“Christ has proven Himself to be far superior to the angels, having inherited a more excellent title than theirs. To what angel did God ever say, ‘Today I have established you as My Son’ or ‘I will be a Father to you and you will be a son to Me’? Once more, when He introduces His Firstborn into the world He says, ‘Let all the angels of God bow before Him.’ God can change His angelic servants into winds or fire. But regarding the Son He says, ‘Your seat of power will stand forever; the scepter of your kingdom is a rod that rules in absolute justice. You have loved what is right and hated what is wrong. For this reason your God has anointed You with the oil of rejoicing above your companions. Furthermore, You, Lord, in the beginning founded the earth and the heavens are made by your hands. They will pass away, but You will endure. They will wear out like an old coat and You will fold them up like a robe. Like a garment, they will undergo change; but You are everlastingly the same.’ But to which angel did He ever say, ‘Be seated here beside me in honor, until I make your enemies your footstool?’ Are not all the angels mere spirits, commissioned to serve those who inherit salvation?” (paraphrased)
The writer introduces themes in this chapter he fully develops throughout the epistle. He feels it is imperative to show how the character of Christ eclipses that of all angelic beings. This is proven by His superior title. The Greek word onoma refers to everything the name incorporates, including character, nature, rank, and authority. Jesus receives angelic worship and commands them. He has a better nature and is the eternal, unchangeable, sovereign Creator. He has an eternal throne, rules in justice, and is anointed by God. Christ’s inheritance is connected with obedience to His Father’s will. The resurrected Christ is now exalted to His former place of majestic dignity and honor. He is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities being made subject to Him (I Pet. 3:22).
To understand the significance of this passage, it is important to note Jews in that era had a reverence for angels that bordered on worship. A scriptural overview of angelology is helpful when approaching this text. Because of their part in giving the law, angels are revered by the Jews (Acts 7:53). However, they made many false assumptions concerning angels. They thought God must consult with angels before acting. Jewish legends depict angels as jealous of human beings. It was believed angels controlled time, the orbits of planets, the sea, and the elements.
The Hebrews understood that God is constantly surrounded by His angelic hosts (Isaiah 6:1-3). They are aware angels fed Elijah (I Kgs. 19:5-8) and that an angel wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 32:2). They know an angel was posted to guard Eden (Gen. 3:24), that angels can blind Sodomites (Gen.19:13), and destroy Assyrian armies (II Kgs. 19:35). While the writer does not disparage the work of angels, he is constrained to show Christ’s absolute supremacy over them all. Christ’s preeminence over angels is proven via the writer’s reference to seven Old Testament passages (Ps .2:7, II Sam. 7:14, Ps. 97:7, Ps.104:4, Ps. 45:6-7, Ps. 102:25-27 & Ps. 110:1).
The angel Gabriel announced, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). “This day” refers to Christ’s incarnation and virgin birth. Angels appeared to both Joseph (Mt. 1:20) and to Mary (Lk. 1:28). The advent of Christ is accompanied by angelic worship (Lk. 2:13). Angels are always seen as subservient worshipers of God. Collectively, angels are called “the sons of God” (Job 1:6), but no angel is ever called “The Son of God”.
The firstborn is the principle heir, inheriting both dignity and honor. Jesus alone is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15-18 & Jn. 1:14). Angels are created by Christ, for “without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3). The writer not only proves Jesus is superior to angels, but shows how far above them He is exalted.
Angelic servants are used to perform myriads of ministerial tasks. The concepts of “wind” and “fire” indicate they are swift and powerful in their performance of God’s will. Their countenance is often like lightning (Mt. 28:3). Here, the writer points out their nature and purpose. Angels are changeable, whereas the Son of God is not. He will later affirm Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (13:8).
No angel was ever crowned, given a scepter, or ruled a kingdom. A scepter is a symbol of authority and royal power. Christ’s scepter of righteousness refers to the fairness and justice of His reign. Great as they are, no angel can bring us into God’s presence. This can only be accomplished by God’s Son. Because of His sacrifice on Calvary, God has given Jesus a name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9-10). The combined wondrous acts of angels pale in comparison to those of the Son of God.
The writer states Christ loves righteousness and hates lawlessness. One cannot adore God without abhoring sin. “Righteousness” is dikaiosune, referring to conformity to both divine and human law. Dikaiosune characterizes God’s nature. Lawlessness is anomian, denoting rebellion against God. Christ will judge righteously, according to His Word. Because Christ is anointed by God, He is absolutely superlative. No archangel, cherubim, or seraphim is ever personally anointed by God. The analogy of the “oil of gladness” brings to mind how Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of salvation (Lk. 4:18 & Isa. 61:1).
This passage contrasts the temporal universe with the eternality of the Son of God. For Christ to create the universe, He must precede it. He controls the natural order; it does not control Him. It will eventually be destroyed, but Christ will remain after the earth is dissolved (II Pet. 3:10). While the earth may appear timeless, it is subject to change. The writer uses clothing to illustrate our transitory universe. Although it may seem permanent, it is wearing out like a garment. The heavens and earth will pass away (Rev. 21:1). Like a cloak that has gradually deteriorated, the Creator will one day fold up the former heavens and earth to exchange it for a new one where righteousness eternally dwells (I Pet. 3:13 & Rev. 21:1).
Christ’s reign is powerful and majestic. Like a footstool, all Christ’s enemies will one day be under His feet. This pictures a victorious king placing his foot on the neck of a defeated king (Josh. 10:24). By referencing Psalm 110, the author proves the Son’s authority over angels. Jesus quotes this Psalm to prove His is the Messiah (Mt. 22:44-45). Peter quotes it to show the resurrected Christ is Lord of all (Acts 2:34-36). Paul quotes it to show Christ’s magnanimity. “He must reign, until He has put all enemies under His feet” (I Cor. 15:25-27).
The role of angelic beings is succinctly defined—they are God’s ministering spirits, commissioned to assist the children of God. The term “ministering” (diakonian) refers to the servile tasks angels perform. In comparison, no aspect of Christ’s work can be considered menial. These verses prove He creates, sustains, rules, and redeems. He is anointed, eternal, sovereign, and unchangeable. Despite the majesty and status of angels, Christ is peerless. Angelic servants may surround God’s throne, but Christ is the one enthroned (Rev. 7:11, 17).
QUESTIONS: CHRIST SUPERIOR TO ANGELS
1. Who stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac? (Genesis 22:11-12)
2. What did Jacob see in his dream? (Genesis 28:12)
3. In Judges 6:22, who is confronted by an angel?
4. Both Michael and Gabriel are called “the sons of God.” True or False?
5. In Matthew 13:41, who will command angels?
6. According to Matthew 26:53, what could Jesus have done?
7. According to I Peter 3:22, who is subject to Christ?
8. According to II Thessalonians, who will accompany Christ when He returns?
9. At what name will all human and angelic beings bow? (Philippians 2:10)
10. In Hebrews 1:4-14, how many Old Testament passages does the author quote?
11. What did Jesus tell the mother of James and John when she asked that her sons be seated on Jesus’ left and right side in His kingdom? (Matthew 20:20-22)
12. According to Revelation 5:11, how many angels are in heaven?