Sermon preached on Hebrews 1:5-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/25/2018 in Novato, CA.
“To Which of the Angels Has He Ever Said”
If you recall the road to Emmaus passage in Luke 24, you remember how it says that Jesus had to rebuke some disciples for not understanding how all the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of the Messiah. Jesus said it was these Scriptures that spoke how the Messiah would have to first suffer and then enter into glory. Clearly Jesus especially had in mind the suffering of the cross, and the glory that began with the resurrection. Well, if you are like me, you often have read about that conversation on the road to Emmaus and wished to have been there. Because it says how Jesus walked them through all the Scriptures that spoke about the Christ and his sufferings and subsequent glories. How glorious it would have been to be able to walk through the Scriptures like that and see them point to Christ. Well, I can’t take you back in time to that road to Emmaus. But I can take you to this glorious passage in Hebrews 1:5-14. Here we have a litany of old testament quotes, one after another, mainly psalms, that Hebrews tells us spoke of Jesus Christ.
And I would remind you of the context from last time. We saw in the first few verses a snapshot of Jesus and his ministry. Jesus came as the eternal Son of God, who made all things, into this world to suffer and die for our sins. Yet, he rose again and ascended on high and was seated at the right hand of God the Father in all glory and authority. Last time we recognized that the opening verses presented to us both Jesus’ divinity but also his humanity. We recognized that the passages that speak of Jesus obtaining a better name than angels spoke of that which he acquired in his messianic accomplishments. In terms of Jesus’ divinity, he always possessed all glory and authority and the greatest name. But when the Son of God became man, he came as the Messiah in the line of David. In his human, messianic mission, he accomplished our salvation and then was exalted as the Messiah to the highest place. That is really important to remember today, because as we study verses 5-14, that is the primary context. It picks up from verse 4 talking about the exalted Messiah. So, the verses today will not focus that much on his eternal glory that he has always had as the pre-incarnate Son of God, though there will be reference to that. Rather, they will focus on Christ’s glory as the incarnate Messiah who was exalted to a place of all authority. This exaltation came when he completed his mission of redeeming a people unto himself through the cross.
So then, today’s passage elaborates on the statement of verse 4, that the Christ has become so much better than the angels now in his messianic exaltation. That’s our topic for today. Jesus, the exalted Messiah, is superior to angels. Let’s begin then by thinking about the angels. We learn a little bit about angels here that are helpful to think about in comparison to Christ. We should start with an assumption here. Angels are pretty awesome. They are powerful and majestic and mighty. To say Christ is exalted far above them is quite a statement. In context, we see why they are even mentioned here. It’s in regard to revelation. The opening verses talked about how in the past, God had revealed his plan of salvation through the prophets. But as we see in the start of the next chapter, in 2:2, that older revelation also came through angels. In these former days, God gave revelation through both angels and prophets, and sometimes the angels delivered the message to the prophets. In contrast, we saw last week, Jesus was a superior bringer of revelation than either prophets or angels. And yet when we think of angels versus prophets, we inherently think of a certain heavenly glory associated with angels that we don’t think of when we think of human prophets. Psalm 8:5 even acknowledges that; that in comparison to angels, there is a sense in which humans are inferior than them. Psalm 8:5 is even referenced next chapter, 2:9, in regard to Jesus. There it speaks of the incarnation and his messianic suffering. In that regard, Jesus himself, like all humans, was made a little lower than angels. That of course only proves the point that we are stating today, that today’s passage speaks of what happened after that for Jesus. That after being made a little lower than the angels in his incarnation and suffering, he then became exalted in the highest glory after that. More on that when we get to chapter 2. But for now, I want us to recognize that angels are in fact glorious. There is a certain sense that they are higher and more exalted than humans in general.
There are two verses in our passage for today that tell us a little about the job of angels. The first is verse 7. This is one of the seven quotes today from the Old Testament that Hebrews uses to explain how Jesus is superior to angels. But I start with this because it tells us about the role of angels. It speaks there from Psalm 104:4 about angels being ministers of God. They serve God as his messengers. It describes them as spirits, or possibly translated as winds. It also describes them as a flame of fire. The original context of Psalm 104 is praising God for his glory over the creation; this includes these magnificent angels whom God created. That’s part of God’s glory, that he has messengers like this: these spirit angels who are likened to wind and fire who do his bidding!
The second verse here about the role of angels clarifies this and qualifies it. Verse 14 says that angels are ministering spirits sent by God to serve. Again, we see the notion that they are but servants of God, albeit glorious spirits who serve God. We learn more about their service when we see in verse 14 that they are sent to serve those who will inherit salvation, i.e. the elect! So, in this first point, I wanted us to recognize that angels are servants of God, assisting in his plan of salvation. But to clarify, though the angels are lowly servants in comparison to God, they are not lowly in general. They are exalted in many ways, which only makes it all the more awesome to think of how Christ has been exalted higher than them.
So then, let’s look at the six more Old Testament quotes here that speak of the exalted Christ. By the way, I’ll note that these are generally quotes from the Septuagint, which is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. So then, let’s go in order of the quotes, beginning in verse 5. There, from Psalm 2:7 it says that God says this to the Christ, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” That is that classic psalm of David which speaks of how the nations will rage against the LORD and his Christ but God sits laughing at them from heaven. This is because God has set his Christ as the king over all in power and glory. And not only, that, but Psalm 2 speaks how God essentially adopts the Christ as his very own son. Again, to clarify, Jesus in terms of his divinity is the eternally begotten son of God. Some have thought that Psalm 2 is talking about his eternal divine sonship here, but that doesn’t seem to be the best interpretation given the language of “today” which seems to refer to a specific point in time. In fact, Acts 13:33 connects Psalm 2:7 with the time of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s surely the point here in context too. The incarnate Messiah, after the suffering of the cross, rose up in glory and is bestowed the name of the Son of God as the Messiah king. This son of David becomes Son of God in his exalted Messianic state, having completed his work at the cross. As an analogy, back then the Roman emperors would pick their successors to the throne by adopting them as sons. Since the emperors considered themselves gods, their successor would then refer to themselves as the Son of God. Yet, Jesus, Son of David, was exalted to Son of God in the truest and best sense. He in his messianic position is adopted as the Son of God and anointed king over all. That’s Psalm 2. Psalm 2 found some initial application to other sons of David, but it never took on its full import until Jesus came.
The next quote is also in verse 5. It’s from 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son.” This is the chapter in 2 Samuel where God establishes the Davidic Covenant with King David. There God promised David that one of his offspring would build a house for God. There God promised David that offspring would be king over an everlasting kingdom. And there, God promised David that he would take that son of David to be his own son. Again, there is this adoption idea, that God would adopt the Davidic Messiah. Realize what that means. For God to adopt the Son of David as his own Son changes everything. Then we are no longer talking about a Davidic kingdom, great as that would be. Then we are talking about a divine kingdom, a kingdom that comes not only in the name of Great King David, but who comes in the name of the God Most High. That elevates this kingdom to the highest standing and thus it elevates this King to have the highest name in heaven and on earth. The author of Hebrews rightly says that this promise of the Davidic covenant was fulfilled in Jesus. People might have initially thought it was being fulfilled in Solomon, but clearly, it didn’t come to its real fulfillment until Jesus came.
And so, in those first two quotes, the question that is asked in verse 5, “For to which of the angels did He ever say” these things? The question is rhetorical. God never bestowed any angel such honor or glory. Moving then onto the next quote, we have in verse 6 a quote from the Song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32:43, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (By the way, there are a number of Song of Moses references in the New Testament and good evidence to think it was part of the early church’s music that they sang, but I digress). Now, depending on your Bible translation, you might not see anything like this line if you look up Deuteronomy 32:43. I mentioned that the author here quotes from the Septuagint and that has this extra line about angels worshipping. The later Hebrew Masoretic text that many modern English translations are based on does not have this line. That being said, the Septuagint manuscripts are far older than the Hebrew Masoretic texts. And in fact, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s validated this reading of the Septuagint. There, in cave 4, a fragment in Hebrew of the Song of Moses was found and essentially had this reading about angel worship which was preserved faithfully in the Septuagint as well as here in Hebrews. Praise the Lord! Well, what should really be interesting here is not the text transmission issue that I just mentioned. What is really interesting is that at this place in the Song of Moses, it is talking about the angels worshipping God. Yet, here it is applied to Jesus! But this is not the first time nor the last time that the New Testament takes references to God from the Old Testament and applies them to Jesus. In light of his eternal divine nature that was already affirmed in 1:3, it would be fitting to have angels worship him. But especially in context, we remember that the exalted Messiah ascended up into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God in authority and power. Thus, in light of that exalted position, especially these words from the Song of Moses apply. They especially call angels and men to worship him who has the name which is above every name. The exaltation of Christ demands that every knee should bow and every tongue confess him as Lord. There, of course, I allude to Philippians 2:9 which speaks of Jesus exalted after the cross. And there Philippians quotes Isaiah 45:23 which is also talking about the worship to be given to God, and yet Paul also applies the verse to Jesus. The same is going on here in verse 6 with this psalm of Moses.
The next Old Testament quote about the exalted Christ here is in verses 8-9. That is a quote from Psalm 45:6-7. Interestingly, that psalm is a song commemorating a royal wedding and rejoicing in the king and his throne. But the author of Hebrews sees that despite whatever use it might have had in some sense before Christ, it found its ultimate application to Jesus. When you look at the language here that’s quoted from Psalm 45 we’re not surprised to see such an application. Not only does it speak of an everlasting kingdom of righteousness but look at verse 8. Verse 8 sees the king referred to as God. Verse 9 arguably again addresses the king as God before then referencing his God. In other words, the grammar seems to call the king God while also noting that the King has a God – another great hint of the Trinity in the Old Testament. Now, this might sound surprising to think how a psalm could refer to a human king as God. Yet, I remind you that this is exactly what Isaiah 9 as well says. Isaiah 9 says that the Messianic king who would come would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, having a kingdom that would not end. Isaiah’s words comply beautifully with what this Psalm 45 says of the Messiah. Hebrews then rightly notes that this was never said of an angel, that they are a God-king over an everlasting kingdom of righteousness.
The next quote is in verses 10-12 and comes from Psalm 102:25-27. These words obviously affirm what Hebrews asserted in verse 2, that this Messiah is also one who existed before the incarnation, that he is the one responsible even for creating the world. These verses in Psalm 102 again seems to be a passage addressing God which is being applied to the Christ. This quote from Psalm 102 starts by looking backward to creation but then looks forward into eternity in order to affirm how God is both eternal and unchangeable. This is being applied to the Christ. Looking backward, it acknowledges that the Christ existed even before he was born into this world. It’s like what John the Baptist said of Jesus in John 1:15, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” And looking forward, the application of this is further stated in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The glory the Son had at creation continues now on into eternity as the incarnate Messiah is established as king over an everlasting kingdom.
The last Old Testament quote here about the Christ comes in verse 13. “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” That’s Psalm 110:1, a psalm of David, from which Hebrews will quote from more later in this book. This is offered as affirmation of the statement in verse 3 about Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand. That too was foretold in Scripture. You might recall that Jesus also used that Psalm to challenge the Jews about the nature of the Messiah b/c it starts out with David writing, “The LORD said to my Lord, sit my right hand.” In other words, David refers to this Messiah who will be exalted to the right hand of God as his own Lord. Why would David as the father of the Messiah refer to his own offspring as his Lord if that descendent was merely just another one of his own descendants? The point by Jesus and certainly in Hebrews is that the Davidic Messiah is far more than just another son of David, so that even King David calls him Lord! In terms of the Messiah’s divinity, that would certainly be true. But Psalm 110 speaks in terms of his exaltation as the Messiah who after his sufferings has been seated in glory at the right hand of God. This is the same psalm that will go on to talk about how this Messiah King is also an eternal priest in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews and the New Testament is clear again on this. Whatever initial uses of Psalm 110 that may have been done with David and his dynasty, the full import is only realized in Jesus Christ.
Wow. What a wonderful montage of Scripture to show the exalted Messiah who is also the eternal Son of God. Again, I point you to the question raised a second time in the passage. There in verse 13. To which of the angels has God ever said such things? The answer is none of them. Jesus Christ is unique. Jesus Christ is superior than any of the angels. Why is this important? First off, because of the conclusion then in verse 14. These angels answer to King Jesus, and therefore they serve his salvific purposes. They answer to Lord Jesus who came in these last days to save a people unto himself. These angels have supported that plan of salvation down through the years. So then, the Lord supreme, and his servants the angels, are working for the purposes of salvation. As it says in verse 14, “for those who will inherit salvation.”
May that include all of us here today. May we each be those who will inherit this glorious salvation that Christ has secured for his elect. How can you know if you are one who will inherit this salvation? Well, that’s what chapter 2 starts off with. “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” As it goes on to say, we must all the more put our faith and hope and trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews speaks to people who were being tempted by different outside forces to turn away from the faith. But this book calls for endurance for the people. It calls us to remain steadfast in faith in Jesus. Press on in faith until we inherit our salvation in the full on the day of Christ.
So then, Trinity Presbyterian Church, that’s my application then for us as well. You’ve been presented today with all the Old Testament reasons to believe and trust in Jesus. But the context says that now even better revelation has come. Jesus himself came. If all those Old Testament passages were reason enough to believe in Jesus, Jesus himself is more so. All the light of the New Testament has now also been given. All the more we have every reason to believe and trust in Jesus, and be saved. On the other hand, for those who reject the Christ, you are all the more condemned if you reject all this revelation we’ve received. Don’t be caught off guard like a thief in the night when Jesus comes. Trust in him today. And may we all press on in this faith and seek his help to endure in that faith, as we see the day of Christ’s return approaching. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.