Christs superiority to that of the Angels in the book of Hebrews

Liberty University

 

 

 Research Paper

Christs superiority to that of the Angels In The Book Of Hebrews

A Paper Submitted To Dr. Mark Rathel

In Partial Fulfillment Of The Requirements For

The Course NBST 654

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

By

Anthony D. Padgett

JONESBOROUGH, TN

Thursday, Feburary 20, 2011

Contents

Introduction  ———————————————————————————————- 1

God’s Son, Jesus Christ ————-——————————————————————– 2

Angels Worship The First Born ——————————————————————— 3

The Angels are Servants —————————————————————————— 4

Jesus As Ruler ——————————————————————————————– 5

Jesus The Creator ————————————————————————————— 6

Jesus At The Right Hand Of God ——————————————————————– 7

Jesus’ Message Over The Angels  ——————————————————————- 9

Jesus’ Authority Over The World To Come —————————————————- 9

Jesus, Even Suffering Death Is Superior To The Angels ———————————– 10

Conclusion ———————————————————————————————— 11

Bibliography ——————————————————————————————— 12

 

 Introduction

The author’s targeted audience is both Jewish believers and Jewish non-believers. Throughout the book of Hebrews the author shows comparisons between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant, and between Jesus and about others including Moses, priests, and angels. The author is trying to show both the believers and non-believers that the New Covenant and Jesus are better than anything they have seen or heard of in the past, that he is a better counselor and priest, and that He is all we will ever need for our salvation. The author knowing that his audience is well versed in Old Testament scripture uses that to his advantage; he often quotes the Old Testament to clarify his points, insure that they have a clear understanding of where they have been, where they are now and just how important the Son of God is compared to anything they have seen in the past.[1]

One of the first major things that the author of Hebrews points out is Jesus’ superiority. This includes Christ’s superiority over the prophet, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and the angels. The author wants to make sure that his audience understands the importance of Jesus’ superiority over others, so much so that he spends much of the first five chapters explaining it. Out of those five chapters he spends more verses on Jesus’ superiority over the angels than any of the others mentioned. Maybe it is because the author’s audience, Jews of the time, had such a hard time understanding how Jesus could be superior to the angels in light of all their knowledge about Old Testament scripture and lack of understanding about Jesus being the Son of God and above all things.

 

God’s Son, Jesus Christ

            In Hebrews 1:5-13 there are seven Old Testament quotations pointing to six different reasons Christ is superior to angels.[2] First, Hebrews 1:5 (KJV) says, “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’? And again,’ I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me.” The author is proclaiming that no angel has ever been called the son of God, and this alone sets Christ apart and gives Him that unique relationship with the Father.[3]  The reality that Jesus is superior to angels is not really significant to us today; we know that, but it was an issue with the Jews at the time. The author in bringing in quotes from the Old Testament is to represent the superiority of Christ to the Jews by using scripture they have knowledge of and have already heard. The first quote is from Psalms 2:7 (KJV) “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The angels in the past might have be called “the sons of God,” as a group but never as individuals or in these terms as to give them any type of status. [4] We can see an example of angels and their place when we look at the angel Gabriel and his message to Mary in Luke 1:32 KJV, “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.”[5] Even before Jesus was born the angels were proclaiming Him as the “Son of the Highest.” The fact that God called Jesus His son alone provides evidence that Jesus is superior to the angels.

The second quote is from 2 Samuel 7:14 and come from the prophet Nathan to David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” It forms “part of one of the great Messianic predictions of the Old Testament.”[6] Arthur W. Pink puts it this way, “This was God’s promise concerning the Messiah, David’s Son a thousand years before He appeared on earth.”[7]

This verse had limited fulfillment during the reign of Solomon, it wasn’t eventually fulfilled until Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God.[8] This again shows that Jesus is the Son of God and puts His authority over the angels.

Angels Worship The First Born

            In Hebrews 1:6 is the next reason why Jesus is superior to the angels, and again here is the third quotation from the Old Testament. Psalms 97:7 “And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘And let all God’s angels worship him.’” This refers to the second coming of the Son of God. God is saying that in the future an event will become obvious, and He will bring His Son to earth again, for the second time. Jesus has already come to earth once, and God declared Him to be His Son when he raised Him from the dead. God is now saying that when Christ returns victoriously to earth, the angels will even fall down and worship Him.[9] This is seen in the authors’ words as he quotes in part Psalms 97:7 “And let All God’s angels worship him.”

The title firstborn may be traced back to Psalm 89:27, “I shall also make Him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Jesus was first-born in His position to God; He has the honor and glory of being the Son of God. Therefore, in Hebrews 1:6, the term “first-born” can only refer to the position of Christ as the Messiah.[10] God has appointed Jesus Christ as His heir. This truth again points to the fact that Jesus Christ is superior to everyone, including angels because they are commanded to worship him.[11] Up until now the verses have shown Jesus’ superiority in “name and dignity,” however the upcoming verses will show the inadequacy of the angels in their nature and rank.[12]

The Angels are Servants

The fourth confirmation that Christ is superior to the angels can be seen in Hebrews 1:7, this clearly shows the angels as servants. The author says, “And of the angels he saith, ‘Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.’” The fourth Old Testament quote comes from Psalm 104:4. The author placed it here most likely to show a distinction with the fifth quotation, by “contrasting the evanescence of angels with the eternity of the Son.”[13] It is important to note that in the quotation from Psalms 104:4 it says “his angels’ spirits, and his ministers.” They are God’s “spirits” and “ministers” and He is their Head.[14] However, his main intention “is to show that the angels are made and not begotten, and that they are as insubstantial and mutable as wind and fire, and that they do not give orders but carry them out.”[15] The author seems to be stressing that angels are servants or ministers and that they are simply sent out to accomplish Gods purpose and work. This is similar to Jesus’ work but with less authority, since they cannot give the orders but merely carry them out. Jesus has the authority to do both, give and carry them out, as he is the Son of God and over the angels.

Jesus As Ruler

            The fifth quotation is set to contrast the role of angels with the positions of Jesus. Notice that verse 8 begins with the word “But,” which indicates a complete distinction from verse 7.

Hebrews 1:8 quotes directly from Psalm 45:6-7 that celebrates a royal wedding, the words used are in part to the bridegroom who in all probability was a prince in of the house of David;[16] “But of the Son He says, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”[17] This passage is very important in understanding Christ’s authority over the angels and His place in Heaven. Pink describes it this way, “This supplies us with one of the most emphatic and unequivocal proofs of the Deity of Christ to be found in the Scriptures.”[18] Psalms 45 quoted here in Hebrews 1 is nothing short of perfect. Verse 6 tells of the angels and the commandment to “worship” the Son of God, now it is shown that this is God.” It is no miracle that the author of Hebrews structured his words in such a perfect order, it was through divine intervention.[19] Also, His “scepter” which is known as the badge of royalty and the emblem of authority is “righteous”. This is His “kingdom” plainly stated; His “scepter” denotes His rule and authority. According to verse 8, His rule is absolutely righteous, void of lawlessness. This is true of His character, both of God and man.[20] The words of this chapter were placed in such a way that they build off of each other, one connecting to the other, showing the prominence of the Son of God over the angels.

Jesus As Creator

            The author of Hebrews identifies the sixth confirmation of Christ’s superiority in Hebrews 1:10-12, emphasizing that Christ is the Creator of all things, and as God, He is forever unchanging. The author again quotes from the Old Testament (Psalm 102:25-27), in order to let his audience understand more clearly. He says,

 

“And Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands; they will perish, but Thou remainest; and they all will become old as a garment, and as a mantle Thou wilt roll them up; as a garment they will also be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end.”

 

Hebrews 1:2 had already shown Christ as the Creator. So, the author again lets his audience know this fact, to show that Christ is far superior to angels, who are only messengers of God’s word, and that it was Him whom created them.[21] The author also says, “they will perish, but Thou remainest.” This verse points out another reason Jesus is superior to the angels, His quality of being timeless and eternal or unchangeable. Everything around Jesus can perish, the earth and the heavens, even the angels, but Jesus is eternal and everlasting.[22] Pink explains the Creator verses the angels this way, “The Creator is more excellent than creatures; Christ is the Creator, angels are creatures; therefore Christ is more excellent than angels. That Christ is Creator is here proved; that angels are creatures, has been show in verse 7.”[23]  Pink further explains that this verse answers the question in verse 4 “as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The answer is yes, verse 5 He is the Son, verse 8 He is God, and in verse 10 He is Lord, all of which are above the angles.[24]

Further, the author of Hebrews says “thou shall fold them up.” This clearly shows Jesus’ power over all creations. He has the power to change, keep, or destroy anything He so chooses. Jesus is the “Most High” and clearly is over all creation including the angels.[25]

The author then returns to his original point made earlier, Hebrews 1:12 says, “But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” Earlier he said “Thou remaineth” which pointed to Jesus’ eternity but now he says “Thou art the same” which shows Jesus’ reliability. He continues by saying “Thy years shall not fail” showing that Jesus was, is, and always will be to come. Christ is. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). No angel can ever claim that![26]

Jesus At The Right Hand Of God

 

The author continues in Hebrews 1:13-14 to stress the point of Jesus’ superiority, using the seventh Old Testament quotation from Psalms 110:1. Verse 13 says “But to which of the angels has He ever said, Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.”  This verse is a rhetorical question; the Jews would have already known that God never said this to any angel. The right hand is the position of authority, privilege, and responsibility that would come with being the “first-born.”[27]

Jesus is told to “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool” This is a biblical picture and reference to things that had occurred throughout biblical times. In the Old Testament, when a king was defeated in battle, he was taken before the conqueror, where he would be placed on the ground and the conqueror would step on the back of his neck, symbolizing the positions of victory and defeat. The same will be true for Jesus. Every person who opposes Jesus will be brought before Him and will have to answer for their sins; Jesus will claim victory over all.  All creation will be subjected to Him and will answer to Him, including all the angels; no one will be escaping the victory of Jesus.[28] In verse 13, Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father, in the position of preference and authority.  Then in verse 14 is where we first see the position of the angels; “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” This is where we see the official function of the angels. They are not servants as we would normally think; they are dignitaries who have an official function to carry out before God. This function, “to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation,” is a picture of their dignity. They do what is necessary for those of us who are about to inherit our eternal salvation, and are portrayed as our servants during this process.[29] There should be no doubt that with Jesus sitting at the right hand of God and with the description given by the author of Hebrews in these two verses, that Jesus is superior to the angels in all aspects.

Jesus’ Message Over The Angels

            In Hebrews 1 the author focused on Jesus and His superiority to that of the angels, and he provided a sevenfold proof of Jesus’ superiority over them. Now in Hebrews 2 he continues to follow that same line, only focusing more on Jesus’ message, and that it too is also more important than that of the angels. The author warns them that if they focus too much on the message delivered by servants (angels), they will miss the bigger message delivered by the Master Himself, that of salvation. Bruce described it this way, “the great salvation proclaimed in the gospel was brought to earth by no angel, but by the Son of God himself. To treat it lightly, therefore, must expose one to sanctions even more awful than those which safeguarded the law.”[30] The message of salvation was so important that God did not leave it to the angels to deliver, but to His Son.  This is another clear indication of Jesus’ superiority over the angels.

Jesus’ Authority Over The World To Come

The author in Hebrews 2:5 says, “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.” The author picks up in Hebrews 2:5 exactly where he left off in Hebrews 1:14, with Jesus’ superiority over the angels. In Hebrews 1 the author showed through the seven Old Testament quotations, which his audience would have been familiar with, that Jesus was superior to the Angels. Now in Hebrews 2:5 he talks about the “world to come.”  This is when there is no more Jerusalem because it has been destroyed and the gospel is spread to the ends of the earth. Notice here again that the author makes the point that in the world to come it will not be “in subjection to angels.” That He, being God, did not leave that authority to the angels, but to the Son of God as the author explained in Hebrews Chapter 1. Again the author is making it clear that Jesus has authority over the angels.[31]

Jesus, Even Suffering Death Is Superior To The Angels

Hebrews 2:9 can be a very confusing verse for many. The author has previously told us in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is superior to the angels in all aspects, however now in verse 9 he tells us that he has been made “a little lower than the angels.” This is the first mention in the book of Hebrews to this point of Jesus by name. It is used here to center attention upon his humanity, his sin-prone nature. It is this that makes Jesus temporarily lower than the angels and which also makes possible his death on behalf of all.[32]

The author then quickly tells of the benefits for Jesus’ death and suffering and why God allowed it. Bruce explains it this way, “It was his making Jesus, through his sufferings, perfectly qualified to be the Savior of his people.” Jesus was made “a little lower than the angels” so that He could experience death and suffering, the angels could not. It is important to note that this was just for “a little while” and was so that Jesus could pay the price for our sins upon the cross, not to remove him from his position as the Son of God, but to make him a little lower for a short time.  Pink, I believe describes this best, “what scripture teaches is that in becoming man Christ

took upon Him a nature that was capable of dying. This angels were not; and in the respect He was, for a season, made lower than they.”[33] It is because Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins and was made “a little lower than the angels” for a time, that makes him superior to the angels. He not only was superior to them as listed in Hebrews 1, but experienced things that no angel has ever experienced. Through the suffering and death he understands us better and knows how we feel in our times of need. No angel can ever claim to experience or feel like we do; no angel will experience death like we will. Jesus never gave up his position; he only obeyed God by His own design.  Pink describes it this way, “The end in view fully justified the means. Only by the Son tasting death could the sons of God be delivered from the ruins of the fall’ only thus could the righteousness and mercy of God be reconciled.” Only by making Jesus a little lower than the angels for a short time could He become our Redeemer, which is far superior to any angel.

Conclusion

            The author’s audience, the Jews, seemed to have struggled about a great deal of things. They had trouble understanding the Old Covenant verses the New Covenant, and they had trouble understanding exactly who the Son of God was and his authority. They had heard stories about angels from the Old Testament and knew they were from Heaven and sent by God. They believed they understood their authority and place in heaven and regarded them as “sons of god.” Yet now the author of Hebrews is saying, disregard all others you have followed or listen to in the past, they are not as important as the “Son of God” and that He is superior to any one of them. Not that they weren’t significant in their own right, God had ordained them and sent them head of Christ to do His work, but they including the angels are nothing compared to the message and authority that Jesus holds.  The author has proved his point: Christ is superior in all aspects of His existence.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Barclay, William, The Letter to the Hebrews, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,

2002. Kindle Electronic Edition.

 

Bruce, F. F., The Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1990.

 

Calvin, John, Commentary on Hebrews, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, Grand
Rapids, MI. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Kindle Electronic Edition.

 

Guthrie, George H., The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Corporation, 1998.

 

Montefiore, H. W.  A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Guildford, London. A. and C.
Black Publishers, Reprinted 1979.

 

Pink, Arthur W., An Exposition of Hebrews, Blacksburg, VA. Wilder Publications, 2008

 

 


[1] William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, Louisville, KY.  Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.  Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 1, Location 253-62.

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 52.

 [3] George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Corporation, 1998), 68.

[4] Bruce, 53.

[5] Ibid.

  [6] Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, (Blacksburg, VA. Wilder Publications, 2008), 34.

 [7] Pink, 34.

 [8] Guthrie, 68.

 [9] Pink, 36.

 [10] Bruce. 56.

  [11] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids, MI. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 1, Location 741-51.

  [12] Pink, 36.

 [13] Bruce, 59.

 14] Pink. 37.

 [15] H. W. Montefiore, A Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Guildford, London. A. and C. Black Publishers, Reprinted, 1979), 46.

 [16] Bruce. 59.

 [17] Guthrie, 70.

 [18] Pink, 38.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. 39

 [21] Pink, 46.

 [22] Ibid.

 [23] Pink. 45.

 [24] Ibid. 44.

 [25] Ibid. 45.

 [26] Ibid. 47.

 [27] Barclay, Location 873-83.

 [28] Ibid. 883-91.

 [29] Pink, 47- 48.

 [30] Bruce, 67.

 [31] Pink. 60.

 [32] Pink. 66.

 [33] Ibid.

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