So much Better than the Angels (1)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
The title of this study is taken from the letter to the Hebrews. It is found in chapter 1, verse 4. The word ‘better’ is one of the key words of the letter and occurs thirteen times, interest-ingly once for each chapter of the letter. The writer speaks, for example, of a better hope, a better covenant, a better country. In this study, we take advantage of the first occurrence of the word to consider the superiority of the Lord Jesus to the angels.
We will examine five ways in which, in the first two chapters of the letter, the Lord Jesus is portrayed as ‘so much better than the angels’. We will see that He towers over the angels because:
1. He is what no angel can ever be;
2. He has become what no angel can ever become;
3. He has done what no angel can ever do;
4. He has experienced what no angel can ever experience; and
5. He has gone where no angel can ever go.
FIRST, HE IS WHAT NO ANGEL CAN EVER BE
The writer makes this clear when he asks, ‘To which of the angels did He (God) ever say: “You are my Son”?’, Heb.1. 5. It is true that angels are spoken of collectively as ‘the sons of God’. We read twice in the book of Job, for example, that ‘there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord’, Job 1. 6; 2. 1. But no angel has ever been addressed individually by God as His son. By way of contrast, the writer makes it clear that the Lord Jesus is God’s Son – and that from eternity; ‘God . . . has . . . spoken to us by his Son . . . through whom also he made the worlds’, Heb. 1. 2. God reaffirmed this unique relationship at Jesus’ baptism and addressed Him directly and individually as His Son; ‘Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”’, Mark. 1. 11.
The Bible uses the expression ‘son(s) of God’ in three main senses: (i) Gabriel is one of the sons of God by creation, (ii) I am a son of God by adoption, but (iii) the Lord Jesus is the Son of God by nature. No angel is spoken of individually as a son of God. Indeed, it is rare for the individual Christian to be referred to in that way. Far more often, believers are spoken of as ‘sons of God’ collectively. We are told, for example, that God brings ‘many sons to glory’, Heb. 2. 10. But Paul does speak, exceptionally, of the individual Christian as ‘a son’. He wrote, ‘God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ’, Gal. 4. 6-7.
The angel Gabriel could say, ‘I am one of the sons of God’. I can say that ‘I am a son of God’. Only the Lord Jesus can say, ‘I am the Son of God’, John 10. 36; Matt. 27. 43. Truly, He is ‘so much better than the angels’ because He is what no angel can ever be.
SECOND, HE HAS BECOME WHAT NO ANGEL CAN EVER BECOME
In Bible days, angels often appeared and passed themselves off as men. For example, Abraham readily mistook for ‘men’ the two angels who, together with the Lord, appeared to him, Gen. 18. 2. Later, Lot and the men of Sodom were totally taken in by the appearance of these angels, never doubting for a moment that they were ordinary ‘men’, Gen. 19. 1, 5, 8, 10. With such incidents in his mind, our writer exhorts, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly (without knowing it) entertained angels’, Heb. 13. 2. In New Testament days also, angels put on very convincing performances as men. Luke reports two such incidents in very similar terms, ‘behold, two men stood by them in shining garments’, Luke 24. 4, and ‘behold, two men stood by them in white apparel’, Acts 1. 10. Yes, if they choose, angels can look like men and sound like men – but they are not men, nor can they become men. But the Son of God became a man! Our writer says, ‘Inasmuch then as the children (i.e. the saints, disciples, see v. 13) have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same’, Heb. 2. 14. In so doing, He took a place a little lower than the angels, 2. 9. In moving from chapter 1 to chapter 2, the writer turns our attention from the Lord Jesus as the Son of God, Heb. 1. 5, to the Lord Jesus as the Son of man, Heb. 2. 6. That is, he moves us on from Psalm 2 (verse 7) to Psalm 8 (verse 4).
The Lord Jesus not only came ‘in the likeness of men’, Phil. 2. 7; He became a man. John records that, in response to the Jews’ claim that Abraham was their father, Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this’, John 8. 39-40. He was, then, in reality a man, ‘in all things . . . made like His brethren’, Heb. 2. 17. Truly, He is ‘so much better than the angels’ because He became what no angel can ever become.
THIRD, HE HAS DONE WHAT NO ANGEL CAN EVER DO
The Old and New Testaments unite in paying tribute to the strength and power of angels: ‘Bless the Lord, you his angels, who excel in strength’, Ps. 103. 20; ‘angels, who are greater in power and might’, 2 Pet. 2. 11. Yet there were two great works in which angels could have no hand . . . two great works which were altogether outside their competence . . . two great works which could be performed only by the One who is ‘so much better than the angels’.
First, there was the work of Creation. Our writer makes several references to this in his first chapter. Concerning the Son, he says, ‘through whom also He (God) made the worlds’, Heb. 1. 2. Again of the Son, he says, ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands’, 1. 10. (It is significant that the writer takes his quote from Psalm 102. 25, for the whole Psalm is addressed to ‘Jehovah’, v. 1. That is, Jesus, the Son of God, is identified as Jehovah the Creator.)
The apostles John and Paul similarly attribute the work of creation to the Lord Jesus: ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made’, John 1. 3; ‘For by (lit. ‘in’) 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’, Col. 1. 16. That is, all angels were created ‘in’, ‘through’ and ‘for’ Him. In summary, He ‘made’, Heb. 1. 2, but the angels were ‘made’ (spirits), Heb. 1. 7. Creation testifies, then, that He is ‘so much better than the angels’.
Second, there was the work of Salvation. Our writer makes several references to this in his second chapter. The Lord Jesus ‘spoke’ of that about which no angel could speak – namely, the gospel of ‘so great a salvation’, Heb. 2. 3. Angels had been associated with the giving of the Law, Deut. 33. 2; Acts 7. 53; Gal. 3. 19. This law, ‘the word spoken by angels’, was ‘steadfast’, and pronounced a just sentence and recompense for all disobedience, Heb. 2. 2. But the Lord Jesus was associated with ‘so great a salvation’, which at the first ‘began to be spoken by the Lord’, v. 3. He spoke therefore of something better than the angels. But He did more than speak about this salvation. He was Himself ‘the author’ (the pioneer and captain) of salvation, 2. 10. In Bible days, angels were sent by God on a variety of missions. We select four examples:
1. In the days of Sennacherib, God ‘sent an angel’ to wipe out 185,000 Assyrian troops to ‘deliver’ besieged Jerusalem, 2 Chron. 32. 17, 21, with 2 Kgs. 19. 35.
2. In the days of Nebuchdnezzar, God ‘sent His angel’ to ‘deliver’ His three servants from the effects of the burning fiery furnace, Dan. 3. 28.
3. In the days of Darius, God ‘sent His angel’ to shut the lions’ mouths and so ‘deliver’ Daniel, Dan. 6. 21-22.
4. In the days of Herod Antipas, God ‘sent His angel’ to ‘deliver’ Peter from the hand and sword of Herod, Acts 12. 11.
Angels could, then, ‘deliver’ men from the army of Sennacherib, the fire of Nebuchadnezzar, the lions of Darius and the sword of Herod. But angels couldn’t deliver men from the wrath of God, the kingdom of the devil or the fear of death. A salvation ‘so great’ as this required the sending of One ‘so much better than the angels’. What joy it is then to read the words of the apostle John, ‘we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world’, 1 John 4. 14.
According to our writer, the Lord Jesus delivered His people from the three great ‘foes’ which confronted them. In so doing, He has done what no angel could ever do. He has delivered us from:
The fear of death. Jesus died to ‘deliver them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’, Heb. 2. 15 KJV. The Christian may fear the experience of dying but there is no reason for the Christian to fear death itself. The Risen Lord holds the keys of Hades and death, Rev. 1. 18. Paul spoke of God’s ‘own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished (‘reduced to inactivity, rendered ineffective, put out of commission’) death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’, 2 Tim. 1. 10.
The wrath of God and the punishment due to our sins. Jesus died ‘to make propitiation for the sins of the people’, Heb. 2. 17.
The kingdom and dominion of Satan. Jesus died to ’destroy’ (same word as 2 Tim. 1. 10 – ‘to reduce to inactivity, to render ineffective, to put out of commission’) the devil, Heb. 2. 14. By dying, our great Saviour reduced the very lord of death to impotence.
Angels are, we are told, ‘ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation’, Heb. 1. 14. But angels were not able to secure that salvation for men. Only One ‘so much better than the angels’ could do that. Angels heralded His birth at Bethlehem, ministered to Him following His temptations in the wilderness, strengthened Him in the garden of Gethsemane, announced His victorious resurrection, witnessed His ascension to heaven, will accompany Him at His return and revelation - but they had no role to play at the cross. ‘When He had by Himself purged our sins’, 1. 3. And so, as with creation, salvation testifies that He is ‘so much better than the angels’.
Angels are able to celebrate His two great works. According to the Old Testament, they rejoiced at His work of creation, for, when He laid the foundations of the earth, ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy’, Job 38. 4-7. According to the New Testament, they rejoice also at His work of salvation, for ‘there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’, Luke 15. 10. Angels are able therefore to rejoice on account of His two great works, but they had no part to play in either of them. Truly, He is ‘so much better than the angels’ because, in both cases, He has done what no angel can ever do.
To be continued