Note that the central issue in the epistle is that Jesus Christ is the lone Subject of the author's theme from which he never deviates throughout his argument. This issue of angels may have surfaced in some people's mind because the Old Testament calls them “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and 2:1. In addition, the nation of Israel is called God's son in Exodus 4:22, and Solomon receives that title in II Samuel 7:14.
However, God gives none of these entities the exalted status of His begotten Son, as the entire epistle refers to Jesus Christ. One will search in vain through the Scriptures for God addressing any angel in this privileged manner. It appears not even once.
The quotation in Hebrews 1:5 derives from Psalm 2:6-8:
Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.”
God may have said this here because He desired to establish the relationship between Them as a father-and-son one, like the human relationship, to be revealed later when Jesus was born in the flesh.
Hebrews 1:6 carries this challenge another step. To affirm Christ's greatness, the Father charges angels with this directive: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” This order clearly reinforces that the Son is also God. If any of the angels had chosen to worship any other personage but the Creator God, it would have amounted to idolatry. To Jews, this command confirms that the Son is high above any angel that they may have chosen to be the high priest within the New Covenant. Jesus is clearly superior in every way to all angels.
Another somewhat unique Greek term appears in this context: prōtotokos. It is not unique to the Bible nor to humanity in general, but it is exceptional in that it is used in absolute terms in relation to Christ. Prōtotokos means “firstborn.” Scripture uses it in connection to Jesus being the firstborn of several siblings (e.g., Matthew 1:25); in reference to the church as God's firstborn (Hebrews 12:23); in reference to Jesus' place as the source of, and supreme over, all creation (Colossians 1:15); and in regard to His preeminent place in the process of redemption (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). It is a rare term in secular Greek, mostly used in its literal sense, but it can be a title that grants a citizen social significance within a community.
Here, though, it seems to signify that the Son (note the title) has the same status with God the Father that a firstborn human son has with his father—He is the Heir. In Jesus' case, His status, partially due to this firstborn factor, reaches even to His exaltation and enthronement as Sovereign over the universe.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1
During the first century, a number of very vocal Jews were hesitant about accepting Jesus Christ as High Priest under the New Covenant. The conference recorded in Acts 15, held to resolve their doubts, provides evidence of this group's existence. However, through the human author, God led, as it were, with a knockout punch in Hebrews' first chapter. Reading the powerful and true statements about Christ from God's own Word, laid out with devastating logic, a convert could find nothing to contradict.
Is there any other person besides Jesus, be he angel or human, whom God names as His only begotten Son? Is there anyone else whom God names as His Son who will inherit all things? Through whom the entire creation came into being? Who has given life itself to all creatures including humans?
God does not stop there. He continues His direct attack. Did God appoint any other person besides the One who became Jesus of Nazareth as “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person”? Does anyone else also uphold all things in creation by the very word of His power?
Did anyone but His only begotten Son purge us of our sins by sacrificing His perfectly lived life in an extremely painful death? Did anyone else rise from the dead and ascend to heaven to be seated at the Father's right hand, filling the second-highest position of power and authority in the entire universe?
All these questions challenge the skeptics to justify their reasons for rejecting Him as High Priest. Is there any room for even an angel, a creation of Jesus and thus on a lower plane than He, to be considered? And that is only the beginning of the questions that surely arose.
What God establishes at the very beginning of this magnificent epistle did not directly answer a few of the Jews' central doubts. What really perturbed the doubters was that Jesus of Nazareth appeared to be just another human, and He obviously died as all humans die. These facts, based on sight, not faith, did not meet their expectations.
The Jews' expectations about the appearance of the Messiah were built—and twisted from time to time—over a 1,400-year, on-and-off knowledge of God. Frankly, in terms of time, it was far more often “off” than “on.” God did not praise even one king of the ten northern Israelite tribes for leading a period of righteous rule over them. The tribes in the southern kingdom, Judah, occasionally had a David, Hezekiah, or Josiah rise to the point of God giving such praise. However, this kingdom eventually fell, and God judged that its conduct had been worse than that of the Kingdom of Israel!
Jesus was born among these people of Judah, and to them, He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Jews had had an especially long period of free access to the prophets God sent through the centuries, so they had had access to the Scriptures as they came into existence through the prophets. Hebrews 1:1 declares that God ensured that this witness occurred: “God . . . at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” The Israelites were never totally without access to God's guidance. Their problem was they did not believe deeply enough what He said to allow them to use it to bring Him glory. Like many modern Americans, they mostly did their own thing.
They were not totally wrong on everything, but they were in error enough that they could not come to correct conclusions to give them an accurate picture. For example, some Jews understood enough of the Promised Seed prophecy (Genesis 3:14-15) to know that it would be fulfilled by a great leader among the Israelites. They also knew He would be “the Anointed” and the “Messiah” and lead Israel to material greatness among the nations.
That scenario does not even begin to scratch the fullness of the Promised Seed's accomplishments, let alone that all nations will benefit both spiritually and materially from His greatness. They had only the slightest inkling that His appearance and subsequent accomplishments would bring salvation to the Gentile world too.
So, they had difficulty with the concept that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man at the same time—even with the idea that He could be divine while in the flesh. They had trouble connecting their understanding of the Promised Messiah with Jesus' public ministry of both words and healings of mind and body, with His sacrificial death, and with the spiritual gifts He gives to heal the elects' minds and spirits, even though a spiritual mind can see that the prophecy in Genesis 3 contains hints of them. To some Jews, influenced by Judaism, these elements were a leap beyond their abilities to grasp.
When Christ's three-and-a-half years of ministry concluded and the church began, virtually everyone called and converted was a Jew. It was not that Jesus did not preach to Gentiles. He preached to the Gentile Samaritans as early as John 4, and His message attracted them, but none were converted during His ministry. Gentiles grasped some level of the truth, but not until God sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and he and his family were converted and baptized into the Family of God, did the middle wall of division separating the Israelites—most specifically the Jews—and the Gentiles began to dissolve, little by little, within the church, the Israel of God.
The biblical record does not suggest in any way that the Gentiles called into God's church had any more difficulty being converted to Jesus Christ than Jews. The Jerusalem Conference resolved much of the “Gentile problem” challenging the Jews, and the church began moving to correct any remaining issues tied to this dispute.
Three things assisted the Jews through this issue:
The apostles' and others' consistent, truthful teaching from the Old Testament in Sabbath services and Bible studies.
The called Gentiles quick understanding of the truth, at least partly a result of their not having to overcome false, Jewish teachings.
The gradual writing of gospels, letters, and other material by the apostles, especially those that became part of what is now the New Testament.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1
Overall, the Jews generally had high regard for angels, and well they might. Part of the reason is contained in the word translated “direction” in Acts 7:53, at the end of Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin: “. . . who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” The underlying term in Greek is diatage, which is capable of wide usage, suggesting “put into order,” “delivered,” “given,” or “put into effect.” The King James Version translates it elsewhere as “delivered,” “given,” “put into effect,” and “through.” The Key Word Study Bible suggests, however, that since the Old Testament says nothing of angels doing anything significant except being present when the law was given, the most suitable translation would be “instrumentality” (as The Amplified Bible does).
Stephen undoubtedly refers to Deuteronomy 33:1-2:
Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before His death. And he said:
The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came with ten thousands of saints;
From His right hand
Came a fiery law for them.
Moses speaks of the giving of the law and the making of the Old Covenant. The term “saints” in this context is literally “holy ones.” In this circumstance, it could only be angels.
Psalm 68:17 also mentions the attendance of angels on this occasion: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the LORD is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.” The chariots of God, to put it in human terms, refer to angels being the chariots' drivers, manning the vehicles of God's military might.
The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:19:
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.
The Amplified Bible (1987 version) translates this final phrase as “arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels.” Remember that the holy angels were and still are sinless. In this way, we can grasp the biblical reasons why the Jews had so much respect for them.
Thus, the apostle Paul confirms that God did indeed use angels to some extent at Sinai when He gave the law, but he gives no specific details. The author of Hebrews shows that even though the Old Testament does not detail the part angels played in the giving of the law and the Old Covenant, the Old Testament does show that angels were strongly represented. Overall, angels played a prominent role in a wide variety of situations.
From these mentions and many more, the Jews esteemed angels more highly than men. This is a natural reaction to biblical revelation and a good one, yet they attracted the admiration of the Jews for other reasons too, like what Psalm 103:20 says of them: “Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word.” “Strength” represents enhanced traits such as intelligence, wisdom, and the obedience that is specifically mentioned. They are not merely spiritual robots.
Psalm 104:4, quoted in Hebrews 1:7, adds, “. . . Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” They are God's ministers, who serve Him as He sees fit. They are of such quality that they occupy positions at the top of the divine, governmental hierarchy. We can easily conclude that God carries on much of the administration of the creation through them.
But as elevated as angels are in God's placement of them within His governance of creation, and as glorious as they are in their innate powers, they are nevertheless subject to the Lord Jesus, even as humans are. One who was made a little lower than angels, however, has ascended to heaven to the right hand of God the Father. There is now a glorified Man in heaven, who has attained a station exceedingly higher than any angels' position. In the end, angels are still mere created creatures, as we are, and thus He, Jesus Christ, their Creator and God, is immeasurably higher than they.
For the Jews to be told that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate—that is, God made flesh—and the Messiah, yet He suffered death despite possessing glory and dignity far exceeding that of anyone on earth, excelling even that of heavenly angels, was something beyond their ability to accept readily. One of the points the author of Hebrews makes, although he never states it directly, is that the Old Covenant, in reality, achieved no higher than angelic mediation, though that in itself is impressive. In the making of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, their Creator, replaced the angels in all their covenantal activities. God Himself mediates the New Covenant, putting it on an exceedingly higher level than the Old Covenant.
Knocking down the angelic argument proved to be an excellent place for the author of Hebrews to begin. Why? Because He establishes Christ's superiority above all who might be considered in His place, including even those the Jews respected most highly, angels.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 1:5: