Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Became superior to the angels?

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:4, emphasis added)

What does that mean, that Jesus became superior to the angels? Was he inferior to them before that?

To answer the second question first: No, the Lord Jesus Christ was never inferior to the angels (or any created thing) in terms of moral excellence for example. But there was a time when the Lord

...made himself nothing,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:7-8
Thus he took on a lower position, temporarily. And actually, looking at this passage from Philippians, we see a similar question: does "became obedient" mean that Jesus was disobedient before?

Of course not! But until he actually went through the experience of obeying to the point of death, Paul tells us, we couldn't say he was obedient unto death. After that, Paul says:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Philippians 2:9-10
So Jesus took a lower position, and then got a higher one, and it says God gave him the name that's above every name. This wasn't a renaming, like Abram → Abraham or Simon → Peter; (note that the text says "at the name of Jesus" -- that didn't change) rather, Jesus acquired something more like a rank or title.

There's more about this later on in the letter, but what does this mean for you and me? Here's something that came to mind: position (or the lack thereof) doesn't necessarily imply any intrinsic superiority (or inferiority). In his Word Studies in the New Testament, Vincent comments (online version) about this word, κρείττων: "It does not indicate here moral excellence, but dignity and power."

So if I don't have a high position, that doesn't mean I'm inferior -- or the reverse for that matter. And so we can be free from anxiety about position. Easier said than done, (for me too). But knowing that Jesus took on a lower position for a few decades -- that helps.

And about that word...

As I mentioned earlier, the author of Hebrews loves to talk about how great Jesus is. In reading Vincent, I noticed his comment that the word translated "better" (viz., κρείττων) appears 13 times in Hebrews.

Interesting, no? Paul uses the word 4 times, and Peter twice, according to the Englishman's Greek Concordance. Out of 19 instances of this word in the entier New Testament, 13 (68%) are here in the book of Hebrews.

Which gives me another slant on the theme of this book: better. More on that later!

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