Pastor David B. Curtis


Christ's Superiority Over Angels, Part 1

Hebrews 1:4

Delivered 02/27/2000

We looked last time at the verses 2-3, which presented the excellencies of Christ in a seven-fold manner. Now, beginning at verse 4 and going to the end of the chapter, the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, teaches that Jesus Christ is superior to angels.

This may be the most difficult portion of the entire letter, not so much from a theological point of view but from a technical point of view. The author sites the Old Testament seven times, and there are many difficulties here. Some Old Testament texts are difficult to determine, and one sited here is not even found in your Bible. This section is not only difficult technically but it is also deep, these verses are meat.

The spiritual condition of the Hebrews is parallel to the spiritual condition of many today. They were being tempted to give up their Christian witness, and what they needed, and what many today need, is a fresh glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in this section the author shows us the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.

Why a contrast between Jesus and angels? The design of the Spirit in this epistle is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, far above every name and dignity. In the next section (chapter 3), he shows the superiority of Christ over Moses. But to have started with Moses would not have gone back far enough, for Moses, the mediator, received the law by the disposition of angels.

Acts 7:53 (NKJV) "who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it."

Several texts of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament indicate to us that the angels were employed in the giving of the Mosaic law. They served as mediators through which the law was given.

Deuteronomy 33:2 (NKJV) And he said: "The LORD came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand Came a fiery law for them.

Young's Literal Translation says, "And hath come with myriads of holy ones." "Holy ones" is a reference to angels.

Galatians 3:19 (NKJV) What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.
Hebrews 2:2 (NKJV) For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,

Thus, the glory of Jehovah at Sinai (the beginning of the Mosaic economy) was an angelic one. The gospel had not been mediated by a display of angelic beings so they may be tempted to view Christ and Christianity as inferior to that account.

The Jews regarded angels as the most exalted of all God's creatures, and rightly so. Is it any different in our culture? There is a lot of talk about angels today in our culture.

Best seller lists regularly have popular titles about angels; book stores have whole sections devoted to angels. On TV Patty Duke hosted an NBC special called "Angels: The Mysterious Messengers." Michael Landon starred for five years as an angel sent to earth to assist mortals in "Highway to Heaven," and CBS currently has one in the same vein on Saturday nights called "Touched by an Angel." Hillary Clinton has a gold angel pin she wears on days she needs help.

According to a Time Magazine/CNN poll, 69% of American adults believe in the existence of angels; 46% believe they have their own Guardian Angel; almost one-third (32%) say they have, at one time or another, personally felt an angelic presence in their life. If there is such a thing as a universal idea, one that cuts across cultures and religions, common through the centuries, it is this belief in angels. Not only do Christians, Jews, and Muslims have angels, but Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism do too; winged figures appear in primitive Sumerian carvings, Egyptian tombs, and Assyrian beliefs. Angels litter the metaphysical landscape from ancient times to the present.

The nation was startled when Nancy Reagan was reported to be influencing her husband's decisions on the basis of advice obtained from her astrologer. Perhaps what is even more startling is to realize that pastors preaching to evangelical congregations today may very well be addressing some, if not many, in their audience who are worshiping angels. There may well be someone here who consulted their horoscope before coming to church. Some teenagers may be involved with experiments with Ouija boards or "channeling" to obtain guidance in important decisions. Perhaps someone has already accepted the teaching of reincarnation as the explanation of what happens to humans after death. As many know, the New Age movement of the late twentieth century encourages such teachings, calling fallen angels "avatars" or spirit-guides. Their human devotees practice channeling or mediumistic activities, offering to awaken hidden powers within men and women which will help them fulfill their greatest possibilities.

With all this confusion in our day about angels, let's go to the Word of God and see what we can learn about angels.


There are 273 references to angels in the Bible. What does the Bible say about angels? First of all, the term "angel" is derived from the Greek word angelos, which means: "messenger." Angelos and the Hebrew equivalent, malak (which also means "messenger"), are the two most common terms used to describe this class of beings. In general, in texts where an angel appears, the task is to convey the message or do something on behalf of God. Since the focus of the text is on the message, the messenger is rarely described in detail. Thus, the divine emissary may or may not be some sort of supernatural being.

Another set of terms used to describe angels focuses not on angels as mediators between God and us, but on God's heavenly entourage. Terms such as "sons of God," "holy ones," and "heavenly host" seem to focus on angels as CELESTIAL beings. As such, these variously worship God, attend God's throne, or comprise God's army. These terms are used typically in contexts emphasizing the grandeur, power, and/or mighty acts of God.

A third category of heavenly beings is that of winged angels. Cherubim and seraphim make their most memorable appearances in the visions of Ezekiel (1:4-28; 10:3-22) and Isaiah (6:2-6). Cherubim function primarily as guards or attendants to the divine throne. They were placed as armed guards at the entrance to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were banished (and those cute cuddly pictures of chubby little cherubs does NOT reflect the Biblical image). Seraphim appear only in Isaiah's vision and there attend God's throne and offer praises. All three categories present us with heavenly beings in service to God. The text may focus on the service done or on the God served but rarely on the servants themselves. As a result, we are left with a multitude of questions about the angelic host.

Where did the angels come from? The Bible does not say other than to affirm that since only God is eternal, angels must therefore be created beings. They are not ghosts nor are they spirits of the dead. They do not spend time trying to "earn their wings" like Clarence in the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." No place in Christian theology do we find any reference to humans becoming angels.

Man is a wonderful creation, higher than animals (some would argue this) and any other material creation in this world. But there are created beings even higher than man - angels.

Hebrews 2:9 (NKJV) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Jesus, in his humiliation, becoming a man was made lower than the angels. Thus, man is lower than the angels.

From the earliest times, angelic ministration had been a chief instrument of Divine power and a medium of communication.

Genesis 19:1 (NKJV) Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground.
Genesis 19:10-13 (NKJV) But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door. 12 Then the men said to Lot, "Have you anyone else here? Son-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city; take them out of this place! 13 "For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

Angels are used by God in answering prayers:

Daniel 9:21-22 (NKJV) yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand.

Delivering the saints from danger:

Daniel 6:22 (NKJV) "My God sent His angeland shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you."
Acts 12:6-10 (NKJV) And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

In addition, they minister to the unsaved by announcing judgment and carrying it out.

Acts 12:23 (NKJV) Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

What do angels look like? In the Bible, the appearance of angels varies. Only cherubim and seraphim are represented with wings. Often in the Old Testament angels appear as ordinary men. Sometimes, however, their uniqueness is evident as they do things or appear in a fashion clearly non-human. The brilliant white appearance common to the New Testament angel is not a feature of the Old Testament image. Angels are spirit beings that are capable of appearing in human form. We already saw this in Genesis 19.

Matthew 28:3-4 (NKJV) His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

This text describes an angel who appeared at the scene of Christ's resurrection. Notice that it says, "his" in referring to the angel. Angels always appear as men! The masculine pronoun is always used to speak of them. Angels are most often represented in our culture as women, but in the Bible they are always men.

All of the angels were created simultaneously.

Colossians 1:16-17 (NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

According to Matthew 22, they are unable to procreate.

Matthew 22:28-30 (NKJV) "Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her." 29 Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.

There are no little angels! The number of angels has not changed since they were originally created, although a great number of them have fallen. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that they can die or be made extinct. They do not decrease or increase. Even after a numberless host of them fell with Satan (Rev. 12:4), there are still an innumerable host of holy angels.

Revelation 5:11 (NKJV) Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,

God made them all with unique identities. Each angel is a direct creation of God standing in an immediate personal relationship to the creator who made him.

According to Mark 13:32 and Jude 6, the unfallen angels have a special abode in heaven.

Mark 13:32 (NKJV) "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Jude 1:6 (NKJV) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;

Are there beings in other parts of the universe? Yes! Angelic beings inhabit the universe.

Some angels have names. Michael is the head of the armies in heaven. Gabriel is the messenger angel. Lucifer is Satan, the fallen angel.

One of the biggest questions people have regards Guardian Angels. Do we have them? Lots of folks believe we do. The passage in Psalm 91 suggests YES: "he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone" (11,12). There is Jesus' comment in Matthew 18:10: "Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven."

The biggest hazard in all this fascination with angels is that it can take people's focus off God, the God who created these ministering agents in the first place, the one who loves us so much that God's own son, Jesus Christ, came to redeem us. Twice the angel messenger in Revelation tells John, "Do not [worship me]! I am a fellow servant with you and with your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" (Rev. 19:10, 22:9)

The Jews believed that angles were God's senate, and that God never did anything without first asking the angels. This would mean that God was not Omniscient. When Genesis 1:26 says, "Let us make man in our image" the Jews believed God was speaking of his angelic senate in the word "us".

Thus the Jews esteemed angels more highly than man. To be told that the Messiah himself, God the Son incarnate, had become man made Him, in their eyes, inferior to the angels.

Angels were supremely exalted in the Jewish mind, so if the writer of Hebrews is to present to them that Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, then he will have to show that Christ is better than angels. That becomes his purpose in Hebrews 1:4-14.

The theme of this section is found in verse 4, Jesus Christ is better than angels.

Hebrews 1:4 (NKJV) having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

The word "better" is from the Greek word kreitton, which is a comparative. It is used 13 times in Hebrews beginning here in verse 4; Christ is better than angels; we have better things (6:9); better person than Abraham (7:7); better hope (7:19); better covenant ( 7:22); better promises (8:6); better sacrifices (9:23); better possessions (10:34); better country (11:16); better resurrection (11:35), better things (11:40 and 12:24). Hebrews has been called the "better than" epistle.

Verse 4 is the theme or text, and the remainder of the chapter is the sermon, or the explanation and application. In verses 5-13, he gives us seven Old Testament quotations which site the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in verse 14, we have his final argument.

Let's examine the text of verse 4. "Having become so much better than the angels" - the words "having become" are from the Greek word ginomai - a word the meaning of which is in contrast to that of poieo, which means: "to make." Poieo means: "to construct or fashion something out of existing materials." Ginomai is used of the universe coming into existence. It means: "to become". The Son "became" better than the angels, inferring that at one time he was lower than the angels.

Hebrews 2:9 (NKJV) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

If Jesus Christ is God, as we so clearly saw in verse 3, how can he be lower than the angels when He created the angels?

One of the first prerequisites for a spiritual workman who is approved of God is that he must prayerfully aim at "rightly dividing" the Word of God.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Unless we rightly divide or clearly distinguish between what is said of Jesus Christ in His essential Being and what is predicated of Him in His Theanthropic person, we are certain to err. By "His essential Being" is meant what He always was and must ever remain as God the Son. By his incarnation he became the God-Man, the Theanthropic person.

John 1:1-3 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
John 1:14 (NKJV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word "became" in verse 14 is the Greek word ginomai, signifying entrance into a new condition. The "Word" - essential being, "became" flesh. This points to a historical beginning. The subject of this beginning is the person who had just been identified in his divine and eternal preexistence as the Word of God. God the Son began to be something he was not before - a man. This is the doctrine of the incarnation, the infleshment, the act of assuming flesh. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, was forever joined to true humanity. We call this "the Hypostatic union", the personal union of the two natures, the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man. He is one person with two natures. He is a Theanthropic person, He is the God-Man.

Jesus Christ is the unique person of the universe. This Theanthropic person is seen in two different positions in Scripture. First, one in humiliation - the Kenosis. The word Kenosis comes from the Greek word translated: "reputation" in:

Philippians 2:7 (NKJV) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

The word "reputation" is from the Greek word kenoo, which means: "to make empty." What did Jesus Christ empty himself of? His Deity? NO!!! If he emptied himself of his deity, he would cease to exist and so would you. Remember from our study in Hebrews 1:3 that he is "upholding all things by the word of His power."

What Jesus emptied himself of was the manifestation of glory and power.

John 17:5 (NKJV) "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

It is my contention that when Jesus Christ was in his humiliation, he did not use his deity - though Satan tempted him to - but he operated in total dependence upon the Spirit's power. Christ emptied himself of his pre-incarnate glory during his humiliation.

God's Son began to be flesh - there is the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, there is the mystery and marvel of the incarnation, hypostatic union, kenosis, and humiliation.

Hebrews 1:4 tells us what Jesus Christ has become in history. In his essential being, he was always better than the angels. He created the angels. Verses (3b -4a) "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels" How has he become better than the angels? By sitting down on the right hand of Majesty on high, that's how. He is describing a development from a state of humiliation (2:9) to his state of exaltation. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, was made better than the angels in his exaltation to the right hand of God. No angel has ever been exalted like this.

As glorious as the angels are, as great as is their work, they are, nevertheless, in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ as man, for in His human nature, God has enthroned Him high above all.

Since Christ is more excellent than the most excellent, he must be the most excellent of all. He is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High.

Revelation 5:11 (NKJV) Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,

The angels are around the throne, but Jesus Christ is on the throne.

Revelation 5:6 (NKJV) And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Our text in Hebrews 1:4 goes on to say, "as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." The word "obtained" is from the Greek word kleronomeo. It is a technical term relating to legal title. Christ's right to His supreme exaltation is twofold; 1. Because of the union between his humanity and essential Deity. 2. As a reward for His suffering and obedience to his Father. Notice the parallel in these two texts:

Philippians 2:9 (NKJV) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name.
Hebrews 1:4 (NKJV) having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Philippians 2:9, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him" Hebrews 1:4, "having become so much better than the angels."

Philippians 2:9, "and given Him the name which is above every name." Hebrews 1:4, "as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."

What is the more excellent name? The common answer is "Son", but I don't think Son is the "name above every name." I think that what this name is becomes clear when we look at Philippians 2:9-11.

Philippians 2:9-11 (NKJV) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

His name is more excellent than the angels, it is above every name. Whatever name it is, it will be consistent with Scriptures' Old and New Testament. It will imply not just a means of distinguishing one person from another, "Joe" or "Mike," but it will imply something of the nature of Christ, something of his person revealing his inner being.

The word "name" is the Greek word onoma, which can mean: "name, rank, or personality." Here the emphasis is on title or rank above all ranks-- position.

Why give him a name? One of the common biblical ideas is the giving of a new name to mark a new stage in a man's life. Abram became Abraham when he received the promise of God. Jacob became Israel when God entered into the new relationship with him. Simon was called to follow Jesus, and his name became Peter. The promise of the risen Christ to both Pergamos and Philadelphia is the promise of a new name.

Christ has many names; Jesus, Christ, Son of man, Son of God, Messiah, Immanuel, but here He receives a new name. Some say the it's "Jesus." But it can't be because that is not a new name. God gave him that name at his birth.

Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."

Second, no other name than Yahweh (Jehovah) has a right to be called "the name above every name."

Thirdly, the movement of verses 9-11 does not stop at the phrase "gave him the name," but flows straight on to the universal confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, which suggests that the significant thing is the ascription of "LORD" in addition to the names already known.

Fourthly, verse 10 says, "at the name 'of' Jesus" (not at the name Jesus). The name "of" Jesus is "Lord."

Fifthly, Philippians 2:10 is a pretty direct quotation of Isaiah 45:23 where Yahweh, having declared himself to be the only God and only Savior, vows that he will yet be the object of universal worship. It is this divine honor that is now bestowed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

These verses in Isaiah 45:20-25 speak of the uniqueness of the only God. In the Greek Old Testament, the LXX, the Greek word "Kyrios", which means: "Lord" is used to represent the personal name of the God of Israel-- Yahweh.

In most English versions, LORD is spelled with four capital letters when it stands for the ineffable (too sacred to be spoken) name of Yahweh.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NKJV) "Assemble yourselves and come; Draw near together, You who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, Who carry the wood of their carved image, And pray to a god that cannot save.

He is speaking here of the heathen idols.

21 Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD (Yahweh)? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me.
God is saying, "I'm unique, I'm the only God, there is no other God besides Me."
22 "Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

This is where our quote in Philippians is taken from, this is Yahweh, the one and only God, that is speaking.

24 He shall say, 'Surely in the LORD (Yahweh) I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD (Yahweh) all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.'"

It is in Yahweh that salvation will come. In Isaiah 45:23, we see a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. And in Philippians, this title "LORD" is ascribed to Jesus. Jesus Christ is Yahweh, the Lord!

Is Jesus Christ Lord? Yes! Who declared him Lord? God, the Father, exalted him and gave him the name "Lord," which is the name of sovereign God. Jesus Christ is Yahweh!

The Greek word Lord is kyrios, the word by which citizens of the Roman empire acknowledged the divinity of Caesar. This was an imperial title, and it was never used of the emperors until they were thought to be deified through a religious ceremony. Therefore, it was used as a divine title. Within the empire there was a test phrase used to check the loyalty of the people. It was "Kyrios Kaiser," and it meant: "Caesar is Lord." By this phrase, Christians who would not say these words were later singled out from pagans and executed. In those days, when a Christian insisted that Jesus is Lord, he meant that Jesus, not Caesar, is divine. Early Christians died rather than say Caesar was Lord.

Have you ever heard a Christian say, "I have been a Christian for a while now, but I just made Jesus Lord?" Folks, Jesus Christ "is" Lord, you don't make him Lord, God did that. Our response is to submit to His Lordship.

The Hebrew word for "Lord" is Adonai. The name "Adonai" assumed an extraordinary importance in Hebrew speech, for in practice it replaced the personal name of God, Jehovah. No Jew pronounced the word "Jehovah," even when reading the Bible. Instead he said, "Adonai." Not only in popular speech but also in Jewish literature and in the writing and transmission of the Old Testament, the word "Adonai" became almost synonymous with Jehovah, the personal name of God. Consequently, when the early Christians made their confession -- "Jesus is Lord" -- they were actually confessing that Jesus of Nazareth is the God of Israel, Jehovah, the only true God.

So, Jesus "has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than" the angels. He is Lord! He created and controls the angels.

Now the main thing here, in verse 4, is that Christ is better than angels. How he is better and how muchhe is better is what the rest of the chapter is about. We'll look at the rest of the chapter next time.

Continue the Series

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