This coming May 6, the United Kingdom will celebrate its first coronation of a new monarch in seventy years. According to the announcement from Buckingham Palace, “The Ceremony will see His Majesty King Charles III crowned. . . . The Coronation will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry.”
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953. You can find videos online. There was indeed pageantry, and I’m sure we’ll see great pomp and circumstance this coming May. But amazing as the scene might be — when a kingdom marshals all its collective energy and resources to mark, with pageantry, the crowning of a new monarch — the first chapter of Hebrews tells us of the coronation that even the most impressive on earth (times ten) can only faintly anticipate.
The opening scene of Hebrews is the coronation of Jesus Christ, eternal second person of the Godhead, who came to earth as man, lived, suffered, died for sins not his own, rose again to new life, and forty days later ascended to heaven — and Hebrews gives us a glimpse into that moment when Jesus returned to heaven, with angels looking on, to be crowned Lord of all by his Father on the throne of heaven itself.
Can you imagine the scene in heaven? Around the throne are innumerable angels in festal gathering, waiting with joy, when the God-man appears at the periphery, and one eye after another sees him. And the energy and anticipation of heaven quickly turns silent. And Jesus processes to the throne, signaled by his Father. He sits down, his work complete, exalted, in the universe’s seat of honor, and heaven crowns Jesus Lord of all with many diadems and praises.
So as we come to Hebrews 1 this morning, and to verses 3–6 in particular, let’s keep this scene in mind. There are some challenging concepts in this first chapter (and in all of Hebrews), but we will be helped with some of those challenges if we remember the setting, which I want to show you in the text. So let’s look briefly at (1) the timing and (2) the location of Christ’s coronation, and then we’ll focus most of our time on (3) its significance.
First, the timing. There is a particular “when” that anchors this chapter — the other side of Christ’s ascension. Jump down and see that Hebrews 1:6 says, “When [God] brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”
Now, that might sound like the incarnation (the first time Jesus came) or the second coming, but Hebrews 2:5 clarifies it for us (using this same word world from 1:6): “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” What do you mean “of which we are speaking”? Well, in chapter 1. Chapter 1 is speaking of “the world to come” — that is, the world to come for believers, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22), the heaven to which Jesus ascended to reign till his return.
But an even clearer time indicator is the end of Hebrews 1:3: “After making purification for sins, he sat down.” That is, after accomplishing his sacrificial work on the cross — and rising again, and ascending — Jesus sat down, on heaven’s throne, for the great coronation that is Hebrews’ opening scene.
Second is the location. We have a particular “where” that anchors this chapter: heaven. The end of Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” — in the place of honor, with God himself. We’ve already seen this in the first part of Hebrews 1:6: “When [God] brings the firstborn into the world” — which Hebrews 2:5 says is “the world to come,” heaven.
Note this carefully: heaven is a superior location than earth for a king, not an inferior one. This is a challenge for modern people. As God says in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” where he rests his feet. And as we’ll see later in Hebrews, heaven is also a superior, not inferior, place for a high priest, as Hebrews 8:1–2 says: “We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”
So earthly thrones are made by men and limited by men, but the heavenly throne is God’s, not made and limited by human hands. This is why, when our children ask, “Daddy, where is Jesus? Why have I never seen him?” — as my children have asked at least twice — we say something like this: “Buddy (or Sweetie), Jesus is seated in power, as King and Lord of all, at the right hand of God in heaven. Jesus is real, human, risen, glorified, and reigning over all, waiting patiently for all his enemies, in his perfect timing, to be put under his feet.”
And so we assure them, “Jesus is as real as I am, and as real as Mommy is. In fact, he’s even more real, because he rose to new life in a glorious body, which we too one day will have, when our seeing him with our hearts by faith turns into our seeing him, face to face, with our eyes.” Heaven is not less real than earth, but more real and superior. Our material world, in all its glories, is derivative and secondary, not ultimate.
Now, the significance of Christ’s coronation. This is where we’ll linger for the rest of our time, in what it means. To do so, let’s ask (and answer) three questions about Hebrews 1:4–6:
- Why angels?
- How do the Old Testament quotations work?
- What is “the name” he has inherited?
We’ll start with verse 4, move to verses 5–6, and then come back to verse 4.
1. Why angels?
Verse 4 links Jesus’s coronation with his “having become . . . superior to angels.” Angels? Where did they come from? And besides, wasn’t the eternal Son, as God, always superior to angels, who, spectacular as they might be, are just created beings?
Yes, the Son, as God, has always been superior to angels — but not as man. There is an order of being, you see: God, and God alone, uncreated, at the top. Then under him, angels; then man; then animals. Psalm 8:5–6 celebrates that God “made [humanity] a little lower than the [angels] and crowned him with glory and honor,” therefore “[giving] him dominion over the works of [his] hands” — “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
So, humans are superior to animals (and sadly, many humans today have lost touch with this!). And angels are superior to humans, by order of creation. However, God the Son became man, and thus became a little lower than the angels, and now has surpassed the angels. As God, he has always been superior to the angels. But now, by virtue of his life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection, Jesus as man has become superior to the angels. In other words, there is now (in the order of new creation) a man who is better than the angels.
And so we have our first “better than” comparison. The theme that we will see Hebrews return to again and again is that Jesus is better — better than the angels, better than Moses, better than Joshua, better than the first covenant and its place and priests and sacrifices. And Jesus makes better promises and gives us a better covenant and a better hope, a better country, and he is the better possession than all worldly possessions.
“Rehearse this theme explicitly for your souls: whatever the comparison, Jesus is better.”
Rehearse this theme explicitly for your souls: Whatever the comparison, Jesus is better. Better than comfort and ease, money and possessions, status and fame, marriage and children, work and leisure, sports and entertainment, all food and drink. And we do well not to forget or minimize it, but as Jesus says in Acts 20:35, to remember it and rehearse it.
So, why angels? For one, they are present at the coronation. And angels serve as a standard of comparison to show the incarnate Son’s progress — from below angels as man (Psalm 8:5–6) to above them as man by virtue of his achievement in human life, death, and resurrection. The point of starting with angels isn’t that Hebrews’ audience is tempted to worship them; the point is that the angels worship Jesus. How then could Hebrews’ first readers even ponder not worshiping the one the angels worship? These people loved the Jewish Scriptures; they thought highly of angels. And the angels worship Jesus.
2. How do the Old Testament quotations work?
This is the hardest part of the passage and one of the toughest parts of Hebrews for us today: how he, the author of Hebrews, uses the Old Testament. What verses 5–6 are doing is plain enough: showing Jesus’s superiority to angels (“For . . . Or again . . . And again”). But how these quotations do that might make us scratch our heads.
Jesus says in Matthew 13:52, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Hebrews is a master at this. Hebrews is a master class in how to use the Old Testament.
And Hebrews does not leave the moment to go back and explain the ancient meaning of texts only to leave them there, but he brings them into the present to show his readers their fullness of meaning and applications and significance now in Jesus — how God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), that God is not just the one who has spoken, but the one who is speaking.
Let me summarize how Hebrews uses these three Old Testament quotations. I’ll keep it brief, and you can open up to the larger contexts, read these for yourself, and learn what Hebrews has to teach us.
2 Samuel 7
Look first at the middle quotation, which is from 2 Samuel 7:14: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” This is from a massively important chapter in the Old Testament, where God makes an eternal royal covenant with King David. Unlike King Saul before him (who had no dynasty and never had a son on Israel’s throne), David’s dynasty, God promises, will never end:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up [to the throne] your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . And I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [And then:] I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:12–14)
In other words, “David, your son will be Israel’s king.” Israel’s king was God’s “son” in the sense that God ruled the nation through the human king. And God’s promise here in 2 Samuel 7 anticipates the coronation to come after David. At that coronation, when David’s son is crowned king of God’s people, he too, as David is as king, will be “son.” So, in 2 Samuel 7:14, God promises to crown David’s son, and sons, in a kingly line that will endure until one king sits enthroned forever.
Which leads to the first quote in verse 5, which is from Psalm 2 (which Acts 13 says is from David). Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm, written for the day a new king in David’s line is crowned king of God’s people. In verses 1–2 of the psalm, Israel’s enemies may rage and conspire against God “and against his Anointed” — that is, the one anointed king, Messiah, the Christ. But in verse 7, as his enemies conspire, David remembers God’s decree from the day of his coronation: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
So on the surface, 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 2 are about human kings: David and his dynasty, one son then the next, declared at his coronation to be God’s “son,” his specially chosen and anointed human king of God’s people.
But remember our timing and location in Hebrews. We’re not in Jerusalem in roughly 1000 BC. Our setting is heaven, after Jesus’s ascension. And so what Hebrews does is draw forward these coronation declarations for David’s line to the climactic coronation of David’s promised offspring, who is not just a christ and a son, but the Christ and the Son — the one whom previous anointed royal sons anticipated.
So verse 5 is about Jesus and about God applying the promises and pageantry of Israel’s ancient coronation declaration to him as his great, climactic crowning as King of kings.
And verse 6, then, mentions the angels, quoting Deuteronomy 32:43: “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In some ways, this one is easier in the application, though trickier in the original text.
Deuteronomy 32 is a “song of Moses,” before he gives the people his final blessing before his death. From verses 1–20, Moses is the speaker. Then God speaks from verses 20–27. Then Moses speaks again from verses 28–33. But then a third speaker seems to emerge in verses 34–42, who not only speaks of himself as heaven’s agent (verses 39–40), but also says in verse 39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me.” Then a new voice, which Hebrews takes to be the voice of God, enters in verse 43 and speaks about the agent: “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all [angels]” — which sounds like the coronation. So Hebrews brings verse 43 to the enthronement of Christ.
So, we’re back to our coronation scene in heaven. Jesus, who was lower than the angels with respect to his humanity, now has ascended to heaven and with his Father’s welcome has taken his seat on the throne. And as the Father crowns his Son Lord of all, we hear the ancient coronation decree for David’s line: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7). Then he turns and declares to the hosts of heaven, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:14). And then, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Deuteronomy 32:42).
“If the angels worship Jesus, how much more might we!”
And if the angels worship him, how much more might we!
Finally, then, what about “the name”?
3. What is ‘the name’ he has inherited?
Verse 4 again: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
If you only have these few verses in front of you, it sure looks like the name is “Son.” He is introduced as “Son” in verse 2 and “Son” again in the coronation quotes in verse 5. (And if you read on in Hebrews, you’ll see that verses 7–13 go back and forth comparing “the angels” and “the Son.”) Most readers take “the name” here to be “Son,” and that very well may be it. Others have suggested God’s own first-covenantal name.
Recently, I read an essay by the late British theologian John Webster, who says about Hebrews 1:4, “Perhaps there is a deliberate withholding of the name” (God Without Measure, 79). That got me thinking, What is “the name” everywhere else in the New Testament? Think of Acts, and the feverish attention to “the name” in Acts 2–5, and then in Acts 8–10 and the rest of the book. And what is “the name” that the apostle Paul says is “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9)?
And what if we take a step back from this immediate context of the opening scene of Hebrews and ask, What name does Hebrews itself use for the next twelve chapters and, in particular, in all the key passages, like 3:1–3; 4:14–16; 10:19; 12:1–2; 13:8; and the great doxology 13:20–21? The name of Jesus.
And if Hebrews adds to the pageantry of heaven’s coronation by deliberately withholding the name, then when does the name Jesus first appear? With dramatic flair in Hebrews 2:8–9:
At present [in this fallen world under the curse and sin and in these last days], we do not yet see everything in subjection to [humanity] [as God designed it from the beginning], but we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
At the end of the day, the issue is not exactly what Hebrews means by “the name” (if he even has a particular name in mind, among others), but that Jesus, the Son, is clearly better.
Jesus Sat Down
As we close, let’s finish with his sitting down, the seat upon which he sat, and what his sitting made that seat.
“Jesus sits in the presence of God, and in doing so makes heaven’s throne a mercy seat.”
First, Jesus sat down as the long-promised greater son of David, now on heaven’s throne and now shown to be even greater than anticipated, as not only David’s heir, but his Lord. He is exalted to the universe’s seat of honor, to be served, praised, and worshiped by men and angels.
Second, he sat down to rule over all, as sovereign and judge, with all authority already his. From this throne he speaks, sitting to teach his church (Matthew 5:1; 13:2; 15:29; Luke 5:3; John 6:3; 8:2) through his apostles and pastor-teachers, as well as to rule the nations, and this will be his judgment seat on which he will sit to deliberate and judge (Luke 14:28, 31).
Finally, he sat down with his atoning, purifying work at the cross having been completed. Now he sits in joyful, satisfied repose, anointed with the oil of gladness. As we saw in Leviticus, the old-covenant high priest only stood in God’s presence when he entered once a year, but Jesus sits in the presence of God, and in doing so makes heaven’s throne a mercy seat.
So, brothers and sisters, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). At this Table, we draw near to the throne to sit and eat with the one who made purification for our sins, and as we eat, we join with the angels and worship him.