He is Greater than the Angels (Hebrews 1:4-2:18) - Part 1

There are two main categories of messengers from God that the Jewish people knew about – the prophets and the angels.

He is Greater than the Angels (1)

The prophets were men like Elijah and Isaiah who thundered with God-given authority, “Thus says the LORD”. The Hebrews had now learned that the Lord Jesus was far superior to the prophets (see Hebrews 1:1-3). Each prophet had brought just a small part of God’s message to God’s people but this Jesus communicated the complete message from God as He was Himself not only the Messenger but also the message!

The other category of messengers were the angels. These were mighty and awe-inspiring beings.

Just listen to Gabriel’s description of himself in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” The Jews had been given the law “as delivered by angels” (Acts 7:53 ESV). The solemnity of Sinai had been burned into this nation’s consciousness. Even before that, in Egypt, just one destroying angel had wreaked havoc on the whole nation. Quite clearly, angels had a revered place in the history of Israel.

How does the Son of God compare to these angelic messengers? The writer deals with this subject in two parts, while introducing a short warning in the middle of his argument.

In Hebrews 1:4-13, he shows that the Son of God is superior to angels as a SON and also in His NATURE. God’s Word to Him will prove this. In this section we have seven quotations from the Old Testament.

In Hebrews 2:5-18, the Hebrew writer will then show that Jesus is also superior to Angels in His PURPOSE and DESTINY. This is demonstrated in the plan of redemption. God’s Work through Him will show this. Three quotations from the Old Testament will back this up.

Many beautiful comparisons and contrasts can be made between these two sections. In chapter one  the emphasis is on Christ’s Deity, while in chapter two the emphasis is on His Humanity. In chapter one we have Him seen in His exalted position as “so much superior to angels” but in chapter two we see Him becoming “for a little time lower than angels”. Chapter one shows Him as distinct from His Creation, as its creator, yet chapter two tells of him partaking in flesh and blood.

Whichever way we look at the glory of the Person who was fully God and yet truly Man, He is infinitely superior to the angels.

Let’s take a closer look at these two sections, with their connected warning (Hebrews 2:1-4) sandwiched in the middle.

The Son is so much greater than Angels in Sonship and Nature (Hebrews 1:4-14)

vv.4-6 God Delights in His Son

The author affirms the superiority of the Son by using God’s own Word. We have quotation after quotation from the Old Testament linked together in a chain to prove that He is superior to the angels.

By the end of the argument, it is hard to miss the conclusion that we must draw. He is so much superior because He is God – yes, that is what it says! Let’s look at it in a little more detail.

“Having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent Name than they” (Hebrews 1:4).

The Lord Jesus took His true humanity right to the throne of God. He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. In doing so, He passed by the angels. He became, in rank and position, so much better than angels, and this befitted the fact He had inherited a more excellent Name than they.

We see in the next verse that the name in question appears to be that of “Son”. However, a name, in the Bible, is often far more than simply an outward label, it speaks to the nature of the Person. He inherited the name of Son, because He was, by essential nature, the Son.

When He came into time at His incarnation, Christ didn’t become the Son (He had always been that) but He became known as the Son: He was called the Son. Mary had this message from an angel:

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:31-32).

The Hebrew writer continues with the challenge, “For to which of the angels did [God] ever say ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten you?’” (Hebrews 1:5a). This individual attention and specific declaration of Sonship was never given by God to any mere angel but, when He brings His Son into the world at Bethlehem[1] and points Him out as such, we immediately see His superiority over the angels.[2]

A unique relationship of Father with Son was enjoyed and experienced by Jesus while here on earth, “I will be to Him for a Father,” God says, and “He shall be to me for a Son” (v.5b YLT). His superiority over angels will be further revealed when He comes back in power and great glory: “when He again brings the firstborn into the world”, God will command, “let all the angels of God worship Him” (v.6).[3]

All this reveals just how superior the Son is over the angels.

We should notice the importance of the Scriptures to these Hebrew believers. Again and again it is God who speaks in His Word – “He said . . . He said”. In calling these Hebrew Christians away from Judaism to Christ, God is not abrogating His Word. His Word remains as true and powerful as ever, and is the final authority for Christians (cp. Hebrews 4:12). 

vv.7-12 God Declares to His Son

In vv.7-12, the writer sets out the distinct nature of angels in contrast to the nature of the Son. In verse 7, angels are seen as created servants, messengers, and ministers. They are adaptable and changeable to suit their role in God’s purpose. But what about the Son? He isn’t created, but is the eternal Creator! God declares, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (v.8a). He isn’t a mere servant but the mighty Sovereign on a throne. If the angels are changeable, He is unchanging. He was the One who laid the foundation of the universe, and when it grows old He will be the One who folds it all up but He will remain forever “the Same” (cp. Hebrews 13:8).

V13-14 God Distinguishes His Son

 God has therefore given this Son a very distinct honour – He has invited Him on to His own throne, “Sit at My right hand . . .” and with the position has also come a pledge “. . . till I make your enemies your footstool” (1:13). So God will (in a sense) serve the interests of His Son, while angels simply serve the interests of the heirs of salvation (1:14).

Before the author develops the subject of future salvation any further he stops to warn the Hebrew readers. This is the first of the “parenthetical warning passages” or, perhaps more accurately, “exhortations” in Hebrews. Throughout the book the writer steps aside from time to time from his chief subject – the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ – to directly address his audience. This has led some to feel that Hebrews was originally a sermon! We learn the concerns he has for his audience as he applies his teaching to their souls. We will see this pattern of exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:7-4:16; 5:11-6:20; 10:19-39; 12:1-13:25.

An earnest appeal bursts from the pen of the writer:

“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (2:1).

What are they in danger of drifting away from? Is the writer speaking about merely drifting away from the enjoyment of the Christian faith? I do not believe so. The danger is that they would drift away from the message given in chapter 1: the unique greatness of Christ, and the gospel that He brought.

Any professing Christians that wrench themselves free from the moorings of Christ’s eternal Deity and sovereign glory are in grievous peril. This message of the Son is not to be ignored. For any of these Hebrews to go back to Judaism was a de facto denial that Christ was truly the Son of God. To do this would be perilous in the extreme!

At this point we should note that truly born-again believers would never actively and decisively turn away from these truths concerning Christ’s deity and glory. If any professing Christian did, it would just confirm that they had never really had a true relationship with Christ.

A denial of the gospel truth about Jesus comes with consequences. If neglecting the law was so serious in the Old Testament, how much more serious will be neglecting “such a great salvation” as is found in the gospel of Christ? Each member of the Trinity has been involved in the confirmation of this message about Christ:

“For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Hebrews 2:2-4).

[1] Some see this quotation as referring to Christ’s resurrection but I see it in this context as referring to His coming into the world at Bethlehem.

[2] Angels were spoken of as ‘sons of God’ collectively and by their creation. However, none was ever addressed individually as God’s Son, nor do they possess God’s essential nature. John in his writings speaks of the Lord Jesus as the “only-begotten” or “unique” Son – He is the only one of His kind (see John 1:18; John 3:16, et al).

[3] Firstborn: a term of superior rank.