Jesus is Greater Than the Angels

Hebrews: Jesus is Greater  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:52
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Martin Carter is an organizational consultant. In an article that he posted on LinkedIn a few years a go, he said:
“In 1979 Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica killing all 279 people on board. The root cause was a 2-degree change in the flight coordinates which, over the course of the flight across the Southern Ocean placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots assumed they were.
Two degrees is a tiny margin of error. It’s about the limit of accuracy that a skilled pilot can achieve flying manually in good conditions. Hence, even the most experienced pilots expect to find themselves off course. Which is why every pilot is taught the 1 in 60 rule, which states that if your initial heading is off by just one degree, after 60 miles you will be one mile off course. The 1 in 60 rule enables pilots to regularly check and correct their heading. Pilots who fail to do so often or accurately enough soon find themselves a long way from their intended destination, with potentially disastrous consequences.  The best pilots are those who have the humility to admit that good as they might be, they aren’t perfect and hence need to constantly check and re-check that that they are still on track.”
He went on to talk about the importance of re-evaluating our current location in order to avoid the inevitable drift that can happen in our lives - professionally and personally.
That principle holds true in our lives spiritually as well. We face influences, both internal and external, that pull us away from the course that God has designed for us. Whether it’s cultural pressures to accept every moral change or peer pressures to compromise on biblical standards or even pressures from internal doubts planted by the enemy or our sinful nature, these pressures are real and we need to pay attention to them.
The writer of Hebrews addressed his letter to some Jewish background believers who were experiencing those pressures. We talked last week about how he presented Jesus as God Incarnate - laying the foundation for the rest of the book as he seeks to keep his first century audience and us grounded in the truths of the supremacy of Jesus. To which the writer of Hebrews says simply: “Jesus is greater!” In the chapters that we’re going to consider today, we’ll get to see his declaration about the supremacy of Jesus over angels, his explanation of how Jesus’ humanity does not make him inferior, and an exhortation to obey Jesus’ teachings in order to avoid the drift that is bound to happen.
By the way, as I prepare to preach each week, I try to learn from the expertise of those who have gone before. If you ever want to see the references, you’ll find them posted in the script of the sermon on the website. I’m grateful for the research and wisdom of guys like Michael Kruger, Raymond Brown, the Bible Project, and Warren Wiersbe who helped me understand some of the nuances and background implications of the passage and also who helped to shape the outline and structure.
So let’s begin with the ...

Declaration: Jesus is Greater than the Angels (Heb. 1:4-14)

What’s the big deal about angels?
There are some who have a fascination about angels today. Sometimes we picture them as cute, fat human-like beings with bows and arrows that will make you fall in love with someone (i.e. Cupid). Other times we see them as these beautiful and elegant beings that protect us. Sometimes we even just use their figurines as a form a semi-religious decorations.
But in Scripture, Angels are seen a terrifying and majestic beings. So often, when people would encounter them, the first words that the angels would say is “Fear Not.”
But angels are simply messengers. They are beings that go from the throne room of God and bring messages on behalf of God to humanity. There was a Jewish belief that it was the angels that gave Moses the information about the law.
So, in some ways, this declaration about Jesus being greater than the angels also implies that Jesus is greater than the Torah.
But how?
The writer of Hebrews notes several ways that Jesus is greater than angels.

1. Jesus has a greater name

Hebrews 1:4 ESV
having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Now, at face value, this doesn’t sound like much. Even Romeo asked, “what’s in a name?” This significance of a better name is lost on us to some degree. Michael Kruger notes that in Roman culture, “when sons came of age, they were formally bestowed with the family name, even though in one sense they always had it.” (p. 21)
Which name are we really referring to? Well we could look at any of his names:
Jesus - is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua - meaning Yahweh saves - he truly is the one who saves - the angels are merely messengers of God’s salvation.
Immanuel - God with us (Mt. 1:23) - being God incarnate, that is literally who Jesus is - God with us
But the name that the writer of Hebrews is using in context is not actually a name but a title:
Son - this is not an inferior name or title, but an affirmation that, as Kruger notes, he “shares the same eternal, divine nature as the Father.”
Hebrews 1:5 ESV
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
Imagine for a moment a medieval throne room. In the room, you’d have the King or Queen. You’d also have lots of attendants. You may also have warriors and ambassadors and other representatives. No matter how strong, powerful or important, those officials do not have the same access to the throne as the son. Angels, like those court attendants are mere messengers - but Jesus as the Son - has direct access - he has all the rights that come with his name.
So, not only does Jesus have a greater name, but...

2. Jesus is worshiped by the angels

Hebrews 1:6 ESV
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
We may dote on someone or something that is inferior to us, but we don’t worship them. Jesus is the object of the angels worship because he is greater than them.
As if having a better name and being the object of their worship isn’t enough, we also see that…

3. Jesus rules the angels

Being on equal footing with God, by nature of His position, He rules over the angels - and everything else:
Hebrews 1:8-9 “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.””
We could also consider this in
Hebrews 1:13 ESV
And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
The bottom line is that Jesus is greater than the angels. The writer of Hebrews summarizes this by stating of the angels:
Hebrews 1:14 ESV
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
They exist to serve Jesus, to benefit those who would believe - those who would receive God’s salvation.
So, if we were to think about a hierarchy we might think of it in this way:
God/Jesus/Holy Spirit
This then introduces a problem and, I think, part of the reason why the writer of Hebrews is going to all the trouble to lay out these arguments.
Last week, we talked about the fact that Jesus is God incarnate - God in the flesh - fully human and fully God.
Doesn’t that then make Jesus inferior to the angels? To which the writer of Hebrews might explain:

Explanation: Jesus’ humanity does not make him inferior (Heb. 2:5-18)

One of the challenges that existed in the first and second centuries is the belief that all flesh is evil or wicked. Some then believed that Jesus could not have been human. But there is an element to which Jesus humanity actually helps his case - and ours.

Jesus recovered the dominion that humanity corrupted (Heb. 2:5-9)

At creation, God told Adam and Eve to have dominion over creation. They were to steward it. We still have dominion, but it’s corrupted by the stain of sin.
As with the previous argument, the writer defends his claim by quoting scripture. He again quotes the Psalms in verses 6-8, and then comments on it in verse 8-9. Look at what he says there:
Hebrews 2:8-9 “...Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
This is a work in progress, but because Jesus condescended - or lowered himself to our station, he could relate and live out the mandate we were given. He could show us how it’s done.
Not only did he recover the dominion of humanity by his becoming human, but...

Jesus regained the dignity that humanity corrupted (Heb. 2:10-13)

We are stained and undignified because of our sin. As image-bearers of God, our sin prevents us from fully living up to the potential that God has for us. We are like cracked mirrors that distort the image of God reflected in us.
But with Jesus becoming human, he redeemed and restored that.
Hebrews 2:10–11 ESV
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
Warren Wiersbe comments (p. 38):
“Christ gave up his glory to become man. He regained His glory when He arose and ascended to heaven. Now He shares that glory with all who trust Him for salvation (John 17:22-24). He is bringing many sons and daughters to glory!”
Since angels are not human, their mandate is different than ours. They do not have the same nature and cannot relate fully to our domain or our dignity - they have a dignity of their own. They are not made in the image of God.
But we also see that by being human...

Jesus rescued humanity from death (Heb. 2:14-16)

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension freed us from the eternal slavery that we live in because of our sin.
Hebrews 2:14–15 ESV
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
The author then puts brings his main argument about Jesus’ supremacy over the angels by saying:
Hebrews 2:16 ESV
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.
So we’ve seen Jesus’ greatness, even his humanity, explained in how he recovers, regains, and rescues. Finally, because he came in the flesh...

Jesus relates to the devices of fallen humanity (Heb. 2:17-18)

Jesus understands our weaknesses. He understands how powerful temptation can be. He understands fully, he relates to our struggles, because he came in human form.
Hebrews 2:17–18 ESV
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
I hope that we can find some encouragement knowing that when we’re tempted, Jesus understands. He faced similar temptations (Mt. 4) and overcame them.
Which leads us to the final point, to the section we skipped…

Exhortation: Obey Jesus’ teaching to avoid the drift (Heb. 2:1-4)

Since Jesus is greater than the angels because he is God and he took on human flesh, we should work to stay the course and avoid the drift that can happen in subtle and overt ways.
Hebrews 2:1–4 ESV
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Just as the pilots have to recalibrate periodically to stay on course, so we too need to pay attention to the teachings that we have heard.
Look briefly at the passage. What do you notice about the pronouns? First person plural - we, us. So often as Americans, we like to be on our own. We like to be independent - but the Christian life is intended to be lived in community. I’m reading an excellent book right now by Ajith Fernando entitled Discipling in a Multicultural World. He spent 40-50 years in disciplining environments where people would consider Scripture together and then get to process what they heard and read in community. We need each other to point out the blind spots in our lives. I need you to help me see where I am falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
One of the things the writer of Hebrews points out here is that since the message that the angels carried to Moses in order to implement the sacrificial system and the covenants for the people of Israel was trustworthy and revealed the exact disciplines people would receive for their sin, how much more should we trust in the greater Word of Jesus, who brought eternal salvation?
Now, I realize that there are people who have backgrounds in churches that were shame based, legalistic, and demanding. Churches like ours sometimes have a reputation of being legalistic like the old law and not grace-filled like Jesus’ life. We need to change that reputation. We are not under the law delivered by the angels but under the mercy of Jesus Christ.
So, how can we obey in order to avoid drifting?
Read the Word - we can’t obey what we don’t know. I think this means that we read it individually and in community. We have been talking for several months now about discipleship groups in neighborhoods. if you’d be interested in being part of a pilot group, please let me know.
Reflect on the Word - think through what it says and the implications of what that means. This is something that I struggle with on my own but find great value - especially in community. Think about this, if we’re reading scripture together or even discussing the passage we’re covering today, you will have insights and perspectives on the text that I don’t have.
Repent - This is literally a turning the other way - doing a 180. Especially if you’ve not yet turned to Christ, let me encourage you to check out what he has done for you, reflect on why that’s important here and for eternity, and then take that step of repenting - admitting your need of a savior. I’d be happy to help you process that. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must regularly do the same. Even if our salvation is secured in Jesus, our lives can still get off course.
Those moments of anger,
those poorly chosen words,
that conversation that delves into gossip,
that click on the Internet,
that extra helping, or that extra drink,
that lustful gaze,
and more.
Repent to God but also be willing to repent to one another. That’s why we get to do life in community - that’s why there are so many one another statements in scripture.
Recalibrate based on the Word - James in his book urges us to not be hearers of the word only, but to be doers (James 1:22-25). We are wasting our time if all we do is hear. Many times, these adjustments will be subtle. Other times, they will be drastic and will require repentance and humility. Again, this is not a legalism, but a grace filled process of sanctification, allowing our lives to more and more reflect Christ.
Repeat - This is not a one and done process - it is on going .
The bottom line here is that Angels brought a sacrificial system - they were messengers of God to bring the sacrificial system to the people of Israel, but because Jesus was both fully God and fully human - Jesus was the perfect sacrifice! As we continue to grow in His grace, we get to honor him with our lives as we walk in full obedience.
Let’s Pray
Discussion Questions:
How have you viewed angels in the past?
How does Jesus’ supremacy give you confidence in what he has done?
What are your normal spiritual habits like?
What aspects of your life is in need of a recalibration?
Brown, Raymond. The Message of Hebrews. The Bible Speaks today. Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982.
Fernando, Ajith Discipling in a Multicultural World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
Hewitt, Thomas. The Epistle to the Hebrews. TNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1975.
Kruger, Michael J. Hebrews for You. The Good Book Company, 2021.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Confident: Live by Faith, Not by Sight. NT Commentary: Hebrews. Colorado Springs,
David C. Cook: 1982
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