Hebrews 2 – Understanding Angels by the Light of My LCD Screen

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Today’s PassageHebrews 2

Angels. What are they? Where do they come from? What’s their deal? Today we are going to answer none of these questions, because the first two chapters of Hebrews don’t answer them either, except as they relate to humanity and Jesus Christ. Angels, for the author of Hebrews, are not that important in themselves. But understanding angels can shed some light on other important topics, so we and the author of Hebrews alike shall concern ourselves with them.

The word “angel” simply means “messenger.” In ancient Greek, it was used not only to describe spiritual messengers in service of the divine, but also ordinary human-beings. Matthew and Luke use the word to describe John the Baptist and his disciples (Matthew 11:10, Luke 7:24), and in a courtroom speech, the Greek orator Demosthenes uses it to characterize a stonecutter who brings him news that a man named Evergus stole Demosthenes’ furniture. Yeah, you came here to find out more about Demosthenes and his furniture, didn’t you?

But the key thing about a messenger is that he’s only significant as one who communicates on behalf of someone else. He’s got a message to deliver, and it’s not his own message; it comes from someone more important, someone higher up the ladder. The author of Hebrews keeps this fact in mind wherever he mentions angels in the first chapter, such as when he writes, “And when [God] again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him'” (1:6). The author of Hebrews is discussing specifically spiritual angels, but the principle still applies: the angel is only as important as his message and is only important because of the importance of the messenger. Angels are secondary to the God who sends them–and, as the author of Hebrews argues, to the Son as well.

Moving into the second chapter, the author of Hebrews appears to believe that angels were responsible for the Hebrew scriptures as agents of revelation to their human authors. He asks, “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (2:2-3). He states that God’s word was communicated definitively with angels as instruments of its communication. I don’t think this implies that every time David composed a psalm or Moses penned a line of the law, a shiny winged man showed up to dictate it to him. But it does suggest that spiritual agents had a hand in conveying God’s revelation to those who wrote it down.

God works through the historical process, whether the transcription of oral traditions, the recording of history, or the inspiration of poetry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he delegates communication of his message to supernatural servants. After all, he did so explicitly to announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-15). It’s possible that he inspired the Bible’s authors implicitly, through unseen messengers, as seems to be the view of the author of Hebrews.

So, angels serve God, and since Jesus is God the Son, they serve Jesus. But they also serve humanity. The author writes, “For He did not subject to angels the world to come” (2:5), then quotes from Psalm 8:4 and 8:6, saying, “What is man, that You remember him? …You have put all things in subjection under his feet” (2:6, 8). He maintains that Jesus Christ, in his death, was “made for a little while lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9, Psalm 8:5). He will share his inheritance of all creation with God’s sons and daughters, redeemed humanity. And God doesn’t come to the aid of angels; rather, he sends angels to aid us. Our Jewish epistolarian explains, “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham” (2:16). Angels are messengers, not authorities; they serve God, and they serve us.

Angels are a means to an end. That end? God’s glory through our salvation. That’s their deal.

 

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