SYNOPSIS – The letter to the Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the Son over angels – Hebrews 1:5-2:4.
The letter to the Hebrews is built on a series of comparisons designed to demonstrate the superiority of the revelation God gave in His Son over His past “words” revealed in the prophets, angels, Moses, and the Levitical priesthood. His past revelations were valid, but also partial and promissory. Unlike His previous “words,” 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 to say – “Son.” Thereby, he surpassed even the angels in honor and glory.
The first comparison builds on a series of Old Testament citations employed to prove the superiority of the Son over angels. The letter is not concerned with questions about the origin or nature of angels, nor does it explain the Christology of the author or engage in metaphysical speculations.
The comparison comprises the evidence section of the opening argument in which the author presents seven Old Testament citations to substantiate his proposition – 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. This method of argumentation demonstrates the excellence of a person by comparing him to someone widely recognized as excellent, then stresses how the person is even better than the one to whom he is compared. Thus, If the angels of God are glorious and holy, how much more so is the Son?
The argument starts with the rhetorical question – “To which of the angels said He at any time?” The expected answer is, “none.” Seven scriptural citations are provided to demonstrate the superiority of the Son. The first six are divided into three pairs:
- Psalm 2:7 – 2 Samuel 7:14.
- Deuteronomy 32:43 – Psalm 104:4.
- Psalm 45:6,7 – Psalm 102:25-27.
The first pair concerns the status of the Son, the second the functions of angels, and the third presents the exalted reign of the Son. The seventh citation responds to the first rhetorical question – What God said to the Son He 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 the letterare “angels” and “Son” – (Psalm 110:1,Psalm 103:20-21, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:1-4).
Jesus is superior to angels by the very fact that he is “a Son.” Not only so, but God commanded all the angels “to render homage” to him. The comparison of the Son to angels flows naturally into the first exhortation of the Letter.
Dire consequences for neglecting his Word
(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).
This next paragraph is a summary that includes an ominous warning towards which the letter has been moving since its opening paragraph. It lays out two themes that are threaded throughout Hebrews:
- The need to “hear” and respond to the “word” spoken in the Son.
- Dire warnings about the danger of failing to heed his Word (Hebrews 4:1-11, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:25-26).
The first clause connects the paragraph with the preceding section – (“For this cause”). Because of the surpassing excellence of the “word spoken in a 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 a 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 the angels, Moses, or the Torah. Angels may have mediated the Law, but God remains its source – (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).
The Law was the revelatory word of Yahweh. Regardless of His use of 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 mediated 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 a Son” is vastly superior to the one mediated by angels or Moses. The point is the grave danger from abandoning the superior revelation – To turn back now is to risk everlasting destruction.
Some believers contemplated returning to the Jewish synagogue. The purpose of the letter is to encourage believers to hold fast to the superior revelation in Jesus. The rhetorical strategy is to compare the word that God gave in the Son with the past revelations “in the prophets”, thereby demonstrating the surpassing greatness of the fuller revelation in the Son.
Of immediate relevance to contemporary Christians are the warnings about apostasy and the dangers of turning away from the revelation available now 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 is given, much is required.