Why Jesus is not an angel
The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly distinguishes between Jesus and created spirit beings – or angels, as we commonly use the term. Jesus cannot be an angel in this respect (although he is the “angel,” or messenger, of the Lord in his preincarnate existence) because he is superior to angels. Hebrews 1 argues that no angel could ever qualify to be the Son of God. Consider the epistle’s first four verses:
Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.Heb. 1:1-4
Note several statements in these verses that demonstrate the superiority of Christ over angels. First, Jesus is God’s unique Son – the uncreated Creator who stands above other sons of God such as heavenly creatures, the Israelites, and followers of Jesus whom the Father adopts as his children.
Second, the Father has appointed Jesus heir of all things – a promise never given to created spirit beings but offered to Christians, who are coheirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
Third, Jesus is the agent of creation – the one through whom God made the universe. Nothing exists apart from him (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17). No angel may make this claim. When the writer of Hebrews says God made the universe “through him,” he does not mean Jesus is a secondary cause of creation; rather, Jesus is the agent through whom the triune God made everything.
The word translated “universe” is aionas, which means more than the material world (kosmos). It may be rendered “ages,” and it means Jesus is responsible for the existence of time, space, energy, matter – and even the unseen spiritual realm.
Fourth, Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory” (v. 3). That is, Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. The author uses the Greek word apaugasma, a sending forth of the light. Just as no one may gaze for long into the noonday sun without suffering visual impairment, or even blindness, no mortal human being may see the unveiled glory of God and live. Yet, like the attending light and warmth carried by the sun’s rays, Jesus is a physical manifestation of deity. He is “the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Fifth, the author of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the exact expression” of God’s nature (v. 3). The Greek word rendered “expression” is charakter, used to describe the impression made by a stamp or a die on steel. Put another way, Jesus is the precise imprint of deity in human form, the perfect, personal emblem of divinity. This reminds us of Paul’s words in Colossians 1:15: “He is the image (eikon) of the invisible God.”
Sixth, Jesus is depicted as “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (v. 3) This is in the present tense. The same Creator who called everything into existence now holds everything together in divine sovereignty. The appointed heir of all things keeps all things in place through his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
Seventh, Jesus makes purification for sins and then sits down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (v. 3). Through the Incarnation, Jesus adds sinless humanity to his deity and thus, for a time, becomes lower than the angels. But through his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross, the one who knew no sin becomes sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). This triumphant work on humanity’s behalf entitles Jesus to sit at the Father’s right hand – a place never reserved for angelic beings.
Eighth, Jesus “became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs” (v. 4). In his exalted humanity, Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Though making himself lower than angels for a time, Jesus redeems lost humanity, restores our broken relationship with God, and guarantees our future glorification, at which time we – the adopted children of God – rule over angels (1 Cor. 6:3).
“You are my Son”
There is more we could say about the message of Christ’s superiority over angels in the opening verses of Hebrews. But the rest of chapter 1 makes an equally solid case. For example, God has never said to angels, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” – a reference to Christ’s resurrection and exaltation (v. 5; cf. Ps. 2:7).
Next, angels are commanded to worship Christ (v. 6; cf. Deut. 32:43 LXX; Ps. 97:7). Jesus, not angels, “established the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain … they will be changed like clothing. But you are the same, and your years will never end” (vv. 10-12; cf. Ps. 102:26-27; Isa. 50:9; 51:6). Also, consider the question: When has God ever invited angels to “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (v. 13; cf. Ps. 110:1)?
In fact, the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that angels are created to be “ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are going to inherit salvation” (v. 14). This stands in stark contrast to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2 KJV).
Next, consider the writer’s contrast between angels and the Son of God in verses 7-8: “And about angels he says: He makes his angels winds, and his servants a fiery flame, but to the Son: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of justice.”
This is perhaps the most stunning statement of Christ’s deity in all of Scripture because it comes from the lips of God the Father. It is a quotation from Psalm 45:6-7, and it affirms the many statements Jesus made concerning his deity throughout the Gospels. Like his throne, Jesus’ existence is eternal, and he rules his kingdom in justice.
In the verses that follow, the writer of Hebrews continues to build his case for the deity of Christ, his temporary humiliation in taking on flesh and dying on the cross, and his ultimate victory as the resurrected God-Man who bridges the gap between deity and fallen humanity. In so doing, the writer draws a clear line of separation between Christ and angels.
Note Hebrews 2:5-10 and 14-16:
For he [God] has not subjected to angels the world to come that we are talking about. But someone somewhere has testified: What is man that you remember him, or the son of man that you care for him? You made him lower than the angels for a short time; you crowned him with glory and honor and subjected everything under his feet. For in subjecting everything to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. As it is, we do not yet see everything subjected to him [Jesus]. But we do see Jesus — made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God’s grace he might taste death for everyone — crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God — for whom and through whom all things exist — should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings….Heb. 2:5-10; 14:16
Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that he does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring.
The deity and humanity of Jesus are well established in Scripture. Both natures are essential for our salvation. If Jesus is not divine, he cannot be Messiah. If he is not human, he cannot be our Savior. Coming in the likeness of sinful people, yet living a sinless life, Jesus secured the salvation of believing people and promised us an exalted place as coheirs in his eternal kingdom. This is something angels do not experience; they can only long to catch a glimpse of these things (1 Pet. 1:12).
Next: Closing thoughts on the angel of the LORD
This post is excerpted from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the Lord, available from Amazon and other retailers.