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Jesus: Better Than Angels - Part 3

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 22, 1998

Hebrews 1:6-14

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 1 and we will see if we can make some headway in this chapter tonight.  We have said all along that the congregation to whom the author of Hebrews is writing had complete confidence in the authority of the Old Testament.  But apparently, they had run across some people who were interpreting the Old Testament to say that, Yes, there was a messiah to be expected.  There were several messianic figures to be expected.  There was to be a great prophet, there was to be a priestly messiah and there was to be a kingly messiah.  But above all those figures, these Hebrews in this local congregation had been influenced by someone who was teaching that Michael the Archangel was to be the leader of the Messianic figures in the great age of the kingdom about which the Old Testament prophets spoke.  And, thus, the congregation was confused.  Perhaps they conceived of the Lord Jesus Christ as that prophetic figure and they conceived of Michael the Archangel as greater than Christ.  Over against that particular view, the author of Hebrews corrects their misunderstandings by appealing in the passage we are going to read tonight directly to the Old Testament and seeing what the Old Testament said about the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will begin in verse 6.  Hear God’s word.

 Hebrews 1:6-14

Father, we thank You for this word; and now we ask that You would teach us by Your Spirit, the truth of Your word, applying to our hearts, in our own circumstance, even as we study it.  Help our knees to bow before the truth of the word, to be searched out by it as well as encouraged and strengthened by it.  And we ask it all in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I. Christ is the very and unique Son of God.

In this passage, we have said for the last couple of weeks, the author of Hebrews is going back to the Old Testament and he is showing from basically five different ways how the Lord Jesus is the exalted messiah, exalted above the angels, as he looks at these specific Old Testament passages.  Last week we spent our whole time on verses 4 and 5 looking at the fact that Jesus Christ is the very and unique Son of God.  We were told that He has a more excellent name than the angels.  I would like to look with you at the other things that are said in this passage.  If you have your Bibles, keep them out because we will go back and look at the context of these Old Testament passages.

First let me direct your attention to verses 6 and 7, because the author of Hebrews stresses that Christ, Himself, is the master of the angels.  He has the power of sending them out, of dispersing them to do their work.  And so that shows that His position is superior to the angels.  We can’t look at Him as one who is under Michael the Archangel.  He’s the one who has the authority to send Michael the Archangel out, and this passage draws on two Old Testament passages.  The first of which we don’t know exactly where it is.  It may be in Psalm 97:7 in the Septuagint version or it may be in Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint version.  Let me say that the Septuagint is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and it is apparent that the author of Hebrews knew that translation because he quotes it sometimes.

II.  Christ is Master of the angels.

The second passage from which he quotes in verses 6 and 7 is Psalm 104:4.  We do know what he is quoting from there.  Let’s look at these two passages. Notice the very first phrase in verse 6: “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world.”  That’s a difficult passage to translate, and translators do it in different ways.  In fact, there are two major ways :  You could translate it “And again, when He brings His firstborn into the world.”  If that’s the way this passage is supposed to be translated, that may just be a way of saying “Okay, and here’s another example of how when God brought His Son into the world in the incarnation and the birth of Christ, He showed that He was superior to the angels.”  Or you could translate it “And when He again brings His firstborn into the world.”  If that is how you are supposed to translate it, He is not referring to the incarnation, but the Second Coming.  He again brings His firstborn into the world.  It doesn’t matter though, the point is the same either way.  If it is referring to the incarnation, it is saying that Jesus is shown to be exalted above the angels as the angels worship Him in the incarnation.  If He is talking about the Second Coming, then it is talking about how the Lord Jesus is shown to be more exalted than the angels, as the angels accompany Him and worship Him as He comes again in His Second Coming.  But the translation is difficult there.  You will notice the New American Standard that we have read from favors that latter view, that this refers to the Second Coming of Jesus.

At any rate, verse 6 says that Jesus is to be worshiped by the angels.  As the firstborn, He takes precedence over them and over everything else.  I want you to see the background for this particular statement  “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”  Psalm 97:7, in the form that you have it, and you may want to look there in your Bibles right now, reads something like this: “Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, who boast themselves of idols, worship Him all you gods.”

Now it’s that last phrase that some think that the author of Hebrews is quoting.  In fact, if you have one of those column concordances in your Bible, it may refer to Psalm 97:7, as it references the passage in Hebrews 1:6.  But that phrase, “worship Him all you gods” is capable of being translated “worship him all you angels” because sometimes that word “god” is translated “angels” in the Psalms and elsewhere in the Old Testament.  That is exactly how it is translated in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.  That verse in the Greek version of the Old Testament reads this way:  “Worship Him all you angels.”  There is another verse like that in the Greek Old Testament in Deuteronomy 32:43.  Now if you turn back to Deuteronomy 32:43, you may scratch your head a little bit and wonder, “Where in the world do you get this phrase from Deuteronomy 32:43”?  That verse will read something like this:  “Rejoice all nations with His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants and will render vengeance on His adversaries and will atone for His land and His people.”  And you sort of look at that and you wonder, “Well, where does this fit into that?” 

Again, in the Greek version of the Old Testament, the phrase, “Let all the angels of God worship Him” appears at the beginning of that particular verse.  The author of Hebrews is going back to an Old Testament reference, either in Deuteronomy 32:43 or in Psalm 97:7, and he is saying this is a passage which indicates that the angels will worship Christ, the Messiah.  And so the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah of God, is not lower than the Archangel Michael.  He is more exalted than the Archangel Michael.

He goes on to say, and he bases this on Psalm 104:4 and I would encourage you to turn there, “Who makes His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire.”  In other words, he is saying that angels are servants at the Lord’s bidding, they are instruments that the Lord Jesus uses to accomplish His will.  They are merely His ministers to serve His providence, however exalted and faithful and powerful and useful angels are.  And they are.  The author of Hebrews of Hebrews is not denying any of those things.  He is just saying, “No matter how exalted or useful or powerful or faithful they are, they are merely the servants of the Son who sends them out.”  They are His ministers.  They are like winds of fire that He sends out to do His bidding.  And that’s a quote from Psalm 104:4.  The point here, over and over again, is that the Son is the Lord and Master of the angels.  The angels are subservient to Him.  You can imagine the impact that that kind of assertion on people who were thinking that Michael the Archangel was the greatest figure to be expected in the Messianic Age.  And here is the author of Hebrews quoting from the Old Testament directly challenging that view and saying, Look, the Lord Jesus is highly exalted above everyone, including Michael the Archangel and all other angels.  In fact, angels are simply His servants.  He sends them out to do His bidding. 

There is a practical implication for us too.  Not only is this a clear testimony to the divinity of Christ, but it’s a reminder to us that we must not allow ourselves to have low views of Christ.  H. C. Trumble once said this beautiful phrase:  “The more you think about Christ, the more you think of Him.”  Those who know Christ best, think of Christ in the highest sense.  The more you think about Christ, the more you think of Him  the higher your estimation is of Him.  In fact, Christ is different than our human experience.  You may have great respect for a person who you are working with; and the longer that you work with that person, the more weaknesses and sins and foibles that you see.  But the longer that you know Christ, the higher your opinion is of Him; and this is a reminder for us as well.

III. Christ is the Ruler of the Empire of God. 
      I like to direct your attention to verse 9 where we learn another thing.  The author of Hebrews takes us back to Psalm 45:6 and 7 and says that Christ is the ruler of God’s empire.  He is the ruler of the kingdom, and everyone in Palestine who was Jewish or Christian believed that there was a Kingdom Age.  The Christians believed that it had come and the Jews in Palestine were still expecting one.  So there was no question about whether the kingdom was to be expected, but the author of Hebrews is saying, “Now let me tell you who the king of that kingdom is.  Christ is the King of that kingdom and let me show you that from the Old Testament.”  He takes them right back to Psalm 45:6 and 7 and he quotes this: “Of the Son, He says, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”  As above, Christ is spoken of as fulfilling the promises of God to King David. 

You remember last week we looked at II Samuel 7:14 where God says to David that He will place his Son on the throne and that He will be a God to Him, He will be a Father to Him, and His Son would be a Son to him.  Well, this passage is stressing the same thing.  Psalm 45 is a royal psalm and it’s about the exalted position of the King of Israel.  But here the author of Hebrews is applying it directly to Christ and he is saying Christ fulfils this particular promise.  I want you to notice that the very first phrase highlights the divinity of Christ.  “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  It is of the Son that He says, “Your throne, O God.”  So here’s another clear testimony to the divinity of Christ.  The passages stresses that Jesus is the Sovereign of the kingdom; He rules as God’s representative.  The scepter of His kingdom is referred to. 

Notice that His incarnate life and work, the perfection of His deed is stressed in this phrase.  “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.”  This refers to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfection in His words.  Notice again, His exaltation is mentioned in the passage.  “You have anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His companions.”  So both the first part of that quote and the last quotes stresses that He is more highly exalted than the angels because He speaks of His throne, and you can’t say that about the angels.  God’s throne doesn’t belong to the angels;  it does belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. And the very last sentence of the quote says that He has been anointed with the oil of gladness above His companions.  So there is no one who is on the same par with the Lord Jesus Christ.  This passage testifies to the very unique and clear Christian claim that Jesus is the divine Messiah foreshadowed in the Old Testament. 

The Hebrews congregation was apparently missing the implications of Jesus’ claims and Jesus’ Lordship, and so the author reminds them of the claims again.  The Lordship of Christ was not something that the author of Hebrews believed could be optional for these Hebrew Christians.  They couldn’t say, “Well, we believe in Christ, but we don’t think that He is the most exalted figure in the age to come.”  The author of Hebrews doesn’t say, “Well, that’s okay, as long as you believe in Christ.”  No, if you don’t believe that He is Lord of all, then you don’t believe in Him at all,” is what the author of Hebrews has said.

Augustine put it this way: “He values not Christ at all who does not value Christ above all.”  Hugh Burris says it this way: “Jesus cannot be our Savior unless He is first our Lord.”  Jesus is Lord is the initial confession of believers in the New Testament era.  An interesting quote from Kenneth Pryor, he says: “The early Christians would have been quite surprised to hear that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a second experience that a believer has after conversion.  For them it was their baptismal confession.”  In other words, it was the very first confession that an adult believer made about the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Jesus is Lord.”  The exalted position of the Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t an optional belief for Christians.  It was at the very center of the early Christian’s belief about the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV. Christ is the Eternal Creator.

Let’s go on to verses 10-12, because you will see yet another things stressed here.  Jesus is actually called the Eternal Creator, He is co-creator, He is co-eternal with the Father.  In this passage, Psalm 102:25-27 is referenced.  In this passage, let me point out two things.  First, it is asserted in verse 10 that Jesus created everything.  Notice the words, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the works of Your hands.”  The heavens and the earth is a description or a shorthand way of saying everything.  So, again, it is being asserted that the totality of the world’s creation is a product of the work of the Son. 

Notice in verses 11 and 12, even as the Psalmist speaks of God being eternal and unchangeable, the author of Hebrews applies the words of Psalm 102:25-27 to Jesus and says that Jesus is eternal and unchangeable.  “They will perish, but You will remain.  Everything in this world will perish, but You will remain.”

This is a very interesting passage to apply to Jesus because apparently the Psalmist who wrote this Psalm had seen the destruction of Jerusalem, which was an event too horrible to contemplate in the minds of Jews, and it raised all sorts of questions about God’s promises.  That Psalmist in looking at the destruction of Jerusalem made this confession: “They will change but You remain.”  It’s an expression of trust in God.  “I don’t care whether they have destroyed Jerusalem, Lord, You remain.”  You don’t change.  This whole earth is going to be rolled up like a sack, but You are going to be the same anyway.”

Now it is very interesting that that passage is applied to the Lord Jesus Christ by the author of Hebrews.  Have you noticed that three times already, passages that very clearly referred to God in the Old Testament are applied without apology to Jesus very, very clearly in these early Christian claims.  Look, if you find people who want to call themselves Christians and yet deny the deity of Christ, you have to take them right back to the New Testament and say that was not an option for the early Christians.  You can reject the deity of Christ and be a non-Christian; we won’t hate you, we will try and evangelize you.  Or you can receive the deity of Christ and call Him Lord and be a Christian.  But there is not a third option where you can reject His deity and still be a Christian. 

You know, there are all sorts of Christians out there who want to be Christians and yet deny His deity. They even want to be seminary teachers.  That is not proper.   The New Testament won’t allow for it.  If you are a Christian, you bow happily to the truth of the deity of Christ.

Notice again, the New Testament has a very standard pattern where it goes to an Old Testament quote about God and applies it to Jesus.  Here is what Oscar Cullman, a critical scholar, says about this.  “We should generally give much more consideration to the, by no means self-evident fact, that after the death of Jesus, the first Christians, without hesitation transferred to Him what the Old Testament says about God.”  That sums it up very well.  Christians applied to Jesus the statements that were made about God in the Old Testament.

One last thing.  We see in verses 13 and 14 an assertion again that Jesus is the Lord of the kingdom.  In other words, God never promised to the angels the exalted position of rule in the kingdom that God had promised to the Son; and this passages quotes from Psalm 110, a wonderful Messianic psalm.  It is quoted over 25 times in the New Testament.  So obviously the New Testament writers thought this was an important psalm, and they applied it over and over again to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In fact, if you will remember, in the last parlay between the Pharisees and the Scribes and Sadducees and Jesus, Jesus referred to this psalm and asked the question, “Can David’s son be David’s Lord?”  You remember that the teachers of Israel were so stumped by that they dared not even ask Him any more questions after that. 

Psalm 110 is a great, great Messianic passage and notice that this quote is taken out of it.  “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”  Here God is promising to the Son of David, and ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ, that He will exalt Him over all His enemies, and so this is a way of speaking about Christ’s exaltation.  When Christ was exalted by God in the ascension, it was God’s public way of acknowledging the triumph of Christ in His ministry and that He would ultimately triumph over all His enemies.  So Psalm 110 points to the exaltation of Christ. 

Notice that in the second half of verse 14, we are told that the angels in comparison to the One who is exalted, are simply ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.  They are but servants: “To which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit at My right hand.’”  They are just ministering servants.  So it is the same thing that we have seen the author of Hebrews state before.

Now Philip Hughes concludes this whole section with this comment, and I think it is very helpful. 

“The service of angels then is glorious and honorable.  But the honor and glory of their service is not to be compared with the honor and glory of the Son’s rule.  They are but instruments in His kingship and their ministry is but an expression of His sovereignty.  Such teaching emphatically disallows any expectation like that of the Dead Sea scrolls, that some angel in particular, like the Archangel Michael, or angels in general will exercise rule in authority that rivals or surpasses the leadership of Christ in the age to come.” 

Once you have understood these Old Testament passages to apply to Christ, then there is no question about the fact that He is more exalted than the angels.

Let me point to one thing .  There is a beautiful phrase that brings much comfort to us: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.”  Do you notice that it says that Christ sends out His angels to minister for your sake?  So even His dispersing of the angels to minister is done for your good.  And it’s another manifestation of Christ’s kind sovereignty.  Christ could be a tyrant, simply considering His power.  But because of the goodness of His nature, His power is always used for the good of His people.  And so even when He, by His sovereignty, sends out the angels, He sends them out for the sake of those who will inherit salvation and that is all who trust on Him. 

Is Christ more exalted than the angels?  Absolutely, the author of Hebrews says.  Next week he will show you what the application of that is when we get to chapter 2.  Let’s look to the Lord in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your word in this chapter.  We thank You for the way the author of Hebrews continually takes us to your scriptures to teach us about Christ.  May we gain much strength from the meat of Your word as we contemplate these beautiful passages.  May we have ever higher views of Christ for our own spiritual welfare and for Your glory.  We ask these things in Jesus name Amen.

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