His Distinguished Name
The Son achieved the “purification of sins,” and therefore, he qualified to “sit down at the right hand of the majesty on high.” In this exalted position as the High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek,” he intercedes for his people. And he inherited a “more distinguished name,” namely, that of “Son.” And in Chapter 1, the Letter to the Hebrews demonstrates that this “Son” and High Priest is vastly superior to even creatures as mighty and glorious as angels.
The Letter uses several comparisons to demonstrate his superiority over all persons and things. His unique priesthood and the New Covenant inaugurated by his once-for-all sacrifice accomplished what the Levitical legislation could never do, and he consequently received more honor and authority than even the Great Lawgiver himself, Moses.
SON CONTRASTED WITH ANGELS
The Letter’s first contrast is between Jesus and the angels, and it employs several Old Testament passages to demonstrate his superiority over them:
- (Hebrews 1:4-7) - “By so much becoming superior to the angels by as much as, going beyond them, he inherited a more distinguished name. For to which of the angels said he ever, You are my son; I, this day, have begotten you? And again, I will become his father and he shall become my Son? But whenever he again brings the firstborn into the habitable earth, he says, And let all God’s angels render homage to him! Even as to the angels, indeed, he says, Who makes his angels winds, and his ministers of state a fiery flame.” – (Passage alludes to Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 104:4).
The argument demonstrates the Son’s superiority by comparing him to persons and creatures widely recognized as excellent, in this first instance, the angels of God. If they are glorious and holy, how much more so is God’s Son?
The passage is the first to employ the term “better” or kreittôn in the Letter, an adjective of comparison that denotes something or someone that is “better, best, nobler, noblest.” It is used thirteen times to stress the superiority of what God has done in Jesus - (e.g., “better sacrifices” - Hebrew 7:7, 7:19, 9:23).
The reference to his “distinguished name” translates the Greek term diaphoros, meaning that which is “distinct, distinguished, different.” The point is not simply that his name is better than “angel,” but that it is of an entirely different kind and order since he bears the name “son” in contrast to “angel” or “messenger” and “prophet.”
The emphasis is on his position as the “son” and “heir.” Certainly, the Author of the Letter is aware that this son is none other than Jesus, but the latter name does not appear until the second chapter of the Letter when discussing his sacrificial death.
At this point, the Letter does not elaborate on the reference to the “habitable earth.” That subject is taken up again in Chapter 2 where the Letter discusses the eighth Psalm and its description of God subjecting the earth to man/Adam – (Hebrews 2:5).
The reference to “bringing the Son” once more into the “inhabited earth” points to the future coming of Jesus at the end of the age, and this is confirmed in Chapter 9 by the declaration that Jesus “will appear a second time, apart from sin to those who are awaiting him for salvation” – (Hebrews 9:28).
The Greek noun rendered “inhabited earth” normally refers to land that is inhabited by men, and presumably, that is habitable (oikoumené, Strong’s - #G3625). In the first century, it often was applied to regions that were considered civilized, where civilization existed, as opposed to uncivilized or barbaric areas.
TO NO ANGEL
The comparison begins with the rhetorical question - “to which of the angels said He at any time?” The expected answer is “none.” At no point did Yahweh call any angel ‘son’ or elevate one of them to sit at His “right hand.”
Seven scriptural citations are used to demonstrate his superiority over angels, and the first six are divided into three pairs for literary effect:
- Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14.
- Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 104:4.
- Psalm 45:6-7 and Psalm 102:25-27.
The first pair concerns his status, the second, the function of angels, and the third presents the exalted reign of the Son.
The seventh citation is a response to the first rhetorical question - What God said to the Son He never said to any angel (i.e., “Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool”). The two words that link all seven scriptural citations to the Letter’s opening statement are “angels” and “Son” - (Psalm 110:1, Psalm 103:20-21, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:1-4).
Jesus is distinct from the angels because he is God’s Son, and that means he has a close and unique relationship with his Father that no other being has regardless of how powerful and exalted he, she, or it might be. He alone is designated as God’s “Son.”
Thus, he is superior to angels by the very fact that he is a “Son.” Not only so, but God also commanded all the angels “to render homage” to him. His high status is the result of his priestly act by which he “achieved the purification of sins.”
But the comparison to angels also anticipates the exhortation at the end of this first literary section with its description of how the Law was mediated “through angels.” That legislation was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, the greatest of the prophets, through angels. In contrast, “upon the last of these days,” God has spoken His definitive word through one who is a “Son.”