Please note that this article is derived from a sermon series on Hebrews given in Bermondsey Gospel Hall, the audio of which can be found here.
After the first chapter of Hebrews opens by signposting us to the two major themes of the book, the Message and Ministry of the Superior Son, we seen that it turns to consider the Name of the Superior Son. With Christ’s superiority as prophet and priest established, the author presses on to prove his superiority as king, being seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high and having “become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” The excellent name of angels is compared to the more excellent name of Jesus – and Jesus comes out on top. He is superior, he is supreme. All the great deeds of angels throughout history pale into insignificance when placed next to the one they came to announce, declaring ‘you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). His name, that is not only his identifier but his identity, the outward expression of who he truly is, is superior to theirs. For his name is the name that is above every name.
But what is this superior name? How is it supreme over all others? What is it about the indemnity of Jesus that makes him superior? This is something that the writer wants to press into us, not only proclaiming it in verse 4, but proving it in verses 5-14. This proof is drawn from seven different texts found in the Old Testament, which we can quickly split into two groups – those referring to angels and those referring to the Son. In verse 5 we see that the Son is clearly addressed, but this changes in verses 6 and 7, before again the focus reverts back to the Son in 8-9, 10-12 and then 13. The chapter finishes not with a quotation about angels, but rather a conclusion we can draw about them.
The selection of these texts is not random, but is carefully planned in order to display three great differences between these significant servants of God and the superior son of God. There are three aspects of this superior name which the author wants to draw to our attention. Very simply, there are three things the author wants to make sure you know about Jesus. For these seven quotations fall into three sets, both grammatically and thematically. Grammatically, linking words are used at the start of the quotations to group together verses 5-6, verses 7-12 and leave the final quotation in verse 13 along alongside the closing statement in the chapter. Thematically we shall see as we go through each of those three sections have a common theme in both the quotations about the Son and the quotations or statement about the angels. Each of those sections draws a different contrast between the angels and Jesus. They are worshippers, while he is to be worshipped – the Divine Son. They are temporary, he is timeless – the Eternal Son. They are servants, he is sovereign – the Royal Son. Three fundamental things we need to realise about Jesus – he is divine, eternal and royal. Jesus is God, Jesus is everlasting and Jesus is king. These three themes run throughout the chapter, but are pulled one at a time from the background into the foreground, so by the end of the chapter we can exclaim, ‘Name him brothers name him, with love strong as death, but with awe and wonder, and with bated breath; he is God the Saviour, he is Christ the Lord, ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.’
As we turn first to look at the first aspect of this superior name in verses 5 and 6, we find the text splits in two easily: what God says to the Son (verse 5) and what God says to angels (verse 6). While these verses declare that Jesus is God, telling us of the Divine Son, it does not do so straight away. Instead, it takes us there in two steps. Before declaring the Son to be divine, we shall see that it declares him to be Davidic. Verse 5 tells of us of the Davidic Son before Verse 6 tells us of the Divine Son.
1. The Davidic Son
Sometimes simple summaries are all we need. That’s why we have executive summaries at the tops of documents and say things such as ‘spare me the detail and just cut to the chase’. Some have summarised the book of Hebrews with the simple statement ‘Jesus is Better’. If you were looking for a simple summary of the first chapter, or of why Jesus is superior to angels, DA Carson puts it succinctly when he states ‘Jesus is better than angels because he is called the Son’. We can see this plainly from the movement from verse 4 into verse 5 and the first quotation the author uses, taken from Psalm 2:7.
Jesus is declared to be the Son of God, ‘You are my Son…’. The author to Hebrews makes it clear that he believes it to be Jesus who is referred to. And he certainly wasn’t alone, for twice in Acts we see the early Church use Psalm 2 in reference to Jesus. In Acts 4:25-27 we find the early church remembering what had happened to Jesus in prayer with reference to this psalm and Paul, in a sermon to the Jews at Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:3, declared that Jesus was a fulfilment of the prophecy found here. In Psalm 2 we find David prophesying hundreds of years in advance of the coming of God’s Son.
‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you…’. Begotten isn’t used almost at all today but it means bringing forth or producing, usually referring to the birth of a child and its procreation from its parents. The NIV will simply put this phrase, ‘Today I have become your father’. You don’t have the time, and I do not have the ability, to fully explain the nature of the Son proceeding from the Father, being ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made’ as the Nicene Creed of 325 AD recorded and as we sing together in Oh Come All Ye Faithful each Christmas – ‘God of God, Light of Light, Lo! He abhors not the virgins’s womb. Very God, begotten not created. O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!’ And yet, we do find ourselves wondering when it is that God declares Jesus to be his Son like this. When is it that this is said to Jesus? When was he begotten?
I’m not sure if you have seen the recent successful Netflix series called The Crown. It is a fascinating drama giving us an inside look at the early life and reign of our current Queen. If you have, or if your general knowledge is of a high standard, then you will know that a significant period of time elapsed between the death of King George, and the coronation of his daughter, our Queen Elizabeth. It was a full year before the period of mourning was at an end and the preparations finished for the coronation. And yet, she did not become Queen the moment that she was crowned. She was declared to be the sovereign with all the appropriate pomp and ceremony at her coronation, but she became Queen the moment her father died. She ascended the throne before she ever sat down on it. The coronation was nothing but a declaration and a confirmation of what she already was. We mustn’t miss the fact that Psalm 2 is in fact a coronation psalm, a psalm that David wrote about the coronation of God’s king. ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ (Psalm 2:6). The coronation of Jesus is simply a declaration of who he always was, the Son of God.
Jesus is the Son of God. Isaiah, prophesying like David of the coming Messiah, would declare ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given....’ (Isaiah 9:6). The angels announced of Mary, ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...’ (Luke 1:31). At the start of his ministry, at his baptism by John, Mark records that, ‘a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”’ (Mark 1:11). In the middle of his ministry, Matthew tells us that Peter, in response to Jesus asking him who he said he was, would declare ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16:16). At the point of his death on the cross, Mark tells us that the centurion at the foot of the cross would cry out ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15:39). Paul proclaims of his resurrection in Romans 1:4, that he was ‘declared to be the Son of God…by his resurrection from the dead…’. The Bible leaves us in no doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. David, Isaiah, the angels, Matthew, Mark, Paul, and God himself declare him to be so.
There is no doubt that Jesus is God’s Son. And yet, we have to admit that there is some doubt as to when this declaration of his sonship took place. When was this ‘today’ of Psalm 2:7? There are probably two possible answers. The first possibility is the resurrection, which the usage of the psalm in Acts 13 perhaps support. However, in view of this passage in Hebrews and the nature of the psalm itself, I think that it is the moment of his exultation, his coronation over all things. When Christ was brought not onto God’s holy hill, but into his holy habitation, into heaven itself and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high and inherited his superior name. When he would hear those words that the author will finish the chapter with, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ (Hebrews 1:13; Psalm 110:1)
If you want a simple summary of the chapter, this is it: Jesus is better than angels because Jesus is the Son of God. Simple, but yet somewhat superficial. It is certainly true, but the problem is that we may not fully understand the nature of Christ’s sonship. What does it mean to be God’s Son? What does the author mean here by calling Jesus the son of God? When we consider the usage of ‘son of God’ in the Bible, we must admit that it is sued to refer to a wide range of groups. It is used to refer to Adam (Luke 3:38), Israel (Exodus 4:22), angels (Job 38:7) and even Satan himself (Job 1:6). And that is not even mentioning the mystery of the first use of the term in Genesis 6 to describe the sons of God who took the daughters of men for wives and fathered the mighty men of renown. If sonship is a wider concept within the Bible, what does the author intend us to understand by it here? What kind of sonship is the sonship of Jesus?
The second quotation in verse 5 answers that question. ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’. It is probably taken from 1 Chronicles 17:13. I say probably because the same scene and statement is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:14. They begin with David coming before the prophet Nathan and declaring that he would like to build a house for the ark of the covenant, that is a temple for God in Jerusalem. Nathan originally encourages David to do that which is within his heart. However, that night the word of the Lord comes to him and explains that he must go to tell David that he will not be able to build a temple for God. David would not build a house for God, but rather God would build a house for him. ‘Moreover, I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.’ (1 Chronicles 17:10–14). God promises David that he would build him not a physical house, but a familial house - the Davidic dynasty. From David would come a son, a son who would build a temple for the Lord and would be established to reign and rule forever. That is who the Davidic son was to be, he was to be the Messiah – the Son of David, the Son of God. Of course David did have a son, Solomon, who built a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem and who reigned and ruled over a prosperous and happy kingdom. And yet, he was not the fulfilment of these verses. He was but a shadow of the future Davidic son, for Solomon would sin against God, and as is recorded in the version in 2 Samuel 7, the Lord would discipline him for his iniquity. Solomon’s heart would be lured away by his many foreign wives and he would turn to worship their gods rather than the true God. And so Solomon, and the kings of the line of David that came from him, did not bring in an eternal kingdom. Their kingdom collapsed and their rule was removed. And yet, hope remained that one day one would return to the throne of David to fulfil this promise of an eternal king, of God’s Son ruling and reigning forever. That’s what Isaiah is looking to in Isaiah 9, ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore’. (Isaiah 9:6–7) That is what the angels announce when they appear to Mary, ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ (Luke 1:31-33).
Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of David. He is the messianic monarch. That is what you arrive at when you bring these two quotations from verse 5 together. Psalm 2 declares Jesus to be the Son of God. 1 Chronicles 17 demonstrates that he is the Davidic Son of God. Psalm 2 proclaims that he is seated on a throne. 1 Chronicles 17 pronounces that it is the Davidic throne. The psalm written by David about the coronation of a king is actually about the coronation of his coming son. David wrote it for God’s son, perhaps not realising that it was about his own son as well. The Davidic Son.
2. The Divine Son
Having looked at Jesus, the messianic monarch, the author now turns to consider the angels. Specifically, how are the angels instructed to react to Jesus, this Davidic Son? ‘And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.”’ If you were to search your Bible to find where statement is taken from, it would take you a while to find it. Indeed, there is no place in the Old Testament that has this exact phrase. Psalm 97:7 and Deuteronomy 32:43 come close, but they don’t have this exact language. It is possible that the author had a manuscript that we no longer had and so is quoting a different version of these two passages. It is also possible that he is quoting from the Jewish Odes, a collection of songs that Jews inserted into the back of their psalter. It appears that they took the song of Moses from Deuteronomy 32 and inserted it into an extra section at the back of the Psalter so that they could sing it, and the wording found here matches a manuscript that we have of this section.
What is without doubt is the nature of the instruction given by God to the angels. They are commanded to worship him. This is the second step the author takes, first telling us that Jesus is the Davidic Son, now declaring that he is the Divine Son, for only God is to be worshiped. It not only declares his divinity, but it cements his superiority. John Owen points out, ‘without controversy, he who is to be worshipped is greater than they whose duty it is to worship him.’ Jesus is greater than the angels because they are to worship him.
Why are they to worship him? Well think with me when it is that they are told to do so. ‘And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says…’. There are two clarifications needed in order to understand what is being said. Firstly, where should the ‘again’ be placed? If you are reading in the KJV, you will find something pretty much identical to what I have read out from the ESV. It is placed at the start of the sentence, meaning that it is another quotation. However, if you are reading in the NKJV or NASB you will read something like, ‘But when he again brings the firstborn into the world, he says…’. There the again is placed in the middle of the sentence, imply that the coming into the world is a second coming. Many have taken this translation and then suggested that the angels are being told to worship Christ at his second coming. The problem with this is that the use of ‘again’ throughout Hebrews (e.g. 2:13; 4:5,7; 10:30) is to refer to an additional quotation. It is unlikely that reference is made here to Christ’s second coming.
If not his second coming, what is being referred to here as the occasion of the angels worshipping Christ? This turns on your interpretation of that term ‘world’. The most natural way to understand it is of course as the earth, i.e. Christ’s first coming. However, remember that the incarnation was his humiliation below the angels, not his exultation above them (Hebrews 2:9). Additionally, the word rendered world here is not ‘Kosmos’, the usual Greek term for earth or world. Instead, it is a term used to refer to a realm or domain. When God brings the firstborn into the domain, let all God’s angels worship him. Given the focus on the exultation of the Son at the right hand of the Majesty on high and his coronation, it is easy to conclude then that the angels are commanded to worship the firstborn as he enters into heaven as the victorious saviour.
They are to worship the firstborn. That is the word the author chooses to refer to Jesus. Indeed, it is often used to refer to Jesus. He is the ‘firstborn of all creation’ (Colossians 1:15). He was there in the beginning before anything else was made, indeed it is through him that the world was created. He is not only the Daividic Son, but he is the Divine Son. The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the ‘firstborn of the dead’ (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). This creator God came into this world to die at the hands of his creation, the Messiah was marred, the Son was sacrificed, our Creator was crucified. And worse, the firstborn was forsaken by God. And yet being the first born from the dead not only means that he died, but that he rose again, came up from the dead, sin and death defeated, the victorious firstborn stepped out of the tomb. Why? So that he may be ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ (Romans 8:29). He died and rose again so that he may bring many sons to glory. And on his return into heaven, as God brings him into that heavenly realm, seats him at his right hand and bestows on him the name that is above every other name, the angels are instructed to worship him. And surely we must do the same. He is worthy of our worship.
Hail, thou once despisèd Jesus!
Hail, Thou Galilean king!
Thou didst suffer to release us;
Thou didst free salvation bring.
Hail, Thou universal Savior,
bearer of our sin and shame!
By Thy merit we find favor;
life is given through Thy name.
Jesus, hail, enthroned in glory,
there forever to abide!
All the heav'nly host adore Thee,
seated at Thy Father's side.
There for sinners Thou art pleading;
there Thou dost our place prepare;
ever for us interceding,
till in glory we appear.
Worship, honor, pow'r, and blessing
Thou art worthy to receive;
highest praises, without ceasing,
meet it is for us to give.
Help, ye bright angelic spirits,
bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
help to sing our Savior's merits;
help to chant Immanuel's praise!
Jesus is the Davidic Son, but more, he is the Divine Son. Coming forth as the firstborn of the dead declared him to be the Son of God. He is worthy of the worship of angels, he is worthy of the worship of men. That is why we gather together, to worship him. But more than that, for this is why we exist, to glorify and honour and praise the Divine Son. ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’. (Romans 12:1) Worshipping the Divine, the Davidic Son, the one who is superior to all others.