For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
- HEBREWS 2:2-3
At the end of yesterday’s reading, in Hebrews 1:4, the writer of Hebrews introduced a topic that dominates the first two chapters of this sermon - the superiority of Jesus over the angels. For us in modern day, this may not seem like a big deal. After all, in today’s pop culture, angels are portrayed as Cupid-like figures with rosy cheeks and sweet smiles. There is no doubt that Jesus is superior to these caricatures. However, in the first century world, angels were a big deal. They were understood to be immensely powerful spirits, more like The Avengers than Cupid, with significant roles in God’s Kingdom.
There is some truth to this ancient perspective of angels. The Hebrew Scriptures (known to us as the Old Testament) portray angels as powerful beings who sit in God’s Heavenly council, a spiritual parliament (Job 2:1). Angels served as God’s messengers and had a key role in handing down the Law from God at Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19). However, literature from outside the Bible shows that at the time Hebrews was written, there was a growing preoccupation with angels and their activities. Some contemporary books, such as the Book of Enoch, took classic Old Testament stories and embellished them to highlight the exploits of angels. A few New Testament passages even suggest that some went so far as to worship angels (Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9).
With this context in mind, the writer of Hebrews spent nearly 30 verses explaining why Jesus is greater than these powerful beings. The writer did this with a few purposes in mind. One was to correct misguided notions about the role of angels. Angels are not meant to be worshiped; they exist to worship Jesus and minister to us (Hebrews 1:6, 14). Another purpose was to explain why Jesus, who became a human, was not inferior to angels (Hebrews 2:5-18). Perhaps the most important intention the writer had was to explain to readers why they should not ignore Jesus’ message of salvation. In a “lesser-to-greater” argument, the writer argues that if people were wary of the punishment they would receive for breaking the Law— which angels had a role in mediating—then how much more should they be concerned about ignoring the message of Jesus. This is relevant for us. Jesus has announced a message of salvation that is available to all. If we want to receive this salvation, it is critical that we listen to and not ignore Him.
THE SON SUPERIOR TO ANGELS
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father?
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?
6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”
8 But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
10 He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
13 To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
WARNING TO PAY ATTENTION
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.