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Jesus is Greater Than Angels

Date: Feb. 19, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 1:1-14

Key Verse: Hebrews 1:3

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Last week, we saw the end of Matthew’s gospel and we learned a lot in that book. One of the most important things that came out of the gospel is that Jesus is the true king of God’s kingdom. He is the promised king whose kingdom will never end. Right at the end of the book, we saw Jesus return to his position of glory. Last week, we heard that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Jesus. Jesus was given everything because he had given salvation to everyone through his death and resurrection. I find it kind of funny because we start a new series in a new book today and it kind of picks up at that point. What I mean is that today, we are starting a study in the book of Hebrews in a series called Greater Than. That series title comes from the premise of the book, which is pretty simple. The premise is that Jesus is greater than all things, and what he did is perfect for our salvation. We don’t need any mediator or to do any additional tasks because we have Jesus. The entire book of Hebrews speaks to the sufficiency of Christ as our savior and his supremacy over all things. He is supreme; he is the greatest and through the study of these thirteen chapters, we will see all these different facets how Jesus is truly greater than anything.

Now, the book of Hebrews doesn’t have a listed author. For the longest time, it was thought that Paul was the author of Hebrews. He wrote most of the New Testament, and this is a letter just like his books, but the writing style is inherently different than the other books. So, it is probably not him. A couple of other ideas on the author are Barnabas and Apollos, both of which were capable men with enough knowledge of Jewish traditions to write it. It was written sometime before the year 70 because that was the year of the destruction of the temple and the author surely would have made note of Christ being greater than the temple, which he does not. Now, the letter was written to Christians who came from Judaism. They were Jewish Christians. They came to believe in Jesus like everyone, and, by his grace, received salvation. However, over the course of time, these Jewish Christians were feeling like their culture was being squashed and removed from Christianity. As time went on, more and more Christians were Gentiles and not Jews. The Gentile-fication of the church was a concern to many Jewish Christians. They thought that the Gentiles should follow Jewish tradition as well as believing in Jesus. It’s not that they thought less of Jesus, but Christianity came from Judaism and as more and more believers came from the Gentile nations, these Jewish Christians began to become afraid that their traditions would be lost and those traditions pointed to Christ. As the fear loomed in their eyes, the Jewish Christians held tighter to their traditions because they were afraid to lose them. They weren’t necessarily diminishing Jesus, but fear caused them to hold on to their traditions all the more. Like all of us who have succumb to fear, the Jewish Christians needed a reminder of what they gained with Christ and to focus on what could be lost. To this end, the author wonderfully argues that those traditions are mere shadows of what Christ brings. Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the greatest Jews of all time looked forward to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Today, we are in the first chapter of Hebrews and the author brings up an interesting argument: Jesus’ superiority over the angels. Our passage begins, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (1-2) There is a lot in these two verses, so let me try to unpack a tiny bit of it. The verses begin, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. This is speaking to the time of the Old Testament, the time before Jesus walked the earth. So, if you go back through the thousands of years before Jesus’ time, you can see that the primary way God talked to people and told them his will was through prophets. Men like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel were the mouthpieces of God and they performed many miraculous feats to prove they served the Lord. They were like the superheroes and sports stars of faith. They were revered and honored, and, perhaps, a bit too much by some. Just like today, people hold in high regard those who are exceptional. We look up to people who play with a ball because of the physicality involved. The prophets were great spiritual specimens, but they weren’t the end all. They were only the beginning.

God started with the prophets because he had a plan. The prophets warned people to turn back to God and they taught his ways, but they couldn’t save people. The prophets, for all their glory, couldn’t solve the sin problem. You see, people revered the prophets, but they were the B-team, the benchwarmers. The A-team consists entirely of Jesus, God’s Son. Whereas the prophets were God’s servants, giving the message to people, Jesus is the heir and the creator of the universe. So, you’ve got the messengers and the creator, the master. It is truly an honor that God himself sent his Son to speak to us. We no longer require a mediator to talk to us. As Jesus died on the cross, as we saw three weeks ago, the curtain of the temple tore in two from top to bottom. The curtain was in an area of the temple that was the Most Holy Place in all the earth and no one could enter, except the high priest once a year, but with the curtain torn, that division was removed. Because of Jesus, there was no more division between God and man. Jesus became God with us and he is with us to the very end of the age.

Our passage continues, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (3) Again, there is a lot in this passage too. There are five distinct descriptive statements in this verse. The first is that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory. Just like the radiance of the sun is inseparable from the sun itself, the God’s Son is inseparable from God because he is God. Jesus is the perfect brightness of God. Second, the Son is the exact representation of God’s being. People were created in God’s image, but images are not the same as an exact representation. Images are two-dimensional and can rip, fade and break. A photo is but a snapshot, but Jesus is the exact representation because he is God in flesh. It is the difference between watching something on the news or reading about it and being a part of it firsthand. Being there, you have all your senses engaged. With Jesus, we don’t get to know about God, we get do know God. Third, the Son sustains all things by his powerful word. Not only is Jesus the creator of the universe, he is the sustainer of the universe. Some people like to think that God created everything and then just left us to our own machinations. But by Jesus’ word, the planets orbit the sun. The sun holds its place in the galaxy and the galaxy travels through the universe. By Jesus’ word, the laws of physics are laws and life exists. Even animal instinct is the product of Jesus’ word. Everything is held together through Jesus’ word.

Fourth, the Son provided purification for sins. This one is a big one. This is the gospel message. Sin was a plague on humanity and no matter how much we tried and no matter what we did, we could not heal ourselves and expunge the sin in our lives. We could hide it, dismiss it, and even ignore it, but we are unable to cleanse ourselves of sin, because sin requires death for cleansing. Jesus died on the cross to satisfy the requirement of sin. Jesus was sinless, but he became sin to overcome sin. When he died for us, he cleansed us, and when he rose from the dead, he broke the power of sin. The power of sin is death, but death could not keep a hold on the author of life, so the power of death was broken for those who identify themselves with Jesus. Because we belong to him, we share in the life that he rose to. Which leads us to our fifth statement. The Son sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. After Jesus rose from the dead, he continued to rise to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. You can see at the beginning of the book of Acts, which we studied a few years ago, that Jesus is taken up in front of his disciples to his heavenly throne. Jesus said in front of Pilate, “But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” (Luke 22:69) Plus, Paul noted that Jesus now sits at the Father’s right hand. He wrote, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)

Each of these statements gives further support to Jesus great identity as the holy God himself, but in all honesty, they are only statements without proof. They are merely statements, but the entirety of the remainder of Hebrews provides the proof to support the validity of the statements. The first proof begins with the statement in verse 4, “So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” The author brings up Jesus’ superiority to angels, and that really feels like it is out of nowhere. I think that it is a product of our culture and distance from the time the letter was written. Around that the time of Hebrews people might have simply thought that Jesus was one of God’s angels. That’s similar to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses think today. They believe that Jesus is the angel Michael. Paul also mentions in his letter to the Colossians that there are angel worshippers (Colossians 2:18). So when the author brings up angels first, he is doing so to show the superiority of the office of Son to the office of angel.

Now, let’s have a little bit of a background on angels. Culturally, when we think of angels, we tend to think of winged people dressed in white, sometimes being the voice of reason on our shoulders. We have the picture that the angels play little harps. But the word “angel” simply means “messenger”. Angels are God’s messengers revealing God’s word and purpose to the people. It was angels who revealed the word to the prophets who revealed it to us. It is widely believed that the law, the Ten Commandments was given to Moses through angels. Angels were revered in Jewish society and they were so glorious that they inspired fear in those who saw them. Angels are holier than us. If you look at the appearance of angels in the Bible, the first thing that they say is, “Do not be afraid.” Angels shine in glory, whereas we live in sin. Angels are created spiritual beings, who have not sinned. Satan and his demons, however, are angels who have sinned and fallen from grace. If an angel sins, there is no redemption for them; they are lost forever. Angels have great power and each has their specific tasks to perform, but above all, they are messengers of God, as their name implies.

Since, Jesus is God’s Son, he is superior to the angels in every way, and his name is superior to theirs. Paul writes in a letter to the Philippians about Jesus’ name, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11) Because of Jesus’ actions in his death on the cross and resurrection, he was given a name that is above all names, including those of the angels. Because Jesus was so obedient to the Father’s will, he was exalted to the highest place and sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus does not sit in front of the Father and worship him; he sits at this right hand with the Father, sharing his authority.

The remainder of our passage consists of proof from the Bible itself of Jesus’ superiority to angels, through quoting seven passages from the Old Testament. The author begins the argument, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’?” (5) These two quotes are nearly identical and both come from Psalm 2:7, where God is proclaiming a decree and the second comes from 2 Samuel 7:14, where God is declaring that he will establish David’s throne forever through someone from his line, which would be the Messiah, Jesus. In both verses, God calls the Messiah his Son. The author continues, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” (6) This quote is from Deuteronomy 32:43, but not from the version we use. It is from the Greek translation of the Old Testament that the author would have had access to. It is in a note in our version at the bottom. At any rate, the verse calls for the angels to worship the Messiah, the Son. Remember, over in Philippians, Paul wrote that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”. The angels bow at the name of Jesus. They worship him and only God is worth of worship. The apostle John, one of Jesus’ disciples, had a vision of the future glory in a fully restored creation given to him by an angel. John tried to worship the angel, but the angel said, “I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9) So, when angels worship Jesus, the acknowledge that he is God.

However, the angels have a different purpose, “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.’” (7) The angels are merely servants of someone who is greater. They are spirits sent to serve and verse 14 makes it clear of that servitude. That verse says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (14) Angels are sent to minister to those who will inherit salvation. Angels serve those who are heirs, just like Jesus is an heir.

The author continues, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’” (8-9) Whereas the angels are servants of someone greater, Jesus has a throne and a scepter. Jesus is the anointed king of God’s great kingdom. “He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’” (10-12) Not only is Jesus the king, he is the eternal king. Everything that was created, both in heaven and on earth will wear out and fade away, but to Jesus they are just like a garment that can be changed. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Finally, the author writes, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (13) Angels are servants and do not get to share in God’s lordship. They do not get to sit at God’s right hand, they stand before God singing his praises and worshipping him.

With all this talk of angels, you can see that the office of Son is greater than the office of angel. Angels are servants but the Son is an heir and equal to the Father. This had to be clarified for the Jewish Christians that the author was writing to, but how relevant is that to us? We don’t have those same ideas in our heads. Well, there are some ideas about angels out there that doesn’t line up with what the Bible says. Like I mentioned earlier, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is an angel, just like some of the original recipients of this letter. In the Church of Latter Day Saints, the believe that angels are created beings, but they see them as spirits of deceased people or people who have not been born yet. In fact, the believe that the angel Michael is Adam and Gabriel is Noah. However, the Bible disagrees with that concept as well, because as you will see next week, because of Jesus, we won’t be like angels in the life to come, we will be greater than angels and become heirs with Jesus in the kingdom. If we became angels, then how could we become heirs, since angels are just servants?

There is more relevance to this passage than just that. The Jewish Christians were driven by fear to hold on to their traditions and beliefs so tightly, that to many people, it looked like they were making those traditions as necessary requirements for salvation. They thought that circumcision and keeping the holy days were requirements to be Christian because they were requirements to be Jews. They weren’t particularly bad things to do. They were symbols of being marked as God’s people, but they weren’t requirements. Only faith in Jesus alone is the requirement for salvation. Some groups of Christians hold certain types of baptism as holy and they make it seem like that their type of baptism is a requirement of salvation. They think that you aren’t a Christian unless you are baptized in their method. That thought extends beyond that to anything that we think does not make us a Christian. Common thinking goes, “If you smoke you are not a Christian. If you drink you are not a Christian. If you have a tattoo, if you have a beard, if you wear jeans, if you show your brokenness, or if you don’t do one-to-one Bible study, then you are not a Christian.” But the fact of the matter is when we hold on to these thoughts, then we make those things requirements to salvation and we forget that Jesus is sufficient and perfect.

In the early church, Peter was amazed that the Holy Spirit came to Gentiles. They had no Jewish background, but God identified them as his people too, by pouring out his Spirit on them. He approved of them even though they hadn’t performed any of the rituals of the Jews. They believed in Jesus and that was enough for God and it should be enough for us because Jesus is the Son of God and that position is greater than any other. Not even the angels are worthy of that honor. Only Jesus is worthy of all honor, glory, praise and worship. Nothing is greater than Jesus, not the angels and surely not anything else that we hold dear. Those things might be good, but they are not required. Only believing in the gospel is required. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead are the only things that solve the sin problem and give us new life. Because Jesus solved the sin problem, he is greater than all things.

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Key Verse: 2:3

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