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.
Our consideration of the Name of the Superior Son continues through the first chapter of Hebrews. From verse four to fourteen of this chapter the author is comparing and contrasting the excellent name of angels with the more excellent name of Jesus. He does it by reaching back into the Old Testament to see what God has said about them both. Seven quotations and a final statement he arranges into three sections, three specific ways that Jesus is supreme. There are at least three things we learn about Jesus in these verses – he is divine, eternal and royal. Jesus is God, Jesus is everlasting and Jesus is king. Verses 5-6 we see the Divine Son. Verses 7-12 we see the Eternal Son. Verses 13-14 we see the Royal Son. Each time these characteristics of Christ are drawn out of a comparison with the angels. Previously we noticed that they are worshippers, while he is to be worshipped – the Divine Son. He is both the son of God and son of David. The messianic monarch who is worthy of the worship of angels and men. We will soon consider that while they are servants, he is sovereign – the Royal Son.
But first, from verses 7-12 we understand that while they are temporary, he is timeless – Jesus is the Eternal Son. This aspects of the angels is clearly in focus as our section opens in verse 7, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’ Taken from Psalm 104:4, it fits perfectly into the flow of our chapters. Having just considered the worship of the angels in verse 6, the author moves into their worth. What is the constitution of angels? Where do they originate from? What is their nature? Notice two things that are said about them, for we shall see an almighty contrast between these servants and the son. First, they are created, ‘he makes…’. Angels are not eternal creatures. They may not die, they may live forever before God’s throne. However, they were not there in the very beginning. They are produced not permanent. They are temporary. There was a time when they were not. This aspect of angels is also apparent form the second thing to notice from verse 7. Consider the two forces that they are likened to – wind and flame. Both have long associations with the presence and power of God. And yet the wind passes and the flame flickers. They are prone to come and go, to flare up and fall back. They are transient. Not only are angels created, but they are changeable.
And so are we. Angels are compared to a flame; we are likened to a field. ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ (1 Peter 1:24-25). Within these verses we, who are withering and falling, can find an eternal foundation, an everlasting hope, the one that we can trust in and depend on forever. ‘Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.’ (Henry Francis Lyte). For having having drawn to our attention the temporary and transient servants of God, the author quickly moves to draw our eyes to the timeless son of God. They are like a wind blowing back and forth, while he is the mountain that does not move. They are a flickering flame, he is a consuming, constant, continuous fire. The Eternal Son.
The author picks two psalms to help us consider this characteristic of Christ. First turning to Psalm 45:6-7 and then Psalm 102:25-27 to draw out two great truths of his eternality. The Eternal Son has both an eternal rule and an eternal role. He has a rule that will stretch into all eternity and he has an enteral role that has stretched from all eternity.
His Eternal Rule – A Rule of Justice and Joy
Our previous simple summary was that ‘Jesus is better than angels because he is called the Son’ (D A Carson). Now we have a similarly simple summary, ‘Jesus is better than angels because God calls him God’ (DA Carson). That’s what verse 8 contains, ‘But of the Son [God] says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…’. Who can deny the deity of Jesus Christ when the Father has declared him divine? God proclaims that Jesus is a person of the Godhead. At this statement let any doubts that we have be dispelled, like Thomas’ were, and let us proclaim when confronted with the crucified and resurrected Christ, ‘My Lord and my God.’ (John 20:28)
However, as before, while this simple summary is sufficient, it only starches the surface of what the author compiles for us in these verses. Having used the coronation psalm of Psalm 2, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. You are my son, today I have begotten you.’ (Psalm 2:6-7), to place Christ on the throne, the throne of his father David, ‘I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son…I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.’ (1 Chronicles 17:10–14), the author now tells us that this throne, the rule and reign of our King, will be ‘forever and ever’. The author calls us to consider the eternal rule of the eternal Son. He tells us of what Peter will describe as ‘the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:11). What does he tells us about this eternal rule? He tells us it is a rule of justice and joy.
Rule of Justice
It is a rule of justice, ‘the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness…’. The world that we live in is not always just. Indeed, sometimes we express this when we tell others that they need to learn that ‘life isn’t fair’. Even here in the United Kingdom, with good courts and a right to a fair trial, justice is not always administered. Every year scores of men are woman are released from jails having spent years, even decades within their walls, finally being found innocent of the crimes they were judged guilty of. And it is not just in the courtroom, but often the circumstances of our lives don’t seem fair. Whether at home or work, in our families or among our friends, in the streets or in the hospital, bad things do happen to nice people. Hebrews calls us to consider a kingdom where justice is always delivered. Where what is done is right. Where there is a king with a sceptre of uprightness.
We looked before at the coronation of our current Queen. If you go back and watch the videos you will see that during the coronation ceremony she is given a number of items as symbols of her power and position. She is given a Bible to remind her of her obligations to God and the gospel. She is given a royal robe that is to symbolise the knowledge and wisdom that she is to be clothed with. Finally, before the crown is place on her head, she is given the sceptre, a long rod with a diamond on the end symbolising her power. Christ sits enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high with a sceptre in his hand, a symbol of his power and authority. ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…’ (Matthew 28:18). And this power, this sceptre, is always administered rightly, justly. His rule is one where all wrongs are righted and fairness flourishes forever.
The promise of his coming kingdom is a comfort for all of Christ’s people here in this world. If this morning we do not taste the fullness of this hope, it is perhaps because we have not yet experienced the injustice of this world. If we were being tortured or tormented, burnt or beheaded, if our families were taken from us or if our homes burnt down in front of us, if this world treated us like it did our forefathers or our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Somalia or North Korea today, we might have a greater longing for the heavenly justice and eternal reign of Jesus Christ.
The Christians who received this book of Hebrews were about the sip from the cup of suffering. In a few years their bodies would be burnt to provide light at the emperor’s garden parties, or given to be food for the lions. Already their property is being plundered and they have been publically shamed for being Christians (Hebrews 10:32-34). Before they pass through the next period of persecution, the author reminds, if we were to put it in the words of Isaiah, ‘Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.’ (Isaiah 32:1-2).
Not only is there a rule of righteousness, but there is a ruler who loves righteousness and hates wickedness. How much did Jesus love righteousness? Enough that ‘he himself bore our own sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.’ (1 Peter 2:24) How much did Christ hate the wickedness that had engulfed this world? Enough to come into this world of wicked men, to be delivered into the hands of wicked men, to die the death of a wicked man. He hated wickedness so much, such was his love for righteousness, that we would come to turn the wicked into the righteous. To save us from the kingdom of death and transfer us into his kingdom of life, transforming us into the very righteousness that he loves. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). His rule is a rule of justice. So much so that he would be condemned by that justice in our place, so that he might win wicked for himself and make them righteous like himself.
Rule of Joy
His rule is also a rule of joy. His love for righteous and his hatred for wickedness leads to joy. ‘Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness….’. We don’t really do anointing anymore. But again we can turn to the Queen’s coronation to understand the nature of what is usually a special moment of dedication. In the ancient and biblical world, there are lots of occasions where anointing occurred. Prophets, priests and kings were all anointed in the Old Testament. Usually there is a sense of solemn consecration. However, anointing with oil can point to a joyful celebration (Psalm 133:1-2). In this quotation from Psalm 45 it is the later, with the oil being used being described as the oil of gladness.
Jesus Christ, the day before he was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, was anointed with ointment. The flask was broken and its costly contents poured over the head of Christ. It was a beautiful thing, a sign of love and devotion. But ultimately it was done to anoint his body of burial (Mark 14:3-8). It was an anointing for the grave. Now, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of his Father, Jesus is again anointed, not with the oil of the grave but with the oil of gladness. A celebration at Christ’s coronation, of righteousness’s victory over wickedness! It is this joy that he had been heading towards while on earth, looking forward to in those hours of darkness. ‘Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2)
His rule is a one of joy, and not just for himself, for God has ‘anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ The King is the one who has the most joy, and yet his joy has overflowed and is the joy of his companions. That word ‘companions’ is used again to mean ‘partners’ or sharers’ in Hebrews 3:14. Those who are united to him share in his joy. The night after he was anointed with oil in preparation for burial, even as he was walking to the garden to be handed over into the hands of those wicked men, he would turn to his disciples and declare, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.’ (John 15:11) The joy of Jesus is offered to all of those who would be joined to him.
This is seen so well in Psalm 45 itself, where this quotation is taken from. The psalm itself is a love song, written from the perspective of a servant singing to his king (Psalm 45:1). He spends verses 2-9 singing about the goodness and greatness of his King, including penning the words in verses 6-7 quoted in Hebrews. He finishes this section of the psalm by stating ‘at your right hand standings the queen in gold of Ophir’. This king has a queen. And the servant turns in the rest of the psalm to sing to this queen, calling for her to love and obey her king, describing the beauty of this queen, who is led with her companions with joy and gladness into the palace of this king (Psalm 45:15).
Christians, as we look at this king and consider his rule of justice and joy, let us rejoice and give thanks that we, Christ’s church, are his bride. That we are the queen of this king. For just as the Son is at the right hand of the Father, we shall be at the right hand of the Son. We are the ones who will share in his joy. We will enter into his palace with joy and gladness. We, being his companions, will be anointed with the oil of gladness. For in his presence there is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Not just once, or twice, but forever. His throne is forever and ever, and so his rule will be eternal. His eternal rule is a rule of justice and joy.
His Eternal Role – A Role at Creation and Consummation
In verses 10-12 the Son is presented as the one who was there in the beginning and will be there at the end. This is perhaps where the contrast with the angels is clearest. If you remember that they were created and changeable. They were made and their role was likened to wind and flame. The son is declared here to be the constant and continuous. He is the eternal son. The one who had a role in creation and has a role in consummation. Here he is revealed to us just as he describes himself in Revelation 22:13, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
The author has already highlighted the superior son’s role in creation, for ‘through him also he created the world.’ (Hebrews 1:2). Here he is described as the one who laid the foundations of the earth at the very beginning. Like a builder will come along and lay the foundations of a house before any other work can take place, the son was there at the very beginning to lay the foundations of our world. Not only is he like a builder but Tom Schreiner points out he is also an artist. ‘The heavens are the work of your hands.’ His hands were the hands that set the stars in the sky. He was the one that placed the planets in their position.
Jesus Christ is superior to angels because he had a hand in creation. He is the creator, which means he was around when it all happened. Before there was anything, even before there were angels, Jesus Christ existed. John declares, ‘He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.’ (John 1:2-3) Jesus himself could say, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am…’ (John 8:58). He existed then. He has always existed. He is the Eternal Son, the one who was there in the beginning.
He is also the one who will be there at the very end. This earth that he founded, the heavens which he has crafted, will one day perish. This earth which we are in is a temporary world. However many thousands, or millions of years, it lasts, it will not last forever. The angels are temporary. We are temporary. This world is temporary. But the Son is eternal. When it comes time for the world to end, he shall remain forever. That’s what the images in verses 11 and 12 describe. ‘They will all wear out like a garment.’ Just like a pair of trousers or a jacket wears out, this world will wear away. And when it does, the Son will be there to bring it all to an end, for ‘like a robe you will roll them up’. The Son started it all in the beginning and he will finish it all in the end. For now he ‘upholds the universe by the word of his power’ (Hebrews 1:3), but in a future day his voice will turn to shake this world and bring it to its end leaving only his own his kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:26-29).
He will not only roll this world up like a robe, but like a garment he will change it. The Creator will bring in a new creation, with a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Already he has started this new creation by transforming the wicked into righteous and transferring them into his Kingdom. But on day not only his people, but this world will be changed. A new world will emerge where that rule of justice and joy will be established. Where all wrongs are righted and fairness flourishes forever. Where those who are joined to him by faith will enjoy his joy forever. This is the Christian hope. This is the future we look to in faith to fuel the fights we face now.
We can remain faithful to him now, despite the disappointments and difficulties, regardless of the wrongs , in spite of the sorrows and sufferings, because we know that this is not how the story ends. We can resist the empty promises of this world, the lusts of the eyes and of the flesh, the deceitful desires of our heart that draw us into finding our joy and satisfaction in the here and now rather than then because we know that ‘the present form of this world is passing away.’ (1 Corinthians 7:31) And while this world is passing away, he shall remain, he will always be the same. ‘Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:8)
The Christian hope is built on, relies upon, the Eternal Son. The one who has an eternal rule of justice and joy and an eternal role at creation and consummation. ‘The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine, but God who called me here below, will be forever mine. When we’ve been there, ten thousand years, bring shinning as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.’ (John Newton)