Lesson 2: Jesus is Better than the Angels

As we saw in our previous lesson, the theme of “Jesus is better” is emphasized from the start of the letter as the author states that Jesus is superior to both the OT prophets and to the angels. But why was it so necessary to emphasize Jesus’ superiority to the angels? As we will examine later in this lesson, angels were closely associated with the giving of the Mosaic law (see Hebrews 2.2). If Jewish Christians were tempted to forsake Christ for Judaism, they must understand that doing so would be to turn their back on a better message, one given by a better Messenger.

1.5-14, Why Jesus Is Much Better Than The Angels

To make his case, the author of Hebrews appeals to a number of Old Testament passages which contrast the positions of the Messiah with that of the angels. Before making particular points from the text, we should note the author’s approach to Old Testament Scripture. The author sees Jesus as the fulfillment of numerous passages, not just ones that are explicitly Messianic. Vs. 5 quotes Psalm 2, which is readily seen as Messianic, but vss. 8-9 quotes Psalm 45.5-6, a passage which appears to be addressed to the Father. Furthermore, 2Samuel 7.14 (quoted in vs. 5) would have first applied to Solomon. The point is that the Hebrew writer viewed the entire Old Testament as pointing to the Messiah, a position Jesus taught (see Luke 24.44-47). 

  • Vss. 5-6 emphasize the Father-Son relationship, quoting from both Psalm 2.7 and 2Samuel 7.14. No angel could claim the same relationship, rather the angles are called to worship the Son! Note: the use of “firstborn” is significant. As we will note in a later lesson, Jesus’ position as firstborn means that there are others who are children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus (see Hebrews 2.11). But in this instance the use of “firstborn” emphasizes Jesus’ status in the family of God. He is the only heir (see vs. 2). 
  • Vss. 7-14 contrast the relative positions of Jesus and the angels. The position of the angels bookend the passage (vss. 7,14) and show their inferiority to God’s Son. Vs. 7 quotes Psalm 104.4 and the meaning may be that the angels have the qualities of wind and fire, showing their superiority to man (note 2.7), but they are still inferior to the Son. They are but God’s messengers, sent to minister to God’s people (vs. 14).
  • But the Son reigns! Vss. 8-13 quote from Psalm 45.6-7; Psalm 102.25-27 and Psalm 110.1. Psalm 45 not only states the fact of His reign, but the nature of His reign: He is both righteous and loves righteousness! Psalm 102 emphasizes the enduring nature of Jesus’ reign, for He not only laid the foundations of the earth, but will one day “roll them up like a garment”. Through it all, He will be the same. And Psalm 110 emphasizes His authority: He sits at the right hand of the Father and will rule over all His enemies!

2.1-4, Ramification of Jesus’ Superiority: Heed Him!

Having established the superiority of Jesus to the angels, the author of Hebrews moved quickly to the practical ramifications of Jesus’ exalted position. This explanation is helpful when reading the passage: “One of the key roles of ancient speakers, rhetoricians and rabbis alike, was to motivate people to take specific courses of action, and they utilized a wide variety of oratorical and literary tools to accomplish that end. One such tool was the ‘argument from lesser to greater,’ also known as an a fortioriargument. This device lies at the heart of 2:1–4. This type of argument reasoned that if some principle is true in a less important situation, then it certainly is true—and has greater implications—in a more important situation.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)

  • The author’s concern is apparent in vs. 1; if his audience doesn’t heed the gospel they would drift away! “the word translated ‘pay … attention’ in 2:1 was used as a technical term for bringing a ship into port. The wind or oars powered ancient ships. A test of a captain’s skill in controlling a large, wind-driven vessel came upon entering a harbor and approaching a dock, since there were no ‘reverse engines’ to slow the ship’s progress. To carry too much speed would result in crashing into the docks; to carry too little speed resulted in falling short. A ship in the latter instance would ‘drift’ by the place at which it was supposed to land, perhaps being impeded or driven off course by strong currents or prevailing winds. Thus, the author of Hebrews expresses concern over the spiritual state of his readers, whom he fears may be drifting off course from a clear focus on the gospel of salvation.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)
  • Vs. 2 refers to the angels role in delivering the Mosaic Law, a point also made in Acts 7.38 and Galatians 3.19. The Jews new that all of the Law was to be followed, else they face the righteous punishments detailed in the Law (cf. Deuteronomy 28.15ff). And if that was true of disobedience to the word delivered by angels, what of the word that through God’s Son?
  • Vss. 3-4, there is no escape if we neglect the salvation provided by the Son, “what we have heard” in vs. 1. To bolster the point even further, the author notes how three parties were involved in delivering this word of salvation: Jesus first proclaimed it (vs. 3), it was confirmed by those who heard, i.e. the apostles (vs. 3), and God testified with them through signs, wonders and miracles (vs. 4; cf. Mark 16.20).

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