January 21, 2018
When you think of angels, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your little grandchild, who at times can be a cute, fat little cherub, and other times you think, wasn’t Satan a fallen angel? That’s a special little sin nature in that one.
What comes to mind when you think of angels? Maybe Cupid’s arrows, maybe Satan’s fiery darts. Maybe wings and white robes; maybe flaming swords and chariots. Maybe red hair and an Irish accent. Maybe singing, maybe playing baseball in the outfield. What comes to mind?
Teaching about angels has varied through church history – from reverential awe to benign neglect. From, they’re real and should be feared, even worshipped – that’s wrong. To they’re not real – the stuff of ancient myth – that’s wrong. It’s not uncommon to think of angels a little more during the Christmas season – after all, they appear on Christmas cards and nativity sets and Christmas trees – we’ve had one as a topper on our tree for years, complete with wings.
What comes to mind when you think of angels? In his introduction to the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes:
“Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of nineteenth century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity….They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying ‘Fear not.’ The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say, ‘There, there.’”
When you think of angels, what do you see? They are mentioned about a hundred times in the Old Testament; over 160 times in the New. Angelic beings can appear as six-winged seraphim, which means burning ones, surrounding the throne of God. With one pair of wings, they cover their faces, with another they cover their feet, and with another they fly. And they cease not to proclaim, holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. It’s no wonder Isaiah was terrified. They can appear as a vast multitude, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. That’s one hundred million, by the way.
Much of the time, they are invisible, as was one to Balaam, but not his donkey – at that time, the angel had a sword drawn. Or invisible to Elisha’s servant, but not to Elisha. At that time, they appeared as fiery chariots. They can appear ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. They can appear in a lion’s den, shutting the mouths of the lion. They can appear as men, rescuing Lot and his family from Sodom. They can go before the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. There’s the time an angel appeared to Mary – his name was Gabriel – to tell her she would be pregnant with the Son of God. Or to Joseph, who we assume was also Gabriel, to tell him Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Oh, and there’s also the archangel Michael who threw Satan and his angels out of heaven; and then later fought with Satan over the body of Moses.
They can appear with glorious light, as when they announced the resurrection to the women in Matthew 28. They can show up when God’s people need help, as when one rescued Peter from prison, or when they slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians besieging Jerusalem.
They are mighty – make no mistake about it. Read through the book of Revelation and see what happens when one blows a trumpet or pours out a bowl of God’s judgment or swings a blade. And there is coming a day when at the trumpet of God they will return with the Son of God and gather God’s elect from the four corners of the earth and pour out God’s judgment on those who do not believe. Pastor Kent Hughes suggests if you summarize the specific functions of angels from Scripture, you come with the following four duties:
- Angels continually worship and praise the God they serve (Isaiah 6:1-3, Revelation 4:8, 5:9-12).
- Angels communicate God’s message to humankind – in fact, that’s what the word angel means – messenger (Matthew 1:19-24; Luke 1:11-28, 2:9-12; Acts 7:28, 53; Revelation 17:1, 21:9, 22:16).
- Angels minister to believers – I don’t have time to list all the ways in which they do so, but there are many, such as encamping around those who fear God, keeping you from dashing your foot against a stone, etc. (Psalm 34:7, 91:11-12; Acts 5:19, 12:6-11; Luke 15:10, 16:22; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21).
- Angels will be God’s agents in the final earthly judgments and Second Coming (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 19:17-20:3).
They are mighty; they are amazing. But…they must not be confused with the Son of God. Oh no, there is no comparison. Over the last couple of weeks in our new study of the book of Hebrews, we saw God spoke His Old Testament revelation through His prophets. In fact, there are some verses which indicate that revelation was mediated through angels. By New Testament times, it was clearly understood God used angels to give the Law – that is the Old Covenant. But we remember, the author of Hebrews’ purpose was to prove the New Covenant, which Jesus mediated, was better, greater than the Old. In fact, all the Old Covenant points to Jesus.
So, he began His book in the first four verses – actually one sentence in the Greek – exalting the Son of God to the highest degree – through whom God has spoken, revealing Himself most clearly, finally and fully through the New Covenant in the New Testament. So, if the Old Covenant was mediated through angels, the author begins by proving that Jesus, who mediated the New Covenant, is vastly superior to angels.
Now, before we go any further, I want to remind you of his purpose. I will do so regularly. His readers, likely Jewish Christians, were struggling in their new faith. Some had become apathetic and were in danger of drifting away. Others had faced severe opposition and were in danger of falling away. Some had considered quitting – others already had. So he writes to both warn and encourage them. His warnings are severe. His encouragements are centered on the truth that through the gospel we have seen God’s final revelation. We have been gloriously saved through the New Covenant in the Son of God and His work on the cross – and He is now our great high priest. So, don’t drift. Don’t fall away. Why would you quit – do you know what you have?
Which brings us to our text today – Hebrews 1:5-14. Yes, we will actually finish chapter 1 today. But let’s begin in verse 4 – the end of that long sentence in which the author has exalted Christ. Jesus has made purification for our sins and sat down at the right hand of God, verse 4 – read.
This is incredible. You must add Hebrews 1 to your arsenal of biblical proof that Jesus is none other than the Son of God, and God Himself. Last week I noted the author made seven statements about Jesus in verses 2 and 3, summing up his argument in verse 4: because of these truths, Jesus has become much better than the angels, having inherited a more excellent name than they. Remember, that doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t always better than the angels, or didn’t always have a more excellent name. His point is that through His work on the cross – and His exaltation at the Father’s right hand proves He is who He has always been.
Now, the author quotes seven Old Testament passages which prove his point – five from the Psalms, one from the Torah in Deuteronomy, one from OT history or the former prophets as they are called in II Samuel. We’ll outline the text around those OT passages:
- Jesus is Son, Angels Aren’t (5)
- Jesus is Worshipped, Angels are Worshippers (6)
- Jesus is Sovereign God, Angels are Serving God (7-9)
- Jesus is Eternal Creator, [implied] Angels are Created (10-12)
- Jesus is Seated Ruler, Angels are our Ministering Servants (13-14)
There’s obviously some overlap, but let’s look at each of these. As we do, I want you to be impressed with Jesus. Angels are amazing, they’re mighty, but they are nothing compared to God’s Son. Beginning with, Jesus is Son, Angels Aren’t, verse 5.
Here, the author quotes two OT passages – Psalm 2 and II Samuel 7. Both were seen as messianic texts – that is, verses that ultimately referred to the Messiah. I say ultimately, because there was an immediate fulfillment, but not full fulfillment – that was reserved for the Christ.
Notice, he writes, to which of the angels did He [God] ever say…and then we get to verse 13 and he writes again, to which of the angels has He ever said… That’s an inclusio, they act as bookends, binding this together as a complete package. The implied answer is obviously, none. To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You?” None.
True, in Job 1, the angels are together called the sons of God – but this speaks of their special relationship to God as His servants. We’ll find even kings were called sons of God – in a special relationship with Him, serving His purposes. But to which – singular – of the angels did God ever say, you alone are My Son? None. Only one deserves that title. And remember, God said that to Jesus from heaven on two different occasions for all those present to hear – at the His baptism in Mark 1, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” And again at the Transfiguration in Mark 9, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.”
God says to the Son, You, and You alone, are My Son. Again, this come right from Psalm 2, which most agree was a coronation Psalm, said to David and His descendents at their coronations. But even OT rabbis knew there was something special about that declaration – that its ultimate fulfillment would come in the future Messianic King. And this author, and other NT authors make clear, this was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul quotes it in Acts 13 with clear application to Jesus when God raised Him from the dead:
32 And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers,
33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today i have begotten You.’
Now, what does the line mean, today I have begotten You? Hasn’t Jesus forever been the only begotten Son of God? Yes. But again the context is, by His finished work on the cross and His exaltation at the Father’s right hand, He was declared to be, for all to see, the Father’s only begotten Son. Paul says it this way in Romans 1:4, “who [Jesus] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The author goes on to quote II Samuel 7:14, “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me.” again, a clearly messianic text. The context of the chapter is God speaking through the prophet Nathan to King David. David wanted to build a house – the Temple – for God. And God said no, your son will do it, and I will be a Father to him, and he shall be a son to Me. The penultimate fulfillment, the close fulfillment if you will, was in Solomon. He did build a temple for God. But, the ultimate fulfillment was found in the Messiah, who would sit on David’s throne forever. Obviously, Solomon did not do that, nor did any of the kings to come – that is, until King Jesus. Listen to what the angel, messenger, Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:31-33:
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Do you see – this is a clear fulfillment of those promises made long ago, and the author wants us to understand, Jesus is the very Son of the Most High God. So…Jesus alone is the Son of God, which title was given to none of the angels. In fact second point, Jesus is worshipped, the angels are worshippers. I love this one. And when He again – perhaps better, and again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him. This is a quote from Psalm 97:7, or better, Deuteronomy 32.
By the way, notice how the author of Hebrews quotes OT Scriptures – by saying, God says. The point is, for him, when the Scripture speaks, God speaks. We believe the same thing, because we believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture. It is God’s Word.
So, when God brings His firstborn into the world. How is it that Jesus is firstborn? Does this mean when He was born, He came into existence, and until then, He didn’t exist? That there was a time when Jesus was not? No. Obviously Jesus had to preexist if He created everything, of which we’ll be reminded in a moment. And obviously He preexisted if God brought Him into the world. He is the firstborn in a couple of different ways. Firstborn in the Scripture speaks of rank – Jesus is of highest rank because He is God’s firstborn Son. But, He is also first among many. What does that mean? Well, He was the firstborn to be raised from the dead – and there many others. Because He was raised first, so also will we be raised. With the author’s clear love the Psalms, this may be an allusion to Psalm 89:27, speaking of David, but with reference to the coming Messiah, “I also shall make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
So God brings His firstborn into the world, at His incarnation, and through His work on the cross and His subsequent exaltation – all is likely in mind – and says, Let all the angels of God worship Him. That is hugely significant. Because, who deserves worship? The Scripture is clear, only God deserves worship, not His created beings. In fact, there were times when people were so overcome with dread and fear at the magnificent appearance of angels, that they would fall in worship. And the angel would be quick to say, don’t worship me, worship God. As when the angel had given the Apostle John the book of Revelation, John was so overcome, we read these words in Revelation 19:
10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.”
We remember of course the Ten Commandments which make clear God alone is to be worshipped. We remember when Satan, the highest fallen angel, tempted Jesus and said, I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if You fall down and worship me. To which Jesus responded, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” The clear point is this: Only God is worshipped, Jesus is worshipped by angels, Jesus is therefore God and superior to angels. Look at these verses in Revelation 5:
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,
12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
It’s why we worship Jesus. Third, Jesus is Sovereign God, Angels are God’s Servants in verses 7-9. There are two Psalms quoted here – Psalm 104 and Psalm 45. First, the author suggests the angels are ministers or servants, “And of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” The idea is angels, like winds and fire, serve God, wherever He sends them.
But, of the Son, God says in Psalm 45, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Now this can be confusing. In Psalm 45, the writer is speaking to the king on his throne. And it is challenging that he calls the king, God. But the point there was, as king, he was acting as God’s vice-regent. So in oriental custom, even Jewish custom, this was not unusual. But again, there was obviously a more complete fulfillment of Psalm 45 to come – fulfilled ultimately in Jesus. And God the Father says to God the Son, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Don’t miss that God calls Jesus, God. That is the author’s point. Angels are God’s servants, the Son is Sovereign God.
He goes on to quote the next few lines of the Psalm, applying them to Jesus, “And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom, You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.” Jesus is extolled as the Sovereign King whose kingdom is founded on perfect righteousness – and also hating wickedness or lawlessness. What king of Israel did that perfectly? David, Solomon? No – ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Therefore, God, Your God – that is, God the Father, Father God of the Son, has anointed the Son with the oil of gladness above your companions. Who are the companions – angels? No, likely us. His subjects – those within His kingdom, whom He is not ashamed to call brothers – chapter 2.
Fourth, the Son is eternal Creator, while the angels are those created in verses 10-12. God is still speaking, and says to the Son, “You, Lord.” Stop right there. This is quote of Psalm 102:25-27. There, the Psalmist is lamenting his personal affliction and assured brevity, but finds comfort in the constant, eternal, never-changing care of God. In verse 24 of that Psalm, the addressee is clearly identified as God. The Psalmist, addressing God, says, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days, Your years are throughout all generations. Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.” We cannot help but think of the first verse of the Bible – we are supposed to, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Here, clearly the author of Hebrews applies this Psalm to the Son, Jesus.
Jesus, you laid the foundations of the earth, Jesus the heavens are the work of Your hands. Then the author declares the eternal deity of the Son – they will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle or coat You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed.” We understand this. Not only does science tell us the universe is ever expanding; it is also decaying – growing old. But, You, God the Son, are consistently, eternally, constantly the same. While the universe will one day be folded up and discarded, giving the need for a new heaven and new earth – You, Son of God, will never come to an end. You are gloriously eternal. Angels obviously are not since they were created by Him.
Bringing us to our last point, Jesus is Seated Ruler, while Angels are busy serving us. Look at verse 13 again:
13 But to which of the angels has He ever said, [and he quotes Psalm 110. He already referenced it in verse 3, now he quotes it. I told you last week it was the most quoted Psalm in the NT] “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”?
This was clearly another messianic Psalm, waiting for ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah. God said to His Son, sit at My right hand – the place of highest honor and authority, until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” This was an ancient practice. When an enemy was defeated, he would be forced to bow before the victor king, kiss his feet; and the victor would place his foot on the conquered king’s neck as a symbol of victory and sovereignty. There is coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus has defeated every foe and is seated.
But, angels are not seated at God’s right hand. Rather, we see them standing or flying about the throne, seeking to serve God. And so He sends them to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation – that is, those who will be saved – you and me. We have been and are being served by angels – as we worship the seated, sovereign Son.
So this is all great. But how does it encourage us as believers who are facing challenges – who have found the Christian life most difficult – to persevere? Consider some personal applications of each of those five points:
If Jesus alone is the Son of God – and not even angels, who mediated the Old Covenant – and with a name so high as Son – to whom else will we turn? Having completed His work of purification, He was exalted to the highest degree – receiving a name that is above every name – the very Son of God, Jesus – no one else has this name. The disciples had it right – to whom else can we turn – You alone, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.
If Jesus alone is worshipped, and not strong, glorious, amazing, mighty angels – why would we quit Christianity? We know, serve and worship the most glorious of beings – the very Son of God. Will you turn to a worship of angels, who serve God? Will you turn to a worship of a false deity, when Jesus alone in the Son and who alone deserves worship? Will you quit religion altogether when you were created to worship to the true and living God through His Son – and find greatest joy and meaning through such worship?
If Jesus alone is sovereign, will you declare your allegiance to another? Will you make another king, when Jesus alone, as declared by God Himself, sits as God on a righteous throne – with a righteous scepter – and who will one day establish righteousness on the earth? I know it’s challenging, but Jesus is ruling and will one day make all things right.
If Jesus alone is Creator – and alone is eternal and unchanging – to whom else will you turn? All other so-called gods will one day be proven false. All angels will join us in worshipping the one true God. We will gather around His throne with myriads of angels ascribing worship due only to our eternal, unchanging God. This place is history – it will be folded up and discarded – do you want your attention here?
If Jesus alone is seated at the right hand of God Almighty – God the Father – if all enemies have become His footstool – don’t you want to be on the side of the Victor? By the way, what were the enemies He vanquished – who become His footstool? All sin, all those in rebellion against Him, all evil powers headed by the evil one himself, and finally death has been destroyed – it is the last enemy to be destroyed. I want to be found on His side, called His brother, co-heir with Him, worshipping Him – don’t you?