The word “better” appears 13 times in the book of Hebrews (1:4; 6:9; 7:7; 7:9; 7:22; 8:6; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16; 11:35; 11:40; 12:24). The original word (Kreitton) is defined to mean “more prominent, higher in rank, preferable, better… more useful, more advantageous, better” (BDAG).
“When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:3-4).
Jesus certainly existed in a pre-incarnate state. It was through Him, that God made the worlds (Hebrews 1:1-2 cf. John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16).
Jesus existed in an incarnate state. He was “made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:9 cf. Hebrews 2:17; John 1:1, 14). He shared in flesh and blood, “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
However, the passage under consideration (Hebrews 1:4) refers to His state following the resurrection and ascension. He is now highly exalted. “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).
Let’s consider some contextual ways, from Hebrews chapter one and two, that Jesus is superior to the angels.
“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My son, Today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5 cf. Psalm 2:7).
It is true that angels are sometimes referred to as “sons of God” in scripture (e.g. Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). However, this is not the point.
The reference is to the coronation of Jesus as King (Psalm 2:6-12), which followed the resurrection and ascension (Acts 13:33 cf. Daniel 7:13-14). The phrase “Son of God” had royal connotation for many nations of the Ancient Near East. It was commonplace for Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite, and Roman rulers to be called ‘Son of God’” (Bromling, What Does it Mean to Say Jesus is “Son of God”?, apologeticspress.org).
“And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a son’?” Hebrews 1:5 cf. 2 Samuel 7:14).
The reference is to the kingship of Jesus through David (2 Samuel 7:14a cf. Hebrews 1:5; 2 Samuel 7:12 cf. Acts 2:29-30). This prophecy was not fulfilled by angels.
“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Hebrews 1:6 cf. possible reference Psalm 97:7).
Jesus is referred to as “the firstborn.” The term “firstborn” can be used of superiority of position, or rank (e.g. Psalm 89:27; Vine’s; see Jesus: A Created Being? By B.H.).
What does “again” mean? (1) Is the first coming of Jesus in view? Does “again” mean “on another occasion,” or “In another passage” (v. 5b cf. v. 6)? (2) Is the second coming of Jesus in view?
Whichever the case, angels are instructed to worship Him. Mere angels are not to be worshipped (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9). John heard angels saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). John also heard every creature saying, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever, and ever!” (Revelation 5:18).
“And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire’” (Hebrews 1:7 cf. Psalm 104:4).
Angels are ministers of God. Albert Barnes comments, “They obey his will as the winds and lightenings do. The object of the apostle is to show that the angels serve God in a ministerial capacity – as the winds do.” They are “sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).
“But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Hebrews 1:8-9 cf. Psalm 45:6-7).
Jesus is not just a minister (though, He is that – Mark 10:45; Acts 10:38; Philippians 2:4-8; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2). He reigns. His reign is forever and ever (Hebrews 1:8 cf. Daniel 7:4; Luke 1:33). He has been anointed more than His companions (Hebrews 1:9). Meaning? He is King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16).
“And: ‘You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands’” (Hebrews 1:10-12 cf. Psalm 102:25-26).
The word “and” continues the testimony of God the Father of the Son. Notice the flow of thought (v. 5a, v. 5b, v.6, v. 7-9, v. 10-12, v. 13).
Robert Milligan comments, “It seems to me, our author here applies to the Son language which, in its first intention, had reference to the entire Eloheem – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The LORD (Jehovah), not angels, laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7).
Do not miss the fact that Jesus is being called LORD (Jehovah). This is language used only of the one true God (See also: Isaiah 8:13 cf. 1 Peter 3:15; Isaiah 40:3 cf. Matthew 3:3; Malachi 3:21 cf. Matthew 11:10; Isaiah 45:23-24 cf. Philippians 2:10 -11; Joel 2:32 cf. Romans 10:12-13 ).
Further, consider the language. First, notice the language used to describe the LORD (Hebrews 1:11-12). Then, notice that similar language is later used in this same book to describe Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:8). This phenomenon is found in other passages as well (e.g. Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; 20:12 cf. Revelation 2:23).
“But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I will make Your enemies Your footstool’?” (Hebrews 1:13 cf. Psalm 110:1).
Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 1:3; 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). This is a position of authority (Acts 2:34-36).
One day, His enemies will be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1 cf. Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This is language of subjection or defeat (cf. 1 Kings 5:3; Psalm 47:3; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
“For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” (Hebrews 2:5).
The word “for” connects these words with some previous thought. The previous thought, in my opinion, is Hebrews 1:13-14. Hebrews 2:1-4 may be considered a parenthetical warning (Tom Wacaster lists 5 of these parenthetical warnings in Hebrews – 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 5:11-6:20; 10:26-31; 12:25-29, Wacaster, Studies in Hebrews).
“The world to come” refers to the current reign of Christ (Hebrews 2:5 cf. 1:13-14). Tom Wacaster comments that it refers to “the Christian dispensation” (Wacaster). Robert Milligan comments that this refers to, “the habitable world under the reign and government of the Messiah” (Milligan). “We see Jesus… crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9).
What does Jesus do for man? (1) He tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). This includes you. This includes me. (2) He made it possible for the bondage and fear of death to be removed (Hebrews 2:14-15). “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). (3) He is a merciful and faithful High Priest, who makes propitiation for the sins of people (Hebrews 2:17). (4) He aids those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
“How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).