pointed application: We dare not neglect the message God has spoken in His Son. The remainder of chapter 2 (verses 5-18) explains how it is that the Son could save lost sinners: it was by identifying with men in His incarnation. By this, He made atonement for our sins by His death and then was raised from the dead to be exalted to the right hand of the Father. He did this, not for angels, but for men. Having identified with men, He is able to help us in our time of need. We could summarize the structure of chapters 1 and 2 in this way:
1:1-14 The Son is higher than the angels
2:1-4 Therefore, we had better listen to what He has said
2:5-18 The Son became lower than the angels in order to save men
1:1-2a God has spoken fully and finally in His Son
1:2b-3 Seven unique characteristics of the Son
Heir of all things (1:2)
Creator of the universe (1:2)
The radiance of the Father’s glory (1:3)
The manifestation of the Father’s essence (1:3)
The sustainer of all things by His powerful word (1:3)
He accomplished cleansing for sins (1:3)
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (1:3)
1:4 Conclusion: the Son is higher than the angels
1:5-14 Seven Old Testament texts which support the conclusion that the Son is higher than the
Because of the Son’s unique relationship with the Father (1:5)
Because of the inferior position of the angels (1:6-7)
Because the Son is eternal (1:8-12)
Because the Son’s position is higher than the angels (1:13-14)
In an excellent and very helpful message delivered some time ago, Don Curtis set forth the four basic methods of interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. I strongly recommend that you read this article posted on bible.org. 3 Because of our time constraints and the purpose of this message, I would like to sum up all these methods with one word – “correspondence.” I believe that every time a New Testament author4 cited an Old Testament text as some kind of proof, it was because he saw some kind of correspondence between what he was saying and what the Old Testament text was saying. The precise nature of this correspondence would, of course, differ from one instance to another.
Our Bible study was reading and discussing the early chapters of 1 Samuel this past week. At first glance, the only correspondence one might see is that a woman is central in both texts. But when you think about it, while Mary was quite young and Hannah somewhat older, they both were not able to bear a child. Hannah could not have a child because God had closed her womb (1 Samuel 1:6). Mary could not have a child because she was a virgin and was not yet married. Because of her inability to bear a child, Hannah was scorned by her rival, Peninnah. Because of her pregnancy, Mary was likely scorned as a loose woman.
We can quite easily see how Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving could describe her circumstances:
1 Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted high because of the Lord. I loudly denounce my enemies, for I am happy that you delivered me. 2 No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one other than you! There is no rock like our God! 3 Don’t keep speaking so arrogantly, letting proud talk come out of your mouth! For the Lord is a God who knows; he evaluates what people do. 4 The bows of warriors are shattered, but those who stumble find their strength reinforced. 5 Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food, but the hungry no longer lack. Even the barren woman gives birth to seven, but the one with many children withers away. 6 The Lord both kills and gives life; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts. 8 He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honored position. The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord, and he has placed the world on them. 9 He watches over his holy ones, but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness, for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails. 10 The Lord shatters his adversaries; he thunders against them from the heavens. The Lord executes judgment to the ends of the earth. He will strengthen his king and exalt the power of his anointed one” (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
Hannah recognized that God had raised her up, and in some ways had put down her rival (at least He had silenced her). Hannah realized that God’s dealings with her were illustrative of His dealings with His people. Even though the Israelites had been humbled by their neighbors – the Philistines in particular – God would raise them up, and He would bring down their enemies. In her final words of praise, Hannah (either knowingly or unwittingly) looked beyond her own day to the time when God would give Israel a king. And that king would be designated by her son, Samuel.
Now look at Mary’s words of praise when she met with Elizabeth:
46 And Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name; 50 from generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him. 51 He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).
The mother of the prophet who would designate Israel’s first kings has spoken words which are more than appropriate for the woman who is to be the mother of the last King, the Messiah, who has come to visit Elizabeth, the mother of the man who will designate Him as King. There is plenty of correspondence here. But we are not done. Consider the correspondence between these two statements, the first in 1 Samuel, the second in Luke:
Now the boy Samuel was growing up and finding favor both with the Lord and with people (1 Samuel 2:26).
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people (Luke 2:52).
1 For the music director; according to the tune “Morning Doe;” a psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.
. . . 6 But I am a worm, not a man;
people insult me and despise me.
7 All who see me taunt me;
they mock me and shake their heads.
8 They say, “Commit yourself to the Lord!
Let the Lord rescue him!
Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.”
. . . 13 They open their mouths to devour me
like a roaring lion that rips its prey.
14 My strength drains away like water;
all my bones are dislocated;
my heart is like wax;
it melts away inside me.
15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;
my tongue sticks to my gums.
You set me in the dust of death.
16 Yes, wild dogs surround me
– a gang of evil men crowd around me;
like a lion they pin my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones;
my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.
18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;
they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:1, 6-8, 13-18).
In this psalm, David is writing about his own experience. No doubt there is a kind of poetic embellishment which amplifies his suffering. (Don’t we tend to exaggerate the extent of our suffering, too?) But here is a case where David’s words, while initially descriptive of his own suffering, served as an almost understated description of our Lord’s agony on the cross. There is a similarity between David’s suffering and that of His Son to come. And our Lord makes this correspondence very clear when He cries out the first words of this psalm from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
10 The Lord again spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the Lord your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.” 12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the Lord to a test.” 13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate (Isaiah 7:10-16).
Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel formed an alliance and attacked Judah. When Ahaz learned that they had laid siege to Jerusalem, he was terrified, along with the people. God sent Isaiah to speak to Ahaz to assure him that the plans of Rezin and Pekah would not succeed. God then instructed Ahaz to ask for a sign, by which He might confirm His words through Isaiah. When Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, God responded by providing one anyway: a young woman would have a son, and before that child would be able to reject evil and choose what is right, the two kings Ahaz feared would be rendered powerless.
A young woman in that day would bear a child, whom she was to name Immanuel, meaning “God is with us.” Before that child could discern between good and evil, the two dreaded kings, Rezin and Pekah, would be rendered powerless. And within 65 years, Ephraim (Israel) would be shattered, dispersed so that they were no longer a nation. (This took place when they were attacked and scattered by Assyria, and many foreigners were transplanted to possess the land.)
So much for those days and for that prophecy. But there was a deeper level of prophecy that was not seen at that moment. Only later would God’s people realize that another young woman (a virgin this time) would later bear a child whose name would be Immanuel. This child would not just symbolize God’s presence (as the earlier “Immanuel” had done); this child would be God, taking up residence among His people. His death would bring about a much greater “salvation” than the mere deliverance from two opposing kings.
Once again there is a “correspondence” between the Old Testament text and its New Testament fulfillment. This same kind of correspondence exists between the ministry of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Book of Hebrews and the Old Testament texts the author of Hebrews cites or alludes to. Raymond Brown puts it this way:
“When the writer of Hebrews chapter 1 comes to the two psalms we have mentioned, he looks beyond their initial meaning and, without denying the validity of that original context, extracts a further and more important message from the words. It is not that he superimposes on the text a meaning it was not intended to convey; he brings out a truth already there. He believes that Christ is everywhere present in the Old Testament, though that might not necessarily have been discerned by the original writers and readers.”5
We see this “extended” meaning when Matthew sees our Lord’s return from Egypt as a fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy:
12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country. 13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” 14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt” (Matthew 2:12-15).
Who would ever have suspected that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled by the return of our Lord’s family (and thus of our Lord) from Egypt to Israel? But there is a correspondence. Israel was called God’s “son” (see Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1). At the exodus, God brought Israel, His “son,” out of Egypt, and they eventually entered the land He had promised to give the descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 15:12-17). But in the fullest sense, it was Jesus who was God’s Son. God sent Him (and His parents) to Egypt for His protection, just as God had sent the descendants of Jacob to Egypt for their protection. And so when our Lord’s parents returned from Egypt, Matthew saw the correspondence and represented this as a fulfillment (in a deeper sense than was originally evident) of Hosea’s words.
I will briefly mention three instances in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians in which he sees a kind of prophetic correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” We know that Jesus was the Passover Lamb (John 1:29). The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was the time when the Israelites went through their houses and removed anything with leaven (Exodus 12:17-20).
The application can quite easily be seen. There was “sin in the camp” at the church in Corinth. A man was living with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Paul tells the church at Corinth to deal with this man by putting him out of the church, delivering him over to Satan for discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13). Since Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed (Christ has died at Calvary), it is time to search out the leaven and remove it from our midst. This corresponds to putting the sinning saint out of the church.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul illustrates how he sets aside his rights for the advancement of the gospel. When he had every right to be paid for his ministry, he chose instead to support himself by his own labors. Paul is careful to prove that he did, indeed, have the right to be paid. Not only does he call attention to the fact that his fellow-apostles were supported; Paul turns to the Old Testament to prove it. He does so by calling attention to the priests, who could partake of their labors (the sacrifices they offered – verse 13), and also to the text in Deuteronomy 25:4 where the Israelites were instructed,
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? 10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest (2 Corinthians 9:9-10).
Paul’s words are clear. This instruction was not just about the care and feeding of oxen. This instruction was to teach a principle: “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” And so, once again, an Old Testament text is cited by a New Testament author to prove a point by way of correspondence.
My final example is probably the most dramatic:
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-5, emphasis mine).
Who would have ever come to this conclusion apart from Paul’s inspired instruction? When we look at Old Testament teaching, institutions, and events through the lens of Christ, we see so much more than we do from the Old Testament writer’s perspective.
Now this is the time for a couple of caveats (words of caution). First, the literal meaning is never set aside by the deeper, corresponding meaning. It is sort of like a fringe benefit, something we enjoy in addition to what we have already gained from the literal meaning. Second, we do not have the same liberty to authoritatively announce new, “spiritual” meanings to the biblical text, Old Testament or New. This seems clear to me when we read Paul’s words pertaining to his privilege of proclaiming the great mystery of Christ and His church:
8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (Ephesians 3:8-12).
I see the same restriction (of revealing mysteries through the inspired New Testament writers) in Hebrews.
8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.
1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits (Hebrews 5:8—6:3).
I don’t think the author is chastising his readers for not making more of Melchizedek on their own. I believe he is saying that he wishes to convey to his readers the much deeper insight he has into Melchizedek (especially as it corresponds to Christ), but that they are not really able to grasp it. This is not all that different from what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, except that here the author of Hebrews presses on with his teaching on Melchizedek, challenging his readers to keep pace with him.
Before we look at the seven Old Testament citations found in Hebrews 1:5-14, I would like to underscore some of the assumptions that the author apparently held:
The author assumes the inspiration and authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. As he puts it, “God spoke by the prophets” and “He spoke by His Son” (1:1-2). God spoke, not just men. The Old Testament and the New are the Word of God.
(1) The author also accepts the meaning and application of the Old Testament texts in their normal historical setting and context. This “literal” meaning is never set aside, though it may be added to.
(2) The author (as with all biblical authors) believed that the Bible was one book, progressively revealed, leading us to Christ.7
(3) The author assumes that the Old Testament is a Christ-centered book.8 Listen to the words of Raymond Brown:
“It is, first of all, his profound conviction that the Old Testament is a Christ-centered book. Its writers frequently look beyond their immediate scene to a day when their predictions would be fulfilled, and their impressive language describes greater realities than those apparent in their immediate circumstances.”9
(4) I believe the author of Hebrews would agree with Peter when he wrote these words about the Old Testament prophets and their writings:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).
(5) The author of Hebrews, as with other New Testament authors, believed that the Old Testament was relevant to the people of his times (and, by extension, our own times as well):
“Furthermore, the author of this letter was deeply persuaded that in addition to its Christocentric character the Old Testament is a book with abiding relevance. Its message was not locked away in remote antiquity, providing merely an historical account of God’s dealings with Israel. Its teaching about ceremony and sacrifice is richly fulfilled in Christ. Its message to the covenant community about God’s reliability, faithfulness and love was as relevant to those first-century Christians as when the promises were first made in Old Testament times.”10
The author to the Hebrews has just given us a seven-fold description of the majesty and power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Now he sets out to validate these claims from seven Old Testament texts. The author strings together a list of Old Testament texts, much as Paul does in Romans 3:10-18, or later in Romans 9:25-29 and 10:19-21. Five of the seven Old Testament citations in our text are from the Psalms. When the author quotes from the Old Testament, he usually cites from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This may explain why the text reads differently in the Book of Hebrews than it does when you look it up in your Old Testament, which is translated from the Hebrew text.
We will consider four ways in which the Son of God is Superior to the angels:
(1) The Son has a unique relationship with the Father (1:5; Psalm 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14).
(2) The angels have an inferior position compared to the Son (1:6-7; Psalm 97:7; 104:4).
(3) The Son’s reign and His relation to the cosmos is eternal (1:8-12; Psalm 45:17; 102:25-27).
(4) The Son’s position is contrasted with that of the angels (1:13-14; Psalm 110:1).11
We dare not ignore the relationship between verse 4 and verse 5. Verse 4 ended, “Thus he became so far better than the angels as He has inherited a name superior to theirs.”14 So it is all about one’s name or title (or position). That’s what these seven Scripture citations are all about – the better name that Jesus possesses.
Angels were sometimes called the “sons of God,”15 but the designation, “the Son of God” is a title reserved only for the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the question is, “What does it mean to be the Son of God?” We know that the Lord Jesus is not a created being. He, like the Father and the Spirit, are eternal.16 Our Lord was there at the beginning; indeed it was by the Son that God created the worlds (Hebrews 2:2; see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16). The Father-Son relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son, can best be understood in the light of God’s words in 2 Samuel 7:
12 “‘When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. 14 I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. 15 But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent’” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
David wanted to build a temple, a “house” for God. God made it clear that He did not really need a “house.” Instead, God promised to build a “house” – a dynasty – for David. God assured David that there would always be someone of his descendants who will sit on the throne of Israel. After David dies, God will raise up one of his descendants to take his place. God then tells David that when his son sins, He will correct him (verse 14). Thus, we have a double prophecy. David will always have a descendant to sit on the throne. But beyond this, David’s descendant, the Messiah, will reign forever because He is eternal. God will not need to correct Him for committing iniquity.
But the important words for us to grasp are found in verse 14: “I will become his father and he will become my son.” This “father-son” relationship is not about one’s birth; it is about being installed on the throne. Guthrie says it well, and with him Bruce agrees:
“What does it mean that God has ‘become’ the Son’s Father ‘today’ and that he ‘will be’ his Father? These, of course, are not references to a bringing into existence, nor what some in the church would later call ‘the eternal generation of the Son,’ speaking of the eternal nature of the relationship between God and his Messiah. We have already seen that Jesus was considered the Son prior to creation itself and is later referred to as ‘Son’ in the Incarnation (e.g., Heb. 5:8). Rather, the early church understood these passages to refer to Jesus’ induction into his royal position as King of the universe at the resurrection and exaltation. With these events God vindicated Jesus as Messiah and established his eternal kingdom (see Acts 13:32-34; Rom. 1:4). God’s becoming the Son’s Father, then, refers to God’s open expression of their relationship upon Christ’s enthronement, an interpretation that fits both Old Testament contexts in question.”17
“What did our author understand by the word ‘Today’ in this quotation? In view of the emphasis laid throughout the epistle on the occasion of Christ’s exaltation and enthronement, it is probably that he thought of this occasion as the day when he was vested with his royal dignity as Son of God.” . . . “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.”18
This interpretation fits 2 Samuel 7:14 very well. When David’s descendant was installed in his place, God would enthrone him as king, and they would commence a kind of Father-son relationship. The heir to the throne of David would rule on behalf of God. How much more this was true of the sinless “Son of God,” who would sit on the throne forever.
And so the author has made his first point biblically: The Lord Jesus is superior to the angels because He alone holds the title “the Son of God,” while the angels are mere “sons of God.” They are messenger boys; Christ is God’s Message.
6 But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him!”19 7 And he says of the angels, “He makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire”20 (Hebrews 1:6-7).
In Israel, the firstborn son was to inherit the mantle of leading the family in his father’s place.21 The firstborn also received a double portion of the father’s inheritance.22 This is why, when twins were born, great care was taken to identify the first to come from the womb.23 The author is not speaking here about the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. But here, as elsewhere in the New Testament,24 he is talking about the preeminence of Jesus as the “firstborn Son.” Remember as well that Jesus is not only the “firstborn,” He is also the “only begotten” Son, so that He alone is the heir of all things.25
The author’s point here is Jesus has the preeminent place and that the role of the angels is to worship Him. It is the lesser beings who worship the greater being – Jesus. I am reminded of the instances where men prostrated themselves before angels and were stopped because only God can be worshipped:
18 I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book (Revelation 22:18-19; see also 19:10).
Psalm 104 speaks of the might and majesty of God. He who created all things is now described as commandeering them for His service. He wears the light as a cloak (verse 2); He makes the clouds His chariot. He makes the angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire. There is little question as to who is superior here – it is the One who is served, rather than the creature things (angels, light, clouds) that serve His purposes. He is the Son; the angels are His servants. Indeed, they not only serve Him, they worship Him as God. The angels were at His disposal, even when He was on the cross:
51 But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? (Matthew 26:51-53)
8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” 26 10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 12 and like a robe you will fold them up and like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out”27 (Hebrews 1:8-12, underscoring mine).
There is so much that could be said about these verses, but let us dwell on what is probably the most prominent theme – the eternality of the Son. What makes the Son superior to the angels? The Son is the Eternal One, the Creator. His days have no beginning or end. But all creation has a point of beginning,28 and a time when it will perish.29
Merely being eternal is not necessarily a blessing. No wonder God banned Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and specifically from the tree of life:
22 And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. 24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
How terrible it would have been to be a fallen creature and yet live forever. Come to think of it, that is what hell is all about. But the great news is that the Son is eternal. The Son will reign over all creation, and He is the One who loves righteousness and who hates lawlessness. It is He who will reign forever, for His kingdom (like Him) is eternal. This same truth (the Son is eternal) will later be a prominent theme as it relates to our Lord’s priesthood:
17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation – for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’” – 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:17-28, emphasis mine).
No wonder the Son is superior to the angels.
13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”30? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)
To sit at the “right hand” of one in power was to have a place of influence, prestige, and power. No wonder the mother of the two disciples – James and John – wanted these positions for her sons.31 No angel has ever been invited to the right hand of the Father. Only one angel tried to gain this position by rebellion against God – Satan:
12 Look how you have fallen from the sky, O shining one, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the ground, O conqueror of the nations! 13 You said to yourself, “I will climb up to the sky. Above the stars of El I will set up my throne. I will rule on the mountain of assembly on the remote slopes of Zaphon. 14 I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!” (Isaiah 14:12-14)
And he did not succeed!
So only the Son has been summoned to the right hand of the Father. This took place after He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven:
32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out 34 For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”’ (Acts 2:32-35).32
It is from this position of close proximity to the Father that the Son intercedes for the saints:
Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
In contrast to the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Father, we find the angels who are described as those whose mission it is to minister to those who will inherit salvation – in other words, whose mission it is to minister to us.
Surely we can conclude with the author that the Son is superior to the angels, not only on the basis of the seven-fold description of the Son in verses 1-4, but also on the basis of the seven Scripture texts that are cited in support of this claim.
But why this interest in angels in chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews? Some would say that it was intended to correct an abundance of false or distorted teaching (or practice) related to angels. No doubt the first two chapters of Hebrews do give us a better understanding of angels, but it is not my view that the primary purpose of these chapters is to correct a false or exaggerated view of angels. The author views angels in a positive light. He presents them and their ministry in the highest possible terms. And the reason is so that they can serve as a benchmark, against which to measure the worth and work of the Son. Angels are “as good as it gets” so far as created beings are concerned, and yet the Son is vastly superior. Angels thus serve to show how far superior the Son is, thereby preparing us to pay all the more attention to what He has revealed from the Father (2:1-4).
As I seek to draw this lesson to a close, I would point out that the author’s “conclusion” (or application if you prefer) comes in the next four verses – Hebrews 2:1-4. There he will exhort us to pay much closer attention to what the Son has revealed, knowing the greatness of the One who has spoken to us.
Chapter 1 of the Book of Hebrews is a rich source of sound doctrine. We should find substantial contributions to our understanding of Christology (the doctrine of Christ), of the Trinity, and of Angelology. The deity of Christ is clearly taught here, and thus this chapter of Hebrews was a text to which the early church fathers appealed when they contended with heresy. And after giving careful attention to these words of Scripture, how could one deny the doctrine of the Trinity? No wonder the author urges us to pay close attention to these words (as well as the rest of the New Testament Scriptures).
Something else has happened in the course of considering the message of the first chapter of Hebrews – the author has succeeded in widening the gap between the Son and mere men. If the Son is higher than the angels, then He is vastly higher than men. How can we ever have a relationship with Him? The second chapter of Hebrews will provide us with the solution – the incarnation. The Son of God took on human flesh in order to identify with men and to die for our sins. In order to accomplish this, He must, for a little while, become “lower than the angels.”
One of the things we can learn from our text is how we should understand and apply the Old Testament Scriptures. I believe that we should find that the Bible applies to our lives a great deal more than we might think when we look for “correspondence” between the Scriptures and our lives. This is not to say that there is little direct application in the Bible. Most of the Ten Commandments directly apply to us today. We should put God first, above all others. We should not lie or steal, commit adultery, or covet our neighbor’s property. But there are many more areas of application that become apparent when we look for points of correspondence between the Scriptures and ourselves. Thus, the teaching of the Old Testament regarding not muzzling the ox applies to paying preachers of the gospel (as we see in 1 Corinthians 9). The command to have a parapet (a guard rail) around the roof of one’s house33 instructs us to anticipate danger and to make every effort to protect against injury to others.
From observing our author’s use of the Old Testament, we should recognize that there is much there that we would not have seen, apart from an apostle making it clear to us in the New Testament:
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-6).
As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians, Christ is the key that unlocks many mysteries, especially the gospel, which is hidden from the eyes of unbelieving Jews (not to mention Gentiles):
14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
Now we need to be careful that we do not “see” too much. We had best let the apostles and inspired authors of the New Testament “unveil” things hidden in the Old Testament, just as our author will do in regard to Melchizedek.34
When we read the Old Testament, we should seek to see more of Jesus. I can remember Dr. Bruce Waltke telling those of us who were his students at the time, “When I turn to the Old Testament I pray, ‘Help me see more of Jesus.’” That should be our desire as well, especially as we continue our study in the Book of Hebrews, for when it cites Old Testament texts, it shows us more of Him.
Lord, as we delve more deeply into the Book of Hebrews, may we see more and more of Jesus, and may He become more and more precious to us. For our good and for your glory. Amen.
1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on July 27, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
4 Actually, I should probably state this more broadly, to include the use of an Old Testament text by anyone that is recorded in the New Testament. Thus, Mary’s prayer in Luke chapter 1 would be included.
5 Raymond Brown, Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 37.
6 See George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 73.
7 See 1 Peter 1:10-12 below.
8 See Ephesians 3:8-11; Colossians 2:1-3.
9 Raymond Brown, p. 36.
10 Raymond Brown, pp. 37-38.
11 By and large I am following George H. Guthrie’s analysis here. See George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), pp. 67-71.
12 Psalm 2:7.
13 2 Samuel 7:14.
14 As Raymond Brown points out (p. 39), the angels’ name means messenger.
15 See, for example, Job 1:6.
16 This is a point that the author will make shortly.
17 George H. Guthrie, p. 69.
18 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 54.
19 Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX); Psalm 97:7.
20 Psalm 104:4.
21 See Genesis 49:3-4.
22 See Deuteronomy 21:17.
23 Genesis 38:27-30.
24 Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15.
25 Hebrews 1:2.
26 Psalm 45:6-7.
27 Psalm 102:25-27.
28 The angels, too, have been created at a point in time – see Ezekiel 28:13.
29 2 Peter 3:10-12.
30 Psalm 110:1.
31 Matthew 20:20-21.
32 See also Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1.
33 Deuteronomy 22:8.
34 See Hebrews 5-7.