EXORDIUM intimating in a succession of choice and pregnant phrases, the drift of the Epistle; a condensed summary of the coming argument. It briefly anticipates the views to be set forth in the sequel, of the revelation of God in Christ excelling far, and being destined to supersede, all that had preceded it, as being the ultimate Divine manifestation in the SON , according to the full meaning of the term involved in ancient prophecy;—of the eternal Divinity of him who was thus revealed in time as SON —of his accomplishing, as such, the reality signified by the ancient priesthood; and of his exaltation, as such, to his predestined glory and dominion on high. We find in the introduction to some of St. Paul's Epistles somewhat similar adumbrations of his subject, but none so finished and rhetorical as this. And if its style affords an argument, as far as it goes, against the immediate Pauline authorship of the Epistle, still more does it appear almost conclusive against the view of its being a translation. Not merely the alliteration in πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως , but the Greek structure of the whole with its rhythmical flow, betokens an original composition. The rolling music of the language cannot, of course, be reproduced in an English translation.
Having become by so much better than the angels as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they ( διαφορωτέρον παρ αὐτοὺς ). (For the same Greek form of comparison, see Hebrews 1:9 ; Hebrews 3:3 ) " παρα ingentem printer caeteros excellentiam denotat" (Bengel). This verse, though, in respect of grammatical construction, it is the conclusion of the exordium, serves as the thesis of the first section of the argument to follow, the drift of which is to show the SON 'S superiority to the angels. The mention of the angels comes naturally after the allusion to Psalms 110:1-7 ., viewed and quoted as it is afterwards in connection with Psalms 8:1-9 ., in which " a little lower than the angels" is taken to denote the state previous to the exaltation; and it is preparatory also for the argument that follows. The more distinguished name, expressing the measure of superiority to the angels, is (as the sequel shows) the name of SON , assigned (as aforesaid) to the Messiah in prophecy, and so, with all that it implies, "inherited" by him in time according to the Divine purpose. Observe the perfect, "hath inherited," instead of the aorist as hitherto, denotes, with the usual force of the Greek tense, the continuance of the inheritance obtained. It' we have entered into the view all along taken by the writer, we shall see no difficulty in the SON being said to have become better than the angels at the time of his exaltation, as though he had been below them before. So he had in respect of his assumed humanity, and it is to the SON denoted in prophecy to be humanly manifested in time that the whole sentence in its main purport refers. As such, having been, with us, lower than the angels, he became greater, the interposed references to his eternal personality retaining their full force notwithstanding. But why should the name of SON in itself imply superiority to the angels? Angels themselves are, in the Old Testament, called "sons of God." It has been suggested that the writer of the Epistle was not aware of the angels being so designated, since the LXX ., from which he invariably quotes, renders מילִאֶ ינִףְ by ἀγγέλοι . But this is not so invariably. In Genesis 6:1 ; Psalms 29:1 ; and Psalms 89:7 , we find υἱοί θεοῦ . And, whatever be the application of the words in each of these passages, they at any rate occur in the LXX . as denoting others than the Messiah. Nor, in any case, would it be easily supposable that one so versed in biblical lore as the writer must have been had been thus misled in so important a point of his argument. The fact is that his argument, properly understood, is quite consistent with a full knowledge of the fact that others as well as the Messiah are so designated. For it is not merely the term "Son" as applied to the Messiah in prophecy, but the unique manner in which it is so applied, that is insisted on in what follows. The form of his commencement shows this. He does not say, "Whom, except the Messiah, did he ever call Son?" but, "To which of the angels did he ever speak as follows, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee?" In language generally the meaning of a word may depend very materially on the context in which it occurs and other determining circumstances. Indeed, the mere use of the title in the singular, "my Son," carries with it a different idea from its use in the plural of a class of beings. But this is not all. A series of passages from the Old Testament is adduced by way of expressly showing that the sonship assigned to the Messiah carries with it the idea of a relation to God altogether beyond any ever assigned to angels. Such is the position of the writer. We shall see in the sequel how He makes it good.
Heb 1:5-3:1.— THE SON SUPERIOR TO THE ANGELS . Here the argumentation of the Epistle begins, the thesis of the first section of the argument having been given, as aforesaid, in the preceding verse, that "the SON is superior to the angels." The second section begins at Hebrews 3:1 , the thesis being that "the SON is superior to Moses." Through angels and Moses the Law was given: "Ordained through angels in the hand of a mediator" ( Galatians 3:19 ), the "mediator" being Moses. To show that the Son, in the Old Testament itself, is represented as above both, is to show, what it is the main purpose of the whole Epistle to establish, that the gospel, given through the SON , is above the Law, and intended to supersede it. The conclusion is that the gospel stands in the same relation to the Law as does the Son to angels, who are but "ministering spirits," and to Moses, who was but a "servant." With regard to the agency of angels in the giving of the Law, we do not find it so evident in the Old Testament as might have been expected from the references to it in the New. The "angel of Lord," who appeared to Moses ( Exodus 3:2 ) and went before the people ( Exodus 14:19 ; Exodus 23:1-33 . 20, etc), seems in the earlier books of the Bible to signify a certain presence and manifestation of the Lend himself, rather than a created minister of his will (see Genesis 16:7 , Genesis 16:13 ; Genesis 22:15 , Genesis 22:16 ; Exodus 3:2 , Exodus 3:4 ; Exodus 23:1-33 . 20, 21; of. Acts 7:31 , Acts 7:35 , Acts 7:38 ); and this has been identified by theologians with the Word, not yet incarnate, through whom all Divine communications have been made to men. It is to be observed, however, that, after the sin of the golden calf, a distinction seems to be made between the presence of the Lend with his people and that of the angel to be thenceforth sent before them ( Exodus 33:2 , Exodus 33:3 ). Ebrard sees in the "angel of the LORD " generally, though understood as signifying a Divine presence, a justification of the statement that the Law was given "through angels," on the ground that, though God did so manifest himself, it was not a direct manifestation, as in the Son, but through forms borrowed from the sphere of the angels. It was an angelophany, denoting an unseen Divine presence, not a true theophany. The only distinct allusion to "angels," in the plural, in connection with the giving of the Law, is in Deuteronomy 33:2 , "He came with ten thousands of saints;" with which comp. Psalms 68:17 . But there is no doubt that it came afterwards to be the accepted rabbinical view that the dispensers of the Law were angels—whether as attendants on the Divine Majesty, or as agents of the fiery phenomena on Mount Sinai (natural operations being often attributed to angels), or as the utterers of the voice that was heard. "Locutus est Deus per angeles" (Bengel). And the writers of the New Testament plainly recognize this view (see below, Hebrews 2:2 ; Acts 7:53 ; Galatians 3:19 ). Hence our author takes for granted that his readers will understand and recognize it, and so implies it in his argument, expressing, as it does, a true conception of the nature of the Mosaic dispensation, and especially of its relation to the gospel. To resume our view of the argument that follows. The first section (as aforesaid) is from Hebrews 1:5 to Hebrews 3:1 , having for its thesis the superiority of the SON to angels. The second section is from Hebrews 3:1 to Hebrews 5:1 , having for its thesis the superiority of the Son to Moses. Each section consists of two main divisions, between which in each ease an appropriate exhortation is interposed; the first division in each ease treating of what the Son is in his own person, the second of his work for man; and both sections leading separately to the conclusion that he is the High Priest of humanity. Then, in Hebrews 5:1-14 ., the subject of his priesthood is taken up. Ebrard happily illustrates the symmetrical plan of the argument thus: "The author, having thus been led from these two different starting-points to the idea of the ἀρχιερεύς , now proceeds to place on the two first parts, which may be viewed as the pillars of the arch, the third part, which forms the keystone." In this third part it begins to be shown, at Hebrews 5:1 , how Christ fulfilled in his humanity the essential idea of priesthood. But, for reasons that will appear, the full doctrine of his eternal priesthood is not entered upon till Heb 7:1—10:19, which may be called the central portion of the whole Epistle. The remainder ( Hebrews 10:20 —end) may be distinguished from the rest as being the distinctly hortatory part (though her-ration has been frequently interposed in the argument), being mainly devoted to practical application of the doctrine that has been established. The following plan of the argument of the first two sections, showing the parallelism between them, may assist us in entering into it as it proceeds:—
Thesis: Christ superior to the angels.
Division 1 (Heb 1:5-2:1).
The name SON , as applied to the typical theocratic kings, and in its final reference and full meaning (as you all acknowledge) pointing to the Messiah, expresses a position altogether above any assigned anywhere to angels. The Son is represented as one associated with God in his majesty, a sharer of his everlasting throne. Angels are referred to only as ministering spirits or attendant worshippers at the Son's advent.
Interposed exhortation ( Hebrews 2:1-5 ). This being so, beware of not appreciating the revelation now given in the Son. In transgression of the Law given through angels was so severely visited, what will be the consequence of neglecting this, accredited to us as it has been?
Division 2 (Heb 2:5-3:1).
The Son also, but never angels, is denoted in prophecy as Lord of the coming age. For the eighth psalm (based on and carrying out the idea of the account in Genesis of the original creation) assigns a supremacy over all created things to man. Man, as he is now, does not fulfill the ideal of his destiny. But Christ, as Son of man, in his exaltation, does. And in him man attains his destined dignity forfeited through sin. His humiliation, suffering and death were for the purpose of thus raising man. His humiliation with this and was a design worthy of God, and in accordance with the purport of Messianic prophecy. For such prophecy intimates association and sympathy of the Messiah with his human brethren. Thus Christ, the SON , is the sympathizing High Priest of humanity.
Thesis: Christ superior to Moses.
Division 1 ( Hebrews 3:1-7 ).
Moses is represented in the Old Testament as but a servant in the house of God. The SON is lord over the house.
Interposed exhortation (Heb 3:7-4:1). This being so, beware of hardening your hearts, like the Israelites under Moses. If they failed, through unbelief, of entering into the rest offered to them, you may similarly fail of entering into the rest intended for you.
Division 2 (Heb 4:1-5:1).
A rest, symbolized by that of the promised land, is still offered to you, and you may enter into it. The ninetieth psalm shows that the rest into which Joshua led the Israelites was not the final one intended for God's people. The true rest is the rest of God himself (" my rest," Psalms 90:1-17 ), spoken of in the account of the creation—the sabbath rest of eternity. Christ, after sharing our human trials, has passed into that eternal rest, and won an entrance into it for us. Thus, again, a renewed exhortation being interposed, Christ, the SON , is again set forth as the sympathizing High Priest of humanity.
The glory of the God-Man. So soon as the apostle mentions the "Son," there spreads out before his mind a vast expanse of the territory of revelation—the loftiest shining table-land of truth which the Scriptures open to our gaze. Indeed, this sentence supplies a sublime basis for all true Christology. It describes at once the Redeemer's essential glory as the pre-existent One, and his mediatorial glory as the incarnate Messiah.
I. THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN RELATION TO GOD . The clauses which speak of this solemnize us by their mystery, and dazzle us by their splendor.
1. He is the Son of God. ( Hebrews 1:2 ) "Son" is not merely an official title; it designates the natural and eternal relation of the Second Person of the Godhead to the First. Christ is God's "only-begotten Son"—his Son in a sense absolutely unique, as implying sameness of essence with the Father.
2. He is the Manifestation of God. ( Hebrews 1:3 ) "The effulgence of his glory;"— i.e. Christ is an eternal radiation of splendor from the majesty of the absolute Jehovah. He is "Light of [from] light." The rays which stream from the sun reveal the sun itself; so Christ is the ever-visible radiance of the unapproachable Light. We have but to look to him who is "the Word" for a display of the attributes and perfections of Deity.
3. He is the Counterpart of God. ( Hebrews 1:3 ) "The very image of his substance," i.e. the adequate imprint of his substantial essence. The Shechinah in the tabernacle had not the personal form of God; but the Son bears his real and perfect likeness. Christ has upon himself the exact impress of Deity. He is the Father's alter ego—his very image. "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." So perfectly does the Son bear the impress of God, that he could say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
II. THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE . What is said on this point proves his Deity, the very same acts and prerogatives being elsewhere ascribed to God.
1. He is its Creator. ( Hebrews 1:2 ) The life of the God-Man did not begin only nineteen centuries ago. He is himself" the Beginning "—the Alpha—the Firstborn before every creature ( Colossians 1:15-18 ). He made the natural universe—every star that adorns the arch of night. He ordained all periods and dispensations ("ages")—all geological formations, all historical eras, all economies of religion.
2. He is its Sustainer. ( Hebrews 1:3 ) It is his fiat that holds the universe together. "In him all things consist." On his fingers hang the suns and systems of immensity. It is the Lord Christ who adjusts and governs all the tremendous forces—physical, intellectual, and spiritual—which operate throughout creation. The pulses of universal life are regulated by the throbbing of his mighty heart. He is the Soul of providence, and the Center of history.
3. He is its Possessor. "Whom he appointed Heir of all things." ( Hebrews 1:2 ) As the Son of God, Christ received this appointment and gift in the past eternity. As the God-Man, his Father has constituted him, by another deed of gift, the mediatorial Monarch of the universe. The keys of death and of Hades hang at his girdle. He is the Lord of angels. He has "authority over all flesh." His own people are his peculiar inheritance—the very jewels of his crown.
III. THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN RELATION TO THE CHURCH . The Lord's mediatorial honors have cast a new luster over even his original renown.
1. He is its Prophet. ( Hebrews 1:2 ) It is as the Teacher of the Church that the writer introduces his name in this magnificent prologue. The eternal "Logos"—the manifestation and counterpart of God—has become "the light of the world." When on earth he taught his followers by personal instruction; and now that he is in heaven, he enlightens the Church by his Word and by the influences of his Spirit.
2. He is its Priest. ( Hebrews 1:3 ) Jesus is more than a teacher, and his gospel is more than simply a philosophy. Mankind, being sinners, have not liberty of access to God; we need some one to approach God on our behalf. We require a priest, and an altar with a sacrifice on it, in order to the "purification of sins." Now, Christ is our Priest. He made "purification" eighteen centuries ago by his life in Palestine and his death on Calvary. He accomplished a work of expiation—an objective atonement. And the efficacy of his sacrifice is chiefly due to the infinite dignity of his person as "the effulgence of God's glory, and the very image of his substance."
3. He is its King. ( Hebrews 1:3 ) This royalty is the reward of his work of "purification." Having made perfect satisfaction for human sin, he ascended on high and sat down upon the throne of sovereign authority. From the right hand of the Father, as the place of supereminent dignity and power, he rules his people by the might of his cross. The "Heir of all things" is fully qualified to be the Head of the Church, and Head over all for the advantage of the Church. The loftiest seraph is immeasurably his inferior. Jesus has been raised as high above Michael and Gabriel as he was eternally above them, and as he therefore inherited a more illustrious name than they ( Hebrews 1:4 ). in conclusion, why does the apostle expatiate thus upon the greatness and glory of the Prophet of the New Testament? Not merely because he delights to do so; but rather, also, to attract our hearts to the love and worship and service of the Lord Jesus, whose creatures we are, and to whom we belong by the purchase of his blessed blood.
Christ greater than the angels.
The Jews used to boast that their Law had been given at Sinai by the instrumentality of angels; and they concluded from this that the Mosaic dispensation would continue as long as the world itself. But the apostle asserts here that the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, is immeasurably greater than the angels; and he supports his assertion with abundant evidence from the Hebrew Scriptures. Hebrews 1:4 supplies us with the key to this whole passage. The quotations which follow illustrate from the Old Testament the two statements of that verse, while they also justify the glorious titles and prerogatives directly ascribed to the Redeemer in Hebrews 1:2 and Hebrews 1:3 .
I. CHRIST HAS HAD FROM ETERNITY AN ESSENTIAL NATURE HIGHER THAN THE ANGELS . "He hath inherited a more excellent name than they." Names in modern times are generally quite inexpressive—mere labels affixed to individuals to distinguish them from others; but among the Jews it was otherwise. The names of God, especially, symbolized attributes of his character. So, Christ's "Name" expresses his nature.
1. He is God's Son. ( Hebrews 1:5 ) In Psalms 2:1-12 . we hear his own voice rehearsing from his Father's counsel the decree of his eternal sonship. That decree dates from everlasting; but it was to be "declared" again and again, and particularly by the event of his resurrection ( Romans 1:4 ). Even Nathan the prophet had proclaimed it to David ( 2 Samuel 7:14 ) in his prophecy respecting Solomon and "a greater than Solomon."
2. He is Elohim. ( Psalms 2:8 , Psalms 2:9 ) The two highest Old Testament names of God are Elohim and Jehovah : none are more distinctive of Deity than these. So Psalms 45:6 is one of the great proof-texts for the supreme divinity of Christ. There the psalmist addresses the coming mediatorial King as God himself, by-and-by to be clothed in human nature. He was to fulfill all righteousness for man, and to be invested as the God-Man with the sceptre of supreme authority above all his brethren of mankind.
3. He is Jehovah. ( Psalms 45:10-12 ) The idea conveyed by this Divine name is that of self-existence. Now, the apostle does not hesitate here to apply to Christ the language of Psalms 102:1-28 .—a Jehovistic psalm—in celebration of the eternity and majesty of the Eternal. The Covenant-Deliverer of captive Zion is none other than Jehovah Jesus. It was he who created the universe; and he shall remain unchanged—the everlasting Stay and Strength of his children—after the heavens shall be no more. For he is the I AM . Immutability is one of his glories. Contrast now with this the name and nature of the angels. God nowhere addresses any one of them as his "Son." No angel is called Jehovah. None receives the name Elohim in the way in which this appellation is given to Christ. Instead of that, the angels are created beings ( Psalms 102:7 ). They are servants of God, who in their qualities and uses resemble the winds and the lightning. The cherubim fly swiftly like the "winds;" the seraphim burn with holy ardor like a "flame of fire." The Son of God is not the peer of the angels: he is Jehovah Elohim; and the loftiest spirits in the heavenly hierarchy are his creatures.
II. CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED IN TIME TO A PROPORTIONATELY HIGHER OFFICIAL POSITION . "Having become by so much better than the angels." He became superior to the angels in his official capacity as the God-Man Mediator—as much superior as he had been from the beginning in his essential nature. His mediatorial pre-eminence began clearly to appear nineteen hundred years ago, in connection both with his humiliation and his exaltation.
1. When on earth, Jesus received angelic worship. ( Psalms 102:6 ) This had been predicted in Psalms 97:1-12 . And, accordingly, when Christ became incarnate, angels thronged round his manger-cradle, proclaiming his advent, and celebrating it in a burst of choral praise. Angels ministered to him after the temptation, and sustained him under his great agony. Angels attended at his resurrection, and haunted for a time his empty tomb. Angels encompassed him in his final ascension to glory.
2. Now, in heaven, he sits on God's right hand. (Verse 13) His official exaltation had been predicted in Psalms 110:1-7 . God never said, "Sit thou on my right hand" to any angel, i.e. to any creature. Therefore the illustrious Priest-King of that psalm is not a creature; and, if not a creature, he must be the Creator. The session of the Mediator at the right hand of Jehovah implies that the entire universe is subject to his scepter. He employs the holy angels, and he controls and restrains the "spiritual hosts of wickedness." Contrast now with this the official position of the angels (verse 14).
Learn in conclusion:
1. The plenary inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures. The author quotes what Nathan and David and the other psalmists said, as being the words of God himself. He is evidently fully persuaded that the Old Testament writers express with superhuman insight the very mind of God regarding his incarnate Son.
2. The reality of the angel world and of angel help. It seems to be always difficult for the Church to hold, in its scriptural purity, the doctrine of the angels. On this subject may be noticed the rationalistic error, the Gnostic error, the Romish error, and. the Protestant error. Many Protestants give no place in their living faith to the truth about the angels.
3. The necessity of living for the glory of our Divine Redeemer. An intellectual persuasion of his true Godhead is not enough; we must take home the sublime Christology of this chapter to our hearts, and allow it, by its power reigning: within us, to mould and guide our entire lives.
The exaltation of the Son of God above the angels of God.
"Being made so much better than the angels," etc. The angels of God are great and exalted beings. Our Lord spake of them as "holy angels" ( Matthew 25:31 ). David said they "excel in strength" ( Psalms 103:20 ). St. Paul designates them "his mighty angels' ( 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ). Deeds involving stupendous power are ascribed to them ( Isaiah 37:36 ; Acts 12:7-11 ). They are said to be "full of eyes," to indicate their great intelligence ( Revelation 4:6 , Revelation 4:8 ). They are represented as occupying a most exalted position and. offering the highest worship ( Isaiah 6:1-3 ). In their ranks the highest order of created beings is to be found ( Ephesians 1:21 ; Colossians 1:16 ). But our Lord is greater than the angels.
I. IS THE PRE - EMINENCE OF HIS NAME . "He hath inherited a more excellent name than they."
1. The pre-eminent name—the Son of God. This appears from Hebrews 1:5 , "For unto which of the angels," etc.? The first quotation is from Psalms 2:1-12 ., which is generally regarded as Messianic. The second is from 2 Samuel 7:14 , which is applicable primarily to Solomon, but principally to him who is both "the Root and the Offspring of David." Angels are called "sons of God" in the sacred Scriptures ( Job 1:6 ; Job 2:1 ; Job 38:7 ); so also are true Christians ( John 1:12 ; 1 John 3:1 , 1 John 3:2 ). But to One only is given the title the Son of God, even to "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father," and of whom the Father speaks as "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It is probable that in this name there is a depth of significance, a height of dignity, and a fullness of glory of which at present we have little or no conception.
2. The acquisition of this name. "He hath by inheritance obtained" it. "He hath inherited" it:
II. IN THE CORRESPONDING PRE - EMINENCE OF HIS NATURE . Names and titles in the sacred writings, generally speaking, are neither given for their euphony, nor are they merely complimentary, but they express realities in the circumstances, or character, or calling of the person to whom they are applied. This is especially the case in respect to the Son of God. "The dignity of his titles is indicative of his essential rank." He is called the Son of God because he is the Son of God in a peculiar and exclusive sense. The name is indicative of his nature, which is essentially Divine.
III. IN HIS CORRESPONDING PRE - EMINENCE AS MEDIATOR . "Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath," etc; Revised Version, "Having become by so much better than the angels," etc. The "having become" refers to the exaltation of our Lord in his humanity. In like manner it seems to us that the "This day have I begotten thee" refers to his resurrection from the dead. St. Paul certainly applied the words thus ( Acts 13:32 , Acts 13:33 ). And he writes, God's "Son, who was born of the seed, of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection of the dead, even Jesus Christ our Lord. " And St. John speaks of "Jesus Christ, the First-begotten of the dead" ( Revelation 1:5 ). We conclude, then, that "begotten" is used figuratively, and that by it is intended the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and his exaltation to his mediatorial throne. And this brings us to our present point, which the fourth verse teaches us, that the exaltation of our Lord consequent upon the completion of his redemptive work upon earth is commensurate with the exaltation of his essential nature; or, that his glory as Mediator corresponds with the dignity of his name and nature. Alford: "Observe, that the κρείττων γενόμενος is not identical with the κεκληρονόμηκεν , but in proportion to it: the triumphant issue of his mediation is consonant to the glorious name which is his by inheritance; but which, in the fullness of its present inconceivable glory, has been put on and taken up by him in the historical process of his mediatorial humiliation and triumph." The redemption of humanity was an undertaking beyond all human power, and transcending even angelic wisdom, love, and might. Its accomplishment demanded the resources of Godhead. Our Lord has redeemed man in a manner worthy of himself as Son of God, and his exaltation as Redeemer corresponds with the pre-eminence of his transcendent Name. And more, this "exaltation must be conceived of as belonging, not to his humanity only, but to the entire undivided person of Christ, now resuming the fullness and glory of the Godhead ( John 17:5 ), and in addition to this having taken into the Godhead the manhood, now glorified by his obedience, atonement, and victory (see Ephesians 1:20-22 ; Philippians 2:6-9 ; Acts 2:36 ; 1 Peter 3:21 , 1 Peter 3:22 ). The Son of God before his incarnation was Head over creation; but after his work in the flesh he had become also Head of creation, inasmuch as his glorified body, in which he triumphs sitting at God's right hand, is itself created, and is the sum and the center of creation" (Alford).
1. Let his pre-eminence as Mediator inspire us with, confidence in him as our Savior.
2. Let his essential lore-eminence inspire us with adoring reverence towards him.— W. J.
The greatness of the angels revealing the greatness of the Lord.
Our ideas with regard to the angels are mostly vague, or poetic, or formal, never evoking holy thought or inspiring praise, or breathing on our soul an hour's calm, or strengthening us to strike a blow at sin. We think there is nothing practical about the doctrine of angels, and so we pass it by. We have Christ, we say; we do not need the angels; they who have the king overlook the courtiers. Yet a considerable portion of Scripture is Occupied with instruction concerning them. So we conclude there is great spiritual worth in the Bible doctrine of angels, if we understand it right. What this is we may gather from the purpose of the passage before us. To discover the reason for which the writer here dwells on it at length is to have the key to the question—What benefit can this doctrine afford to our spiritual life? The writer's aim is to show that the new revelation is better than the old, and to this end he sets forth the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatness of Christ is his theme, and in unfolding this he begins with the doctrine of angels; and there we see the use of the doctrine. By an adequate knowledge of the angels we arrive at a more adequate knowledge of Christ; their greatness, who are his creatures and servants, affords a fuller conception of his own glorious majesty. The subject, therefore, is—The greatness of the angels revealing the greatness of the Lord.
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE ANGELS . This is implied in the fourth verse—" having become by so much better than the angels." Unless they were most exalted, the writer could not venture to bring Christ into comparison with them. How great must they be of whom it can be written that Christ is greater! Let us think of them briefly. We might almost assume, apart from Scripture, that angelic beings exist. In other departments of nature there is a regular gradation from lower to higher forms of life; it is therefore improbable that man is the only creature of his order. Man's powers are so limited that there is evidently room for a race, or indeed for an ascending series of races, of intelligent beings superior to man. Moreover, when we consider the greatness of God, and the worship and love and service due to him, it is hardly conceivable that the dwellers on one small planet are the only creatures in the universe capable of rendering these. Nor can we imagine that, if man had not been created, God would have been left without worshippers, or that when men fell there were none left to praise him. When we turn to Scripture this assumption is confirmed. There we read of "principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world;" an "innumerable company of angels;" angel and archangel, cherubim and seraphim; "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands."
1. Think of the sublime position of these celestial beings. As in Isaiah 6:1-3 or Revelation 5:11 . They have nearest access to Jehovah, surround his throne, attend his Person, behold his glory. That future blessedness which is the highest hope of the people of God is already inherited, to a great degree, by the angels. They are at home in heaven.
2. Think of their holy character, With no human imperfection, no stain of sin, for ever beholding the holiness of the Most Holy, how perfectly they must reflect his holy image!
"Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
That stands within thy searching sight,
And shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on thee!"
3. Think of their glorious nature. "His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow, and for fear of him the keepers became as dead men;" "I saw another mighty angel clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." The "living creatures" were "full of eyes before and behind." Some are called "seraphim," i.e. burning ones. The cherubim were described by a combined symbol of man, lion, eagle, ox, i.e. utmost intelligence, strength, flight, and service.
4. Think of their exalted work. See instances in Scripture of the varied and high missions of judgment and mercy and ministry on which they are sent. They serve the King ceaselessly. Our prayer for earth is that the Divine will may be done here as in heaven. Jacob's vision is always being fulfilled, and the ancient hymn of the Church, "To thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens," etc.
II. THE GREATNESS OF THE ANGELS REVEALS THE GREATNESS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST . That is the substance of Revelation 5:5-13 . These verses consist of a series of quotations from the Book of Psalms. From certain psalms (which were applied to Christ) the writer draws certain statements with regard to our Lord, and the angels, and he uses these to show that the greatness of the angels illustrates the surpassing greatness of the Redeemer. There are, thus, three lines of contrast drawn here.
1. Christ is the God whom these exalted angels worship. (Verses 5, 6) In a sense peculiar to himself the Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son. Others may be sons of God, but he is the" Only-begotten, " which must mean equality and oneness with the Father; for he who commands, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only," says also of Christ, "And let all the angels of God worship him." Christ the supreme Object of the worship of these exalted and innumerable angelic beings. Rank above rank, angel and archangel, principality and power, cherubim and seraphim, rise in the order of being and glory, these above those, others higher still, and still others higher, till the highest rank of created majesty and splendor is reached. But far above the highest is one glorious central throne, round which these countless hosts all circle, and before which they bow in worship—and the Lamb is in the midst of the throne.
2. Christ is the Creator from whose hands they came. (Verse 7) In the great powers of nature are depicted the resistless might and rapid movement of the heavenly hosts as they sweep through space, unrestrained by the laws that bind us lower creatures. But however great they be, they owe all to him, the Son, whose handiwork they are. "He maketh his angels winds." As the work extols the worker, and the greater the work the more glorious the worker is seen to be, so of all created things none more truly extols him by whom all were made, than the exceeding glory of the angelic host.
3. Christ is the King whose will they perform. (Verses 8-14) The idea here is in the main that Christ is the King, righteous, eternal, universal, victorious. The angels only stand as servants before him, or fly at his bidding. How great must the King be that has such a retinue (see Ephesians 1:20-22 )! Angels escorted him on his ascension; attend him in his redeeming work, and rejoice with him over repentant sinners; fly from his presence to minister to his people; when he comes in judgment he "will bring all the holy angels with him." How great the King served by myriads of such servants as these, and leading in his train princes, powers, potentates, dominions, of such surpassing glory!
III. THE GREATNESS OF CHRIST AND THE ANGELS REVEALS THE GREATNESS OF THE CHRISTIAN BELIEVER . See what a practical truth we have been considering. The apostle closes this sublime description of Christ with its bearing on "the heirs of salvation. " This chapter leads up to them. Very suggestive that it does close with that word. The greater the angels are, the greater Christ is. The greater Christ, our Helper, Friend, Savior, Sanctifier, is, the greater we, his people, are. See here.
1. The believer's greatness in being made, in so glorious a universe, the subject of Divine love. How great the contrast between man and the angels! And of them the universe is full. This shows the marvel of the grace which fixed its love on the fallen sons of Adam. Why should our lower and comparatively insignificant race be the object of redeeming mercy? "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him?" How great is man when he becomes the object of such love!
2. The believer's greatness in the exalted relationship between him and the celestial beings. Take the first verse of this passage: Christ "became so much better than the angels;" that can only refer to him as God-Man, for as God he was better than the angels. Christ, then, holds this position as Mediator; that is, for us ; the greatness of Christ is on our behalf. Take the last verse of the passage: "Are they not all," etc.? All the angels, however high their rank, wait unseen on us, doing their Lord's will. However lowly the "heir of salvation" may be, angelic messengers are passing from the throne to him perpetually, upholding, guiding, protecting, comforting, enriching. "Cherubim rally at his side, and the Captain of that host is God." How great is the believer, heir with such a King, and attended by such ministrants!
3. The believer's greatness in the glory of that future state of which angelic life affords a glimpse. Christ said that in the resurrection we should be "equal to the angels." What may that mean of new powers, dignity, service, holiness, and all immortal! But the tenor of Scripture affirms that we shall surpass the angels. They are servants, we are sons—"joint-heirs with Christ." They bow before his throne, we are to sit thereon. How great is "the heir of salvation"! This unspeakable glory is the end of his journey, and the King of kings himself, and the celestial hosts, his convoy by the way!—C.N.
Christ superior to the angels.
As angels had an important ministry under the Law of Moses, it was desirable to show the. Christians who had been drawn from Judaism, and were disposed to return to it, the superiority of our Lord to them in their nature and office.
I. THIS APPEARS IN THE GLORY OF HIS NAME , which is his by nature and inheritance. Angels are called "sons of God," and rejoiced as creation with its wonders rose before their view. Israel was named "Jehovah's firstborn" and his " children ;" and magistrates and judges were, as bearing the Divine image of authority, called "sons of God." But no monarch or angel is called "the Son," and this our Lord seems to recognize. When about to ascend from earth he said," I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" ( John 20:17 ).
II. THE ROYALTY OF THE SON OF GOD IS ASSENTED , It is said in Psalms 2:7 , "This day have I begotten thee;" and in 2 Samuel 7:14 it is written, "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a son." These passages declare in a prophetic manner the appointment of our Lord to the office and dignity of a King. He is placed above all angels, and is described as an all-conquering Monarch. The promise originally made to David is fulfilled in the person of our Lord, who, according to the angel's message to Mary, should be called "the Son of the Most High," and should reign over the house of Jacob forever ( Luke 1:33 ). "All power was given unto him in heaven and in earth." After Daniel had seen visions of the worldly empires represented by fierce monsters, he beheld the form of the Son of man, whose dominion should last forever.
III. THE FUTURE MANIFESTATION OF HIS GLORY IS ANNOUNCED , according to eminent authorities, in the words, "when he shall have brought his First-begotten into the world." This refers to his second coming, when "he shall come in the glory of his Father with his holy angels." There is to be a sublime and unrivalled manifestation of his majesty, when myriads of the angels shall come to swell his triumph and to attend him, as ministers and servants of state attend their monarch on occasions of public importance.
IV. CHRIST IS THE OBJECT OF ADORATION TO ANGELS . The text, "Let all the angels of God worship him," is derived from the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 32:43 , which is a part of a grand prophetic outline of the future of Israel. To offer worship presupposes that he who bends the knee is inferior to the person who is honored. St. Peter refused worship, and said to Cornelius; "Stand up; for I also am a man." St. John fell down at the feet of the angel and was counseled to worship God. Here, as a proof of the unutterable superiority of our Lord, we are told that the mighty angels, principalities, and powers are commanded to pay homage to him who is Lord of all.
V. THE GLORY OF HIS KINGLY CHARACTER AND RULE JUSTIFIES THEIR ADORATION . The proof is drawn from the ancient prophecy of the forty-fifth psalm, which was placed in the liturgy of the Jewish Church. Here we note the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ, who always loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and whose words, works, and sufferings shone with the Divine beauty of holiness. His scepter was one of uprightness, and was a contrast to the crooked policy and cruel oppression of some earthly monarchs. God anointed him with the oil of gladness above all his fellows in the royal line of David—with the joy of his exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high, where he has an enduring throne.
"The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fixed his Word, his saving power remains
Thy realm for ever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns!"
The angels are ministers in his glorious kingdom, and fly with the force of mighty winds and with the swiftness of the lightning-flame. He saith, "Go," and they go; "Come," and they come; "Do this," and they do it; for all are his servants.—B.
Christ exalted above the angels.
I. CONSIDER THE ANGELIC DIGNITY . The word "angel" as employed here to be taken in a very wide sense, as "angel" primarily denotes office and service rather than nature. Jesus himself, looked at from a certain point of view, was an angel, a messenger, an evangelist. God can make a messenger, as we are reminded in this passage, from the winds and the flame of fire: e.g. the burning bush was a messenger to Moses. But doubtless there is also a special reference to those who in the Scriptures are peculiarly indicated by the word "angel." Such a being came twice to Hagar in her need, and stayed Abraham when he was on the point of slaying Isaac in sacrifice. The angels Jacob saw ascending and descending are not to be taken as merely creatures of a dream. An angel touched the great Elijah in his solitude and despair, and more than once directed him in his goings. Notice, also, the glorious appearing to Manoah and his wife. Nor must the dreadful errands of angels be forgotten—their connection with the destruction of Sodom and of Sennacherib's army. These are the visitations mentioned, but how many more there may have been unrecorded! The angelic visitations of the New Testament must particularly be recollected, because they were fresh to the knowledge of writer and readers of this Epistle. And if we are not to set down these manifestations to mere hallucination, then it is plain that the beings manifested must have belonged to a glorious order. Such a being, breaking suddenly upon the vision of a man, could not but awe, and might even terrify. Of such a one it might even be said, "Surely this is a son of God." But that would be a fallacy, springing from mere magnificence of appearance. And yet it is a fallacy which, in other shapes, will ever deceive the judgment of men till they put that judgment under guidance of the Spirit of God. Men of great intellectual power, men of genius, are reckoned to have in them something that lifts them for ever above common men. Whereas the dazzling brightness and beauty flowing from them should put us on our guard. In the Divine order of existence the spiritual man is ever higher than the natural man, although the natural man may look far more imposing. Mary saw an angel once, and probably the glory from him appealing to the senses was such as she did not see in her own Son all the time he was on earth. Angels are to be taken as the crowning illustration of all that is most magnificent and impressive in the way of outward splendor.
II. THE ELEVATION OF JESUS ABOVE THE ANGELS . To emphasize this, the writer appeals to certain passages from the Old Testament Scripture. The line of his appeal is plain. He assumed that these passages related to the Christ. He knew, and his readers knew, that Jesus was the Christ, and hence they all feel that God himself has exalted Jesus in his way far above all principality and power. And it must have been a very practical thing in those days thus to insist on the supremacy of Christ over angels. For, as there were pseudo-Christs, so there was danger of pseudo-angels. The devil appearing as an angel of light may not have been the mere figure it seems to us. Paul hints at the possibility of an angel from heaven preaching some other gospel. There might be a splendid appearance seeming to have authority in it. Spirits had to be tried whether they were of God. We know from the First Epistle to the Corinthians how the wonderful attracted men rather than the useful. And so we need to be reminded that it is not an angel, purposely glorious to the outward eye and appearing occasionally to a Zacharias or a Mary, or even as that terrible form who rolled back the door of the sepulcher and made the keepers shake and become as dead men, who is nearest God in heaven. The meek and lowly Jesus, moving about among men, despised and rejected, so that they see no beauty that they should desire him, is far above the angels. And, indeed, he also in due time and for certain purposes can appear in a visible glory which makes all angelic glory seem a common and feeble thing trey.