Have you ever met someone who LOVED angels? Angels have long held a fascination for people of faith, and they often serve as a comforting reminder of God’s care and provision for His people. I remember a painting that hung on the wall of my bedroom as a child of an angel helping two little children cross a rickety old footbridge on a dark and stormy night. It was a picture that had relevance to me, because at the bottom of the hill where I lived, an old footbridge with missing slats crossed the Kentucky River, and we often walked across cautiously, taking care to stay on the steel beams lest the rotting wood give way.
The ancient Jews had a very high respect for angels. Having no concept of the Trinity, ancient Jews believed that in the Creation story when God says, “Let us make man in our own image,” He was speaking to His angels. Also in the Jewish tradition, as is recorded in Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, angels were present on Mount Sinai and active in communicating the Law to Moses. There was an idea in that Jewish tradition that angels were close in proximity to God – that they were God’s entourage – so they were potentially a means of access to God, who was inaccessible.
The writer of the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews was seeking to encourage Jewish converts to the Christian faith to hold on to the faith they had found in Christ and to demonstrate that Judaism was all along pointing the way to Christ. And we read in Hebrews 1:3b-4 (NASB) that, “When (Jesus) had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, to the extent that He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
I wonder if perhaps, as these Jewish believers tried to reconcile Jesus with their old faith, they proposed that Jesus was simply an angel – a messenger from God, but not a Son, worthy of the right hand of the throne? In the verses that follow, the writer to the Hebrews references at least seven Old Testament texts to demonstrate that Jesus has a place of honor high above even the angels. And because of that truth, the writer encourages the reader to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). The writer is concerned that these believers would slowly drift back into the old way that they followed before Jesus.
The phrase that most of our English Bibles translate as “pay close attention” also had nautical meaning in Greek. The term could also refer to mooring a ship. William Barclay notes that the verse could perhaps be more vividly translated, “Therefore, we must anchor to the things we have been taught, lest our ship drift and be wrecked.”
As in the nautical world, there is spiritual danger in drifting away, as the following verses (Hebrews 2:2-4) make clear. The writer asks, if the word spoken through angels – the Law – was so rigid, so demanding; if every transgression or omission received a just punishment; if they who had fewer privileges than we were punished, enslaved, dispossessed, destroyed, for neglecting the Law – how will we escape if we neglect Christ’s great salvation?
We have, the writer explains, the words spoken through the prophets. We have the witness of the apostles. We have signs, wonders, and miracles. We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Can we really look at all of those things and say, “You know, I just don’t think this is the way”? If those proofs and testimonies are so inconsequential to us that we would not anchor our souls in them – that we would carelessly drift into unbelief, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Not reject it – what if through carelessness of spirit we simply neglect it? How will we escape?
Lord Jesus, thank you for being faithful to the Father’s great plan of salvation. You alone are worthy of sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Help us to anchor our souls in Your truth so that we will not carelessly drift away from it.
~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair