angels

The One Who Has Been Given Dominion Over All Things (Hebrews 1)

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Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

In different times and in various ways is apparently any form of communication: prophets, angels, burning bushes, pillars of fire and smoke, talking donkeys – any way God communicated or revealed himself to the world. It was all telling the same story.

Some have pointed out this is kind of a musical image. Music has different parts that harmony to participate in the same song; so, too, the Old Testament writers, where “all the prophets testified about him.” (Acts 10:43).

It was also incomplete, and Jesus came to complete the revelation that began with the prophets. In the past God spoke in all these ways. For years the Hebrews got partial messages and saw through a glass very dimly. That’s over though. No need to watch and wait for the next cryptic message – everything we need for life and godliness has come. God spoke fully through Christ. He said everything we need to hear. Now, at a very particular time and in a very particular way, not only was God’s voice revealed fully, but God himself has stepped into world history in the person of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps because they were used to get revelation a piece at a time, they were enamored with the next messenger who would bring the next piece– as we are about to see, they were seriously excited about angels bringing messages. The rest of this chapter criticizes the pursuit of messengers, even the most amazing ones, because Christ has brought the message in its fullness. We already have the message – all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no more waiting for something new. Jesus came and rolled out the whole story. Humans used to wonder what God meant or what God wanted. Jesus told them. Now we know.[1]

The Son, who is the radianceof God’s glory and the exact expression/image of His nature, sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4

This language can throw us because it’s the language of analogies. Analogies are almost always imperfect, and even more so when talking about God. When we think of the image or expression of his person, we think photo or painting: it’s not the real deal, it’s just a representation. That’s not what this language conveyed. The author is careful to say that the One who expresses God’s image created and sustained the world. That’s what God does. [2] Now the writer goes into a long discourse on angels. I will read the whole thing, then we will talk.

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.5 For no heavenly messengers have ever heard God address them with these words of the psalms: “You are My Son. Today I have become Your Father (begotten you).” Or heard Him promise, “I will be to You a Father, and You will be My Son.”[3]

Now, when the Son, the firstborn of God, was brought into the world, God said, “Let all My heavenly messengers worship Him.7 Concerning them, God said, “I make My heavenly messengers like the winds, and My servants like a flame.”

But to the Son He said, God, Your throne is eternal; You will rule Your kingdom with the scepter of justice. 9 You have loved what is right and hated what is evil; That is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness and lifted You above Your companions.[e]

10 And God continues, In the beginning, You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth, and set the skies above us with Your own hands.11 But while they will someday pass away, You remain forever; when they wear out like old clothes,12 You will roll them up and change them into something new. But You will never change. Your years will never come to an end.[f]

13 Did God ever say to any of the heavenly messengers, “Sit here, at My right hand, in the seat of honor;and I’ll put all Your enemies under Your feet?”14 No, of course not. The heavenly messengers are only spirits and servants, sent out to minister to those who will certainly inherit salvation.

This seems like an odd sidebar with which to open the book, but it must have been a big enough deal that the author felt like he had to lead the book off with it.

Angels were very popular in the Jewish community from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D.  They didn’t usually worship them (though there is warning elsewhere in the NT), but a whole hierarchy of angels was developed along with some theological teachings that were not present in the Old Testament.

  • OT stories were often retold with angels performing acts that were attributed to God.
  • They would at times ask them for help (the Maccabeans invoked the unnamed angel to help them fight).
  • During the Second Temple period (which ended in AD 70, so this would be at the time the NT was written) it was assumed that mysteries of the end of days and of man's future could be discovered only through the intermediary of angels.
  • Enoch shows up in Jewish literature as the transmitter of heavenly wisdom; his authority is derived exclusively from his constant communication with angels.
  • Various Jewish sources attributed the wisdom of Noah and Abraham to their intimate knowledge of the world of angels.
  • There was one Jewish sect in Egypt during the first century (al-Maghārrīya) that claimed that it was angels who created the world and addressed the prophets.[4]

Of course, angels were an important part of the biblical narrative, and the part that stood out to the Jewish people at that time was the part about the Law.

  • Deuteronomy 33:2 mentions “holy ones” that accompanied God at Sinai during the giving of the Law to Moses.
  • Stephen said the Law was “delivered by angels” in Acts 7:53.
  • Even Paul, in Galatians 3:19, says the law was “put in place through angels”.[5]

Most commentators believe the best understanding is that angels were with God to observe and give glory. Since angels are literally “messengers,” could God have used them? Sure. That’s not required by the language used in the text. [6]

Considering the high regard the Jewish people had for angels, their presence added tremendous weight to the moment.[7]Think of how when we have a ribbon cutting for a new building or venture; we want lots of people, and the more important they are, the better. If the “ribbon cutting” for the Law was attended by a host of angels, how amazing and important even the Law – which had yet to be fulfilled by Jesus - must be.

So here’s what we have so far.

  1. Jesus is God. Like Jesus said, “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
  2. Through the offering of Jesus (his death), we are purified from our sins.Jesus Christ is the means of salvation.
  3. We only worship Jesus.If you think a myriad of angels is amazing, they are nothing in light of God’s glory, majesty and power.“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.  Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions”  (Colossians 2:18). Angels are God’s servants, created by him do his will.  In fact, they are so amazing we are easily tempted to elevate them too high, even to the point of worship.  Even John was tempted.  “And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book.  Worship God!’”(Revelation 22:8-9).
  4. Angels are here to minister at God’s command to those who have or will experience salvation.

So, the writer of Hebrews begins by stressing that nothing is more important than Jesus. Nothing is more glorious, nothing is more powerful, nothing else is deserving of our worship. Plain and simple, this is a warning against idolatry. We must never gaze upon or pursue the gift (even if it is an angel) above the giver. This is sin.

To the early Jewish audience, one of their big distractions  - idols? - was angels.  They were so enamored with angels that they were losing sight of Jesus. I asked our leadership team this week what our equivalent is now. What distracts us? What runs the risk of overshadows Jesus or diverting our eyes from the Creator to the creation? These things may be just fine, but we’ve in some sense elevated the creature over the creator (to quote Romans 1). They assured me I could make everyone uncomfortable – and then gave me examples to prove it. So let’s try it.

  • Angels once again–There is a resurgence in Christian books that do more than simply explain what the Bible says. They increasingly encourage a pursuit of the angelic. That’s dangerous territory. That’s not a biblical command. God deploys angels to us as He wills and as we need them. We don’t need to practice to see them; if God wants them seen, they will be seen. We don’t need to practice to hear them; if God has a message, it will be heard. We certainly don’t need to and would be wrong to pray to them. Let’s thank God for his supernatural ministers – and then refocus on Jesus.
  • Politics –do we think more about politicians than we do about Jesus? Are we more invested in the Kingdom of America than we are with the Kingdom of God?Which do we study most? Which one captures our imagination and thoughts more of the time? Which one are we the most publicly bold and passionate about standing for or pledging our allegiance to? Where is our hope? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20).That’s a warning against trusting power and wealth over God.
  • Christian “Royalty”.Famous Christian preacher or singers, for example. To be clear, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We do ourselves a great disservice when we ignore the rich insights into God’s truth from those who have gone before. The danger is when we elevate the author or the opinion above the Creator. Just remember that our pursuit is Christ and our measuring rod is scripture. I love certain writers and pastors like Timothy Keller and Shane Wood and Matt Chandler. But they are just men. They are winds and flame. I dare not put weight on them that should only be put on Christ. I dare not turn to their words before God’s word. I dare not leave their words untested.
  • The Things Of The Kingdom– Can God heal us? Absolutely God can – physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. Can God provide us with money and a good job? Sure, if He so desires. Can God make us happy? It is in His power. Are there times when God provides sweet experiences of His presence and blessing? Absolutely. Is that why I’m a Christian? Am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or am I seeking first all of the things that are found in various times and in various ways in the Kingdom? If, like Job, all of them are taken from me, will I yet praise God? Is the fact of His grace sufficient?  The things of the Kingdom are also servants of God, which He gives as He will. May we never forget that the glory of the things in the Kingdom are nothing, nothing in light of the glory of God.

 

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[1]Even today, we want our prophets. We want our new books with new words, but we forget all that we need for life and godliness was fully delivered 2000 years ago. To live as if that is not enough reveals, I fear, a lack of trust in what God revealed in Christ.

[2]“It is a metaphor taken from sealing; the… seal leaving the full impression of its every part on the wax to which it is applied. From these words it is evident that the apostle states Jesus Christ to be of the same essence with the Father. “ (Adam Clarke)

[3]Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee - These words are quoted from  Psalm 2:7, a psalm about Messiah;  this is also quoted by Paul (Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4) as referring to the resurrection of Christ.  Others speculate this is a reference to the incarnation, when Jesus was literally born as a son.

[4]https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/angels-and-angelology-2

[5]A lot of my information here came from an article entitled “Why Does Hebrews Start with Angels?” from readingacts.com

[6]By the disposition of angels - Εις διαταγας αγγελων . After all that has been said on this difficult passage, perhaps the simple meaning is, that there were ranks, διαταγαι, of angels attending on the Divine Majesty when he gave the law: a circumstance which must have added greatly to the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion; and to this  Psalm 68:17; seems to me most evidently to allude: The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place. It was not then by the mouths nor by the hands of angels, as prime agents, that Moses, and through him the people, received the law; but God himself gave it, accompanied with many thousands of those glorious beings. As it is probable they might be assisting in this most glorious solemnity, therefore St. Paul might say,  Galatians 3:19, that it was ordained by angels, διαταγεις δι 'αγγελων, in the hand of a Mediator. And as they were the only persons that could appear, for no man hath seen God at any time, therefore the apostle might say farther, (if indeed he refers to the same transaction, see the note there), the word spoken by angels was steadfast,  Hebrews 2:2. But the circumstances of this case are not sufficiently plain to lead to the knowledge of what was done by the angels in this most wonderful transaction; only we learn, from the use made of this circumstance by St. Stephen, that it added much to the enormity of their transgression, that they did not keep a law, in dispensing of which the ministry of angels had been employed. (Adam Clarke’s commentary)

[7]Think of how Paul notes how the Galatian church welcomed him as if he were “an angel of God” in Galatians 4:14. He legit was bearing the message of God.