We’re still hiking through the opening verses. After inspiring us with Jesus’ eternal credentials, the writer tells us what he’s done:
After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1: 3)
This is HUGE, and also something the Hebrew writer will address again and again, so I’m skipping over it now for later discussion.
Today we’re going to ponder the next verse:
So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Apparently the Hebrew Christians were a little obsessed with angels, giving them praise and honor that only belongs to Jesus. In fact, this misplaced honor seems to be the triggering issue in this corrective letter. Their angel worship was a problem, blinding them to the incomparable glory and absolute superiority of Jesus.
This angel craze still happens today. Go into any Christian or spiritual bookstore, and you’ll see oodles of books, pictures, figurines, and other references to angels. I clean other people’s houses, which gives me plenty of peeks into stranger’s bedrooms, and you’d be surprised how many angels I see—hanging on walls, propped on bedside tables, and swinging from shades and light pulls. Angels make people feel safe, plus they seem non-judgemental and inexhaustible, making them perfect night watchmen. The little replicas I see in folks’ bedrooms are usually quite pretty, or clean-cut and handsome, their vibe all peace and love… conducive to a good night’s sleep.
I’m not faulting anyone for decorating with angels, if that’s your thing. Angels are a mighty part of God’s spiritual army, working to carry out God’s will on earth. They rejoiced over Creation with God, and were active throughout Biblical history, from the earliest pages of Genesis to the final visions of Revelation. Real angels, the kind we see in the Bible, are powerful and awesome, in the true sense of both words. But they are still, in the end, merely servants and messengers, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. (see Heb. 1:14).
That’s us, by the way.
Yesterday I took a quick jog through the Bible to review what angels do. Here’s a brief list, with references to specific individuals and incidents to jog your own memory.
1. They comfort, instruct, and even feed: Hagar
2. They deliver life-changing messages: Abraham, Mary, Zechariah
3. They lead us to the right person: Isaac, seeking a wife, and Peter, led to Cornelius
4. They appear in dreams and visions: Jacob, and Zechariah the prophet
5. They deliver us from harm: Jacob, blessing Joseph’s sons
6. They’re fire-proof: they appear in flames (the burning bush), ascend in flames, walk through flames, and deliver from flames (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the burning furnace)
7. They block the way of rebels: Balaam
8. They strengthen and encourage the weak: Elijah
9. …and provide power meals that can sustain a forty-day hike: Elijah
10. They shut the mouths of lions: Daniel
11. They wake us up: Peter in prison
12. They rolled back Jesus’ tombstone
13. They get distressed over God’s punishment of Israel—and are comforted by God Himself
14. They appeared to the Marys who came to embalm Jesus’ body
15. They break the righteous out of prison: Peter
16. They direct missionaries: Philip, to the Ethiopian eunuch
17. They prepare the hearts of seekers: Cornelius
18. They strike down God’s enemies—even with worms! –King Herod
All this should inspire us. Greatly! And make us wonder how much hidden angel activity has kept us alive, faithful, and strengthened through our toughest moments.
Some angels, the archangels, really stand out. We’ve all heard of Gabriel and Michael, God’s righthand henchmen. And then there’s the Destroying Angel, capable of singlehandedly wiping out 185,000 enemy soldiers in one swipe, and even destroying cities. Angels traveled in front of Israel’s armies, helping them drive out the wicked from the Promised Land. They’re hardcore, those angels, and I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of their avenging orders.
When we realize how powerful they are, it’s easy to see how people are enticed by angel worship. God’s angels are the true Avengers, the really-do-exist super-heroes capable of feats beyond anything conjured at the Cineplex. An actual message from a real angel should never be ignored—but, Paul warns us, if even the most resplendent angel preaches anything different from the once-delivered gospel, he should be eternally condemned (Gal. 1:8). Angels can disobey God, and when they do, they’re immediately cast into gloomy dungeons, awaiting final judgement (2 Peter 2:4). And they have no recourse after sinning even once: Christ died for humans, not for angels, and a rebellious angel gets no second chance at salvation. After all, they live in the presence of God, so “faith”—believing in what we cannot see—isn’t possible for them. When angels sin, it’s willful, outright rebellion.
Satan has angels, too: fallen angels, masquerading as angels of light. Beware of them.
The Hebrew writer spends the first chapter comparing Jesus to angels, and there’s no contest who wins. All the angels in the universe (and the Bible hints at multitudes upon multitudes of these powerful beings) can’t come close to the awesome majesty of Jesus. Angels serve him, but perhaps more importantly, they serve US. That’s how special we are to God!
Instead of worshiping angels, we’re called to recognize their role in God’s kingdom, and turn all our worship to the King of the Universe…along with his angels.
Remember that angelic choir on the night of Christ’s birth? That’s what angels do best, I think: fill the universe with endless praise. So having a chorus of actual angels in your bedroom each night might be a noisy proposition, however heavenly. That said, go ahead and plop a little replica on your bedside table, if angels inspire you, but just remember: they exist to serve you, not the other way around.
You might think of them as celestial Siris or Alexas, with almost unlimited power, waiting on demand for your next predicament— if God deems an angel rescue necessary. He might even use an angel disguised as an everyday, ordinary human being, without wings, a halo, or searing blue eyes, crossing your path at just the right moment.
So be alert! And be encouraged…