Bible Study: Hebrews Part 6 (1:7–14) — Angels Are Servants, Not Inheritors

What are angels, and how are they different from the Son?

Bible Study: Hebrews Part 6 (1:7–14) — Angels Are Servants, Not Inheritors
Photo by Lukas Meier / Unsplash

We are going to finish Hebrews 1 this week as the author continues showing, through the Hebrew Scriptures, that this son is greater than the angels and the inheritor of all creation. In this passage, the author talks about how angels are servants, but the Son is the eternal creator who is worthy of being served. The Son will receive the throne over all creation, while angels will serve those who will rule alongside the Son.



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Angels are Servants (v. 7)

Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
— Hebrews 1:7 (ESV)

This quotes Psalm 104:4. Psalm 104 is a poem of praise to the creator and sustainer of the universe. God is the magnificent, glorious, and all-powerful one who gives what is good to the righteous and will punish the wicked. Amid this song of praise to God as the one who is greater than all, we have this quote.

God’s angels/messengers are winds, and his ministers/servants/worshippers are fiery flames. Wind and fire are two common ways that God revealed himself in the Old Testament. You could think of Moses’ burning bush (Exodus 3:2), or the pillar of fire and cloud to lead the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21), or the wind that parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21).

The Psalm connects these works of God to the activity of his servants, angelic beings. The author of Hebrews draws upon this verse to show how angels, as great and glorious as they are, are still servants. They served God in his works of salvation for Israel and all of God’s people (Hebrews 1:14). They are not inheriting the great future hope we have as the bride of Christ.

The Son is Eternal (vv. 8–12)

But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”
— Hebrews 1:8-12 (ESV)

We see two separate quotes of the Psalms, but as you can tell by the simple “and” between them, the author is using them to carry the same point. The author begins this quote pair with “of the Son he says,” proclaiming that each of these quotes’ primary point is to tell us about the Son in contrast to angels.

The first quote is from Psalm 45:6–7. Psalm 45 is a royal wedding song in which the king seems to be referred to as “God” (v.6). The king of Israel was God’s chosen representative to lead his people. The king did not sit on his own throne, but on God’s throne (1 Chronicles 28:5). God was Israel’s true king, and the king of Israel was his visible representative. As God’s chosen, he was meant to execute God’s will for his people and lead them in righteousness (v.7). The kings were human and even the greatest among them, David, failed to perfectly execute righteousness and judgment.

The author of Hebrews takes this passage much more literally with Messianic expectation. The one who would bring true justice, without fail, is the true king of Israel, the one who fulfills the law and prophets. What is written in this poem is the standard to which every earthly king failed.

But as we’ve seen, God himself guaranteed that a son of David would bring God’s people true rest and a true kingdom. The author of Hebrews shows us that to fulfill this Psalm, the one who brings true justice and righteousness is not merely God’s representative and so can be called “God” in a metaphorical sense. This Son is God. Only God himself could truly meet the standard, so God became flesh (as we will see in Hebrews 2).

The second quote builds on the first line of the first quote. If “God” in that line is the Son, and this Son fulfills the passage, then his “throne…is forever and ever” must not merely be representative either. We saw in our study of 2 Samuel 7 that the throne of David is eternal, yet earthly kings failed and the line of Davidic kings ended. We saw that the fulfillment of David’s eternal throne is a true son who fulfills all hopes and expectations.

The second passage builds on the eternal throne of this Son by proclaiming that this Son is not only eternal into the future but eternal into the past as well. In our study on Hebrews 1:2, we saw that the Son was intimately involved in the creation of all things, and therefore could not be created himself. The author of Hebrews draws out this implication more explicitly in his quote of Psalm 102:25–27.

This poem was certainly directed at God, so this quotation is another direct statement equating God and the Son. In the New Testament, Jesus is often called “Lord,” while the Father is referred to as “God.” This is not to deny the deity of Jesus it’s the opposite! In the Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint), the translation for the Hebrew name of God “YHWH” is “Kyrios,” or in English, “Lord”. By calling Jesus “Kyrios,” the New Testament authors identify Jesus with the most sacred name of God. English translators have continued this tradition by rendering YHWH in the Old Testament as “LORD”. I think that the author of Hebrews is taking advantage of the “Lord” in this passage to see this as a passage talking about the Son.

Not only the earth but the heavens, the dwelling place of God and his angelic servants, were created with the participation of this Son. This passage emphasizes the changelessness of the Son despite the changing of creation. This is possible because the Son was not created. All creation will change, and indeed, perish! The author of Hebrews will spend time in chapters 9 and 10 talking about the coming Day of the Lord. At that time, the Son will be revealed in his glory and we will be changed to be like Him, glorified (1 Corinthians 15:23). Creation itself will be changed and glorified (Romans 8:19–23). We will return to the garden. This quotation, like so many of the authors, not only proves his point that the Son is greater than angels but anticipates his topics in later chapters.

Angels Will Not Inherit. We Will. (vv. 13–14)

And 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 (ESV)

This is the last of seven quotes the author of Hebrews gives to support his argument that this is no ordinary son of God, but the unique Son of God. This son is no servant, he is the heir, the inheritor, truly God, yet not the Father (v.3). Seven is the number of perfection, completion, and creation, and the author very intentionally uses seven quotes to explain the Son’s superiority to angelic beings. The Son is the fullness, the fulfillment, the goal, of the law and prophets. He is perfection compared with angels' servitude.

This quote is from Psalm 110:1, the most quoted passage in the New Testament, and it echoes verse 3. Jesus himself uses it in Mark 12:36 and echoes it in Mark 14:62 to claim the exalted status of the Son of Man.

Jesus’ observation is fascinating: this is a Psalm of David, yet it begins with YHWH (the “LORD”) saying to David’s lord. How can the Messiah be a descendent of David, and yet also his lord? What YHWH says to this lord is also fascinating and echoes Daniel 7. This lord is invited to take his seat at the right hand of the Father in the divine throne room. This lord is being given co-rulership alongside the Father. All of creation is being given to the Son.

And yet while the Son is enthroned, he also needs to wait for the full consummation of his rulership. All things are not yet seen as his (even though they are now his by right). The Son is told to rest. His work is done, for now. His enemies, the principalities and powers of the heavens, death itself (1 Corinthians 15:54–57), and those in rebellion to the Son’s lordship on earth, will be made the Son’s footstools. This is representative of total defeat and humiliation.

The last verse summarizes what the author has been arguing with his seven quotations in verses 5–13. Angelic beings are “ministering spirits.” As we saw when looking at verse 7, “ministering” here means something like “serving in a priestly role.” All angelic beings’ purpose is to help and serve God’s purposes in bringing mankind salvation. Every rank, from the messengers to the throne guardians to the “sons of God” who serve on the divine council, serve to accomplish God’s salvific purposes in creation.

Humanity was given rulership of the land, sea, skies, and everything in them (Genesis 1:26). We lost that rulership, but Jesus as truly God and man has not only reclaimed it but given the right for all who are in Him to rule alongside him. The phrasing of “inherit salvation” may sound odd, but when you think of it in terms of us being adopted into sonship (and inheritance) alongside Jesus (Romans 8:14–17). Salvation is not merely a past event, nor merely a present event. All creation will be rescued from its current state. We will be glorified and live in a renewed creation. That is what it means to inherit salvation. And that is our future.