Big Idea: Jesus is better than angels, so if you’d pay attention to the message of angels, you’d better pay attention to the message of Jesus.
I have a beef with people who say the Old Testament is boring.
Every time I start to read the Old Testament, I’m captured by the story all over again. In the first pages, you’ve got beauty, love, tragedy, judgement, murder, more judgment, a brand new start, grace, and God’s plan to rescue the world. And that’s just the first few pages! The first twelve chapters of Genesis explain so much about the world today, and they’re anything but boring.
But that’s just the start. You’ve got family dysfunction on a major scale, conflicts between world powers, tragic heroes, deliverance, grumbling, wars, repeating cycles of judgment, and more. The Old Testament is fascinating. It’s unrivalled in all literature, and it’s God’s word.
And you have angels. Lots and lots of angels.
Angels are part of God’s creation. We don’t know when they were created — perhaps the same time as the earth, maybe even before. They’re a higher order than humans, but much lower than God. They’re created beings. They’re not omnipresent. They can only be in one place at one time. They don’t know everything. But they’re still spectacular compared to us, which is why humans tend to freak out when they encounter an angel.
They’re spirit beings. We don’t know how many angels there are, but they’re innumerable. Revelation 5:11 talks about angels “numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” There are good angels and bad angels, and they’re involved with us.
Angels appear to humans throughout Scripture. Angels play a big role in this world and in our lives.
Angels work in the destiny of nations for the good of God’s people. Good angels withstand Satan while the word of God is being preached to the king of Persia (Zech. 3:1). They work in the protection of the righteous and encamp about them that fear the Lord (Ps. 34:7 8), and they deliver God’s people from their enemies (2 Kgs. 6:15–17). Angels deliver Peter from prison and reassure Paul in the great storm at sea (Acts 12:7; 27:23). They are given charge to keep the righteous in all their ways, and are ministering spirits to those who are heirs of salvation (Ps. 91:11; Heb. 1:14). Angels represent individuals before the throne of God (Matt. 18:10; cf. Dan. 12:1), and if heavenly angels are meant in Rev. 2–3, then they are given specific assignments to congregations of the Church. (Edward P. Myers, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible)
This is amazing stuff.
A few years ago, I attended a study group with Tim Mackie, one of the teachers at The Bible Project. The Bible Project was about to release its video series on spiritual beings, and Tim taught a session one night on the topic. We went back to our rooms and our eyes were bulging. We don’t think enough about the reality of the spiritual world, and the ways that angels and demons interact with what’s going on in the world and our lives. It’s amazing.
So I have a question for you. If an angel appeared to you, would you listen?
Here’s what we know. You’d be terrified if you realized it was an angel. We know that because it’s the pretty consistent reaction of everyone in the Bible who saw an angel and realized it.
- Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was initially afraid when he encountered the angel Gabriel in the temple (Luke 1:11-20).
- The shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem were terrified when an angel appeared to them to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-10).
- The women who went to Jesus' tomb after his crucifixion were frightened by the presence of an angel who told them that Jesus had risen (Matthew 28:2-7).
- The guards at Jesus' tomb also experienced fear when an angel appeared and rolled away the stone from the entrance (Matthew 28:3-4).
- The apostle John was filled with fear when he saw a powerful angel in a vision on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:17).
- The prophet Daniel was overwhelmed with fear when he saw a heavenly being in a vision by the Tigris River (Daniel 10:5-9).
You’d be terrified, but would you listen to an angel sent by God?
I’d like to think so, but you can find examples of people who did and didn’t listen to angels in the Bible. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, had an angel visit him twice, and he listened both times (Matthew 1:20-24, Matthew 2:13-15). In Acts we read:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. (Acts 8:26-27)
You can see examples of that in Scripture: an angel appears and communicates a message from God, and people respond in obedience.
But you also see the opposite. Angels told Lot to flee Sodom, but they lingered (Genesis 19:15-16). Sarah laughed at a message from angels, although she may not have realized they were angels at the time (Genesis 18:12).
But generally, I’d like to think that if I received a message from an angel sent by God, I would receive it. I know I’d be terrified. I probably wouldn’t sleep that night. But I hope I would listen to what that angel said.
Who is Better Than Angels?
Here’s why I ask this question.
We’re looking at the book of Hebrews, and in the first chapter, the writer is assuming that his readers were much more aware of angels than we are, and that they were ready to pay attention to what angels said. He knows that they had a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, and so they knew and respected angels. I don’t think the author is correcting a problem on the part of the readers — an unhealthy speculation about angels, or even worship of angels a problem that did seem to exist in other churches at the time (Colossians 2:18). I think he was basically recognizing that they had an appropriate respect for angels, and that’s a good thing.
But then he asks: Do you know who’s even better than angels? And then he does what a good rabbi would do in a synagogue back then: he strings passage after passage to show that there’s someone even better than angels. So if they pay attention to angels, how much more should they pay attention to this one who is even better than angels?
How is Jesus better than angels? He’s better in at least four ways:
- He has a better name (1:4-5) — Names were important in that culture. In Jewish thought, a name signified one’s character and perhaps even their dignity. In verse 4, the writer says that Jesus has “become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (1:4). Jesus has a better name than the angels. What is his name? Son. The writer quotes Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 to point to Jesus’ unique identity as God’s Son. The angels may be messengers, but Jesus is so much more. He is God’s Son. As an angel said in Luke 1:32-33, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Angels are messengers, but Jesus is God’s Son, exalted to a royal position
- He’s worshipped and served by angels (1:6-7) — Angels have a lot of dignity, but they don’t have as much dignity and honor as Jesus. Verses 6 and 7 describe two things that angels do that make them inferior to Jesus. He quotes Psalm 97:7 and says that angels worship Jesus, and he quotes Psalm 104:4 to say that they serve Jesus. Angels may be great to us, but they’re worshipers and servants to Jesus. He is much greater than them. They are in an inferior position to Jesus. That’s why verses 8 and 9 quote Psalm 45:6-7 and apply them to Jesus. Angels serve and worship; Jesus is served and worshipped.
- He’s enthroned (1:8, 13) — The writer quotes Psalm 45:6-7 and Psalm 110:1 and says that Jesus is enthroned with a sceptre of uprightness, enthroned by God himself. Angels surround the throne, but Jesus is sitting on that throne. Jesus is greater than them.
- He’s Creator, not creation (1:8-13) — Angels are like us. They’re created. Jesus is not like angels or like us. He existed before creation because he is the creator.
Angels serve God to benefit God’s people, according to verse 14. Their work is important. But it pales in comparison to Jesus’ authority.
The writer takes two things that his audience loves: the Hebrew Scriptures and angels, and he uses them to show that Jesus is way better than angels. Angels are excellent creatures. Out of all the creatures who exist, they are the greatest. But there is someone far greater than the angels, and his name is Jesus.
He is using an appropriate respect for angels and arguing from lesser to greater. “If you think angels are cool, you should take a look at Jesus!”
What’s the Point?
You might be thinking, “This is the strangest sermon I’ve ever heard in my life. What does any of this have to do with me?”
I’m glad you asked, because in the first four verses of chapter 2, the writer tells you exactly what this has to do with you and with me.
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. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
Here’s what he’s saying. You’d probably listen to angels. They’re a pretty big deal. And if you didn’t listen to angels, you could expect just retribution.
So what about Jesus who is a much bigger deal than angels? What are the stakes if we don’t pay attention to him, especially since the message is so well attested?
Jesus is better than angels, so if you’d pay attention to the message of angels, you’d better pay attention to the message of Jesus.
This is the first of five major warning passages in Hebrews, and it’s an important one. And it’s also a convicting one, because the author puts his finger on the real danger in verse 1: not denying Jesus, but simply drifting from Jesus. C.S. Lewis once said, “If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”
The truths about Jesus can become so familiar. We can get so distracted by other things. Slowly, we can just begin to drift, and the consequences couldn’t be higher. If ignoring the message of angels is dangerous, how could we ever begin to drift away from the message of Jesus? “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
“Drifting is infinitely dangerous” (John Piper). And it’s so easy. As Trevin Wax says, we face our greatest danger…
…not when new errors start to win but when old truths no longer wow. We receive good gifts from God and then grow bored with blessings. Spiritual dullness. Blurry vision. Hardness of heart. This is the challenge for the church.
As he says later, “We wander when we lose our wonder.”
So here’s the solution, in verse 1: pay attention. “Pay much closer attention…” Everyone in this room is in danger of drifting. There’s only one solution, and it requires ongoing action. Pay attention. The minute you stop, you’ll start to drift, and drifting is infinitely dangerous.
Friends, there is nobody better than Jesus. And there is no greater message than the message of the gospel that Jesus came to bring: that Jesus has done everything necessary to undo the damage of sin in us and ultimately the world, and that he calls us to turn to him and trust him.
The stakes are so high. Pay careful attention. Don’t drift away.
Father, we see one of the dangers facing us. We’ve heard about Jesus, but we’re prone to drifting from that message. We wander because we lose our wonder.
So help us to pay attention to the amazing truths of the gospel, and to the amazing person of Jesus. We wouldn’t ignore the message of angels, so help us not to drift from the message of Jesus. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.