Having achieved the purification of sins, the Son inherited a vastly more distinguished name than the angels – Hebrews 1:4-2:4.
The Son achieved the “purification of sins,” and thus, he qualified to “sit down at the right hand of the majesty on high,” where he continues to reign as the high priest of his people. And through his sacrificial victory, he also inherited the “more distinguished name,” namely, “Son,” the one who has surpassed even God’s mightiest angels in status and honor.
The letter uses several comparisons to demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus over all persons and things that preceded him. His priesthood, covenant, and sacrifice completed what the Levitical sacrifices and rituals could not accomplish, and he received more honor and authority than even the great lawgiver himself, Moses.
The letter does not denigrate Moses. It pays him high honors. He was “faithful in all his house.” Nevertheless, Jesus has been “counted worthy of more glory” than even Moses, the great servant of Yahweh.
The letter’s first contrast is between Jesus and the angels, and it employs several Old Testament passages to demonstrate his superiority over them and his supremacy over all things.
- (Hebrews 1:4-7) – “By so much becoming superior to the angels by as much as, going beyond them, he inherited a more distinguished name. For to which of the angels said he ever: You are my son; I, this day, have begotten you? And again: I will become his father and he shall become my Son? But whenever he again introduces the first-born into the habitable earth, he says: And let all God’s angels worship him! Even as to the angels, indeed, he says: Who make his angels winds, and his ministers of state a fiery flame.”
The method of argumentation demonstrates the superiority of the Son by comparing him to persons widely recognized as excellent, and in the first case, angels. If they are glorious and holy, how much more so is God’s Son?
“Better.” This is the first instance of the term in this letter. ‘Kreittôn’ is an adjective used for comparison and it denotes something or someone that is “better, best, nobler, noblest.” It occurs thirteen times in the letter to emphasize the superiority of what God has done in Jesus – (e.g., “better sacrifices” – Hebrew 7:7, 7:19, 9:23).
“Distinguished name.” This translates the Greek term diaphoros, which means that which is “distinct, distinguished, different.” The point is not simply that his name is more excellent than that of “angels,” but also that his name is of an entirely different kind and order. And that is because he bears the name “son” in contrast to “angels” and “prophets.”
The stress is on his position as the “son.” Certainly, the author of the letter is aware that he is none other than Jesus, but that name does not appear until the second chapter when discussing his sacrificial death.
The comparison starts with the rhetorical question, “to which of the angels said He at any time?” The expected and obvious answer is “none.” At no point did Yahweh call any angel “son” or elevate him to set at His “right hand.”
Seven scriptural citations are used to demonstrate his superiority, and the first six are divided into three pairs for literary effect:
- Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14.
- Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 104:4.
- Psalm 45:6-7 and Psalm 102:25-27.
The first pair concerns his status, the second, the functions of angels, and the third pair 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 all seven citations with the letter’s opening proposition are “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 the “Son.” Not only so, but God commanded all the angels “to render homage” to him.
- (Hebrews 1:8-14) – “But as to the Son: Your throne, O God, is to times everlasting, and a scepter of equity is the scepter of his kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. For this cause has God, your God, anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners. And you, by way of beginning, Lord, the earth founded, and the works of your hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but you abide still, and all as a mantle shall be worn out. And as if a robe wilt you fold them up as a mantle, and they shall be changed. But you are the same, and your years shall not fail. But to which of the angels has he ever said: Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool? Are they not all spirits doing public service, for ministry sent forth for the sake of them who are about to inherit salvation?”
This next paragraph stresses the supremacy of his reign from the “right hand of the majesty on high.” First, the eternal sovereignty of God is described (“Your throne, O God, is to times everlasting”), then, the qualifications of Jesus to sit on that throne are stated (“You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness”). In the paragraph, God and the Son are addressed separately. The purpose is not to engage in metaphysical speculation about the nature of the Son or his relationship to God, but to stress his greatness and the supremacy of his position.
Because of his qualifications, God exalted the Son to rule from His throne (“For this cause, God anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners”). The Greek term rendered “partners” occurs four more times in the letter in reference to believers, the very ones for whom he achieved the “purification of sins” – (Hebrews 3:1, 3:14, 6:4, 12:8).
And the One who “anointed” the Son is the same One who “founded the earth” and the “heavens.” Though the creation itself may “perish,” He “remains forever.” And because the Son inherited His throne, his authority and status are supreme.
As for the angels, at no point did God ever say to any of them, “Sit at my right hand.” They do not rule, instead, they are servants “sent forth for the sake of them who are about to inherit salvation.” And the comparison with angels concludes with the letter’s first exhortation:
- (Hebrews 2:1-4) – “For this cause, it behooves us with unwonted firmness to be holding fast to the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through angels 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 to 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 concluding paragraph presents two themes repeated later in the letter. First, the need to “hear” the “word” spoken in Jesus. Second, dire warnings about the danger of failing to heed his Word – (Hebrews 4:1-11, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:25-26).
Because of the surpassing excellence of his word, it is vital for us to hold fast to it. If disregarding the word of angels had dire consequences, how much more so failing to heed his word?
“Spoken through angels.” This refers to the Jewish tradition that the Law was given by angels on Sinai. The statement does not disparage the angels, Moses, or the Torah. Angels may have mediated the Law, but its source was God. It was His “word” regardless of the intermediaries He used to deliver it, and every transgression of it received a just recompense – (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19).
With that being so, how shall we escape the far greater punishment if we now abandon the supreme 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 superior “word” of the Son?
The latter argues from the lesser to the greater. Angels are God’s ministers and glorious beings. Moses was God’s anointed servant. The point is the grave danger posed to believers who would abandon this supreme revelation. Anyone who turns back to the old order risks everlasting destruction.
Some believers contemplated returning to the Jewish synagogue. The goal of the letter is to encourage them to hold fast to the supreme revelation that is now found in Jesus. The rhetorical strategy is to compare this superior revelation with the past ones made “in the prophets”, including Moses, and thereby demonstrate the surpassing greatness of the final and complete revelation given in him.
Whether one “drifts away” from Jesus to non-Christian Judaism, another religion, or an irreligious life altogether, he or she 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.