Our Great High Priest in Hebrews: The Son Greater than the Angels (pt. 2)
(Read Part I)
How is it that we saints persevere in the faith? The grace of perseverance becomes ours as we receive and rest upon Christ alone as He is presented to us in the Word. According to Heb 1.1-3, He is the Son greater than the prophets of old. But there is a second answer to our question in Heb 1.4-2.18: our great high priest is the Son who is greater than the angels. The angels come before us in Hebrews in two capacities: 1) as heavenly messengers who delivered the old covenant revelation at Sinai (2.2); and 2) as post-fall guardians of access to God’s presence, initially in Eden’s holy garden-sanctuary (2.7 with Gen 3.24) and later in the most holy place of the old covenant sanctuary (9.5 with Exod 25.18-22). Let us look in this study at the teaching of Heb 1.4-14.
In 1.4, our teacher contrasts the Son and the angels, encapsulating in that contrast the reason for the Son’s rest at the Father’s right hand. The Son’s exaltation is based, he tells us, especially though not exclusively on what the Son “has become” and the name the Son “has inherited.” In 1.5-14 our teacher accents the fact that the Son is in a new state of exaltation. This is not to say that the Son, born as man, has now become God. Rather the Son, who has always been the exalted God, has now been exalted as man. In fact, the seven OT texts in 1.5-14 with which our teacher expands on his statements in 1.4 contain some of the most sublime declarations of the Son’s eternality and deity in all of Scripture. In this context, however, the Son’s supremacy to the angels does not rest so much on His eternality and deity. Rather, the Son’s supremacy rests especially on the new state He has entered and on the new honor He has received. Keeping these things in mind, let us see how our teacher’s citations describe the exaltation of the Son.
Heb 1.5-6. First, in 1.5-6 the writer teaches us that the Son who has taken His seat on high is the One whom the Father had begotten, that is, in this context, begotten as the firstborn from the dead (cf. Col 1.18; Rev 1.5). Though other texts will teach the Son’s eternal generation and identity as the firstborn of all creation (e.g., Heb 1.2; see also Col 1.15-17), the preceding and following contexts of 1.5-6 imply that it is most probably His re-emergence into the world at His resurrection from the dead that is in view in 1.5-6. It is thus in the new, post-resurrection phase of the Son’s messianic role in history that He and the Father are said now to enjoy their unique father-son relationship.
Heb 1.9. Second, in 1.9 our teacher tells us that the Son who has received the Spirit-oil of gladness from His God and Father is the One who had rendered to God the perfect obedience that satisfied His law (cf. Acts 2.33-36; Eph 4.7-11). To be sure, the writer mentions the Son’s eternality, deity, and royalty in 1.8. Our teacher’s focus in 1.9, however, is the Son’s new status: He is the servant who in life and in death subjected Himself to God’s law and is now rewarded for His obedience.
Heb 1.13. Finally, in 1.13 our instructor both echoes and elaborates his claim in 1.3. The Son who gave Himself as the final sacrifice for sins (1.3b) is not only seated in heaven: He now awaits the reward of final victory for His obedience. The Son, who is the immutable Lord and builder of the cosmic holy house in 1.10-12, is also in 1.13 the Son who, after humbling Himself, has already been exalted at His first coming and will again be exalted at His second coming (Heb 9.28). Thus, our teacher places the Son before us once more, both in His immutability as the eternal God and in His mutability as the once humiliated, now glorified man - who will be glorified yet again!
All told, then, according to our teacher, the exaltation of the Son our high priest is undeniably connected with His eternality and immutability, but it is not completely or exclusively explained by those attributes. According to Heb 1.4-14, the esteem we are to have for the Son, particularly in contrast to the angels, will come as we appreciate not only His role in the history of creation, but especially His role in the history of redemption. In other words, we understand His priesthood better if we first see Him as the resurrected and ascended God-man.
How, then, is it that the saints persevere in the faith? The grace of perseverance comes to us as we receive and rest upon Christ alone as He is presented in the Word: He is the Son who is greater than the angels. Our high priest is now and forever, in His one Person, God ever-glorious and man at long last glorified.