So much Better than the Angels (2)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
This is the second of two articles in which we consider the ways in which the Lord Jesus is portrayed as ‘so much better than the angels’ in chapters 1 and 2 of the letter to the Hebrews. There we discover that He is superior to the angels because :
- He is what no angel can ever be;
- He has become what no angel can ever become;
- He has done what no angel can ever do;
- He has experienced what no angel can ever experience; and
- He has gone where no angel can ever go. In the preceding article, we looked at the first three of these. We take up the story, therefore, with the fourth:
HE HAS EXPERIENCED WHAT NO ANGEL CAN EVER EXPERIENCE
Our writer tells us that, in the days of His flesh, our Lord suffered trial and temptation and is able therefore to aid, succour and help those who are tempted, Heb. 2. 18. Thankfully, we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who has in every way been tempted as we are, yet without sin, 4. 15. By reason of His human experience (which no angel has shared or can share), He is equipped to be our merciful and faithful High Priest, 2. 17.
But the Lord Jesus experienced not only trial and temptation; He experienced also death. Our writer tells us that we ‘see Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour’. Jesus was, he tells us, once ‘made a little lower than the angels . . . that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone’, Heb. 2. 9. lit.
For certain Greeks of New Testament days, to ‘see Jesus’ was an earnest desire; ‘they came to Philip . . . and asked him, saying, Sir, we wish to see Jesus’, John 12. 21. For the apostle John, to ‘see Jesus’ was a bright prospect; ‘it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’,1 John 3.2. But for the writer to the Hebrews, to ‘see Jesus’ was a glorious vision; ‘we see Jesus . . . crowned’.
The One ‘we see’ was once made a little lower than the angels that He might taste (i.e. might experience) death, and, because of the suffering of death, He has been crowned with glory and honour. But no angel has ever experienced death.
When engaged in argument with the Sadducees, Jesus taught that, ‘the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels’, Luke 20. 35. That is, angels cannot die. They are deathless creatures.
When our Lord suffered and tasted death, He therefore visited a realm, a domain, where no angel has ever been. In recognition of this, the ‘innumerable company of angels’, Heb.12. 22, now ascribe their seven-fold expression of worship to ‘the Lamb who was slain’, Rev. 5. 12. Truly, He is ‘so much better than the angels’ because He has experienced what no angel can ever experience.
FINALLY, HE HAS GONE WHERE NO ANGEL CAN EVER GO
Our writer asks, ‘But to which of the angels has he (God) ever said: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool"?’, Heb. 1. 13. To sit at someone’s right hand is to occupy the position of highest honour. ‘Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king's mother; so she sat at his right hand’, 1 Kgs 2. 19. When Tiridates, king of Armenia, visited Nero, the emperor permitted Tiridates to sit at his right hand as a token of respect and honour. But our Lord Jesus is not seated at the right hand of a king in Jerusalem or a despot in Rome! He is spoken of as sitting at the right hand of ‘the throne of the Majesty in the heavens’, Heb. 8. 1. That is, the place of supreme dignity and honour in the universe is His.
Our writer tells us that there are at least three grounds for our Lord’s exaltation to God’s ‘right hand’. He is there by virtue of personal right; for, having purged our sins, He ‘sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’, Heb. 1. 3 (‘The verb denotes a solemn, formal act; the assumption of a position of dignity and authority’, M. R. Vincent). He is there by virtue of His completed work; for ‘every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God’, 10. 11-12. And He is there by virtue of divine invitation; for God said to Him, ‘Sit at my right hand’, 1. 13.
Only the Lord Jesus is entitled to sit at God’s right hand. It is unthinkable that any angel should dare sit there. The apostles Paul and Peter make it clear that our Lord’s exaltation to God’s right hand means that He towers over all angels and every form of heavenly intelligence. Paul spoke of the exertion of God’s ‘mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come’, Eph. 1.20- 21, and Peter wrote of ‘the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to him‘, 1 Pet. 3. 22.
We must be careful, however, not to misunderstand the image and figure used when the Lord Jesus is spoken of as seated at God’s right hand. This certainly does not mean that He is distant and remote from us. Mark makes this clear at the conclusion of his gospel. He tells as that Jesus ‘was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they (the disciples) went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them’, Mark 16. 19-20. That is, although ‘at the right hand of God’, the living Lord was present with His disciples and at work with them. Luke records how that, when He was taken up, the cloud received Him out of their sight, Acts 1.9. But, although the cloud very successfully hid Him from their eyes, it didn’t hide them from His! Indeed, nothing can hide His people from His sight – then, now, or ever.
Having ‘endured the cross, despising the shame’, our Lord Jesus ‘has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’, Heb. 12. 2. Truly, He is ‘so much better than the angels’ because He has gone where no angel can ever go.