Hebrews 1:4-13 – Jesus’ Superiority Over Angels

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Last time we started our study of Hebrews with an overview of the book. Looking at Hebrews 13:20-25, we determined that the book is a letter, but since it doesn’t contain the traditional greeting we can’t positively identify the author or the original recipients. The mention of Timothy in Hebrews 13:23 allowed us to make an educated guess about the presumed author – Paul – and time of writing – 59-62 AD. Our study of Hebrews 1:1-3 showed us that the letter was definitely written for a Jewish Christian audience, and possibly later translated from Hebrew into Greek for the benefit of Gentiles.

In our study of Hebrews 1:1-3 we saw that the writer boldly proclaimed that the teachings of Jesus are equivalent in authority with those of the ancient Hebrew prophets whom the intended audience revered deeply. Then the writer went on to proclaim that Jesus is the very image of God, and that Jesus created and upholds the universe by the Word of His Power. The passage concluded with the declaration that Jesus, having by Himself made purification for sin (ending the need for animal sacrifices by the Levitical priesthood) is now exalted to the right hand of the Father.

Jesus’ Superiority to the Angels

The writer now makes such a sudden change in the direction of his thought, we might be tempted to look back over the text to see if we skipped over something by mistake. Having just declared that Jesus, having made purification for sin once for all, is now exalted to the right hand of the Father, the writer continues…

4having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
5For to which of the angels did He ever say:
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”?
And again:
I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?
6But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
7And of the angels He says:
Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”
8But to the Son He says:
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
9You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
10And:
You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
11They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
12Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
13But to which of the angels has He ever said:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
[Hebrews 1:4-13 – NKJV]
Why this prolonged discussion comparing Jesus with the angels? Apparently, the writer was aware of a need for correction regarding the nature of  Jesus – God with us – among the church(es) to whom he was writing. Presumably, there was some confusion that Jesus might be one of the angels – a created being rather than the Creator of all. Of course, it was obvious that Jesus was no ordinary man. He had performed miraculous healing, and fed 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. He had walked on water, calmed a storm by His Word alone, cast demons out of people, restored sight to the blind, healed the lame, cured lepers, and even raised the dead back to life. John the Baptist from Herod’s prison had sent some of  his followers to ask Jesus whether He was the awaited Messiah or whether they should await another. Recall Jesus’ answer…
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. [Luke 7:22 – NKJV]
These points would have struck a chord with John and with anyone familiar with the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Jesus recounts for John here several Messianic prophecies of Isaiah…
Your dead shall live;
Together with my dead body they shall arise.
Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust;
For your dew is like the dew of herbs,
And the earth shall cast out the dead. [Isaiah 26:19 – NKJV]
3Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
4Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert. [Isaiah 35:3-6 – NKJV]
…including the one He read out in the Nazareth synagogue on the day His own townspeople tried to throw Him off the cliff.
1“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings [the Gospel] to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” [Isaiah 61:1-3 – NKJV]

 Some time later at Caesarea Philippi after Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He was…

So they answered and said, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again. [Luke 9:19 – NKJV]
By the time of the letter to the Hebrews though, many people had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah who had been promised by the Old Testament prophecies. A helpful listing of these Messianic prophecies may be found at https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/top-40-most-helpful-messianic-prophecies/. Peter fully understood (by divine revelation) even at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies…
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” [Luke 9:20 – NKJV]
The Greek word – Χριστός Christos – here in this verse means “anointed.” So the phrase  Χριστός θεός Christos theos here means the “anointed of God.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Μεσσίας Messiasmeaning “anointed.” The Hebrew word is found throughout the Old Testament, but it refers to the Messiah in only two verses of the “seventy weeks” prophecy given to Daniel by the angel, Gabriel…
 25“Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.
26“And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end of it shall be with a flood,
And till the end of the war desolations are determined. [Daniel 9:25-26 – NKJV]
Interestingly, in addition to the Greek word Χριστός Christos, a Greek transliteration – Μεσσίας Messias – of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach also appears twice in the New Testament. Both instances are found in the gospel of John, and both of them refer directly to Jesus. In the first case, Andrew had just been called by Jesus, and went to inform his brother, Simon (Peter)…
He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). [John 1:41 – NKJV]
In the second instance, Jesus Himself confirms that He is the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well…
19The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He. [John 4:19-26 – NKJV]
Despite Jesus’ clear fulfillment of so many messianic prophecies, it is clear that many Christian believers still didn’t understand the true nature of Jesus the Christ of God – that He was and is God with us – Immanuel. Apparently, some thought that Jesus was an angel – a created being. Thus we have the extended refutation of that idea here in Hebrews 1:4-13. It is perhaps understandable that Jewish believers might have thought of Jesus as an angel. After all, in the Old Testament, the stories of pre-incarnate appearances of the LORD Jesus (christophanies) often refer to Him as “the Angel of the LORD.”
  1. Appearing to Abram’s maidservant Hagar to predict the birth of Ishmael – Genesis 16:7-14
  2. Calling out from Heaven to Abraham on Mount Moriah after staying him from sacrificing Isaac – Genesis 22:15
  3. Speaking to Moses from the burning bush – Exodus 3:1 – 4:23
  4. Leading the Israelites out of Egypt and protecting them from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea – Exodus 13-14, Numbers
  5. Appearing to Balaam and his donkey – Numbers 22
  6. Appearing to the people to admonish them for not casting out all the inhabitants of the land of promise – Judges 2:1-5
  7. Appearing to encourage Gideon – Judges 6:11-21
  8. Appearing to Samson’s parents – Judges 13
  9. Protecting the three Hebrew youths in the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar – Daniel 3
  10. Protecting Daniel in the den of the lions – Daniel 6
  11. Speaking and ministering to Joshua the priest – Zechariah 3

The Hebrew wordמַלְאָךְ mal’aktranslated “Angel” in these passages means messenger or representative. In these cases, God is His own “Angel.” Note that not every appearance of an “angel of the LORD” in the Old Testament is a christophany. Some are clearly not, as is usually clear from the context. In some cases, it is unclear whether an Old Testament character is being visited by the LORD Jesus Himself, or by one of His created angels. The translators of our print Bibles in English have been kind enough to capitalize the word “Angel” whenever it is clear (to the translation team) that the reference is a christophany, and to leave the word uncapitalized in cases where the “angel” in question is clearly an angel, not the LORD Himself, and in cases where it is questionable. I would be cautious of relying too heavily upon this convention, though. We need to ask the LORD for His leading when trying to decide while we study His Word, and always study any passage in its broader context until the meaning becomes clear.

Just as Jesus Himself performed miracles during His earthly ministry, He had also used His angels in Old Testament history to perform mighty supernatural works…

  1. In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – Genesis 19
  2. In punishing the nation after David disobeyed the Word of the LORD and numbered the people – 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21
  3. In destroying the army of Assyria that had surrounded Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah – 2 Kings 19, Isaiah 37

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell whether the “Angel of the LORD” in a particular Old Testament story is the LORD Himself, or one of the created angels. The writer of Hebrews understood this, and in this passage attempts to clarify that Jesus is God the Son, not one of the created angels using references to the Hebrew scriptures with which his Jewish readers would have been well familiar. Recall that in Hebrews 1:1-3, the writer had simply made a series of blunt statements about Jesus’ Sonship. He now continues by laying out the scriptural underpinnings of his argument. Having stated that Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of God the Father, he now continues…

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. [Hebrews 1:4 – NKJV]

Inheritance was and is a big deal in Jewish culture. Recall that the first-born son was to receive a double portion of the father’s estate. Although the Word of God frequently speaks of Jesus as the begotten Son of God, we know from our examination of John 1:1 and other verses last time that Jesus always was, and that it was He who created the heavens and the earth. So when God uses concepts in His Word like Jesus having obtained an excellent Name by inheritance, He is trying to help us understand with our limited human, temporal viewpoint, the eternal Sonship of Jesus. The point is simply that the eternal nature of Jesus is essentially different from the created nature of the angels. The writer now gives a series of scripture references to drive the point home…

For to which of the angels did He ever say:
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You?[Psalm 2:7]
And again:
I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son?[2 Samuel 7:14]
Psalm 2 is a Messianic prophecy speaking not only of Jesus’ Sonship, but also His inheritance, and His blessing to those who trust in Him…
1Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed [מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach] , saying,
3Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
4He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
5Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
6“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
7“I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.'”
 
10Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
11Serve the LORD with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. [Psalm 2 – NKJV]
The second quote in Hebrews 1:5 is from 2 Samuel…
 “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. [2 Samuel 7:14]
Please forgive me for saying so, but this looks to me like a textbook example of someone taking a verse out of its context in order to make a point. Here in 2 Samuel 7, the context is the prophet Nathan telling King David that the LORD will not allow David to build Him a house, but that a son will come up after him who will build the house. This is clearly a reference to Solomon, not Jesus. In seeking to understand this, I looked at a number of commentaries. I was disappointed to find that most of the commentators I have come to trust, completely ignored the topic. The only one I could find that made reference to it is John Gill – a Baptist theologian from the 18th century, who explained it saying that although Nathan’s prophecy was speaking of Solomon, that Solomon should be considered in this case as a type of Christ. It is true that Nathan goes on in this prophecy about Solomon to say…
And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”‘” [2 Samuel 7:16 – NKJV]
This prophecy was certainly not fulfilled by Solomon, whose kingdom was divided in the very next generation of the Davidic line. But it is true of Jesus, who arose from the line of David through Solomon. So in that sense, I can see that Nathan’s prophecy could also be taken to refer to Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews implies. But let’s press forward…
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
Let all the angels of God worship Him.” [Hebrews 1:6 – NKJV]
Here we have another problematic verse. Although the Hebrews author is apparently quoting scripture, it is not taken from anywhere in the Biblical canon we have today. The commentaries and cross-reference Bibles I looked at refer to Psalm 97:7 which is clearly a reference to graven idols, not angels. Perhaps Paul was quoting from a text outside the Law and Prophets with which he and his Jewish audience were familiar, but has been lost to us today. Nevertheless, Luke’s nativity story makes clear that the angels do worship Jesus…
 
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men! [Luke 2:13-14 – NKJV]
Hebrews 1:7-9
7And of the angels He says:
Who makes [עָשָׂה `asah] His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.” [Psalm 104:4]
8But to the Son He says:
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
9You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” [Psalm 45:6-7]
 Psalm 104 is a psalm of praise to the LORD for His mighty works of creation and providence. The Hebrew word – עָשָׂה `asah – used here to describe God’s creation of the angels as ministering spirits is the same word used throughout Genesis 1 and 2 in the description of God’s labors of creating the various components of our world. It means to fashion or produce something by labor. The same word is used to describe human construction. Its first application to the work of mankind is found in Genesis 3:7 when Adam and Eve fashioned coverings for themselves after eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It is distinct from the Hebrew word בָּרָא bara’ seen in Genesis 1:1 which means to create out of nothing in that verse and others – something only God can do. It is also distinct from the word יָלַד yalad translated as “begotten” in Psalm 2:7 which means to give birth, to be born, or to conceive or beget (sexually). By quoting Psalm 104 here in Hebrews 1:7 the writer is emphasizing that the angels are made by God, just as He made man and the animals and plants. In Hebrews 1:8-9, the writer contrasts this relationship between God the Creator, and His created angels with the familial relationship between God the Father and Jesus – God the Son. The text quoted here is from Psalm 45 – a psalm of praise to the awaited Messiah.
Continuing now in Verse 10
10And:
You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
11They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
12Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.” [Psalm 102:25-27]
The text we see quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 is taken from Psalm 102 – a prayer of lament, which like most such psalms begins with a complaint regarding affliction, but ends with praise to Almighty God who is from everlasting to everlasting. The Hebrews writer here wishes to emphasize the eternal nature of Jesus – God the Son.
Finally, we see in Verse 13 a quotation from Psalm 110 – perhaps David’s most famous Messianic psalm.
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool“? [Psalm 110:1b]
The quote is only the second part of Psalm 110:1. Recall that Jesus quoted this same verse when He was questioning the Pharisees’ conceptions about the coming Messiah…
41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”
They said to Him, “The Son of David.”
43He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying:
 
44‘The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”‘?
 
45If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. [Matthew 22:41-46]
Although the Pharisees didn’t get it, Jesus was proclaiming to them His eternal nature. The writer of Hebrews in quoting this partial verse from Psalm 110 is doing the same along with emphasizing the distinction between Jesus and the angels.

Looking Ahead

We will look more at Psalm 110 later on in our study of Hebrews. Next time, though, as we continue with our study in Hebrews 2, the author will expound for his Jewish readers and for us the nature of Jesus’ work of salvation, and the need for us to believe in Him to receive it.

In the meantime, let’s close by looking at all of Psalm 110, since it is so central to the exposition we are about to study in Hebrews…

A Psalm of David.
1The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
2The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
 
3Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.
4The LORD has sworn
And will not relent,
You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
 
5The Lord is at Your right hand;
He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.
6He shall judge among the nations,
He shall fill the places with dead bodies,
He shall execute the heads of many countries.
7He shall drink of the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He shall lift up the head. [Psalm 110 – NKJV]

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