The Superiority of Christ over the Angels. Heb. 1, 1-14.

The perfect revelation of God in Christ: V.1. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, v.2. hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; v.3. who, being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when he had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. These introductory words set forth the fundamental thought of the entire letter, the supreme article of faith and of the divinity of Christ, as Luther writes, not only on the basis of one fact, but from a large number of facts concerning both the person and the work of Jesus. In stately grandeur the letter opens: In many parts and in many ways God long ago, having spoken to our fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days spoke also to us in His Son. In many ways God spoke of old: He did not give the revelation of the salvation to come at one time and in its entirety, but piecemeal, bit by bit, now showing one fact concerning the coming Messiah and now another, revealing first the fact that He would be born of a woman, then that He would be of the seed of Abraham, then that Judah was to be His progenitor, then that He was to be a son of David: at other times picturing His office in His deepest humiliation, then again in the highest triumph of His exaltation. In many ways God spoke of old: sometimes by the institution of a rite or sacrifice, sometimes by parable, sometimes in a psalm, sometimes in a dream or vision. Thus God spoke to the Jews of old, in the times of long ago. But that was not His final speech and revelation. The perfect revelation, the clear statement of His good and gracious will toward mankind, so far as it is possible for men to know and understand it by the Spirit of God, came at last, at the end of the days or age of prophecy, in the fullness of time. The revelation made in and by Jesus Christ represents the last time and the final manner in which God chooses to speak to us before the Day of Judgment. To us He has spoken who belong to these days, to the Christian dispensation, the subject of the great final revelation being His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who Himself has made known to us the Father and the Father’s counsel of love.

Of this Son, Jesus Christ, the inspired writer gives a marvelous description: Whom He has appointed Heir of all things, through whom He also made the worlds. It should be noted here, as Luther remarks, that everything that is said of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation must be ascribed to the man, for the divine nature can be neither humiliated nor exalted. The man Jesus Christ, the Son of God according to His human nature, has been appointed by God the Heir of all things. It was God’s will that Christ, also according to His humanity, should be Lord over all, and that all created things, the entire universe, should be subject to Him and be laid at His feet, Ps. 2, 8; 8, 6; 1 Cor. 15, 27; Phil. 2, 9-11. For as the Son of God, also after His incarnation, He is the rightful Heir of the eternal God. That is one proof for the deity of Christ. But this is supplemented by the statement that God made the worlds through Him, created all the parts of the universe as we know it through His almighty power, John 1, 3; Col. 1, 16. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead, distinct from the Father as to person, is nevertheless one with Him in essence, Himself the Creator of the world.

But the miracles are not pet exhausted: He, being the splendor of His glory and the express image of His nature, bearing everything by the word of His power, having accomplished the purification of our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Christ is the splendor, the effulgence of God’s glory, just as when light-rays come out from a luminous body and form a similar light-body themselves, without, however, diminishing the brightness and power of the original light. It is God’s glory, the resplendent beauty of His majesty, the wonderful essence of God Himself, which the Son reveals. But he that is familiar with the essence of God to such an extent must Himself have penetrated into the innermost mysteries of the divine essence and be true God Himself. He is also an exact impression, the express image of the divine essence and nature, His every quality and attribute identifying Him as true God with the Father. There is in the Father nothing which is not reproduced in the Son; the two persons are identical in essence. Therefore it is also said of Jesus that He bears, upholds, all things by the word of His power. Not only the creation, but also the preservation and government of the world, providence, is ascribed to Him, Col. 1, 17. This function was discharged by Him even during His life on earth; He never ceased to exercise the rights and privileges of King in the Kingdom of Power. More important, however, in the eyes of the believers is the fact that He has also accomplished the purification of our sins by offering Himself as the adequate sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the whole world, Col. 1, 14; 2, 14; 2 Cor. 5, 19, and that His work of reconciliation has been received by the Father, in token of which the Son has been admitted, also according to His human nature, into the full and equal possession of the divine essence and the discharge of its functions, since He sat down at the right hand of the majesty of God the Father, assuming for Himself the sovereign majesty inherent in God, Ps. 110, 1; Eph. 1, 20-22. Christ now exercises the fullness of the divine power and honor, universal dominion over all created beings, also according to His human nature. We have here, then, another proof for the deity of Jesus Christ.

A comparison between Christ and the angels: V.4. Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. V.5. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee? And again, I will be to Him a father, and he shall be to Me a Son? V.6. And again, when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him. V.7. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire. V.8. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. v.9. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. V.10. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands. V.11. They shall perish, but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, v.12. and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. V.13. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool? V.14. Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Having begun with the object of establishing the superiority of Christ over all created beings in the entire universe, the sacred writer takes occasion to show, first of all, the immeasurable excellence of our Lord when compared with the finest of all creatures, with the good angels: Having become so much superior to the angels as He has obtained (by inheritance a more excellent name than they. The divine excellence of Christ's exalted position corresponds to the superiority of the names which are applied to Him in Scriptures, the latter indicating at once that a real comparison between the divine Christ and the created angels is not to be thought of, since Jesus belongs in a class all by Himself.

The statement as to the divine names given to Christ the author now corroborates by a reference to Scriptures: For to which of the angels did God ever say, My Son art Thou; this day have I begotten Thee? And again, I shall be to Him for a Father, and He shall be to Me for a Son? The words of Ps. 2, 7 are a part of a Messianic prophecy, and are therefore addressed, not to any angel, but to the eternal Son of God, whose incarnation in no manner changed His divine essence. The Messiah Himself, prophesying of the days of the coming dispensation, asserts that the Father applied these words to Him. The words of the second passage quoted are not to be referred, as Luther shows, to 1 Chron. 22, 10, but to 2 Sam. 7, 14, where God Himself, in speaking to David, gives him the promise that his great Descendant, whose kingdom would be established forever, would be the Messiah Himself. The Son of God, however, begotten out of the essence of the Father from eternity, is Himself true and eternal God. Cp. Matt. 4, 17; 17, 5; John 5, 17-39.

But not only the divine names ascribed to Christ in Scripture establish the fact of His deity and therefore His immeasurable superiority over the angels, but also the fact that the latter are directly commanded to give honor and homage to Him as that due to God Himself: And again, when He introduces the Firstborn into the world, He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him. The Greek text may also be rendered: But when He brings again the First-born into the world. The title “Son” is reserved for Jesus the Messiah, as the writer has shown, and this Son, the First-born of the Father, the angels of God are to worship. The time to which he refers, when Christ was introduced to the habitable world, or will be introduced to the inhabitants of the world for the second time, is either that of the resurrection of Christ, or, more probably, that of Christ’s second advent, His coming to Judgment. With regard to this event the sacred writer quotes an Old Testament prophecy, not that of Deut. 32, 43, but of Ps. 97, 7, where the majesty of the exalted Christ is pictured. All the angels of God, who are in this instance called gods in the Hebrew text, as being creatures of great power and authority, should nevertheless bow down in worship before Him; surely an overwhelming proof of His deity.

The same fact is brought out by the inspired author by means of a second comparison: With regard to the angels indeed He says, Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers flames of fire; but with regard to the Son, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; for that reason God, Thy God, has anointed Thee with the oil of gladness beyond Thy comrades. The angels indeed are messengers and servants of God; He uses them to produce unusual disturbances in nature; they are present in storms and lightnings, whether these are sent as righteous judgments and punishments of God or merely as indications of His almighty power, John 5, 4; 2 Sam. 24, 16. 17; Ps. 78, 48. The characteristic functions of the angels, according to the passage referred to, Ps. 104, 4, consist in serving the Lord, and their form and appearance at such a time depend upon the will of their Master. In the great majority of cases, undoubtedly, the angels carry out their work in their proper, invisible nature: but the Lord often has a reason for making them visible, as men, as lightnings, and in other forms spoken of in Scripture. Powerful and mighty the angels were, as many examples illustrate, and yet they were only servants of God, whose rights and powers were strictly circumscribed, since they arc dependent entirely upon their Master above.

In contrast to these qualities those ascribed to the Son stand out all the more prominently age to which the sacred writer has reference is Ps. 45, 6. 7. There the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is addressed in words which fully describe His majesty and power as true God with the Father. As true God, His throne is one that is established to the age of the age, to all eternity. The conception of eternity is here brought out in the strongest possible way, the author ascribing to Jesus Christ the divine quality of eternity Having a throne, being entrusted with a rule, the Messiah wields a scepter of uprightness; all His judgments are right and just. It is characteristic of Him, therefore, that He has loved righteousness and hated lawlessness, both qualities fitting Him to be the Ruler of the universe. Whether the scene described is that of a wedding-feast or of the coronation of a king, it is clear, at least, that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is said to have been anointed with the oil of rejoicing beyond His companions or fellows. The prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Testament were indeed also anointed, but only with perishable oil and for a short term of service. But the Messiah was anointed by the almighty God Himself with the oil of gladness and rejoicing, with the gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit, which are ever intended to bring true and lasting happiness to the hearts of all believers, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Jesus is the true Prophet, High Priest, and King, to whom all the types and examples of the Old Testament point forward.

And still another passage is quoted in support of the deity of Christ: Thou, O Lord, from the beginning didst found the earth, and works of Thy hands are the heavens; they will perish, but Thou wilt endure, and all as a garment will grow old, and like a mantle Thou milt roll them up, and they will be changed. Thou, however, art the same, and Thy years have no end. Even in Old Testament times the psalm from which this passage was taken, Ps. 102, 12. 25-27, was considered a prophecy concerning the Messiah, and here the sacred writer substantiates this view by applying the words to Christ. It is Christ who, with the Father, created the world, laying the foundations of the earth: He made also the heavens and put them in their place. And He, the almighty and eternal Creator, will remain, even when the heavens and all creatures become old and perish, when the heavens will be dissolved in fire, and the elements melt with fervent heat, 2 Pet. 3, 12. 13. They will be rolled together and exchanged like a dress, a veil, or a mantle, and the old heavens and the old earth will be known no more. Only He, true God from eternity and to eternity, remains unchanged, and His years will never come to an end. Jesus Christ is not, like the angels, a mere servant of God; neither are His kingdom, office, power, and glory circumscribed, evanescent, temporary, as the works of the angels are: everlasting, all-powerful, unchangeable He stands, elevated above all the petty things of this world, true God forever.

And still another verse of Scripture the inspired author quotes: But to which of the angels has He ever said. Sit at My right hand, till I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet? These words God addressed in the prophecy to the Messiah, Ps. 110, 1, Jesus Himself using the argument against the Pharisees, Matt. 22, 41-46, Cp. Acts 2, 34-36; 1 Cor. 15, 25 The sitting at the right hand of God is described explicitly Eph. 1, 20-23, and there also plainly ascribed to Jesus Christ in His state of exaltation. The final complete supremacy of Christ was prophesied of old and is being fulfilled at this time, in His person, not in that of any angel. The status of the latter, as compared with that of Jesus, is briefly and clearly described: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth for the sake (in behalf) of those who are to obtain salvation? The angels are ministers; they render services to God and to men; they are used by God especially in behalf of those that are to inherit salvation, the believers in Christ. That is the destiny of those that place their trust in Jesus as their Savior, the inheritance of the blessings of heaven. And that is one of their distinctions, that they have the angels, the spirits of light, as their servants under the direction of God. It is a thought which is often overlooked by us, but which should be a source of great comfort to us at all times. At the same time, however, this position and state of service, which the angels occupy, is a definite and unassailable proof for the superiority of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, true God with the Father and the Holy Ghost.1)

Summary. The author shows that the perfect revelation of the ages was made in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and man, who is immensely superior to the angels, mighty spirits though they are, substantiating his arguments with many passages from the Old Testament.