I mentioned last week that the aim of the book of Hebrews is to encourage and aid a group of Jewish Christians in persevering in obedient faith to Jesus Christ. For some reason or another they were being tempted to shrink back from their commitment to Christ and go back to practicing that which had been prescribed in the Old Testament with the sacrificial system. But the author of Hebrews shows them that going back to those things is not only like going back to the shadows when the substance has arrived but that going back to those things will result in their damnation. Simply put, now that the Son has come, lived, died, and been raised, if you try to turn away from the Son and go back to those things that foreshadowed his coming and his work, then you do not benefit from the Son’s work but will face his judgment. Therefore, as you might anticipate, this book not only provides words of strong encouragement throughout but words of fierce warning as well.
However, as much we might feel eager for him to launch into warnings of judgment, as I mentioned last week, the author begins by building a positive case about the supremacy of Christ to all things. As we noted in our brief overview of the book, the thread that runs through this book from beginning to end is that Jesus is better. Set anything alongside of him for comparison, and, without exception, you’ll find that Jesus is better. Therefore, as we look at the first section of the book after the prologue we find the author doing two things in these verses. First, he’s showing that that Son is better than the angels. We saw the beginning of that argument at the end of the prologue as he stated in verses 3-4, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Starting in verse 5, then, he simply continues that argument through verse 14 about Jesus’ superiority to the angels.
But why make this point? If you wanted to show that Jesus is better than turning back to the sacrificial system, for example, why not simply talk about him being better than the priests in the Old Covenant or animal sacrifices? Well, the author actually does say those very things, but those arguments don’t come until the latter part of the book. So why then start with angels?
Honestly, we can’t be sure. Some have proposed that these Jewish Christians may have had a fascination with angels in addition to their temptation to turn back to the regulations of the Old Covenant, and the author attempts to squelch this fascination right out of the gate before moving on to dealing with the regulations of the Old Covenant.i But I think the issue of angels and the issues of the old covenant law aren’t two separate issues, but are actually united.
You see, the law of Moses is viewed throughout the Scripture as being delivered by angels. We see that just one chapter later as we read in Hebrews 2:2, “For since the message declared by angels [i.e. the law of Moses] proved to be reliable.” But it’s not just here. In Galatians 3:19, Paul writes that the law “was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Stephen, in his famous sermon in Acts 7, spoke of Moses as having spoken with an angel when he received the law (v. 38) and referred to his hearers in v. 53 as, “You who received the law as delivered by angels.”
So, I think you can see the logic. If our author is showing that Jesus is superior to the Old Covenant, and the law was put in place by angels (according to the testimony of Scripture), then it makes sense to start with Jesus’ superiority over angels. But showing Jesus’ superiority to angels is only one of the two main things that the author of Hebrews does in 1:5-14.
The other thing our author does is that he elaborates on the assertions about the Son’s nature and work in verses 1-4 and shows that his claims are actually supported from the Old Testament Scriptures.ii This means for us that in terms of the theme of this sermon, it’s going to look very similar to what we saw last week in looking at verses 1-4. But this is a crucial text for the author to write and for us to study this morning because we need to see that that the reason we’re not under the Old Covenant (with its Sabbath regulations and the sacrificial system, for example) is not because Jesus has abolished the law but because he’s come as the fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17). He is the substance that the shadows were leading to the whole time. And I’ll add that unless we spend time reading, learning, and understanding the Old Testament, we’ll never grasp the glorious reality of the nature and work of the Son as well as we should.
With that said, I think we can sum up the message of Hebrews 1:5-14 by saying that the Son is superior to the angels because he is the promised divine-human king who reigns.
Jesus is the promised divine-human king who reigns forever.
And I believe the best way to roll this out for us is by allowing us to walk through part of the Old Testament and understand the nature of God’s promise to David in the Davidic covenant. After all, unless you understand the nature of the promise God made to David, then this “name” that the Son has inherited in Heb. 1:4 makes little sense.
So, let’s start with 2 Samuel 7, for this is both the second OT text the author quotes in our text (at the end of v. 5) and helps us see the promise God made to David. Perhaps you remember the story told in that chapter. In chapter 5 David was anointed king and defeats the Philistines. Then, in chapter 6, after a difficult journey, David had brought the ark of God to Jerusalem, representing God’s very presence among his people. And the ark rested in a tent called the “tabernacle.” That’s what the tabernacle was, a tent. And this brings us to the events of 2 Samuel 7.
It bothered David to think that he lived in a nice house of cedar while the ark (representing the Lord himself) dwelled in a tent. Therefore, David tells the prophet Nathan that he wants to build a nice house for God (i.e. the temple). And at first Nathan says for David to go ahead and do it. But then, the Lord speaks to Nathan to go tell David not to do it. And the message of the Lord in that section is such that God is suggesting to David that David is not the one in the place of doing favors for God. God is the one who reigns. Thus, God will actually be the one doing a favor for—or rather, showing favor to—David. And God then promises to establish the Davidic dynasty, a line of kings who will reign.
We find God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-15, as the Lord says to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.”
Thus, God promises to David to set up a kingly line who will come from David and would last forever. You see, Saul had been Israel’s first king, but Saul’s dynasty of kings had ended before it even got started. Saul had disobeyed the Lord, and in judgment, God removed any anointing from Saul such that not one of Saul’s sons reigned on the throne. But now God promises to David that even when his offspring after him sins (as we’ll see happens a lot!), God will not remove his steadfast love or depart from him. He’ll discipline him, sure. But David will have a son on the throne forever.
Moreover, the kings after David would not merely be David’s sons but God’s sons. You see, this category of “son of God” in the Old Testament was used of humans who were to resemble, reflect, and represent God. That’s why God had called Israel his firstborn son in Exodus 4:22 because he had called them as a people to be holy as he was holy. They were to resemble, reflect, and represent him. And of course they failed. But David’s son, as king, would be called to the same task—as God’s son—of resembling, reflecting, and representing God in his reigning and ruling as king.
And as I’ve heard D. A. Carson in multiple lectures note a thousand times, this promise to David that his son would reign forever meant that when each of David’s sons died, another would take the throne, so on and so forth, world without end or that David would have one son come along, live forever, and reign forever.iii
Now, immediately, in 2 Samuel 7, you’re not necessarily thinking that it will be that second option. In fact, there is very little to suggest clearly that this is going to be more than David’s normal, flawed sons, continuing on, world without end. God even speaks about how he’ll handle their iniquities.
But things begin to become clearer and the role and nature of this king grows as you continue through the Old Testament. When you get to Psalm 2 and read of God enthroning his Davidic king, saying, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”—meaning today I am installing or appointing you as king, seating you on the throne to resemble, reflect, and represent me as my son in your reign as king—it doesn’t necessarily strike you as being spectacular. That could have been said to Solomon or Josiah, for example, on the day they were enthroned. But in the next verse this king is told that he’ll reign over all the nations and will own the world. That was most definitely never true of Solomon or Josiah or anyone else. Therefore, the question rises, “Who will be this son to come?”
And then the language of this king from David’s line who would rule over the world forever gets even bigger. Isaiah speaks of him in Isaiah 9:6-7, saying, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
Now, you all know that we could do this all day, walking through the development of the OT, but let me simply pause at this point. Based on what we’ve seen along from 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 2, and Isaiah 9:6-7. The king promised from David’s line would be a human (David’s son) who would reign over the whole world forever. He would be God’s son in that he would resemble, represent, and reflect God in his reign, but he would be more than that as well. He would be Mighty God. Thus, a good reader of his OT could say, “Unless I’m reading this wrong, I’m looking for the promised divine-human king from David’s line who reigns forever.
This is why it’s a big deal when the first words of our NT begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David” (Matt. 1:1). Then Jesus is born in Bethlehem because he was of the line of David (Matt. 2:1). Then at Jesus’ baptism, the Father declares from heaven, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17). And then after Jesus dies on the cross and is buried, God raises him from the dead, never to die again, so that he lives forever (Matt. 28:1-10). Then, Jesus tells us that he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and rules and reigns over everything (Matt. 28:18). And we haven’t even gotten out of Matthew before seeing clearly who Jesus is. He is the divine-human King who reigns forever. He is God the Son incarnate, the fulfillment of everything promised in the OT.
Now, with that understanding in place, the author of Hebrews can look at OT text after OT text and say, “Do you see how this Scripture is God speaking of the Son, who is infinitely superior to the angels!?!”
Let’s briefly look at his argument. He writes, “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’? (1:5). The answer of course is that no angel fulfills that role because that promised son of God and king was to be a human from David’s line. Jesus alone is the Davidic son who reigns. He is the one about whom God says, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” and “I will be to him a Father, and he will be to me a Son.” That name he’s inherited is “son.” He’s the promised divine-human son, perfectly resembling, reflecting, and representing his Father.
“And again,” the author of Hebrews continues, “when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him” (v. 6). And this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the term “firstborn” isn’t primarily a marker of time but of preeminence. Let me show you what I mean. Psalm 89 is a psalm that recounts for us that promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7 in great detail. But when God makes reference to David’s reign, he says, ‘I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (v. 27). In other words, firstborn isn’t a reference to oldest in that text but means the highest or greatest. So, when the author of Hebrews speaks of God bringing the firstborn into the world, I think it’s a reference to Jesus’ preeminence and his enthronement after his resurrection as the king of kings. In other words, this isn’t a reference to Jesus coming into the world as a baby, where he was for a little while made lower than the angels (2:9) but the raised and enthroned divine-human king, being seated at God’s right hand. And if that’s who he is, then the author of Hebrews can look at Deuteronomy 32:43 that tells all angels to worship God and know that this applies to the Son as well, who is none less than the God-man at God’s right hand.
He notes that the angels are merely seen as God’s servants in Psalm 104:4 (winds and a flame of fire, v. 7), but of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” This was language that seemed too extravagant when spoken to the Davidic king in Psalm 45, but now we see language that was pushing us forward to look for the one who would not only be David’s son but David’s God as well. And the author continues, “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.”
Again, this language of God exalting David’s son because he loved righteousness and hated wickedness would not be really accurate of David’s sons. At best they had a good mixture of wickedness intertwined with their righteousness. That’s why God kept reiterating to David in his promise in 2 Samuel 7 and the recounting of that promise in Psalm 89 that when his sons commit iniquity, God will not remove his love from them. But Psalm 45 (quoted here in verses 8-9) speaks of one of David’s sons being anointed beyond all others because of his righteousness.
And this theme of the divine-human king being righteous continues in the OT after Psalm 45. In fact, when you get to the end of the Hebrew OT (when ended with 1-2 Chronicles), you again have a retelling of God’s covenant with David in 1 Chronicles 17. But when is missing in that recounting is any mention of David’s son committing iniquity. You see, at this point the OT authors are showing us that the one to come must be free of sin, the righteous divine-human king himself. So the author of Hebrews shows us clearly that Psalm 45 is ultimately speaking beyond the immediate Davidic king at the time it was written and was written to the Son, Jesus himself. He alone is worthy of the title God. He alone perfectly loved righteousness and hated wickedness. And he alone was raised from the dead to live and reign forever and ever as Psalm 45:6 says.
Moreover, if he is God himself, then he created the world, is eternal, and will reign forever. That means that the psalmist’s words to his Lord in Psalm 102:25-27 are clearly applicable to the Son when the psalmist writes, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (v. 12). This is why the author of Hebrews said in verse 2 that the Son is not merely the one appointed the heir of all things but the very agent of creation itself, the one “through whom [God] also created the world.”
And if this is who the Son is, then he alone is the fulfillment of Psalm 110, which is the most often-quoted psalm in the New Testament, and when you see it, you can see why. It is a psalm written by David that begins, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). In fact, it was this psalm that caused Jesus to ask a question that the Pharisees couldn’t answer. Do you remember in Matthew 22 how Jesus’ opponents were asking Jesus all kinds of questions, trying to trip him up and show that he wasn’t this promised Messiah, son of David? They’d asked him tricky questions about the resurrection, paying taxes, the greatest commandment, and the like. And finally Jesus asked them a question. He said, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” And they said to him, “The Son of David.” So Jesus says, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, called him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:41-45).
And it’s a good question, isn’t it? If the promised Christ—this king to come from David—was David’s son, why would David call one of his descendants his Lord? The reason is because this promised son of David wasn’t simply human, he was also divine. He is a man, and he is God. He is Jesus, the divine-human king who reigns over everything forever, and he will reign until every enemy has been defeated. Angels? As great as they are, they are simply servants of God, sent out to serve God’s children. But Jesus is the God-man, the divine-human king who reigns forever.
Do you see then how foolish it would be for this Jewish Christians to try to turn back and put themselves under the Old Covenant? The Old Covenant was always pointing us to look for one to come, and that one has come. His name is Jesus. He lived, died, rose, and is enthroned right now at the Father’s right hand, reigning forever. How foolish would it be to turn from him back to those things whose purpose was to point toward him? How foolish would it be to pretend that the OT promises haven’t been fulfilled in Jesus? And how foolish would it be for us not to orient our lives around loving him, obeying him, and worshiping him? So, this morning, let us repent of our sins, remember the death and resurrection of our Lord, and lovingly and obediently pursue Jesus with our all. After all, he is nothing less than the long-ago promised divine-human King who reigns forever. And one day he’ll return to get us, as his enemies will be made a footstool for his feet. Until then, let’s come to the table and continue to pray, “Lord, come quickly.” Amen.
Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews, Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation (Nashville, Holman Reference, 2015), 63.
I don’t have one lecture in mind here. When I first started pastoring I ordered eighty-eight cassette tapes from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School of D. A. Carson sermons and lectures. It seemed that he made this point in about twenty-five percent of those lectures/sermons.