Lecture 03: Son Superior to the Angels | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 03: Son Superior to the Angels

Course: Hebrews

Lecture: Son Superior to the Angels


I. The Position of the Son in Relation to the Angels

The first main movement in the Christology of Hebrews; this is the position of the Son in relationship to the angels. This part of Hebrews is going to have several main movements, but the Christology part really focusses on three main movements which is covered in 1:5-14, 2:5-9 and 2:10-18.

A. The Son Superior to the Angels (1:5-14):

We first look at the purpose and the process of this unit in Hebrews. The author is not combating some kind of angelology or anything like that. Some commentators suggest that the author thinks that these people are getting too concerned about angels and they weren’t making enough distinction between Jesus and the angels. The author does have a rather positive take on the angels in 2:1-4; the angels are the mediators of divine revelation and the Law. So, he isn’t worried about getting caught up in some kind of angelology; rather he is doing something that is rhetorical. He is setting up the exhortation of 2:1-4. The first process in 1:5-14 is called haraz; it can also be referred to as a string of pearls. And so what rabbis would do; they would stitch together one Old Testament passage after another in order to build up a lot of evidence for something. It is as if you were preaching on a particular topic; for example, the righteousness of God. You found different passages in your concordance that had a focus on God’s righteousness. So, you were preaching on this hitting these passages one right after another. The effect on your listeners would be the driving home the importance of the righteousness of God. So, the author is using three pairs of Old Testament texts and then a climax in which he quotes Psalm 110:1 in verse 13.

So there are three pairs of which the first pair is found in 1:5. This is Psalm 2:7 and 2nd Samuel 7:14. I’m going to talk about what the author is communicating with each of these pairs. For the second pair, there is some question about as to where this quotation comes from. He says to let all the angels of God worship him. Some would take this from Psalm 97 which in the Septuagint; many of the chapters are off a chapter in terms of the reference. It is probably more directly related to Deuteronomy 32:43. The second part of that pair is Psalm 104:4. In verse 6, he says, let all the angels of God worship him. He makes his angels as spirits and his ministers a flame of fire. The third pair of passages is found in verses 8-12. This pair comes from Psalm 45:6-7 and then Psalm 102:25-27. He is going to relate all these passages to the Son. At the end of the first chapter in terms of the author’s discourse, he is driving home that the Son is superior to the angels. Then the author refers back to the Old Testament under the old covenant as to what happens to people who disobeyed or rejected the Word of God that was delivered to the angels? There was serious trouble. How much greater punishment does a person deserve who turns away from the Word of God delivered through his Son who is superior to those angels. It is an argument from lessor to greater. So he says if the Son is superior to the angels and people were punished severely for rejecting God’s Word given through the angels; how much greater punishment do they deserve if they reject the Word given through the Son? See the rhetorical impact of this? So, the purpose of it is to set up this exhortation that you have in 2:1-4 by driving home the absolute superiority of the Son.

Let’s look at one pair at a time and see what the author is trying to say. We know that the angels served many roles in biblical stories; they are messengers such as in Matthew 1:18-25. They were also providers of practical help such as in 1 st kings 19:5-7. They are deliverers, such as with Daniel 3 and they are guides. They also carry out God’s judgement such as seen in Psalms 78:49. At times, they are interpreters of divine revelation such as in the Book of Daniel and Book of Revelation 22:16. They are primarily ministers to the people of God on God’s behave. He opens the section with this rhetorical question; for to which of the angels has he ever said. Such a question, you can turn inside out, for it really is a proclamation: to none of the angels has he ever said. In chapter 1:13, the verse starts the same way, ‘to which of the angels has he ever said?’’ So what is this called? It is when you have statement in a book in the New Testament and that statement is repeated a little while later. This is called an inclusio. This is a form of distant parallelism; it is repetition. Not only did they not have sub-headings, they didn’t even have spaces between the words. So, what an author would do is mark the beginning and ending of a unit by using an inclusio. When they repeated this rhetorical question in 1:13 which has a slight variation in it; this was an indication that he was closing it off. It is the same type of thing we do by using sub-headings. We mark off blocks of a text or a sermon. The first of the passages in 1:5 is Psalm 2:7; this is the first quotation. This is used in conjunction with 2nd Samuel 7:14. The reason why these two are used together is due to a rabbinic technique called verbal analogy. This is when two passages have the same words or phrase; the rabbis thought that you could bring those two passages together and interpret them, one in light of the other. The author of Hebrews uses this technique all the way through the book.

Look at the quotes from Psalms 2:7 and 2nd Samuel 7:14; what is the word that these two passages have in common? You have the word, Son. You are my Son; today I have begotten you and again, I will be a father to him and a Son to me. What about the pronouns that are use? These two passages have
elements that are in common. What does God mean by saying today, I have begotten you. In Psalm 2:7, the Psalm’s original context addresses the rebellion of the nations against God and his anointed one. God promises to destroy the insurrectionists by the great power of the enthroned king. This Psalm is applied to Jesus elsewhere in the New Testament. It is specifically related to his victory over the earthy forces. You find this in Acts 4:23-31 and Acts 13:33-34. The key to interpreting this Psalm is to understand the original context; it was a proclamation of enthronement. It was a formal presentation of the heir, acknowledging the unique relationship between the Father and the Son. The key to interpreting this passage is to recognize that the original context had to do with the enthronement of the Davidic heir and God’s acknowledgment of him as his Son. It doesn’t mean that Jesus became the Son of God on the exhortation. From the broader context of Hebrews, it is not that Jesus became the Son at the exhortation. We know that he was the Son at the creation of the world and so Jesus created all things. You have many places in Hebrews where the title Son is used in relation to the incarnation.

In regards to the temporal image of Hebrews, in that God has begotten the Son today; these aren’t references to bringing his Son into existence. The Son has already been praised as the Father’s agent in the creation of the world. There are some more liberal commentators who want to speak of this in terms of adoption which is wrong. So, Jesus was considered the Son prior to creation itself. This Psalm can’t be used as a statement of adoption of his Son; for Jesus is referred to as Son with reference to the incarnation. The early church understood Psalms 2:7 to refer to Jesus’ induction into his royal position as king of the universe as the resurrection and exhortation. In these events, God vindicated Jesus as Messiah and established his eternal kingdom. We see this in places like Romans 1:4; he has been shown to be the Son of God by power. God becoming the Son’s father refers to God’s open expression of their relationship upon Christ’s enthronement. This is an interpretation that fit’s the Old Testament Context as well which creates a formalized language concerning enthronement. This fits within that enthronement context from the Old Testament. So, he quotes Psalms 2:7 and again, he says that he will be a Father to him and he will be a Son to me. This is in 2nd Samuel 7:14 which present the words of Nathan, the prophet. This promises him that one of his descendants will have an internal of kingdom. The author of Hebrews understands that promise is fulfilled in the person of Christ. So, the author ties this passage from 2nd Samuel to Psalm 2:7 by virtue of the term, son. So, these two passages are interpreted because of the idea of the enthronement of the Son. 2nd Samuel 7 is all about the Messiah coming in and building a house for the Lord and God building Messiah’s house at a Davidic heir.

What we are dealing with here is the parallel passage in 1st Chronicles 17:13. Here, you have an exact parallel to 2nd Samuel 7 except for a couple of differences. In the 1st Chronicles passage, it doesn’t talk about the Son’s sin. I think that it is likely that the early Christians would have used the 1st Chronicles passage for that very reason. We normally say that it is 2nd Samuel 7:14 being quoted here and the words are exactly the same as in the Chronicles passage. This concerns dealing with Old Testament passages that are quoted or referred to in the New Testament. This is difficult as it is not always easy to unpack these references. Two main approaches to this involve what Richard Long Necker says about early Christians having a different hermeneutics and it isn’t a type of exegesis that we can affirm. We take that the Holy Spirit is inspiring them and theologically using their kind of faulty exegesis to do so. The other approach is that they are as interested in original context as we are today. They actually do very good exegesis once you understand some of the guiding principles that they had in terms of interpreting these references in light of the future revelation in Christ. You get this in Greg Beal’s book where he presents both sides of this question. He feels that we have a very sound process of exegesis. So, the author is working with the original context, but he is showing this in a larger framework as it is applied to Christ. This would be my position. In part this is part of a larger typological hermeneutics and again difficult to fully explore. So, you have the original context of an Old Testament passage in which word meanings and context are important, but in Christ God showed that this is a much bigger issue that is grounded in the meaning of that original text. It is fulfilled expansively and ultimately in Christ and there is a typological relationship between the original contexts. It doesn’t mean that every element of the original context comes into play here, except for the main structure and passage which do come into play.

Steven Marteau has written an article on the use of Psalms in Hebrews. He shows that several of these passages in Psalms could not have been fulfilled by the Davidic king. For example, that he is going to dominate the whole earth. He says that these have built into them the inadequacy of the original context to fulfill them. Ultimately they would have to have something greater in order to do this. Notice how many times the word name occurs in that one chapter. In verse 9, God says to David that he will make his name great like the names of the great ones of the earth. In verse 13, he says that the Messiah will build a house for my name. So, this chapter is full of the idea of names; it is one verse and just a few words after the author in 1:4 says that the Son is much greater than the angels and the name that he has inherited is superior to theirs. I think we have a fore shallowing, an echo of the quote from the chapter that he is about to quote from in verse 1:5. So, in verse 4, he isn’t talking about the name, son; but instead he is talking about the name of the Lord, the Messiah, in which he would be identified with. Some recommended books would include Beal’s book, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text. This would be a great place to start for additional background on this. There is that article I mentioned from Steve Marteau in the Tyndale Bulletin. Why do we study the hermeneutics of the Bible today? It has to do with authority and intent. We need to understand what it meant for them then in order to understand what it means for us today. This is the way human language works. If I am trying to communicate with my wife or her with me and I just tell her what I feel about it. That just will not work! If I don’t understand her intended meaning, based on the way she is using the words and the context, there will be problems. Sometimes, she will say a phrase that wouldn’t mean anything else to anyone except me. This is because of our history together. This is the way human language works. I think this is why the author of Hebrews is interested in specific word meanings and historical background; he is tuned into this very much.

In 1:5, the author is trying to communicate; how is the Son superior to the angels? He is superior by virtue of his unique relationship to the Father as an exalted heir. These two passages were used in broader Judaism and I think that their connections are not so much which is first or which is second. As inspired Scripture they have several dynamics in their broader context that show that these are royal psalms dealing with exhortation of the Davidic king. They are meant to carry a punch to the people to whom the author was writing. They would have been familiar with these passages; notice that he doesn’t explain them, he just quotes them. So now, the second pair in verse 6 and 7 regarding God’s firstborn. They are making the point that all the angels of God are to worship him. To the angels he says, the one making his messengers, spirits or winds and his ministers a flame of fire. He is arguing that the Son is superior to the angels by virtue of the angel’s inferior status as servants of God. This is his argument. The introductory formula in verse 6 – And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, Acumenti. The image here has to do with the Christmas story. The Son comes into the world. Bill Lain says that Acumenti doesn’t necessarily mean the inhabited world that we think of. Look at the coming world in 2:5 that he talks about. Here, world is used in reference to the heavenly world. We think in terms of exhortation; Jesus being exalted to the right hand of God in the heavenly places. In that exhortation, he proclaims his power over all the angelic powers. So, he isn’t speaking about the birth of Christ, but about the exhortation of Christ to the right hand of God and all the angels at that point falling down and worshiping him. You have different possibilities on the exact form of this text. This is a strange type of situation. The passage doesn’t match the exact wording here the Hebrew Old Testament of Deuteronomy 32:43 or Psalms 97:7.

It doesn’t exactly match the Greek of either passage, but the passage that it comes close to a re-quotation is the Deuteronomy passage at the end of the Psalms called Olis (singular – Ole). At the end of the Greek version of the Psalms, you have a few more psalms added. One of those is a very close quotation of Deuteronomy 32 which has very little variation in wording. In those Olis, you have the same wording that you have here in the quotation in Hebrews. I think he is quoting a version of Deuteronomy 32:43; that is the quotation here. This is the version found that is tacked on to the end of Psalms in the Greek Old Testament. So, Deuteronomy 32:43 is the quote but your Bibles may give a reference to Psalm 97:7. Deuteronomy 32 was one of the most important passages in Judaism in this era. There were only two passages from the Old Testament that were given specific instructions on how they were to be written. This is the known as the great song of Moses. At the very end of the chapter this was his final speech that he lays out to the Israelites. This became an important passage in worship in the synagogue and Jews of this era. It was such an important passage as they took the quotation of it and put it there as well as a part of the songbook. Those books would have circulated individually in the Old Testament. What is the import of this, when he says that all the angels of God worship him; the author is taking this as the angel’s worship of the Son. He is shown to be superior to them because as mere servants, they worship him. Their status is very different.

The second passage is really fascinating in talking about the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. From Psalm 104:4 it says that he makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. A lot of people say that this is one of the most difficult ones. The context of this psalm is about God’s
creation. It is a worship psalm based on God’s power in creation as in verse 5, he set the earth on its foundations, and it can never be moved. You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. He walks upon the wings of the wind and makes the wind his
messengers. He is talking about the storm. When you saw the thunderstorm rolling across the valley; you see the power of the wind, the flaming fire, and the lightning. God is the one who is in control of the storm. You might think that the author of Hebrews is dealing with this out of context. However, Old
Testament commentaries all point out that you have this tradition throughout the Old Testament in which the winds of the storm and lightning are associated with the angels of God. There was a widely published understanding among the older Jewish teachers in the Old Testament. The winds and the lightning are associated with the angels who were there in the presence of God. You don’t see this in the English text as much, but interestingly the translators of the Septuagint interpreted this passage as referring to the angels. An aspect of the broader context sheds light on the situation. In addition to this association of the angels with elemental forces of wind and lightning, aspects of the immediate context point in this direction as well. The close association of Psalms 103 and 104 may be seen in part by the concatenation joining the end of 103 with the beginning of 104, bless the Lord Oh my soul.

In Psalms 103:20-21 we read, bless the Lord, you, his angels, mighty in strength that performs his word, obeying the voice of his word. Bless the Lord all of you who are his hosts, you, who serve him, doing his will. In this passage which clearly speaks of the angelic beings, we find the Hebrew terms Malik, rendered angels by the NSB and a Hebrew term that translate into, you who serve him. This is in the exact same form in which they occur in Psalm 104:4 of the New Testament. It may be that the translators of the Septuagint provided a translation of Psalm 104:4 in keeping with the broader context of that verse. It is interpreting messengers and servants as angelic beings. In other words, if you look at how these same two words are used that we have in 104:4 for messengers and ministers; they are the exact same Hebrew word that are used up in chapter 103 to speak of the angels as messengers and ministers of God. I think the author of Hebrews was using the Septuagint passage that speaks of the angels very much in line with the intention of the original context of the psalm. Some people try to say that he is twisting things a bit. I think our lack of understanding is due to the lack tuning into the sense of the psalm, the Jewishness of it and its orientation to the angelic beings. So, what does he say in 1:7? In speaking of the angels he says, he makes his angels spirits, and his servants as frames of fire. They are servants sent out by God and to do God’s biding. So, you have the superiority of the Son here shown by the different status of the angels.

In chapter 1:8-12, there are two passages that are quoted. So, the first pair shows the superiority of the Son to the angels by virtue of his unique relationship to the Father which is in 1:5. Then in 1:6-7, the Son is superior to the angels by virtue of the angel’s inferior status. They worship him and serve God. Now, in 1:8-12 we have the superiority of the Son by virtue of his status as exalted Lord of the universe. The first passage is Psalm 45:6-7: your throne oh God is forever and ever. Where the Son is being addressed as God; the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness for which reason God has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions. There is a proclamation in this psalm saying that your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. There are kingly images being used here. The quote in verses 10-12 is from Psalm 102:25-27. He says in the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment Like clothing you will change them and the will be never end. The nature of the Son is enduring and eternal. Later he says that the Son is the same; yesterday, today and forever. The earth and these foundations will be destroyed but the Son will remain. The garment is going to be changed but the Son will remain and his years will not come to an end. When he says that he laid the foundation of the creation order, he is saying that as the agent of creation, Jesus made the created order stable. It was something that was going to be stable. But that created order is not eternal; it is something that is going to grow old and at the end of the age, it will be rolled up and packed away. At the end of the age, Christ will take the whole created order and role it us and pack it away. There is also continuity in regards to moving to the New Heavens and the New Earth at the end of the age. So, this created order will not continue as it is forever.

So, the Son is superior to the angels by virtue of his unique relationship to the Father and by virtue of the inferior status of the angels and by virtue of his exalted position as the Lord and creator of the universe. In 1:13 there is a climax where it says to sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. This is Psalm 110:1 being quoted. The passage begins and ends with statements of exhortation. In verse 14, we have a reiteration or recap of the statement in verse 7 which is a quotation of Psalm 104. Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? So, he gives this powerful climax and in verse 14 he softens it by reiterating a thought that he has already given earlier. The angels are ministering spirits sent out for our sake which is in contrast to what the Son is.

As we think about bridging the context here, what might be some applications of this today? Well, we live in a society that is enameled with angels. When I was writing this, there were over eighty books in the book store on angels. So, I think the author is saying if you have a positive view of the angels, think of how much more a positive view you ought to have of Jesus. You can use the information on angels in regards to Jesus as a springboard. What does the Bible say about the relationship between angels and Jesus? This requires a re-education of people to understand the relationship between angels and Christ and understanding the Scriptures as a whole. For our family, we play tapes on the stories of the Bible for our children at night before going to bed. In teaching at a college level, we are finding that Biblical literacy is declining.

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