Epistles: Pay Attention! (Hebrews 1:13-2:4)
Hebrews 1:13: “But to which of the angels has he [God] ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” As in verse 5, the answer is “none.” God never put an angel at his right hand, but he did put Jesus there. This is quoted from Psalm 110:1, the Old Testament verse that is quoted the most often in the New Testament. This verse will be used again in Hebrews, but here, it is used simply to say that the Son is better than the angels. They are merely “spirits in the divine service,” as it says in verse 14, “sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”
Angels serve us; we serve Christ; that makes them two steps lower than Christ is. He is far greater — exactly like God, called God, creating like God and living like God.
The first chapter of Hebrews has given a series of Old Testament scriptures to show that Jesus is better than angels. For the most part, the scriptures are just quoted, with no attempt to prove that they are indeed about Jesus as the Messiah. The rapid succession of scriptures appears to be a review of something the readers already believe. The author is reminding them that Jesus, the Son of God, is superior to the angels. Angels are servants, but Christ is the creator and ruler of all.
The recipients of the letter may have thought: “Yes, we knew all that. What’s your point?”
A superior message (verses 1-3)
The author makes his point in chapter 2. “Therefore,” he says, because Christ is so great, “we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” By using the word “drift,” the author is suggesting a nautical image: We need to anchor our boat, or the currents will gradually move us away. We aren’t planning to drift away, but if we aren’t careful, we will. The way to stay anchored is to focus on the message of Jesus.
Verse 2: “For if the message declared through angels was valid…” What message was declared through angels? It was the law of Moses. Angels were involved in giving the law (Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). It was under the law of Moses that “every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty.”
But “how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” If the message of angels was valid (and it was) and disobedient people were punished, surely we won’t escape if we ignore the message of Christ. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, a common Jewish method of teaching. If Jesus is better than the angels, then his message is better than theirs. If the message delivered by servants was authoritative, then the message delivered by the Son is even more so.
The readers were attentive to the law of Moses, but they weren’t being attentive enough to the message of Jesus. They believed in Jesus as the Christ, but they hadn’t thought enough about his significance. They were so busy with Moses that they were not hearing Jesus.
Rhetorical strategy (verses 3-4)
In this, Hebrews uses a clever rhetorical strategy. The author begins with concepts the readers agree with, and they go through chapter 1 agreeing with him. Then he takes that point of agreement and turns it into a point of correction. You say that Jesus is great, he says, but you are not acting like it. You are paying too much attention to the old message and not enough to the new.
The author has called for their attention now. He has explained why his message is worth listening to. It’s about salvation, something more important than Moses. This salvation “was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him.” The author and the readers had learned about Jesus from others. (This is one reason that scholars conclude that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews. In Galatians 1:11-22, Paul insists that he was taught by the Lord, not by others.)
“God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will” (verse 4). The people had seen evidence that what they heard about Jesus was true. They had accepted him as the resurrected Son of God. However, he wasn’t making much difference in their lives and their worship. They never asked, If Jesus is the Son of God, does that change the way we worship? They were still focusing on Moses. As the author will explain in later chapters, the way we approach God has changed enormously. Jesus is in heaven interceding for us. He is our mediator, giving us access to God.
Things to think about
- In what ways have angels served the children of God?
- Am I paying careful attention to Jesus, or am I drifting? Is my life focused on the gospel?
- Do I take the great salvation lightly? Do I see my future crowned with glory and honor with Jesus?
Author: Michael Morrison