The Manger: A King Size Bed (4)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Hebrews 1:4a (Holman) So He became higher in rank than the angels…
Hebrews 1:1-3 taught us Jesus is greater than any other person who ever lived. People are this world’s highest creation, but in another world there are created beings superseding humans in radiance, strength, and glory.
These celestial beings are called angels. Angels are distinct from human beings on earth, and from human beings gone on to heaven. Angels are glorious and elevated above humans, but even they are subject to Jesus.
Many doubt angels exist, but Scripture plainly teaches there are such beings. John McArthur points out, there are 108 direct references to angels in the Old Testament, 165 in the New Testament. Angels are real, existing for two purposes: to serve God, and to serve people.
Angels serve God by doing His bidding. Angels surround Yahweh. They are His entourage, His army of warriors, and His messengers. They have through the ages helped communicate God’s word and will to us.
Angels also serve God as He administers our planet. God does not move the world merely by laws, by unconscious, inanimate, and unfeeling forces, but rather by living beings full of His wisdom and love.
In addition to serving God, angels also serve humans. We know they love us because they rejoice when one of us is saved (LK 15:10). Even little children have their own watchful angels (MT 18:10). At critical moments in the Bible, angels often appeared, and ministered words of encouragement.
Many in Israel came to think too highly of angels. Veneration became superstition. We too can be tempted to overestimate the role of angels. They are not to be worshiped or prayed to. They are servants of God and people.
Let nothing take our eyes off Jesus. He is the One who loves us most. He alone is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is better than angels.
Hebrews 1:4b … just as the name He inherited is superior to theirs.
The favored position of Jesus is not His by reward, but rather His by right. It is His heritage, His inheritance. He has been exalted above angels by virtue of His very Being itself. They are created; He is Creator. They are glorious; He is the Glory itself. They surround the throne; He is on the throne. His taking on flesh and blood made Him appear for a while to be “lower than the angels,” but His return to Heaven revealed His superiority.
Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand pictured the reality that had always existed. Angels have always been subservient to Him. An angel came to the virgin to announce Jesus’ birth. An angel told Joseph not to fear taking Mary as his wife. Angels told shepherds near Bethlehem of a manger that had become a king size bed. An angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt.
By announcing Jesus’ coming, angels showed their inferiority to Him. Heralds precede the King, not vice versa. The lesser announces the greater.
In the Temptation, angels ministered to Jesus. At Gethsemane, they provided Him comfort. On Resurrection morning, angels told the story of His return from death. At His ascension, angels escorted Him into the glory, and when He returns to earth to reign, the angels shall follow him. Angels have always served Jesus. He has ever been their Lord and God. Jesus has a more excellent name than the angels. And what is this excellent name?
Hebrews 1:5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, You are My Son; today I have become Your Father, or again, I will be His Father, and He will be My Son?
The excellent name is “Son.” Angels as a group are called sons of God (PS 29:1; 89:6), but the title “Son of God” is given to no individual angel. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the only One of the same nature as the Father. Neither God the Father nor God the Son is more or less God than the other. They have the same nature; they are equally divine.
Our writer wanted all to know this idea was not outlandish or new. The concept of Messiah being God’s Son was outlined in the Old Testament. The Jews always deemed Psalm 2 as referring to Messiah. In this very Psalm (v. 7), God said Messiah was His Son. Our writer also called attention to 2 Samuel 7:14, where the prophet Nathan spoke of David’s kingdom.
The first, immediate intent of Nathan’s words was Solomon, but not all of God’s promises to David were fulfilled in Solomon. Hence, later prophets began looking for a descendant of David greater than Solomon, and interpreted this passage as a prediction of the coming Messiah. The Christ of Old Testament expectation would be One called “Son” by God Himself.
This One was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. He fulfilled Old Testament expectation. His virgin birth showed His nature was not confined to being human. His sinless life and resurrection proved He truly was “Son of God.” His ascension into Heaven made his royal ancestry obviously visible, and proved His manger truly had been a king size bed. His life demonstrated His superiority to all people, angels, and other created beings.
Christians have always worshiped Jesus as being God. In the early days of the Church, Pliny, a Roman governor, wrote to tell the Emperor that Christians in his province regularly met to sing praises to Christ as God. The early Church did not simply admire and venerate Christ. They adored Him.
Their mighty chorus has continued to swell through the ages. Saints of every generation have lifted the song of adoration to Jesus. Let the believers of our day join the celebration. Worship Jesus. Praise Jesus.
The best way to honor the Father is to honor the Son. Some 300 years after Christ ascended, a church leader named Arius began to teach Jesus was divine, but created and secondary, less than God the Father. Arianism, like a cancer, weaved its way into the thoughts and minds of countless believers.
Many, including a bishop named Amphilochus, vigorously fought the heresy, and were dismayed at the lenient spirit Emperor Theodosius showed toward Arianism. His lackadaisical attitude encouraged those who were undermining the full Deity of Christ. On the day Theodosius elevated his son Arcadius to serve as co-emperor, Amphilochus was among the throng of well wishers. The crowd processed by, congratulating the two rulers. The bishop spoke only to Theodosius and completely ignored his son. The angry father snapped at Amphilochus, “Do you take no notice of my son?”
At this, the bishop said to Arcadius, “The Lord bless thee, my son.” This did not satisfy Theodosius. “Is this all the respect you pay to a prince I have made of equal dignity with me?” Amphilochus curtly replied, “Sire, do you highly resent my neglecting your son by not giving him equal honor with you? What must God think of you, who has let His co-equal and co-eternal Son be degraded in His proper Deity in every part of your empire?”
The reproof achieved its desired result. God help us never to indulge a creed holding Jesus to be anything less than God of true God. Jesus is Lord.
Our greatest champion in this early struggle was Athanasius, the first person to list the 27 books as we have them in the New Testament today. His list, done in 367 AD, was confirmed at the Synod in Carthage in 397 AD.
This was not his main claim to fame. He is most famous for the crime that exiled him five times. He served as Bishop of Alexandria for 45 years; 17 of these in exile due to Roman opposition. His crime was; an unrelenting battle against the heresy that God the Son was less God than God the Father.
Athanasius often stood alone, thus giving us the Latin phrase for which he is famous, “Athanasius contra mundum” (Athanasius against the world).
Emperors feared him as powerful, but could not kill him due to the love of his people. In his 17 years of exile, they never acknowledged anyone else as their bishop. He was humble, and single minded in his love to Christ. He refused to embrace anything less than the full deity of Jesus, and he carried the Christian world with him. Thank You, Lord.