“Better than the Angels” Hebrews 1:4
Last time we listened with amazement and wonder as we heard the writer of Hebrews tell us “what a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Jesus.” He taught us about the diversity and unity of God’s revelation, and that the culmination of the revelation is the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Then in hopes of overwhelming us with the evidence, he presented us with many trees so that we would see the forest of who the Son is. He taught us that the Son is the Heir of all things. All things were created for His pleasure. Next we learned that the Son is the Creator of all things (even the unseen reality—the angels). We discovered that the Son is, always has been, and always will be “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person.” Then the writer told us the Son “upholds all things by the word of His power.” He holds all creation together by the power of His will alone. Finally, the Son has seated Himself at the right hand of God the Father after He Himself purged our sins.
Can any created being do all this? The obvious answer is no. He is, was, and always shall be, God, the Son – the second person of the Godhead. This poses questions in our minds. “What about the angels?” “How do they fit into this equation?” “What is their role in completing the Son’s mission and God’s plan of the ages?” We are going to explore these questions in our study today. Hebrews 1:4 says, “[The Son] having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
Our study will ask and try to answer three questions posed by this statement. First, why is the writer concerned about the angels? Second, how has the Son become better than the angels? Finally, how did the Lord Jesus “inherit a more excellent name?”
First, then, let us try to understand why the writer to the Hebrews suddenly become so enamored with angels. The background of the epistle suggests two reasons. First, the writer wrote about the angels because Jewish writers of the period were intensely interested in the angels. Some writers taught that the angels had a role in creation. The Bible does not teach this anywhere, and the New Testament specifically denies this assumption. For example, Colossians 1.16: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” The phrase “principalities and powers” is most likely referring to the angels. All the created reality, whether visible or invisible (which certainly includes the angels), came into existence because the Son created them. If the angels had a part in creation, who are they? The Lord Jesus created the angels. The angels did not create or help create.
The Jewish writers also taught that the giving of the Law came through the mediation of the angels. Unlike the first speculation, this one is true. This teaching, although not specifically found in the Old Testament, is taught in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote about this reality in Galatians 3:19. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Angels did mediate the giving of the Law. At least two other places in the New Testament teach us this including later in the book of Hebrews.
Given these two presuppositions, the angels had a part in the creation and in the giving of the revelation; we can see why the writer was quick to point out the difference between the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and the angels.
Another reason to make clear the infinite superiority of the Son over the angels is the fact that in incipient Gnosticism some taught angel worship. Paul in Colossians teaches against this belief and demonstrates the deity of Christ. Colossians 2:18-19 “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head.” The writer of Hebrews picks up the same theme here in this section of his book. This is why the writer is so consumed with the contrast of the Lord Jesus Christ with the angels.
Our second question is, how has the Son become better than the angels? To the forest of overwhelming evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews adds one last tree. Our Lord Jesus is superior over the angels: “having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:4)
The verb “become” can brings us up short. The Apostle John wrote of the two realms of reality in John 1, that which eternally “was” and that which “came into existence.” That which always “was” has no beginning and no end. All that “came to be,” we learn in John 1:3, (Literally translated John 1:3 says, “All that came to be, came to be through Him and without Him nothing came to be that came to be.”) “came to be” through Christ. The Lord Jesus was, is and always shall be a “was.” He always existed uncreated as the second person in the Godhead, and thus is distinct from the things that “came to be.”
The problem is that the verb John used for the created reality is the verb we find here in Hebrews 1:4. How did the eternal Son “come to be” so much better than the angels? Wasn’t the Lord Jesus Christ always better than the angels? Was there ever a time in which the angels were better than He was?
While it is true that from eternity past the Eternal Son was “so much better” than the angels, indeed, there was a time in history when for a while that it was not true.
Look a little further down in our text and I think we will find the explanation. In Hebrews 2:6-9 we read. “But one testified in a certain place, saying: [Psalm 8] ‘What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” In His condescension, the Father made the Lord Jesus “a little lower than the angels” in order that the Lord Jesus might make an end to our sin. Our Lord Jesus made a real condescension when He condescended to become incarnate as a baby.
We will never fully comprehend the Lord’s condescension this side of glory. How can we who have never been “in the form of God” understand what it is to “empty oneself,” become a slave, and die for us?
Remember He was only for a while made a little lower than the angels. God the Father raised His Son from the dead and exalted Him, seating Him at His right hand. Our Lord once again became so much greater than the angels ever were or could ever become.
Having discovered how He who is, was, and always will be the radiance of God’s essential glory and the express image of His person “became so much better than the angels,” let us seek to discover how He also inherited a more excellent name.
The word translated “by inheritance obtained” has the same root as another word we ran into in Hebrews 1:2: “Has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things.”
The Son’s relationship to everything created is as the heir. Everything is His by legal right. He has ownership of it all. It is all about Him. Paul put it in these words in Colossians 1.16-18 “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”
In connection to the creation, He has inherited a name. That name is described for us in Hebrews 1:5. “For 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?’” Our Lord Jesus is the Son of God. He is the one who is to be preeminent over all creation (even the angels and the church). Thus, by His divine right of inheriting all things, He also inherited a superior name. All those in heaven (including angels), all those on the earth, and all those under the earth will someday will bow the knee and acknowledge our Lord’s name above all names. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
How do we apply all of this to us today? First, we must be clear that we are never to worship angels. Nor are angels equal to the Son of God. The Son is the second person of the Godhead, uncreated. Angels are created beings.
Second, we too must recognize our position in relationship to the Son. He is God of all. We are created beings. By faith, we become His people. Therefore, we must serve and glorify Him. That is one reason we were created and converted.