“So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Angels are an interesting topic. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that we know so precious little about them. What we do see, though, is incredible, which only serves to fuel more speculation. Angels have appeared in various forms of media over the centuries in all kinds of different forms from cute cherubs to cynical warriors to disobedient servants to even villains. However we picture them, though, there is one fact that should be abundantly clear in all our thinking about them: Jesus is greater. Let’s talk about it.
It is hard for us to wrap our minds around the idea of a supernatural realm. Now, on the one hand, that may sound funny to say because the supernatural plays a role in all kinds of stories. We create elaborate myths and mythologies rooted in various supernatural powers and encounters. But really, we don’t know what to do with it. It often winds up as a big jumble in our minds. Who relates to whom and how and why represent a big unknown to us. This is the case for us today. It was the case for the original audience of the author of Hebrews. Part of his goal, then, was to try to bring a little bit of clarity to it. This was all with the goal of exalting Jesus to His rightful position.
He does this first by making the point that Jesus was greater than the angels. I’ve got to be honest: This is a tough point for me. That’s not because I am unclear on the matter at all. Rather, it’s because I struggle with why he even bothers to make this point. In my own thinking on the matter, I’ve never even held the slightest glimmer of a thought that Jesus wasn’t greater than the angels. That has never even been a question for me. What’s more, I don’t know anyone else for whom it’s been a question either. Now, a big part of the reason for this is probably that I grew up in the church and have spent my whole life living in a mostly churched environment. But it still seems like an odd point to me all the same.
But to his original audience, it was obviously a much more significant question. And I think I can imagine why. Jesus was something new to them. Not Him personally, but the idea of who He was. They understood God the Father, and they had a well-developed mythology around various angels, but Jesus was different. He wasn’t God the Father. But He wasn’t only human either. He was something in between. The proclamation of the apostles was that He was fully God and fully man, but this was something new as well. Yes, the Greeks and Romans had their demigods – legendary heroes who were of human and divine parentage – but there was never a serious claim that Jesus was merely a demigod. In the minds of at least a critical mass of folks in this particular community, the best they could come up with on their own was that Jesus was some sort of an angel. After all, angels were in between God and humans. Maybe He was just a particularly grand or powerful angel.
The author wanted them clear on the fact that this wasn’t the case. Jesus was greater. His origin was greater. His power was greater. His position was greater. His mission was greater. His authority was greater. He was superior to them in every way. He makes this declaration in v. 4 and goes on in the rest of the chapter to cite one verse from the Scriptures after another that helps to make this case. The way God spoke about His Son was different than He spoke about the angels. The angels were called to worship Him. The Son was described in terms that otherwise only applied to God Himself. He is featured as doing things only God did and receiving recognition that only belonged to God. Angels never received anything like this. Simply put: Jesus is greater.
Now, there’s a whole conversation we could have about how the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament here (and we will have it in the next couple of weeks), but for now, let’s think for just a second why any of this matters. Why does it matter that Jesus is greater than the angels? I think the author is slowly making a case for Jesus’ greatness. And he’s making this case to a bunch of Jewish background believers. He is going to slowly build up Jesus’ glory, but he’s starting off fairly small. What this all should remind us, though, is that Jesus is different. He’s just not like anyone or anything else. We do well to make sure we don’t treat Him as such.