Jesus: Greater than the Angels
The book of Hebrews was written to a particular group of Jewish Christians who, because of persecution, were being tempted to abandon Christianity and return to Judaism. In his letter, the author appeals to them to remain faithful to Christ by showing them Christ's superiority to their former Jewish religion. He does this by comparing Jesus to various elements of the Jewish religion (prophets, angels, Moses, priesthood). In the previous chapter we studied how Jesus was superior to the prophets because:
- He was preeminent in history (first and last)
- He was divine in nature
- He was superior in position (authority) - at right hand of God
In this chapter we will see the author move from a comparison of Jesus and the prophets to a comparison of Jesus and the angels. Before we examine the comparison however, let's get a little background on angels themselves.
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for angel mean "messenger" or messenger from God. The word "angel" in the Bible refers to an order of spiritual/supernatural (not divine) created beings who act as God's messengers to men, and agents who carry out God's will among men.
- They are spirit beings and appear in the Bible as men (Genesis 18:2), but never as women or babies; created by God (Psalms 148:1-5; Colossians 1:16).
- They are not human and have no sensual desires (Matthew 12:25).
- Sometimes described as having wings (Isaiah 6:2; Daniel 9:21).
- They have intelligence and free will which explains why some (Satan) are condemned because of rebellion (II Peter 2:4).
- They were present and rejoiced at the creation of the world (Job 38:4-7) which suggests that they were created and rebelled before the creation of the world.
There are no personal descriptions of angels, only a description of their order and function:
- Heavenly powers - Psalms 29:1
- Holy ones - Psalms 89:5
- Watchers - Daniel 4:13
- Council (archangels) - Psalms 89:7
- Congregation (host) - Psalms 82:1
- Spirits - Hebrews 1:14
- Powers/princes/dominion (positive sense) - Colossians 1:16
- Powers/princes/dominion (negative sense) - Ephesians 6:12
- Archangels - I Thessalonians 4:16
- Angel of God/Lord (special "type" for Christ where terms angel and Lord are interchangeable) - Genesis 22:11-15
- Sons of God - Job 38:7
Angels serve God in a variety of ways:
- Messengers - Abraham (Genesis 19:13), Mary (Luke 1)
- Destroyers - Passover (Exodus 12)
- Ministers - desert (Matthew 4:11), garden (Luke 22:43)
- Worshippers - constantly praising God (Psalms 103:21)
- Guardians - God's people (Daniel 12:1), children (Psalms 103:1)
The Jews were familiar with the existence and appearance of these supernatural beings throughout their history. The prophets spoke God's words and did mighty miracles by God's power, but angels were super-human beings who were at God's throne and had appeared to them in person. For the Jews, angels represented one of their most powerful experiences of the supernatural.
Why the comparison between Jesus and angels?
Many Christians in the first century were confused as to how they should relate to Jesus (man only or God only). Some, especially Jewish Christians, may have been tempted to see Him as part of the angelic creation. After all, they were often sent by God as messengers and did mighty deeds. The author of Hebrews firmly establishes the identity of Jesus as being greater than angels. He also shows how Old Testament passages are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and how these passages point to Jesus' superiority over the angels.
having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
- Hebrews 1:4
He begins in verse 4 by making a summary statement concerning Jesus and angels.
- He is much better than angels.
- He has inherited a better "name" than they had. As a man Jesus was lower than the angels because He was confined to time and space. With His death, resurrection and ascension, however, He inherits a better name (position) than they have. He "inherits" because the position was rightfully His (He created everything so He deserves a better position). It is a better position because it is at the right hand of power, not the angelic "position" of service.
The author supports this claim with Scripture about the character and position of the Messiah in relationship to angels. This position was determined long before by God and spoken of by the prophets. He proves his point by referring to seven specific Old Testament passages that demonstrate the superiority of the Messiah in comparison to angels:
For to which of the angels did He ever say,
"You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You"?
- Hebrews 4:5a
This passage comes from Psalms 2 and refers to the enthronement of a king from David's line. On ascending the throne, the idea is that the king becomes God's son. The Scripture ultimately referred to the Messiah who would come from David's line and would rule forever (II Samuel 7:14-16). The point is that God calls the angels as a group "sons of God" (Job 1:6), but no one angel was ever referred to as the Son of God, like the Messiah was called. The term "begotten" refers to an enthronement - Jesus sits at the right hand of authority. So the author begins by showing that Jesus, the Messiah, is greater than angels because the prophets said that He would be called the Son of God, not a son, not sons of God like angles were called. He is greater because He is the Son of God.
"I will be a Father to Him
And He shall be a Son to Me"?
- Hebrew 4:5b
This passage comes from II Samuel 7:14 and refers to the promise that God made to David through Nathan the prophet, that God would provide for his son's efforts at building a temple in Jerusalem. The point here is that the Messiah (David's descendant through Solomon) would be like earthly kings; He would be a son, but unlike earthly kings, He would rule from heaven. He repeats the point that no angel was ever promised a thing like this by God, but the Messiah was, and Jesus is the Messiah.
I also shall make him My first-born,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
- Psalms 89:27
Here the writer is not arguing that Jesus is the Messiah (his readers accept this), he is proposing that Jesus, as the Messiah, is greater than the angels according to Scripture.
And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,
"And let all the angels of God worship Him."
- Hebrews 1:6
This is a difficult verse because it could refer to the time when Jesus returns to the world, as in His second coming, the angels will worship Him then. The term "first-born" denotes priority and superiority over all those born, and not the first one created. For example, in the case of Esau and Jacob, Esau was the first one born but Jacob was "firstborn" as to position.
This quote from Psalms 97:7 is an exhortation that every person and every spiritual being must worship Divinity. The author uses the quotation to say that when Jesus was revealed as the Divine Son of God, even the angels should have worshiped Him as the Scripture says they should of Divinity. Jesus is not only greater than the angels but also deserving of worship from them. The "again" is usually seen as a literary device to introduce a new idea and should be at the beginning of the sentence.
And of the angels He says,
"Who makes His angels winds,
And His ministers a flame of fire."
- Hebrew 1:7
This is the Old Testament idea (Psalms 104:4) that God used His angels as His ministers; they were winds and flames in His service. The point is that angels have no authority, and at their highest they are servants. Supernatural beings but servants none the less. They do not give orders, they take them. In the next verses he compares the authority of Christ to that of the angels.
8But of the Son He says,
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
9And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.
"You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness above Your companions."
This passage is taken from Psalms 45:6-7 and in it the author describes the regal splendor of the position of king. As Messiah, Jesus rules as king in heaven. Unlike earthly kings however, Jesus rules:
- eternally (forever and ever)
- with authority (scepter of His kingdom)
- with justice (righteous, hated lawlessness)
- with joy (anointed with oil of gladness)
"Above Your companions" refers to the angels over whom He rules. The angels in Old Testament literature stood before the throne of God, now the author pictures Jesus sitting on that throne.
"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Your hands;
11They will perish, but You remain;
And they all will become old like a garment,
12And like a mantle You will roll them up;
Like a garment they will also be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end."
- Hebrews 1:10-12
Psalms 102:25-27 reviews the Old Testament description of the Son as the creator, all powerful, eternal and preeminent (first and last). The point here is that angels are not creators because they have no creative power. They are created beings and are thus inferior to the Son. In the previous verses the author showed Jesus on the throne of the kingdom in heaven, here he demonstrates that His rule extends over the physical creation as well.
13But to which of the angels has He ever said,
"Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies
A footstool for Your feet"?
14Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?
- Hebrews 1:13-14
In Psalms 110:1 the author closes the argument concerning Christ and angels with an emphatic statement, "To what angel did God ever say..." The picture described here is that of the ancient custom of the victor putting his foot on the neck of a defeated enemy (Joshua 10:24). Only to His Son Jesus, the Messiah, does God offer the position of authority on the throne. This position Jesus takes as all of His enemies will finally bow to Him at the end of time (Philippians 2:10-11). But angels are servants of the Son towards the saints on earth. A final image of contrast between the son who has accomplished salvation and has returned to heaven to rule, and angels who minister to the saved on behalf of the Son.
The author uses Old Testament scriptures to demonstrate that, as the Messiah, Jesus is greater than the greatest of the supernatural creatures that they have ever known: angels.
- He is greater because He is a Son of Divine origin and they are created sons.
- He is greater because He is the fulfillment of God's plan according to promise and they have no such promise.
- He is greater because as a divine being He is deserving of worship, and they offer worship.
- He is greater because He has authority to command and they have only the free will to obey or disobey.
- He is greater because He sits as king and they are merely servants of the king.
- He is greater because He created the world and they are created beings.
- He is greater because He saved men from sin and they only minister to saved mankind.
In this section the author establishes from Scripture Christ's higher position than the angels. In the second part of this section he will describe the significance of the work that Jesus did when, for a time, He accepted to be in a lower position than the angels.
1. It's not how big your church is - it's how big your God is!
Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses deny the Bible's description of Jesus. Mormons teach that Jesus is one of many "sons" who became God, a kind of preexisting spirit. Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus began His existence as Michael the Archangel. And with these teachings they have built enormous followings with thousands of churches all over the world. Their advertising is slick, their zeal to spread their doctrines is powerful; but don't be fooled by the size of their churches, their wealth or their influence in the world. Their God is no god, their Jesus is not the Lord. The Jesus that the Hebrew writer describes: He is the Lord, He is the Savior. Don't judge the value of a person's religion by size or noise, ask them who their Lord is. If He's not the Lord of the angels, He's not our Lord.
2. Jesus is always more, not less.
From the very beginning there has always been an attempt to lessen who Jesus is:
- "Is this not the carpenter's son...?" (Mark 6:3). The people in His home town hearing of His miracles and listening to His teaching remarked that He was just one of them - the lowly son of a carpenter.
- "Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (John 8:48). The leaders accused Him of being less than a good Jew and demon possessed.
- The people the Hebrew writer was addressing were tempted to see Him as part of the angelic beings they had known.
- Various religions of the past and present have referred to Him as one of their own gods (Hinduism) or a great prophet (Muslims).
- Modern philosophers view Him as a moral teacher and leader.
But any description of Him that brings Him down (even if it's done politely and respectfully) from His exalted position is inaccurate. John says "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the anti-Christ," (II John 7). John warns that the main deception will always be to deny the equally divine/human nature of Jesus. The Apostles taught that Jesus was God and nothing less than this (John 20:28). Any teaching or suggestion that is different than this is not biblical. John even says that teaching of this nature is part of the power of the anti-Christ in the world then and today. Jesus is always more than what we think or imagine - not less!
- Review key points of Hebrews from lesson 1:
- Who was Hebrews written to and why?
- In what ways does Hebrews show the superiority of Jesus?
- How are angels described in various scriptures?
- Why is there a tendency for some to worship angels?
- In what ways does Hebrews 4:4-14 show Jesus as superior to angels?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?