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10 September 2019

The Son is Superior to Angels - (Hebrews 1:5-2:4)

Synopsis:  The book of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the Son over angels before showing how the word of the Son exceeds that of angels given at Mount Sinai

Jesus Reigns over the Hosts of Heaven
The letter to the Hebrews is structured around a series of comparisons that demonstrate the superiority of the revelation God has given in His Son over His past “words” spoken in the prophets, angels, Moses, and through the Levitical priesthood. God’s past revelations were valid but partial and promissory; His final Word has been “spoken” in a Son.

This Son achieved the purification of sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high and, thereby, qualified to inherit a “more excellent name”, that of “Son,” and he has surpassed the angels in honor and glory.

The first comparison of the letter is built on a series of Old Testament citations that prove the superiority of the Son over angels. The author is not concerned with questions about the origin or nature of angels, nor is he explaining his Christology.

This first comparison comprises the evidence section of the opening argument in which the Author presents seven Old Testament citations to substantiate his proposition that the Son is superior to angels. 

(Hebrews 1:5-14) - “By so much becoming superior to the messengers, by as much as, going beyond them, he hath inherited a more distinguished name. For unto which of the messengers said he at any time—My Son, art, thou, I, this day have begotten thee? and again—I, will become, his father, and, he, shall become my Son? But, whensoever he again introduceth the first-begotten into the habitable earth, he saith—And let all God’s messengers worship him! Even as to the messengers, indeed, he saith—Who maketh his messengers, winds, and his ministers of state, a fiery flame; but, as to the Son,—Thy throne, O God, is unto times age-abiding, and—A sceptre of equity, is the sceptre of his kingdom, Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated lawlessness,—For this cause, hath God, thy God, anointed thee with the oil of exultation, beyond thy partners; and—Thou, by way of beginning, Lord, the earth, didst found, and, the works of thy hands, are the heavens,— They, shall perish, but, thou, abidest still, and, all, as a mantle, shall be worn out, And, as if a robe, wilt thou fold them up,—as a mantle, and they shall be changed; but, thou, art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But, to which of the messengers, hath he said, at any time—Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool? Are they not, all, spirits, doing public service,—for ministry, sent forth, for the sake of them who are about to inherit salvation?” – (Citation from The Emphasized Bible).

The point is not to disparage the angels. They are God’s holy and glorious servants. The “logic” employed demonstrates the excellence of a person by comparing him to someone widely recognized as good but, in addition, showing how that person is even better than the one with whom he is compared. If the angels of God are glorious and holy, how much more so is the Son?

The literary structure is built on the rhetorical question stated at the beginning and the end of the paragraph (“to which of the angels said He at any time?”). In between, seven scriptural citations demonstrate the Son’s superiority over angels.

The first six quotations are divided into four pairs:
  1. Psalm 2:7 with 2 Samuel 7:14.
  2. Deuteronomy 32:43 with Psalm 104:4.
  3. Psalm 45:6,7 with Psalm 102:25-27.
  4. Psalm 110:1 with Psalm 103:20-21.
The first pair concerns the Son’s status (verse 5), the second the functions of angels (verses 6-7), and the third the Son’s exalted reign (verses 8-12).

The seventh quotation links back to the first verse of the paragraph and responds to the rhetorical question; what God has said to the Son He has never said to an angel (“Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool”). The two words that link this paragraph with the letter’s opening proposition are “angels” and “Son” (Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:1-4).

The argument begins with the rhetorical question, “To which of the angels said he at any time, you are My Son.” The implied answer is “none.” Jesus is inherently superior to angels by the very fact that he is God’s Son. Not only so, but God commands all His angels “to render homage” to the Son. The comparison of the Son to angels flows naturally into the first exhortation of the Letter.

Dire consequences of neglecting the Son’s Word (2:1-4)

(Hebrews 2:1-4) - “For this cause, it behoveth us, with unwonted firmness, to be holding fast unto the things that have been heard, lest, at any time, we drift away. For, if the word through messengers spoken became firm, and, every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall, we, escape, if, so great a salvation as this, we have neglected,—which, indeed, having received, a beginning, of being spoken through the Lord, by them who heard, unto us was confirmed, God, jointly witnessing also, both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” – (Citation from The Emphasized Bible).

The next paragraph is the summary and warning to which the Author has been building. The exhortation against neglecting the Son will be reiterated several more times in the letter. The paragraph lays out two themes threaded through the remainder of Hebrews:
  1. The need to “hear” and respond to the Word spoken in the Son.
  2. Dire warnings concerning the danger of failing to heed the Sonly Word (Hebrews 4:1-11, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:25-26).
The first clause connects this paragraph with the preceding section that demonstrated the superiority of the Son over angels (“for this cause”). Because of the surpassing excellence of the Word spoken in the Son, it is vital for believers to hold fast to it. If disregarding the word of angels had dire consequences, how much more so the word of the Son?

The word spoken through angels.” This clause refers to the Jewish tradition that the Law was given on Sinai by angels. This is not intended to disparage angels, Moses, or the Law. Angels are glorious ministers of Yahweh and Moses was his faithful servant. Angels may have mediated the Law, but God remains its source (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).

The Law given to Moses was God’s revelatory word. Regardless of the use of angelic intermediaries, the word became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense. Grave consequences befell all who disobeyed it.
This being so, how shall we escape the far greater punishment if we now abandon the vastly superior word spoken in the Son of God? As dangerous as it was to disobey the Word given through angels, how much more serious is the danger of ignoring the word of the Son?
The Author is arguing from the lesser to the greater. Angels are God’s ministers and serve His will. They are glorious beings. Moses was God’s anointed servant and the Great Lawgiver. Yet the word spoken in the Son is vastly superior to the one mediated by angels or Moses. Rejecting this new and superior revelation results in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Mosaic Law given at Sinai.

The point the Author has been driving at is the great danger of abandoning the excellent and superior revelation given in His Son. To turn back now is to risk everlasting destruction. Even regressing to the earlier but partial Word is not an option.

Some believers were contemplating a return to the Jewish synagogue to escape persecution. The Author’s goal was to encourage believers to hold fast to the superior revelation they had in Jesus. His strategy was to compare the word God spoke in the Son with His past revelations “in the prophets” and, thereby, to demonstrate the surpassing greatness of the final revelation in the Son. This is accomplished by presenting a series of comparisons demonstrating how the New Covenant surpasses and supersedes the Old.

Of immediate relevance to Christians are this letter’s warnings about apostasy and the dangers of turning away from God’s revelation given freely in His Son. Whether one “drifts away” from Jesus into non-Christian Judaism, another religion, or an irreligious life, one can expect to receive a “much sorer punishment” than any transgressors ever received under the Mosaic Law. To whom much light is given, much is required.

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