Ministering Spirits to Serve Us
“To which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”- Hebrews 1:13–14
First-century Judaism had a high regard for the angels. Most of the time, this regard did not lead to unorthodox theology. In the main, the Jews understood that God is higher than the angels. At times, however, people forgot the angels’ proper place. For example, the Colossian heresy, which was strongly influenced by Jewish thought, taught the “worship of angels” (Col. 2:18). Mainstream Judaism of the era certainly did not countenance such a view, but the practice of angel worship in a Jewish-influenced heresy does help us see that the angels were highly regarded by the Jews.
Thus, a first-century writer who wanted to stress Jesus as the fulfillment of the old covenant and better than what Judaism had to offer would naturally want to emphasize that Jesus is better than the angels. And so, the author of Hebrews has done so, proclaiming the unique Sonship and the deity of Jesus (Heb. 1:1–12). In Hebrews 1:13–14, the author presents yet more biblical evidence for the superiority of Jesus to the angels.
Hebrews 1:13 cites Psalm 110, which is the single Old Testament text quoted more often in the New Testament than any other. Specifically, the author quotes Psalm 110:1, explaining that Jesus is the Lord whom God has set at His right hand. Without a doubt, given all that Hebrews 1:1–12 says about Jesus, the author of Hebrews shares Jesus’ understanding that Psalm 110 reveals that the Messiah is God incarnate and therefore greater than King David, the greatest king of ancient Israel (see Mark 12:35–37). In biblical imagery, the One who sits at God’s right hand shares in God’s authority over creation, so the author of Hebrews wants us to understand that Jesus, not the angels, is sovereign over heaven and earth. Therefore, Jesus is superior to the angels, and it makes no sense to go back to Judaism and its emphasis on the angels.
The author of Hebrews adds that angels are ministering spirits who serve us for the sake of our salvation (Heb. 1:14). This further underscores the inferiority of the angels to Jesus, for it makes believers, in a sense, superior to the angels. They serve us; we do not serve them. But Hebrews 1:14 also reveals that God loves His people so much that He has tasked an entire group of supernatural beings with caring for our needs. We sinners, saved by grace alone, do not deserve such a gift, but the Lord’s goodness and mercy is so abundant that He gives the angels to us anyway.
The great Puritan scholar John Owen comments that “these blessed angels specially minister to [the church] and have us under their constant care.” Although we cannot normally see them, the angels of God are looking out for us. They are keeping us from harm in ways that we may never know about. Know today that the Lord loves us so much that He has given His angels charge over us.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 6:8–23