An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Christ Superior to Angels.
One of the first prerequisites for a spiritual workman who is approved of God, is that he must prayerfully and constantly aim at a "rightly dividing" of the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Preeminently is this the case when he takes up those passages treating of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unless we "rightly divide" or definitely distinguish between what is said of Him in His essential Being, and what is predicated of Him in His official character, we are certain to err, and err grievously. By His "essential Being" is meant what He always was and must ever remain as God the Son. By His "official character" reference is made to what may be postulated of Him as Mediator, that is, as God incarnate, the God-man. It is the same blessed person in each case, but looked at in different relationships.
It is failure to thus rightly divide what is said in the Word of Truth concerning the Lord Jesus which has caused unregenerate men to entertain most dishonoring and degrading views of Him, and has led some regenerate men to err in their interpretation of many passages. As illustrations of the former we may cite some of the more devout unitarians, who, appealing to such statements as "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28), "when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him" (1 Cor. 15:28), etc., have argued that though the Son be superior to all creatures, yet is He inferior to the Father. But the passages cited do not relate to the "essential Being" of Christ, but speak of Him in His Mediatorial character. As an example of the latter we may mention how that such an able exegete as Dr. John Brown interprets the second half of Hebrews 1:4 as referring to the essential Being of the Savior.
Thus it will be seen that that to which we have drawn attention above is something more than an arbitrary theological distinction; it vitally affects the forming of right views of Christ’s person and a sound interpretation of many passages of Holy Writ. Now in His Word God has not drawn the artificial lines which man is fond of making. That is to say, the essential and the official glories of Christ are often found intermingling, rather than being separately classified. A case in point occurs in the first three verses of Hebrews 1. First we are told that, at the close of the Mosaic dispensation, God spoke to the Hebrews by (in) His Son. Obviously this was upon earth, alter the Word had become flesh. Thus the reference is to Christ in His Mediatorial character. Second, "whom He hath appointed Heir of all things" manifestly views Him in the same character, for, in His essential Being no such "appointment" was needed—as God the Son "all things" are His. But when we come to the third clause, "by whom also He made the worlds" there is clearly a change of viewpoint. The worlds were made long before the Son became incarnate, therefore this postulate must be understood of Him in His eternal and essential Being.
The inquiring mind will naturally ask, Why this change of viewpoint? Why introduce this higher glory of the Son in the midst of a list of His Mediatorial honors?—for it is clear that the Holy Spirit returns to these in the clauses which follow in verse 3. The answer is not far to seek: it is to exalt the Mediator in our esteem; it is to show us that the One who appeared on earth in Servant form was possessed of a dignity and majesty which should bow our hearts in worship before Him. He who "by Himself purged our sins" is the same that "made the worlds." The crucified was the Creator! But this is not the wonder set forth in this passage. In order to be crucified it was needful for the Creator to become man. The Son of God (though never ceasing to be such) became the Son of man, and this Man has been exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. So beautifully has the late Mr. Saphir written on this point we transcribe from him at length:—
"Is it more wonderful to see the Son of God in Bethlehem as a little babe, or to see the Son of man at the right hand of the Father? Is it more marvelous to see the Counselor, the Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, a child born unto us, and a Son given unto us—or to see the Son of man, and in Him the dust of earth, seated at the right hand of God? The high priest entered once a year into the holy of holies, but who would have ventured to abide there, or take up his position next to the cherubim, where the glory of the Most High was revealed? But Jesus, the Son of man, ascended, and by His own power, and in His own right, as well as by the appointment of the Father, He is enthroned, crowned with glory and majesty. On the wings of omnipotent love He came down from heaven, but to return to heaven, omnipotence and love were not sufficient. It was comparatively easy (if I may use this expression of the most stupendous miracle) for the Son of God to humble Himself, and to come down to this earth; but to return to heaven, it was necessary for Him to be baptized with the baptism of suffering, and to die the death upon the accursed tree. Not as He came down did He ascend again; for it was necessary that He who in infinite grace had taken our position should bow and remove our burden and overcome our enemies. Therefore was His soul straightened to be baptized with His baptism; and therefore, from the first moment that He appeared in Jerusalem, He knew that the temple of His sacred body was to be broken, and He looked forward to the decease which He should accomplish on that mount. Not as He came did He ascend again; for He came as the Son of God; but He returned not merely as the Son of God, but as the Son of God incarnate, the Son of David, our brother and our Lord. Not as He came did He ascend again; for He came alone, the Good Shepherd, moved with boundless compassion, when He thought of the lost and perishing sheep in the wilderness; but He returned with the saved sheep upon His shoulders, rejoicing, and bringing it to a heavenly and eternal home. He went back again, not merely triumphing, but He who had gone forth weeping, bearing precious seed, who Himself had been sown, by His sacrifice unto death, returned, bringing His sheaves with Him.... It was when He had by Himself purged our sins that He sat down at the right hand of God; by the power of His blood He entered into the holy of holies; as the Lamb slain God exalted Him, and gave Him a name which is above every name."
Thus that which is prominent, yea dominant, in this opening chapter in Hebrews is the Mediatorial glories of the Son. True, His essential glory is referred to in verse 2: "By whom also He made the worlds," but, as already stated, this is introduced for the purpose of exalting the Mediator in our esteem, to prevent us forming an unworthy and erroneous conception of His person. The One who "by Himself purged our sins" is the same person as made the worlds, it is He who is "the Brightness of God’s glory, and the express Image of His substance." What ground, what cause have we for exclaiming, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12)? To this the God-man is entitled. Because of this, God exalted Him to His own right hand. Having shown His infinite elevation above the prophets we have next revealed His immeasurable superiority over the angels.
"Being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). Before attempting to expound the details of this verse, it may be well for us first to inquire, Why does the Holy Spirit here introduce the "angels?" What was His particular purpose in showing Christ’s superiority over them? To these questions a threefold answer, at least, may be returned:—
First, because the chief design of the Holy Spirit in this Epistle is to exalt the Lord Jesus, as the God-man, far above every name and dignity. In the next section (chapter 3) He shows the superiority of Christ over Moses. But to have commenced with Moses, would not have gone back far enough, for Moses the mediator, received the law by "the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53). Inasmuch as angels are described in Holy Writ as "excelling in strength," and thus as far raised in the scale of being above man, it was necessary, in order to establish Christ’s superiority over all created beings, to show that He was much better than they. To prove that God the Son was superior to angels were superfluous, but to show that the Son of man has been exalted high above them was essential if the Hebrews were to ascribe to Him the glory which is His due.
Second, the object before the Holy Spirit in this Epistle in presenting the supreme dignity and dominion of the Mediator was to demonstrate the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The method He has followed here is very striking and convincing. The old order or economy was given by "the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53). Exactly what this means perhaps we cannot be quite sure, though there are several scriptures which throw light thereon, for in Deuteronomy 33:2 we read: "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousand of saints"—"holy ones," i.e., "angels." Again, Psalm 68:17 tells us, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai." Finally, Galatians 3:19 says, "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed would come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." Thus, the glory of Jehovah at Sinai (the beginning of the Mosaic economy) was an angelic one, and the employment of angels in the giving of the law stamped a dignity and importance upon it. But the legal dispensation has been set aside by a new and higher glory revealed in "the Son," and Hebrews 1 shows us the angels subservient to Him, and not only so, closes with the statement that they are now the servants of the present "heirs of salvation!"
Third, it is necessary to show the superiority of Christ (the Center and Life of Christianity) over the angels, because the Jews regarded them as the most exalted of all God’s creatures. And rightly so. It was as "the Angel of the covenant" (Mal. 3:1), the "Angel of the Lord" (Exo. 3:2), that Jehovah had appeared most frequently unto them. From earliest times angelic ministration had been a chief instrument of Divine power and medium of communication. It was "the Angel of the Lord" who delivered Hagar (Gen. 16:7), and who appeared to Abraham. Angels delivered Lot (Genesis 19:1). It was the Lord’s "angel" who protected Israel on the pass-over-night (Num. 20:16). Thus the Jews esteemed angels more highly than man. To be told that the Messiah Himself, God the Son incarnate, had become man made Him, in their eyes, inferior to the angels. Therefore, was it necessary to show them from their own Scriptures that the Mediator, God manifest in flesh, possessed a dignity and glory as far excelling that of the angels as the heavens are higher than the earth.
"Being made so much better than the angels." This verse may be termed the text, and the remainder of the chapter, the sermon—the exposition and application of it. The first key to its meaning and scope lies in its first two words (which are but one in the Greek), "being made." Grammatically it seems almost a blemish to open a new paragraph with a participle; in truth, it demonstrates the perfection of the Spirit’s handiwork. It illustrates a noticeable difference which ever distinguishes the living works of God from the lifeless productions of man—contrast the several parts of a chair or table with the various members of the human body: in the one the several sections of it are so put together that its pieces are quite distinct, and the joints between them clearly perceptible; in the other, the ending of one member is lost in the beginning of the next. Our analogy may be commonplace, but it serves to illustrate one of the great differences between the writings of men and the Scriptures of God. The latter is a living organism, a body of truth, vitalized by the breath of God!
Though verse 4 begins a distinct section of the Epistle it is closely and inseparably united to the introductory verses which precede, and more especially to the final clauses of verse 3. Unless this be kept in mind we are certain to err in our interpretation of it. At the close of verse 3, Christ is presented as the One who has purged the sins of His people, in other words, as the Son of man, God incarnate, and it was as such He has been exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. There is now a Man in the glory. And it is this Man, the "second Man (1 Cor. 15:47) who has been made better than the angels," and who has obtained "a more excellent name than they." It is this which the opening participle makes clear, being designed to carry our thoughts back to what has been said at the close of verse 3.
"Being made so much better than the angels." To appreciate the force of this we must, briefly, consider the excellency of the "angels." Angels are the highest of all God’s creatures: heaven is their native home (Matt. 24:36). They "excel in strength" (Ps. 103:20). They are God’s "ministers" (Psalm 104:4). Like a king’s gentlemen-in-waiting, they are said to "minister unto the Ancient of days" (Daniel 7:10). They are "holy" (Matthew 25:31). Their countenances are like "lightning," and their raiment is as white as snow (Matt. 28:3). They surround God’s throne (Rev. 5:11). They carry on every development of nature. "God does not move and rule the world merely by laws and principles, by unconscious and inanimate powers, but by living beings full of light and love. His angels are like flames of fire; they have charge over the winds, and the earth, and the trees, and the sea (the book of Revelation shows this—A.W.P.). Through the angels He carries on the government of the world" (Saphir).
But glorious as the angels are, elevated as is their station, great as is their work, they are, nevertheless, in subjection to the Lord Jesus as Man; for in His human nature God has enthroned Him high above all. "The apostle in the former verses proves Christ to be more excellent than the excellentest of men; even such as God extraordinarily inspired with his holy Spirit, and to whom he immediately revealed his will that they might make it known to others. Such were the priests, prophets, and heads of the people. But these, as well as all other men, notwithstanding their excellencies, were on earth mortal. Therefore he ascendeth higher, and calleth out the celestial and immortal spirits, which are called angels. Angels are of all mere creatures the most excellent. If Christ then be more excellent than the most excellent, He must needs be the most excellent of all. This excellency of Christ is so set out, as thereby the glory and royalty of His kingly office is magnified. For this is the first of Christ’s offices which the apostle doth in particular exemplify: in which exemplification He giveth many proofs of Christ’s divine nature, and showeth Him to be man as He is God also; and in the next chapter, so to be God as He is man also: ‘like to his brethren’ (Hebrews 2:17)" (Dr. Gouge).
"Being made so much better than the angels." Through Isaiah God had promised that the "Man of sorrows" who was to be "cut off out of the land of the living" for the transgression of His people, should be richly rewarded for His travail: "Therefore, will I divide Him a portion with the great and He shall divide the spoil with the strong" (Isa. 53:12). In Psalm 68:18, He is represented as ascending "on high," and that, as a mighty conqueror leading captives in His train and receiving gifts for men. In Philippians 2 we learn that He who took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men, who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, "God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at (in) the name of Jesus (given to Him at His incarnation) every knee should bow, of things in heaven and in earth, and under the earth" (verses 9-11). He has been "made so much better than the angels" first of all, by the position accorded Him—He is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on High: angels are "round about the throne" (Rev. 5:11), the Lamb is on the Throne!
"As He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). "We who live in the West think a name of slight importance: but God always taught His people to attach great importance to names. The first petition in the Lord’s prayer is, ‘Hallowed be Thy name;’ and all the blessings and privileges which God bestowed upon Israel are summed up in this, that God revealed unto them His name. The name is the outward expression and the pledge and seal of all that a person really and substantially is; and when it says that the Son of God has received a higher name than angels, it means that, not only in dignity, but in kind, He is high above them" (A. Saphir). "The descriptive designation given to Christ Jesus, when contrasted to that given to angels, marks Him as belonging to a higher order of beings. Their name is created spirits; His name is the only-begotten Son of God" (Dr. J. Brown).
"As He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (verse 4). When commenting on the first part of this verse we endeavored to show that the reference is to the Father rewarding the Mediator for His sacrificial work, and attention was directed to the parallel supplied in Philippians 2:9-11. That passage begins by saying: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him," and this finds its counterpart here in "being made so much better than the angels." Then follows the statement "and hath given Him a name which is above every name," the parallel being found in "a more excellent name than they," i.e., the highest of all created beings. Finally, His right to this exalted name is to be owned by every knee bowing before it; so also the last clause of Hebrews 1:4 affirms Christ’s right to His more excellent name. Is it not more than a coincidence that the corresponding passage to Hebrews 1:4 is found in one of the apostle Paul’s Epistles!
"He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." This affirms the right of Christ to His more excellent name. The English rendering here seems slightly misleading. The Greek for "He hath by inheritance obtained" is a single word. It is a technical term relating to legal title, secure tenure. The right of inheritance which Sarah would not that the son of the bondwoman should have, is expressed by this word: "shall not the heir" (Gal. 4:30) "Shall not by inheritance obtain," or, "shall not inherit." Christ’s right to His supreme dignity is twofold: first, because of the union between His humanity and essential Deity; Second, as a reward for His mediatorial sufferings and unparalleled obedience to His Father.
"For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son?" (verse 5). Having affirmed the superiority of Christ over angels, the Holy Spirit now supplies proof of this, drawing His evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first passage appealed to is found in the second Psalm, and the manner in which it is introduced should be noted. It is put in the form of a question. This was to stir up the minds of those who read the Epistle. It is worthy of remark that this interrogative form of instruction is found quite frequently in the Pauline Epistles e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:4-10, Galatians 3:1-5—and much more so than any other New Testament writer. This method of teaching was often employed by the Lord Jesus, as a glance at the Gospels will show. Observe, too, how the question asked in our text assumes that the Hebrews were familiar with the entire contents of Scripture. The interrogative way of presenting this quotation was tantamount to saying: Judge for yourselves whether what I say be true- where in the Sacred Writings is there any record of God’s addressing an angel as His "Son"? They could not thus judge unless they were well versed in the Word.
"Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son"? The answer is, To none of them. Nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures is there a single instance of God’s addressing an angel as "My Son." It is true that in Job 38:7 the angels are termed "sons of God," but this simply has reference to their creation. Adam is termed a "son of God" (Luke 3:38) in the same sense. So, regenerated saints are "sons of God" by virtue of new creation. But no individual angel was ever addressed by the Father as "My Son." The Lord Jesus was, both at His baptism and His transfiguration. Herein we perceive not only His pre-eminence, but His uniqueness.
"Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (verse 5)? This latter expression has occasioned not a little difficulty to some of the commentators, and, in the past, has been made the battleground of fierce theological fights. The issue raised was "the eternal Son-ship of Christ." Those affirming understood "this day (or "today") the Greek is the same as in Luke 23:43—to be timeless, and "this day have I begotten Thee" to refer to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father. Much of the fighting was merely a strife "about words," which was to no profit. Though Scripture clearly teaches the Godhead and absolute Deity of the Son (Hebrews 1:8, etc.) and affirms His eternality (John 1:1, etc.), it nowhere speaks of His eternal "son-ship," and where Scripture is silent it behooves us to be silent too. Certainly this verse does not teach the eternal son-ship of Christ, for if we allow the apostle to define his own terms, we read in Hebrews 4:7, "He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today," etc. This, it appears to us, illustrates the Spirit’s foresight in thus preventing "today" in Hebrews 1:5 being understood as a timeless, limitless "day"—eternity.
Further proof that the Spirit is not here treating of the essential Deity or eternal son-ship of Christ is seen by a glance at the passage from which these words are taken. Hebrews 1:5 contains far more than the mere quotation of a detached sentence from the Old Testament. The reference is to the second Psalm, and if the reader will turn to and read through it, he should at once see the striking propriety in the apostle’s reference to it here. This is the first Old Testament passage quoted in Hebrews, and like the first of anything in Scripture claims special attention because of its prime importance. Coming as it does right after what has been said in verse 4, namely, that He who, positionally, had been made lower than the angels, is now exalted above them, an appeal to the 2nd Psalm was most appropriate. That has two divisions and treats of the humiliation and exaltation of the Messiah! In verse 3 counsel is taken against Him; in verses 10-12, kings and judges are bidden to pay homage to Him.
Now it is in this 2nd Psalm that the Father is heard saying to the Messiah, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (verse 7). The whole context shows that it is the Father addressing the Son in time, not eternity; on earth, not in heaven; in His mediatorial character, not His essential Being. Nor is there any difficulty in the "today have I begotten Thee," the Holy Spirit having explained its force in Acts 13:33. There the apostle declared to the Jews that God had fulfilled the promise made unto the fathers, namely, that He had "raised up Jesus," i.e. had sent the Messiah unto them. Acts 13:33 has no reference to Christ’s resurrection, but relates to His incarnation and manifestation to Israel—cf. Deuteronomy 18:18, "I will raise them up a Prophet"; also Acts 3:26. It was not until Acts 13:34, 35 that the apostle brought in His resurrection "raised Him up from the dead." Thus in Acts 13 Psalm 2 is cited to prove the Father had sent the Savior to Israel and His promise so to do had been fulfilled in the Divine incarnation. We may add that the word "again" in Acts 13:33 is not found in the Greek and is omitted in the Revised Version! If further proof be needed that the "This day have I begotten Thee" refers to the incarnation of Christ, Luke 2:11 supplies it, "unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord"—could so much be said of any but the only-begotten Son of God? Thus "this day" is here, by an angel’s voice expressly referred to the day of the Savior’s birth.
"This day have I begotten Thee." This, then, is another verse which teaches the virgin-birth of Christ! His humanity was "begotten" by God the Father. Though the Son of man, He was not begotten by a man. Because His very humanity was begotten by the Father it was said unto His mother, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
"And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son" (verse 5). The opening "and" connects this second quotation with the first; what follows clearly and conclusively fixes the scope of the first part of this verse. Here is indubitable proof that the Holy Spirit is speaking of Christ not according to His essential glory, but in His mediatorial character, as incarnate. Had the first part of verse 5 referred to the eternal relationship of the Son of the Father as practically all of the older (Calvinistic) commentators insist, it would surely be meaningless to add the quotation which follows, "I will be" does not take us back into the timeless past! Nor was there any occasion for the first Person of the Trinity to assure the Second that He would be "a Father unto Him." Clearly, it is the Father accepting and owning as His Son the One whom the world had cast out.
"And again, I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son." This second quotation is from 2 Samuel 7:12-17, which forms part of one of the great Messianic predictions of the Old Testament. Like all prophecy it had a minor and major scope and receives a partial and ultimate fulfillment. Its first reference was to Solomon, who, in many respects, was a remarkable type of the Lord Jesus. But its chief application was to Christ Himself. That Solomon did not exhaust its fulfillment is clear enough from the language of verse 13 itself, for, as Dr. Brown has pointed out, "It refers to a son to be raised up after David had gone to be with his fathers, whereas Solomon was not only born but crowned before David’s death; and the person to be raised up, whosoever he is, was to be settled ‘in God’s house and kingdom,’ and his throne was to be ‘established forevermore’,—words certainly not applicable, in their full extent, to Solomon." Doubtless none would have argued for an exclusive reference to Solomon had it not been for the words which follow in 2 Samuel 7:14. But competent Hebrew scholars tell us that "if he commit iniquity" may fairly be rendered "whosoever shall commit iniquity" and find their parallel in Psalm 89:30-33.
"I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son." This was God’s promise concerning the Messiah, David’s Son a thousand years before He appeared on earth. "I will be to Him a Father." I will own Him as My Son, I will treat Him accordingly. This He did. In death He would not suffer Him to see corruption. He raised Him from the dead. He exalted Him to His own right hand. "And He shall be to Me a Son": He shall act as such. And He did. He ever spake of Him as "Father," He obeyed Him even unto death. He committed His spirit into His hands.
"And again, when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, He saith, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him’" (verse 6). This is a quotation from Psalm 97:7, which in the Sept. reads, "Worship Him, all ye His angels." What a proof was this that the Son had been "made so much better than the angels": so far were these celestial creatures from approaching the glory of the incarnate Son, they are commanded to worship Him! But before we enlarge upon this, let us mark attentively the special character in which Christ is here viewed. Many are His titles, and none of them is without its distinctive significance. It is as "First-begotten" or "Firstborn" that the angels are bidden to render Him homage. As many are far from clear as to the precise value and meaning of this name, let us look at it the more closely. The Greek word, "pro-tokokos," is found nine times in the New Testament, eight of them referring to the Lord Jesus. It is manifestly a title of great dignity.
This New Testament title of Christ, like many another, has its roots in the Old Testament. Its force may be clearly perceived in Genesis 49:3, where Jacob says of Reuben, "Thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power." Thus, the primary thought in it is not primogeniture, but dignity, honor, dominion. Note in Exodus 4:22, God calls Israel His "firstborn" because to them belonged the high honor of being His favored people. In the great Messianic prediction of Psalm 89, after promising to put down His foes and plague them that hate Him (verse 23), and after the perfect Servant says "Thou art My Father, My God, and the Rock of My salvation" (verse 26), the Father declares, "I will make Him My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (verse 27). Clearly, then, this title has no reference whatever to the eternal origin of His Being, i.e. His "eternal Son-ship," still less does it intimate His creation in time as Russellites and others blasphemously affirm; but relates to the high position of honor and glory which has been conferred upon the Son of man because of His obedience and suffering.
The first occurrence of this term in the New Testament is in Matthew 1:25, "she brought forth her firstborn Son," and the second is parallel—Luke 2:7. That Mary had other sons is clear from Matthew 13:55. The Lord Jesus was not only the first in time, but the Chief, not only among but over them. In Romans 8:29 we read, that God has predestinated His elect to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren, i.e. their Chief and most excellent Ruler. In Colossians 1:15, He is designated the "Firstborn of every creature," which most certainly does not mean that He was Himself the first to be created, as many today wickedly teach, for never does Scripture speak of Him as "the Firstborn of God," but affirms that He is the Head and Lord of every creature. In Colossians 1:18, He is spoken of as "the Firstborn from the dead," which does not signify that He was the first to rise again, but the One to whom the bodies of His saints shall be conformed—see Philippians 3:21. In Hebrews 11:28, this term is applied to the flower and might of Egypt. In Hebrews 12:23, the Church in glory is termed "the Church of the Firstborn." This title then is synonymous with the "appointed Heir of all things." It is, however, to be distinguished from "Only-begotten" in John 1:18, 3:16. This latter is a term of endearment, as a reference to Hebrews 11:17 shows—Isaac was not Abraham’s only "begotten," for Ishmael was begotten by him too; but Isaac was his darling: so Christ is God’s "Darling"—see Psalm 22:20, 35:17.
"Under the law the ‘firstborn’ had authority over his brethren (cf. Romans 8:29, A.W.P.), and to them belonged a double portion, as well as the honor of acting as priests; the firstborn in Israel being holy; that is to say, consecrated to the Lord. Reuben, forfeiting his right of primogeniture by his sin, his privileges were divided, so that the dominion belonging to it was transferred to Judah and the double portion to Joseph, who had two tribes and two portions in Canaan by Ephraim and Manasseh (1 Chron. 5:1, 2); while the priesthood and the right of sacrifice was transferred to Levi. The word ‘firstborn’ also signifies what surpasses anything as of the same kind, as ‘the firstborn of the poor’" (Isa. 14:30); that is to say, the most miserable of all; and ‘firstborn of death’ (Job 18:13), signifying a very terrible death, surpassing in grief and violence. The term ‘firstborn’ is also applied to those who were most beloved, as Ephraim is called ‘the firstborn of the Lord’ (Jer. 31:9), that is, His ‘dear son.’ In all these respects the application of ‘firstborn’ belongs to the Lord Jesus, both as to the superiority of His nature, of His office, and of His glory" (Robert Haldane).
"And again when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world," etc. Commentators are divided as to the meaning and placing of the word "again," many contending it should be rendered, "When He shall bring in again into the habitable earth the Firstborn." There is not a little to be said in favor of this view. First, the Greek warrants it. In the second part of verse 5 the translators have observed the order of the original—"and again, I will be unto Him," etc. But here in verse 6 they have departed from it—"And again, when He bringeth in" instead of "when He shall bring in again." Secondly, we know of nothing in Scripture which intimates that the angels worshipped the infant Savior. Luke 2:13, 14 refers to them adoring God in heaven, and not His incarnate Son on earth. But Revelation 5:11-14 shows us all heaven worshipping the Lamb on the eve of His return to the earth, when He comes with power and glory. Scriptures which mention the angels in connection with Christ’s second advent are Matthew 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7.
That verse 6 has reference to the second advent of Christ receives further confirmation in the expression "when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world." This language clearly looks back to Jehovah putting Israel into possession of the land of Canaan, their promised inheritance. "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance" (Exo. 15:17). "To drive out the nations from before thee, greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance" (Deut. 4:38). In like manner, when Christ returns to the earth, the Father will say to Him, "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. 2:8).
In addition to what has just been said on "when He bringeth in the firstborn" into the world we would call attention to what we doubt not, is a latent contrast here. It is set over against His expulsion from the world, at His first advent. Men, as it were, drove Him ignominiously from the world. But He will re-enter it in majesty, in the manifested power of God. He will be "brought into it" in solemn pomp, and the same world which before witnessed His reproach, shall then behold His Divine dominion. Then shall He come, "in the glory of His Father" (Matt. 16:27), and then shall the angels render gladsome homage to that One whose honor is the Father’s chief delight. Then shall the word go forth from the Father’s lips, "Let all the angels of God worship Him."
Our minds naturally turn back to the first advent and what is recorded in Luke 2. But there the angels praised the Sender, not the Sent: God in the highest was the object of their worship though the moving cause of it was the lowly Babe. But when Christ comes back to earth it is the Firstborn Himself who shall be worshipped by them. It was to this He referred when He said, "When He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s and of the holy angels." The "glory of the angels," i.e. the glory they will bring to Him, namely, their worship of Him. Then shall be seen "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51). May we who have been sought out and saved by Him "worship" Him now in the time of His rejection.