RPM, Volume 16, Number 5, January 26 to February 1, 2014

Jesus: Better than the Angels

Hebrews 1:5-14

By J. Ligon Duncan III

The Essenes had messianic expectations too. They believed there was a messiah coming. But, in fact, they believed it was more complex than just one messiah. They believed there were going to be thee human figures associated with the messianic age. First there was going to be a great prophet, perhaps the one mentioned in Malachi. Then there was going to be a kingly messiah; then there was going to be a priestly messiah, and the priestly messiah would take precedence over the kingly messiah. But of them all, God was going to rule in his new age through the Archangel Michael. Michael was going to be the greatest figure in the restoration of Israel in the promises of Abraham coming to fruition in the new order that the Lord was going to establish. This is what they believed.

Perhaps this congregation had run into that belief or something like it. They were beginning to waver in their commitments to Christian doctrine and particularly to their commitment to the Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ, the Messiah. In that context the author of Hebrews writes a book focused on showing the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we said over and over that the author of Hebrews takes us back to Jesus, and he said that if you haven't found Jesus to be totally satisfactory, then it is not because you have tried Him and found Him wanting, it is because you have never really understood Him at all. Once you know Jesus, you know that there is nothing more glorious than the Lord Jesus Christ.

So bearing that in mind, let's remember that the verses from 1 to 14 in the first chapter of Hebrews are designed to convince and remind the reader that Christ is better than the angels and it does this by appealing directly to the Old Testament passages about the Messiah. If Michael is held by some to be the highest figure of the messianic age, the author of Hebrews wants to make it clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme manifestation of the rule of God. In fact, He is indeed divine. He takes us right back to the Old Testament to describe for us what Jesus is like and He quotes seven passages in the Old Testament in order to press home five truths about the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's look at this passage together, beginning in v 5:

Hebrews 1:5-14

Father, we thank You for this Your word. We ask that You would open it to us. Apply it to our hearts by Your Spirit. Open our eyes that we might understand it and may the end of it be that we have a more exalted view of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the only Savior that You have given under Heaven. We pray, Heavenly Father, that You would write these truths on our hearts. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

In this passage, with the quotes which the author gives us, he is attempting to show us that Jesus, the Son, is the divine Messiah, spoken of by the Old Testament prophets and He embodies the prophetic priestly and the kingly teachings. In other words, the Essenes thought that there were prophetic and priestly and kingly passages about the Messiah in the Old Testament and they applied to three different people. The Christian says, "No, those passages which talk about three different aspects or works of the Messiah, all refer to the same person."

Now it is easy to see how that could be confused, because within Israel, the priestly line by law could not be confused with the kingly office. The king did not have the right to offer sacrifices and when Saul, the king, offered sacrifices, he paid for it with the loss of his crown and of his soul. There was a clear distinction in Israel between the prophetic office and the priestly office and the kingly office. But there are also indications, especially by the time you get into the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) at the end of the prophetic age in Israel, that there is a sense in which all those strands of prophecies are going to converge on one individual.

So over against the idea that there are three messianic figures, the author of Hebrews wants us to see that the prophet and the priestly and the kingly teaching in the Old Testament messianic passages all zero in on Christ and that in His capacity as Messiah, His exaltation is held in view as we look at His completed work of redemption.

I. Christ's superiority may be demonstrated scripturally in five ways.

Let's look at these five things which are stressed. Last week we looked at the first one, that Christ is the very and unique Son of God. I want to review just briefly. Please keep your Bibles handy and open, because I want to look at Old Testament passages as we work through. We said that in Hebrews 1:5 that the quotations come from two Old Testament passages, Psalm 2:7 and II Samuel 7:14. We have already looked in detail at the exposition of Psalm 2:7. There it is asserted that the Lord God has declared Jesus Christ to be His son and He says in the words of Psalm 2:7, "You are My Son, today I have begotten You." This is stressing the unique position which the Son has. He is exalted higher than the angels, because He is in the position of being the unique Son of God. He is not just of a higher quality than the other angels; He is of a different class altogether. He is not grouped in with the angels and created beings. He is a Son, unique and to Himself.

I want you to concentrate for a moment on those words, "Today I have begotten You." We said that that phrase refers to the resurrection of Christ, but I didn't explain how. It may seem by just saying it like that's a stretch. But let me explain how we get from that phrase a reference to the resurrection. How do we know what the reference in that phrase 'Today' indicates? We know it because in the New Testament there is a repeated connection between Christ's generation, His begetting, and Christ's resurrection.

Let me turn you to three passages. First Romans 1:4. In that passage, we are told by Paul that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. I want you to note two elements in that declaration. He is declared to be what? The Son of God. How? By the resurrection. So note sonship and resurrection linked by the Apostle Paul.

Turn forward to Colossians 1:18. There you will see the Apostle Paul call Jesus the "risen Jesus, the firstborn from the dead." So notice again the usage of the language 'born' or 'begotten' and 'sonship'. The risen Jesus is Son, He is firstborn from the dead, and it is connected with His resurrection.

One other passage and this is the clincher, turn back to Acts 13. The Apostle Paul is speaking to an audience in Antioch, not Antioch in Syria, but Antioch in Pisidia (in Asia Minor). He is preaching in Acts 13 to them and he is preaching about Christ. He is quoting lots of Old Testament passages. In Acts 13:32 and 33, he says, "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled the promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.'" He is saying that that Psalm was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ. In other words, by the resurrection, God was publicly owning the Lord Jesus Christ as His only and unique Son. He was vindicating all the claims that Christ made in His earthly ministry. It's beautiful to see this set in relief of the study of Matthew that we are doing. Because Matthew is building this case for us gradually. Paul is drawing that conclusion that Matthew is gradually moving us toward in the book that we are studying on Sunday mornings. So Paul understands that reference in Psalm 2:7 to highlight Christ's resurrection. Let me sum this up for you.

To sum up, we may say that at every moment of Christ's earthly existence, the incarnate Messiah is the Son beloved and accepted by the Father. But the day spoken of here, on which He is said to have been begotten by God, is the day of His glorious victory and vindication. The day also which for the purposes of our author's argument, He establishes for all to see His absolute superiority to angels. So in applying that phrase to Jesus, the author of Hebrews is making it clear in no uncertain terms that there is no one who can be exalted higher than that. You can't get more exalted than to be begotten by God.

There is a second phrase in that first section in verse 5. That second phrase comes from II Samuel 7:14. It is the phrase, "I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me." Turn with me back to II Samuel 7, because that is a key passage in the whole story of God's covenant dealings with David. In some ways, II Samuel 7 is the climax of David's life. By applying that phrase to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews is indicating that the ancient promises that God would eternally set the seed of David on the throne of Israel, the author is indicating that those promises made in II Samuel 7, repeated in Psalm 89 and other places, that those promises are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. He is saying that all those passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Micah and in the prophets that talk about God's setting David back on the throne of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Let me remind you that there are numerous promises about a coming Old Testament messianic king. Hebrews applies these quotes to Christ. Now II Samuel 7:14 is the key verse for God's covenant with David. There are three events that set the stage for that verse. In II Samuel 5, God gave David Jerusalem. David had been reigning for some time, but he had been reigning from Hebron. But God, in II Samuel 5, gave Jerusalem to David. It, of course, became known from that day on as the capital of Israel. It was the great city of peace, and it was the great city that King David had established. It had been known as Jebus, it had been in the hands of the Jebusites; but now it was in control of David and his forces. It was a strategic site for uniting the Northern and the Southern sections of Israel.

Second, turn one chapter forward, you will remember another important event before God makes this pronouncement to David in II Samuel 7. In II Samuel 6, David brings the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark had been with the Gibbeonites in another town. Now that David's throne is in Jerusalem, God's throne is now brought to Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant represented the physical place from which God reigned. It was a centralizing instrument designed to show us the reign of God on earth. It represented the throne of God and now God's throne is brought to the same city where David's throne is.

And then one last thing occurs and you read this in II Samuel 7:1. God gives David rest from all his enemies. There had been a bloody civil war going on in Israel for many years between the forces of Saul and the forces of David. That civil war was made more complicated by the fact that it was a holy war as well; because the forces of Saul saw themselves as supporting God's anointed and the forces of David saw themselves as supporting God's anointed, and they fought with holy fervor against one another. But God brings an end to that. The civil war is ended, and David is even given rest from his enemies on the outside so that he has an unprecedented period of peace; and in that context David says that he is going to build a house for God; ad there is a beautiful play on words. Because he says, "Lord, I'm going to build a house." You remember Nathan, his faithful friend and prophet at first says, "That's wonderful, David, go and be blessed." Then the Lord comes to Nathan and says, 'Nathan, go tell David not to build a house for Me. In fact, you tell David that I am going to build a house for him.'

Now there is an interesting thing. In Hebrew, the word house can be used in at least three ways. It can refer to a palace, it can refer to the temple, and it can refer to a dynasty. And in II Samuel 7, it is used in all three ways. It's a play on words. David says, 'Lord, I want to build You a house, a temple.' Because the Lord's Ark had been in what up until that time? A tabernacle, a tent. And David is dwelling in this palace of cedar and he says, 'What am I doing dwelling in a palace while the Ark of God is in a tent?' So he says, 'I'm going to build the Lord a palace.' David, from his house, his palace, says 'I'm going to build you a house Lord,' meaning a temple; and then the Lord says, 'You are not going to build me a house, meaning a temple, I'm going to build you a house, meaning a dynasty.' And so His blessing to David. You remember Saul wanted Jonathan to be the next king. It was not God's will for Jonathan to be the next king of Israel. There was no succession from Saul to Jonathan. But God comes to David in II Samuel 7 and says, 'I'm going to give you a house. I'm going to make you a dynasty. There is going to be a succession of your sons on the throne.' In II Samuel 7:14, the highlight of that reality is stressed when God says, "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me." This glorious expression of the relationship of God to the descendent of David who sits on the throne. So God is promising David both the succession, his son will sit on the throne, but He also in this passage promises that David's son will always sit on the throne.

Now that's an amazing thing and I want you to reflect on God's faithfulness to that commandment. David's line reigned for over 400 years; and I am told by royal genealogists that that is the longest single dynasty to reign over a nation in the history of the world. Did you know that? David's dynasty is the longest single dynasty in one direct line to reign over any nation in the history of the world. Now compare that to the reign in the Northern Kingdom. In the Northern Kingdom, they had a dozen families, or houses, and four different capitals in 200 years. David's line reigned for 400 years; that is a remarkable thing. But it still doesn't measure up to what God said because God said that David's son was going to reign forever.

Now that is taken by the New Testament authors as a clue to understanding that this statement in II Samuel 7:14 ultimately can only be fulfilled in the greater son of David who is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, because He will reign forever and ever. And so the New Testament applies this passage to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The author of Hebrews is saying that this passage is fulfilled in Christ.

Now notice again, in the backdrop of people talking about Michael the exalted archangel being the wondrous and glorious leader of the messianic age, the author of Hebrews says, "Let me describe for you just a little bit, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. He is the son of David, for whom we have been looking for a thousand years. And you are saying that Michael is greater than that? Michael is a son to God and God is a father to him?" The author of Hebrews is pointing to the uniqueness of the position of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there are a number of applications of these truths found in verse 5 for us.

First, let's remember again, if we want to have the privilege of sharing in the blessings of sonship, we can only find it in Christ. Christ is the unique son. Then we can only participate in those blessings of being children of God through relationship with Him. Because if He is the heir of everything, the only way we participate is if we are related to Him.

Again, our remembrance and celebration of the resurrection ought to be an encouragement to our faith, because Christ was vindicated in the resurrection by His Heavenly Father. His vindication is the foreshadowing, however, of your vindication. If you are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering His resurrection, is a reminder to you of the future vindication that God is going to give for you in your resurrection.

Let me say one other thing. I mentioned this last week, and it is a hard thing to get around. The author of Hebrews stresses over and over that these promises addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ in chapter 1 are addressed to Him not as simply the Second Person of the Trinity, but they are addressed to Him as Messiah. These promises are not simply addressed to Christ or to the Second Person of the Trinity considering just His being, His nature; they are addressed to Him in His capacity as our representative. Therefore, because these promises are addressed to Him as our representative, these promises are our promises too.

If I could illustrate that in a very poor illustration, it would be like this. Suppose there was a tremendously wealthy man who owned numerous companies and he had a son who was slated to be his heir and you were an employee of one of his major companies. As the man got older, he decided that he was going to give that company to his son and then someone came along and decided that they wanted to buy that company. Now the son could sell that company and make a tremendous amount of money and leave you in the lurch without a job, perhaps, and you benefit not at all from the fact that he was the heir. He would still be the heir; he would be the rightful beneficiary of everything. But suppose that son so loved the employees and the people who had given their lives to the company, that he said, "You know, I'm not going to see the company to this outside buyer. We're going to start an employee stock option plan. And I'm going to continue to run the company and all those who have worked in this company for many years and going to be a part of that ESOP plan. If the company does well, they are going to do well." And say he leads that company, then he becomes their representative, making sure that their investment benefits them. That is a poor picture of what we say when Jesus is not given the promises simply as the eternal son of God.

What do we have with the eternal Son of God? As these promises are given to the Messiah who is our representative, we have an interest in them. We partake of them. We benefit from them. So it's a glorious thing that the author of Hebrews continually stresses that the promises made to Christ are made not simply to the Second Person of the Trinity, but to the Messiah who is our representative. And that indicates the hope that awaits us is certain full friendship and fellowship and union and communion with God. All those things are certainly ours, because we are related to Him. He is our representative and we are His people.

Now, there again, I have gotten through half a point and we will stop there and look at these other four categories when we come back the next time, the Lord willing. May the Lord bless His word to our hearts? Let's look to Him in prayer.

Father, we thank You for the truth of this first chapter of Hebrews. It's simple, but it is profound. And it is so profound that it is hard to express sometimes, Lord. I pray that Your people will benefit even from our feeble attempts to understand the glory of that which is contained in the passage. Strengthen our faith in Jesus, the Messiah. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

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