The book of Hebrews is a sermon to encourage Christians to not give up on their faith during difficult times. The sermon of Hebrews opened with the author declaring that God has spoken through a Son in these last days. The Son is the heir of all things, created the world, the radiance of God’s glory, the imprint of God’s nature, and upholds the universe by his powerful word. With all the power he has as the Son, he makes purification for sins and sits down at God’s right hand. So let us draw our attention to Hebrews 1:4 and notice what the author wants us to see.
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3–4 ESV)
There is a lot that is said in this sentence about Jesus that we must consider so we can understand the message for us. There are two points put forward. First, Jesus has “become” far superior to angels. How did the Son become far superior to angels? Second, Jesus is established as being superior to angels. Why is the Son compared to angels? If we can get to the answer to these questions we will be able to see the glorious Son and why he is glorious to our lives.
Glorious Angels (1:4)
Now, we need to make sure that we do not go the wrong direction. In our last lesson we cautioned against mirror reading. Mirror reading means that if the author talks about something then we draw the conclusion that the recipients had a problem with that issue. So people will say that these Christians must have thought angels were greater than the Son and so the author must show them that the Son is greater than angels. This is the error of mirror reading and is not the intention of the author. Christians do not think that the Son is inferior to angels. That is not the issue. The point is actually quite the opposite.
Think about the regard we have for angels. Think about the regard society has for angels. We are approaching the time of year where we are going to see angels all over the place. We like angels. We like angels that look like little babies blowing trumpets hanging on our Christmas trees. We are enthralled by the mystery of angels. We like the idea of guardian angels. We will say that an angel was watching over a person. Even people who are not religious like angels and the religious certainly glorify angels. We see power in them. We know they have been in the presence of God. Even biblically we see angels glorified by their mission. The Law of Moses was given from God to Moses through angels according to Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19. Angels were considered administrators of God’s will and the agents of his power throughout the universe, like in Daniel 10. The author wants all of that knowledge and weight that we have about angels. They are amazing. They are special in their task. Yet Jesus is greater. Jesus is much superior to angels. Everything you think is special and awe-striking about angels is nothing when put in the light of the Son. The Son is vastly superior to angels. Now the author is going to show us what is so great about this truth.
The Superior Son (1:4-14)
Verse 4 tells us that the Son has received a superior status. Notice that verse 4 says that the Son became much more superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. The Son inherited a more excellent name and became superior to angels. Now this is difficult on the surface because we know that Jesus is God. How can the author say that the Son has inherited a more excellent name and became much superior to angels? Is the Son not already superior as the Creator of all things which the author stated in verse 2? Yes, Jesus is greater by who he is. but the author wants us to show us a greater superiority than just by his nature. Jesus is greater in another way.
The picture is an attainment of status. God exalted the Son to a position far greater than that given to any angel. This is the idea of “the name he has inherited.” Notice that he did not receive the name, but has inherited the name. This means he holds this name by right, not by favor. It was not a gift but a right that he possesses. This is the significance of Jesus being called the Son. A son bears the traits and characteristics of his father. Even more importantly, the son possesses the power, place, and privilege of the father. Jesus has obtained an exalted status (“name”) greater than angels which is denoted by the name, “Son.” While angels are granted a status, the Son inherited and possesses his status by his very nature and by his very position.
This is what all the quotations are doing in verses 5-13. You may have read all of these quotations and be confused by the point of what the author is doing. It seems like he is just over-proving his point. But this is not the case. The author is using these quotations to show the various ways the name “the Son” has great superiority. For example in verse 5 the author quotes from Psalm 2 and asks if God ever said those words to angels. Now it is easy to again be confused by the phrase, “Today I have begotten you.” We think of “begotten” as physical birth. But that is not the idea and I am glad that some translation read, “Today I have become your Father” to help understand the idea properly. Rather, this is the declaration of elevated status. Picture an ancient kingdom where the father declares of his son that today you have become the king. It is the appointment of the king to reign. God the Father declared Jesus to be the Son and appointed him to rule the nations. This is the context of Psalm 2 (cf. Psalm 2:7-9). This status of kingship was declared at the baptism of Jesus (which we saw in our study of the Gospel of Mark) and also at the transfiguration of Jesus. The declaration comes to full reality when Jesus raises from the dead, as the apostle Paul asserts in Acts 13:33 and Romans 1:3-4. God declares Jesus elevated status as Son at the beginning of his ministry and during his ministry. Then Jesus takes his rightful place as Son when he raises from the dead and accomplishes the victory (cf. Hebrews 1:3). Look at it again in Hebrews 1:3-4. After making purification for sins, Jesus sat down at God’s right hand inheriting the name more excellent than angels and becoming superior to angels in that name, “The Son.”
In the same way the author of Hebrews quotes 2 Samuel 7:14 at the end of Hebrews 1:5 which declared that David’s descendant would build a house for God and have a father/son relationship. Jesus is the appointed Son who is anointed over the nations that are raging against his kingship.
The quotation in verse 6 comes from either Psalm 97:7 or Deuteronomy 32:43. Notice the description of Jesus as “the firstborn” before the quotation begins. The firstborn is a title that speaks to preeminence. The firstborn had status above all other children, receiving a double portion of the inheritance and becoming the family leader when the father died. The term “firstborn” was even used of Israel to speak of Israel’s special status before God. The quotation calls for the angels to worship the Son because of the Son’s exaltation. The Son is worthy of worship, even by the elevated spiritual beings that we know of as angels.
The quotation of verse 7 shows the lesser role of angels. Angels are put into God’s service. God uses angels as he would the winds and the fire. Angels are servants of God. By contrast in verse 8, the Son is enthroned. Even when compared to spiritual beings as high as the angels, the Son is of an infinitely higher status. His throne is eternal. He rules in righteousness. His rule is upright and just, loving righteousness and hating evil. He is anointed above all others.
The quotation in verses 10-12 really speak to the eternal nature of the Son. He laid the foundations of the earth in the beginning. The heavens are the work of the Son’s hands. The Son is eternal and the Son is unchangeable. All of the creation is temporary but the Son will always remain. Remember that the Son sustains the universe by his powerful word. Verse 12 confirms this that the Son will roll up the creation like a robe. Furthermore in verse 13 we see the enthroned Son who destroys his enemies. Psalm 110 is a frequently quoted passage referring to the kingship of Jesus. Notice how verse 14 pulls this all together. Angels are just servants, as glorious as they are, sent out to serve those who are to inherit salvation. Jesus is the Son and angels are servants.
Now what does all of this have to do with anything for us today? There are a couple of points we need to consider. First, think about how easy it is that we can read these fourteen verses and allow our hearts and our eyes to glaze over. But do we see what the author is doing? Do not fail to see the superiority of Jesus? Do not fail to be in awe of Jesus. Familiarity breeds contempt is a saying that we have and that saying is often true. We lose awe for Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial given to us so that we will not lose that awe. Yet the memorial then can lose the awe also. The power of the scriptures lose awe within us so that we would rather spend our time doing nearly anything but reading the scriptures. We lose awe about prayer that we are talking to the Lord himself so that we fail to pray at all in our lives. Notice that this is exactly the warning the author gives. Look at Hebrews 2:1.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1 ESV)
How do you drift? Have you ever been in a boat that has drifted. Have you been in the ocean swimming in the waves and then saw you had drifted? How does that happen? Drifting happens because you stop moving and you no longer pay attention to where you are at. I can get out in the ocean and I am looking at the waves, trying to catch something. So I am just standing there waiting. I don’t think I am drifting. But do you know what happens the next time I look back at the shore? I realize that I am not in the same place that I was when I started. I thought I was. But I was looking at the waves and not at the shore and failed to see that I was drifting. So what do I do when I see I am drifting? I swim back to where I was originally. I paddle on my board and get myself in front of my beach chair where I had entered the water. So now I am tired from paddling. So I lay on my board and rest a minute. Do you know happens? I start drifting again.
You see that Jesus is the reference point for our lives that we are to look at to see if we are drifting. Drifting happens spiritually when we stop having an amazing awe for Jesus that causes us to keep striving toward him. When we stop striving toward him, we are drifting away from him. What I want you do this morning is to look where you are at. Have you drifted? Are you where you ought to be in your relationship with Jesus? Is Jesus everything to your life or has the current of life and the waves of difficulty pulled you away from Jesus and you did not even notice? Have you be floating along spiritually and not giving the attention Jesus deserves?
The solution is to pay greater attention to the salvation we have in Jesus. This has been the goal in our study of the Gospel of Mark right now. We are seeing who Jesus is and the problems of our lives that he came to solve. Jesus is opening our ears and freeing our lives from sin and we need to see that. We need to pay careful attention to Jesus in our lives. So look and consider if you have Jesus in your sight. You will know if you continue to have an awe and love for him that overwhelms everything else in this life. If not, then there has been drifting and Jesus is calling for you to come back to him. Do not drift away. Pay careful attention to Jesus. See how great he is and love him above all else.