Throughout history, people have identified Jesus as a good teacher, a wise prophet, or even a divine angel. Alistair Begg shows us that Scripture declares Christ to be much greater than any of these. Using passages from the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews described how Jesus, as the eternal son of God, is uniquely superior to the angels. We should be humbled that this supreme being, Jesus Christ, stooped to bear our sins.
Hebrews chapter 1, then, and we’ll pick it up from where we left off this morning. For those of you who were not here this morning, we went as far as the end of the third verse, in opening up a series which we said we may well engage in both in the morning and the evening. We haven’t determined that yet, but we’ve at least established a pattern of two. And here we are.
There was tremendous pressure on these first-century believers to capitulate to the idea either that Jesus was something other than a man but not God or that he was simply the greatest of the angels. Now, while it has not been so in every generation, I think it is definitely so in this generation—that there is a peculiar contemporary ring which will be immediately apparent to those of us who are paying attention to the environment in which we’re living. With a great renewed interest in spirituality, with men and women prepared to consider the issues of angels, etc., the pressure is on the believer in our day to be prepared to acquiesce to the influence of those around us by admitting that while we believe Jesus to be something more than a man, we do not consider him to be God, or to simply put him on the plane with the Hindu avatars as some kind of intermediary angelic prophetic being.
Now, we have no basis whatsoever for doing that. To do that would be to become apostate. It would be to deny the faith. It would be to turn from what the Bible teaches. And if we are to ensure that we do not do such a thing and become apostate in our own generation, that we ensure that we do not drift away from the things that have been told us, we need, as we saw this morning, to pay most careful attention to what we have been told.
And this morning we noticed, in the first three verses, that Jesus Christ is declared there to be the great Prophet, Priest, and King. He is, in verse 2, the Prophet of God, through whom God has spoken to us his final word. He is then, in the second half of verse 3, the great Priest of God, who has accomplished the perfect work of cleansing the people’s sins. And he is there, still in verse 3, the King who sits enthroned in the place of honor and glory. He now rules and cares and forgives with full divine authority and power. And he is, as the writer goes on to make clear, absolutely superior to the angels, as well as to some of the great Jewish heroes, as we will see in coming days.
Now, this was a very important thing, because angels were associated in the minds of the Old Testament folks with a number of things. And I won’t go into all of them, but for example, they were associated with the giving of the law. That’s the significance of 2:2: “For if the message spoken by angels was binding…” This is a reference to this angelic involvement in the giving of the law. What the writer is going to show is that even if angels were involved in the giving of the law, that Christ is the very fulfillment of the law. There was also in Jewish theology the notion that angels had responsibility for ruling over various nations. And the writer here makes it perfectly clear that the power and authority of the Son of God extends to all the world.
Now, what we’re going to do is simply, as we did this morning, notice these things which the writer tells us concerning Jesus. And I want to say just one other thing, by way of introduction, concerning the way in which the Old Testament is used here in this book. Notice that all of the quotations for the Christology that he brings to us—this information concerning Christ—all come from the Old Testament. It is a reminder to us that the Old Testament, with the New Testament, is God’s Word for us today. I mentioned this this morning; I want to reiterate it this evening.
Furthermore, the Old Testament is clearly seen by the writer of the Hebrews to be a Christ-centered book. And so that ultimately, in understanding the Old Testament Scriptures, we will find our understanding coming to lucidity as a result of realizing that it all moves towards and finds its focus and fulfillment in Christ. That, incidentally, is why we read from the Second Psalm this evening, which is one of the two greatest messianic psalms in the whole book of Psalms; 110 is probably the other most frequently used.
And when the writer quotes as he does from the Old Testament, he’s often using the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is the Septuagint. And that Septuagint version has a wording which is sometimes different from our English versions of the Hebrew Old Testament. And that is why, every so often, if you go back and cross-reference something, you will find that the language is not identical to what you find here in the New Testament text. And it is because of the way in which he is using the Greek version, many times, of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Now, let’s try and go through from the fourth verse, noticing, I think, seven things that we’re told here concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’s superiority to the angels: “So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Now, he said, let me give you seven ways in which this becomes apparent.
First of all, in verse 5: “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’?” Now, those of you who were paying attention to the reading, which I’m sure is the vast majority of you, will have already made a mental note and said, “Aha, we just read that earlier this evening! That was in the Second Psalm; we just read that.” And that is exactly correct, and that is why we read it. And what the writer of the Hebrews is doing is, he is quoting from the Second Psalm. The words of Psalm 2:7 were not addressed to angels, but they were addressed to the King, to the Messiah, whom we now know to be Jesus. And what you have in Old Testament prophetic passages is often a dual fulfillment. There will be an immediate fulfillment, which is found in the historic context of the time, but there will be within that a pointing forward to one who is yet to come. And that is certainly true as we go through these verses tonight.
Jesus is declared here to be the Son of God. He is not the Son of God by creation, nor is he the Son of God by adoption, but he is the Son of God by nature. He is eternally the Son. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time when he is not the Son, but he was revealed to humankind as Son in the incarnation.
And there are a few occasions when, in the Gospel records, you see this coming across with great clarity—for example, in the record of his baptism. And if I turn to Mark 1:11: “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” And how the people must have marveled as the voice came from the heaven, declaring this amazing truth regarding Jesus. What was true of him eternally is revealed in a moment in time.
It was true at his baptism. It was true also at the transfiguration. In Luke 9:35: “[And] a voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ [And] when the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. [And] the disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”
Now, you’ll find the exact same thing at the time of the resurrection and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ—this great declaration of his sonship. I’m quoting now from Acts 13:32: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our [fore]fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Now, what does he quote? Interestingly, the Second Psalm, the same psalm we were reading this evening. He says, “As it is written in the Second Psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” You have this wonderful, correlating interface of the Scriptures, which will be apparent to all and will reward our diligent study.
Well, first of all, then, he is superior, insofar as to no angel did he ever say, “You are my Son,” did he ever declare this eternal relationship.
Secondly, or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.” Now, I’m not going to go back and quote all the Old Testament passages; I think it will become tedious. But if you care to follow up on your own, it will reward your study. And what you have here is a quote from 2 Samuel 7:14—a word which was originally addressed to King David, but a promise in it which was to be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus himself. And that’s what I’m referring to when I say that you have this kind of dual focus and dual fulfillment in so many of these Old Testament passages.
Now, when you go on into verse 6, he makes it further plain: “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” Now, if the angels worship this Son, and the angels were there at the presence of the arrival of Christ in his incarnation—indeed, it was angels who declared his coming and sang, “Glory to God in the highest”—if the angels worship this Son, then clearly they are subservient to him. And this is the point that the writer is making. It was also angels who ministered to the Lord Jesus in his time of great difficulty in the garden of Gethsemane. And in the prospect of the cross, in Luke chapter 22, it is there that the angels come as ministering servants, giving the glory and the honor that is due to Christ the Son. And then in verse 7: “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, [and] his servants flames of fire.’” In other words, they are the messengers, but Christ is the message; they are the servants, but Christ is the Son.
Now, he’s about to do this same thing in relationship to Moses; I’ll just give you a foretaste of it. In 3:5: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house.” Moses was faithful testifying concerning what would happen, and he exercised the role of a servant, but he was not the Son of God. And this is a very important point when we’re involved in evangelism with our Jewish neighbors and friends. Because many of them who have a clear understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures—and there are some who do—will be puzzled, then, how this Galilean carpenter fits into the whole picture. And that’s why it is so helpful to be able to say, “Well, interestingly enough, here in Psalm 2 we have this, which is fulfilled here and is referred to in Hebrews,” and so on.
And then, in verses 8 and 9—we’re just moving through this as quickly as we can—in verses 8 and 9: “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” Now, I haven’t referred to them all, but let me just turn you back to Psalms again, and to 45:6–7. Psalm 45:6. And the psalmist writes,
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and [you] hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
Now, what we have here in the Forty-fifth Psalm is a wedding psalm for someone who was in the dynasty of King David. And there is the immediate application of it. There is its first historical context. But the writer to the Hebrews, looking back through all of Scripture, picks it up and uses it, and he says, “But here is the fulfillment of it all. If you want to find the truth in all of its fullness in relationship to this truth, then you’ll never find it in angels, but you will find it in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“You have,” he says in verse 9, “loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” A reminder to us that the kingdom of God is a righteousness kingdom; that the children of the King are to be those who are concerned with righteousness; that when we tolerate wickedness in our lives or in our churches, then we reveal how little we understand of who Jesus is, and what he has done, and what he desires for us.
And then sixthly, in verse 10: “He also says, ‘In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth.’” And again, he’s quoting from the Psalms, and this time from Psalm 102. I mentioned it to you previously. Psalm 102:25: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” To whom is the psalmist referring? It can be only to one person. Because who did we discover this morning is God’s agent in creation? Jesus the Son. Therefore, the psalmist, without fully appreciating it himself, points forward to the very one who was to come in all of the fullness of his glory, and reveal himself, and stand triumphant over the affairs of time, and reveal himself to be of far greater significance than the angels.
They will perish [the heavens, that is], but you [will] remain;
they[’ll] all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.
See, the Old Testament is a book about Jesus. You find Christ in all of the Scriptures. We never fully understand the Old Testament until we realize that it is actually a book about Christ, that it points always to him.
Now, the implications of this are all kinds. First of all, for those of us who are tempted to become tree huggers, ecological crazies—and it’s good to look after things, but we totally discount the Indian proverb that I keep finding on bumpers as I go around: “The earth does not belong to us, but we belong to the earth.” What do we say to that? We say phooey to that. We say, “Nonsense!” Why? Because it is expressive of a worldview which is unbiblical. And if we’d never understood it before, then tonight we’re going to understand it. “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth”; therefore, you are concerned about the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof”; and you have made us stewards of your creation. Therefore, we want to take good care of it. Therefore, we don’t want to abuse it, or scorn it, or disregard it. So we have a theory of ecology; we have a position in relationship to these things. After all, “the heavens are the work of your hands.” We of all people ought to be concerned about the beauty and grandeur of it all, for we know who made it. The Darwinian evolutionists, they don’t know who made it, they don’t know here it came from, but they figure it’s all they’ve got, so they’d better hold on to it.
And here the writer says, “Listen, they’re going to perish. But you’ll remain. As a man outlives several suits of clothing in his lifetime, so in the same way, all of this will wear out like a garment. You’re gonna just roll them up like a robe. And like a garment, they will be changed.” You go and you stay in a hotel, and if it’s a nice enough hotel, they’ll give you a robe. And they’ll put a little tag on it, like, “If you would like one of these, it’ll cost you $55 at the front desk. Otherwise, keep your grimy paws off it.” It says something like that. And you can wear it for an evening or a couple of evenings, and then you just roll it up, and you discard it, and you leave it behind. Well, this is a true view of the world, you see. The angels belong to the created order, a created order which is temporary and perishable. But “yesterday, today, [and] forever, Jesus is the same. [And] all may change, but Jesus never—Glory to his name!” And here it is made absolutely clear.
Now, the seventh thing he tells us is in verse 13: “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’” The answer is, to no angel. No angel was ever addressed in this way, because no angel ever knew the honor and the dignity, either by right or by gift. And the picture here is of the Father inviting the Son to take that which he possessed by right in his preexistent state. You see, that’s the significance of John 17, when the Son says, “Father, now glorify me with the glory that I enjoyed with you before the world began. When I was there, when we started this whole thing off, Father, I want to return now and experience that glory again.” And that is exactly what is being referred to. To which of the angels did God ever say, “Okay, now you come and sit at my right hand. All your work is ended. When you cried, ‘It is finished’ from the cross, it was a word well spoken, because you dealt with it there in a moment in time. And now, come.” The place which was reserved for the Son was a place reserved for the one who had completely finished his work on earth.
Every so often you go into a room—it may be in someone’s home, it may be in someone’s office—and you sit down in a seat. Nobody actually says anything to you, but you just get a funny feeling. You get the sneaking suspicion, you sat down somewhere you weren’t supposed to sit down. You had that feeling? It’s obviously Father’s chair, or Vice President So-and-So’s chair, or whatever. But you think, probably a good time just to jump up and sit somewhere else. And then eventually Father walks in and you realize, that is exactly it. Well, the picture in heaven is of the angels all there, and they’re saying to one another, “Just remember, no one sits in that seat. No one sits there.”
And the picture is of the ancient custom of conquerors putting their heels on the necks of their vanquished foes in token of their complete subjection. And to the Son, the Father says, “Now, come up here, and sit at my right hand, and put your foot on the neck of your vanquished foe, so that those whom you gather to yourself will not be bedeviled by this creature, will not be defeated by him, but will rise up in the train of your triumph.”
You see, that’s why I love to sing the hymn that we haven’t quite mastered yet, “The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended; the darkness falls at thy behest.” I love it for a myriad of reasons, but not least of all for the verse which goes, “So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away.” The British Empire is history; we have a voice in the European community, but not a particularly loud one. The great empires of Rome are relics to be studied in the history books of time. Greece has crumbled upon itself. The totalitarian, atheistic regime of Soviet Communism has collapsed in a sorry heap. And every proud empire of man which raises its fist in the face of almighty God—in the killing of babies in the womb, in the denying of his truth and his glory in our schools, in the rejection of his moral law in the issues of our lifestyle—every proud nation and empire will bow before this throne.
You see? And that is why we must be about the King’s business. That is why we must have our focus on this lovely Lord Jesus Christ, in all of his greatness and all of his power and in all of his glory. What have we been learning today? The Son is unique. He is worshipped by the angels. His rule is forever. He is the Creator of all things. He is at God’s right hand. “Jesus!” says the hymn writer, “the name high over all, in hell or earth or sky; angels and men before it fall, and devils fear and fly.” And so verse 14: “Are not … angels,” all of them, “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Our salvation was accomplished by the Son. He alone is the Savior, and angels are but servants of the saved.
Well, what then should these truths do for us? Well, you know, the question is almost, “What do they not do for us?” Here is an amazing view of the world, is it not, that pagan men and women can never know? Tyrannized and fearful about the great machinations of civilizations as they clash around us, men and women live in terror. But on the basis of what we learn here—that he who is majestic and powerful and all-overarching in his glory and in his influence is the one who calls us by name, he is the Good Shepherd, and he knows his sheep, and he calls every one of them by name.
I don’t want to be sentimental, and I certainly don’t want to be mystical, but I don’t want to miss the influence of this. The transcendent, majestic, unbelievable cosmic significance of Hebrews chapter 1 comes down to this: that when you believe or lay your head on the pillow tonight, the Lord Jesus Christ knows your name, and every hair on your head is numbered, and your name is graven on the very palms of his hands. That ought to change the way I pray. That ought to change the way I look at my view of the world. That ought to change my decision making. It ought to change me.
Let’s pray together:
Let’s just allow the thoughts, the amazing thoughts, of Hebrews 1—you might only have fastened onto one out of all of this material today—but let’s lay hold upon it and ask the Spirit of God to bring it home to our hearts. Let’s thank the Lord Jesus that he is our Prophet, that he is God’s final word to us. Let’s thank him that he is our Priest, a great High Priest, who bore in his own body our sins, who once and for all made an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so that in trusting in his mercy and in his grace, we may be declared righteous in God’s sight. And let’s thank him that he is a King, that
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
[And that] a royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor’s brow.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
[And] look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
 Luke 2:14 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 22:43.
 Hebrews 3:5–6 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 45:6–9 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 102:26–28 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 24:1 (KJV).
 Albert B. Simpson, “Yesterday, Today, Forever” (1890).
 John 17:5 (paraphrased).
 John Ellerton, “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended” (1870).
 Charles Wesley, “Jesus! the Name High over All” (1749).
 See John 10:11, 14.
 See John 10:14.
 See John 10:3.
 See Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7.
 See Isaiah 49:16.
 Thomas Kelly, “The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns” (1820).
 Helen Howarth Lemmel, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” (1922).
Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.