Summary: Jesus is both superior to the angels and lower than the angels - a contradiction or a paradox?
Hebrews 1:1 – 2:12
The Paradox of Christ
In many pubs, politics and religion are banned subjects for conversation. Probably with good cause, because these are subjects that people take very seriously. However, if by chance you should stray from the rule, you will often hear a number of well-worn arguments. And as far as religion goes, one of the well-worn arguments is that Christianity is bunkum because the Bible is full of contradictions. Of course the difficulty with that is that it often the person presenting the argument cannot present any examples of such contradictions.
And so, if you are ever involving such a discussion, you may wish to refer those involved to our reading from the book of Hebrews today. For here we have an apparent contradiction. For in chapter one, we are told that Jesus is superior to the angels. But in chapter two, we read that Jesus is made lower than the angels. So there we have it. The example you need for your pub argument. The Bible is clearly full of contradictions.
Contradiction or Paradox
Or is it? You see, there is an alternative possibility, which may be a little bit too complicated for a discussion in the pub, especially after one drink too many! For the alternative possibility is that this is not a contradiction, but a paradox. A paradox is where we have two apparently contradictory statements, which may in fact both be true. And that is I believe what we have here. Here we have two apparently contradictory statements, which both express some fundamental truths about Jesus Christ. For in chapter one, we are told that Jesus is superior to the angels. And in chapter two, we read that Jesus is made lower than the angels.
So let’s try to get to grips with what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. Now, it is widely thought that this letter was written by St. Paul, to various groups of Jews who had converted to Christianity. So he is writing from a background of Jewish thought. And it is a book that focuses on the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is superior to the angels
This focus on Jesus Christ coupled with a background of Jewish thought is clear right from the beginning of the book. There is no preamble, but the writer pitches straight in by saying that God has spoken to the Jewish people through the prophets in the past. The Jewish people held their prophets in very high regard. The prophets were the greatest men of the Old Testament era. They had visions of God and served him with great works of power. But the writer then reminds his readers that much more recently, God has spoken to his people in a different way, through Jesus Christ his Son. Jesus Christ is different from what has gone before. He is not just another prophet. Great though the prophets were, of them could compare with Jesus Christ. He is not just a spiritual being like an angel. Jesus is different. Jesus is superior to the prophets (ch 3). Jesus is superior to the angels (v4).
So just how is Jesus superior? St Paul makes an astounding statement of the superiority of Jesus.
· He is the son of God
· He is the heir of all things
· He is the creator of the universe
· He is the radiance of God’s glory
· He is the exact representation of God being
· He sustains all things by his powerful word
· He has provided purification for sins
· He sits at the right hand of God
And the build up of St Paul’s argument is such that it makes it clear that Jesus is not just better than the angels, but he is the best. He’s not superior but supreme. He’s not just a spiritual being, but he is divine. Jesus shares fully in the divine nature. Let us just take one example. In verse three, we read that ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory’. Radiance is light that streams forth from a source of light. As no one can separate the sun’s light from the sun itself, so also no one can separate the nature of Christ from that of his Father. Whether the radiance is seen as reflected brightness or inherent brightness, the thought is clear: in Jesus we see the essence of God. He is, therefore, the exact representation of his [God’s] being. So Jesus could say to Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). You cannot get it any clearer than that. Jesus is divine. Any attempt to place Jesus as simply the highest product of creation will fail because the evidence is decisive for the contrary. Many sects try to teach that Jesus is only human, but they have no scriptural basis to do so.