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10 September 2019

Son is Superior to Angels

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 - Hebrews 1:5-2:4.

Photo by Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash
By Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash
The letter to the Hebrews is built on a series of comparisons designed to 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. His past revelations were valid but, also, partial and promissory. His final Word has been “spoken” in a Son.

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

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

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?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The point is not to disparage the angels. They are God’s holy and glorious servants. This method of argumentation demonstrates the excellence of a person or thing by comparing him or it to something or someone widely recognized to be good but, additionally, it stresses how that person or thing is even better than the one to which it 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 initial rhetorical question: “To which of the angels said He at any time?” The expected answer is, “none.” Seven scriptural citations demonstrate the superiority of the Son over angels. The first six are divided into four pairs: 
  1. Psalm 2:7 – 2 Samuel 7:14.
  2. Deuteronomy 32:43 - Psalm 104:4.
  3. Psalm 45:6,7 - Psalm 102:25-27.
  4. Psalm 110:1 - Psalm 103:20-21.
The first pair concerns the status of the Son (Verse 5). The second is about the functions of angels (Verses 6-7). And the third presents the exalted reign of the Son (Verses 8-12).

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The seventh citation responds to the initial 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 opening proposition of Hebrews are “angels” and “Son” (Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:1-4).

Jesus is inherently superior to angels by the very fact that he is the Son. Not only so, but God commanded 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?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The next paragraph is a summary with a warning to which the letter has been building since its opening paragraph. The exhortation against neglecting the Son is reiterated several more times in the rest of the letter. The present paragraph lays out two themes that are threaded throughout the letter to the 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 (“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.” The clause refers to a Jewish tradition that the Law was given by angels on Sinai. 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 anyone 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 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 through Moses. Rejecting this superior revelation results in even greater punishment than disobedience to the Mosaic Law.
The point the letter has been moving inexorably is the great danger of abandoning the 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 are contemplating a return to the Jewish synagogue to escape persecution. The letter’s goal is to encourage believers to hold fast to the superior revelation they have in Jesus. The strategy is to compare the word God given in the Son with the 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 the letter’s warnings about apostasy and the dangers of turning away from the revelation given freely in the Son of God. 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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