How Shall We Escape If We Neglect Such a Great Salvation? | Hebrews 1:4-2:4

having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
            today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
            and he shall be to me a son”?

            And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

            “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
            and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

            “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
                        the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
            You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
            therefore God, your God, has anointed you
                        with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”


            “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
            and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
            they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
            like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
            and your years will have no end.”

            And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
                        until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

            Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 1:4-2:4 ESV

In our previous passage, the author of Hebrews began his written sermon with a powerful contrast between how God formerly spoke by the prophets and how He now has spoken by His Son. He then gave us a sevenfold description of the Son, which ought to continually be our reference point through this letter as to the Son’s superiority.

In our present text, another contrast is made, this time between Christ and the angels. Many have speculated that the author addresses Christ’s superiority to angels because his congregation was dabbling in the worship of angels. Of course, such things were not unknown to the early church, since Paul warned against it in Colossians 2:18. However, in the second chapter of Hebrews, the author gives us his two primary reasons for asserting Jesus’ superiority to the angels. First, similar to the Old Testament prophets, angels were instruments of God’s revelation; in fact, their very name means messenger. Second, in His incarnation, Christ was made for a little while lower than the angels, and the author wants to assure us that Christ’s humiliation was only temporary and for a cosmic and eternal purpose. We will discuss that second reason, Lord willing, in our next study, while we focus upon the first here.


Verse 4 is a direct continuation of the thought from verses 1-3. After asserting that Christ has spoken a greater revelation of God than the Old Testament prophets and after describing Christ as ruling over all things from His seat at the Father’s right hand, the author now adds: having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Let us first begin with what angels are. In the Scripture, we find three broad classifications of intelligent beings: animals, humans, and angels. Of those three, animals and humans are both material creatures, whereas angels are spiritual beings. Humans and angels are both personal, that is, they are rightly called persons, while personhood is not attributed to animals. Furthermore, there is a clear hierarchy in this created order. Being made in God’s image, humans were given dominion over the earth and all the animals upon it; however, we were created lower in glory than the angels. This is especially true after our fall into sin. Because of our sin, we can no longer enter into God’s presence nor experience communion with Him; the angels, however, encircle His heavenly throne, doing His will at all times. Thus, it should not be surprising that whenever humans encounter angels the reaction is always terror, for angels radiate the holy presence of God.

But as glorious as angels are, Jesus is not being described as superior to them in only that manner. Rather, the author of Hebrews is viewing the chief function of the angels as mediators of the old covenant, which was their message to us (2:2). Of course, the law upon Sinai was given by God Himself, but in some manner that is simply not described for us, the angels served as mediators of that covenant.[1] Thus, Christ is not only superior to the angels in glory but also as a mediator of God’s covenant.

The superiority of Christ to the angels is then described via seven Old Testament citations, for we must keep in mind that this is a sermon, and the author is expositing Scripture for his congregation. Dennis Johnson gives us helpful direction for understanding the overall shape of verses 5-14:

This rapid-fire citation of Scripture heightens the dichotomy between the way God has spoken to and about his Son and the way he has addressed and described angels. The Son’s superiority to angels is emphasized not only by the content of the citations but also by the disparity in their number: five concern the Son, while only two concern the angels.

The OT texts are grouped in two sets of three, followed by a final OT quotation about the Son and a summative description of the angels’ role. In the first triplet, two passages highlight the exalted title “Son,” and then summons the angels to worship him. In the second set, one text shows the angels’ role as creaturely servants, and then two illustrate the eternal reign of the Son, who is “God,” and his divine immutability as creator and “Lord.” The OT testimonies follow the order of the prologue: the Son as royal heir (Heb. 1:2b, 5-9) and mediator of creation (vv. 2c, 10), his eternal divine nature (vv. 3ab, 11-12), and his exaltation to God’s right hand (vv. 3d, 13). The seventh OT quotation, like the first, is introduced with the rhetorical question, “To which of the angels has he ever said . . . ?” The form of the question in Greek demands a negative answer (“ none”), thus implying the Son’s unique superiority. Its repetition in verse 13 signals the conclusion of the sequence of citations that began in verse 5.[2]

As with the seven descriptions of Jesus in verses 2-3, we will move quite briskly through these seven Old Testament citations of Jesus’ superiority to the angels in order to keep the overall argument always before our eyes. Johnson also notes that “our preacher probably selects his OT texts not only for the words they contain but also for their context.”[3] Since we will not have the time here to explore those contexts fully, I encourage you to engage in that fruitful study yourself this week.

We may also take note that six of the seven citations are from the Psalms. Of course, the Psalms are a unique portion of the Bible because they are essentially a hymnbook and prayerbook within the Scriptures. Indeed, the Psalms are likely divided into five books as a lyrical and worshipful reflection of the Torah, the five books of Moses. Thus, let the Psalms shatter any supposed tension between worship and doctrine. No one can properly worship God without declaring who He is, which means making doctrinal statements. The Psalms are deep reservoirs for theological truth because their supreme aim is to rightly glorify and praise Yahweh.

First, Psalm 2:7 is cited as a rhetorical question. Did God ever publicly declare any of the angels to be His begotten Son? The answer is, of course, no. Regarding this passage, we should note that it is not describing a time of Jesus becoming God’s Son, as if Jesus ascended into divinity through His obedience to God, which is what the Jehovah’s Witness believe. As Geoffrey Wilson notes, “’This day’ has no reference to the eternal generation of the Son, an interpretation which Calvin quite rightly dismissed as a ‘Subtlety’, but rather points to the particular time when Christ’s claim to divine Sonship was decisively vindicated.”[4]

This vindication is what is described in Philippians 2:5-11. In His humiliation, Christ descended to earth, becoming fully human, and dying the horrendously shameful death of crucifixion. Yet after all of this, Christ raised to life and ascended to the Father’s right hand as a vindication that His humiliation was in obedience to the Father and was the central element of the triune God’s eternal purpose to reveal Himself through the redemption and adoption of His people.

Second, 2 Samuel 7:14 is cited as essentially asking the same rhetorical question again. While both passages express the Sonship of the Messiah, the context for the quotations make each unique. Psalm 2 addresses the kingdoms of the earth in their conspiracy against God’s rule through His Messiah, which as Johnson notes was displayed visibly as both Jew and Gentile united to crucify Christ. However, their efforts to silence God’s anointed were thwarted by God raising Him back to life and exalting Him as the heir of all things. 2 Samuel 7 is where God made His covenant with King David, promising him a Son whose throne and kingdom would never end.

Third, the author is either citing Psalm 97:7, which reads in the ESV: “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!” Or he could be citing the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32:43, which reads in the ESV: “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries. He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.” Either way, the point is that angels are in continual worship of God alone; therefore, if they are commanded to worship the Son, then the Son must also be God.

Fourth, Psalm 104:4 is cited. It acknowledges the great glory of God’s angels as His servants, yet it does so to prove “that the Son, who is superior to all the angels, is all the more glorious. The OT context of the quotation from Psalm 104 points to the Lord God as creator and sustainer of all things, including angels (Ps. 104:1-30; v. 4 is quotes). Since the Son is designated creator and sustainer (Heb. 1:2-3; 10:1-12:29), it is implicit that the splendor of the angels also stems from his creative hand.”[5]

Fifth, with His citation of Psalm 45:6-7, the author switches back to explicitly describing the Son, as well as explicitly affirming His deity from the Old Testament Scriptures. For context, Psalm 45 is a love song, rejoicing in the reign of the righteous king. In that context, verse 6 would almost certainly have been read as the psalmist turning aside from addressing the king in order to briefly address God, the King of kings. However, the author of Hebrews reveals to us that the Davidic king is still addressed. Only of Jesus can we rightly say both “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” and “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you…”, for only Jesus is both with God and is God (John 1:1).

Sixth, just as the previous citation explicitly declared the divinity of the Son, this citation from Psalm 102:25-27 does the same. While Psalm 102 is not an explicitly messianic psalm, the author likely used it here because of how the psalm laments the sinfulness and frailty of all mankind and ultimately hopes in the steadfast and unchanging faithfulness of God. After all, that is a theme that the author will make several times throughout this sermon about Jesus. To quote Johnson again:

The divine immutability of the Son is crucial to his priestly office and ministry, which rests on the power of his “indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16, 23-25). Although the congregation’s human leaders come and go, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). He bestows on believers a city that last (13:4), an unshakeable kingdom that will survive the final cataclysm of the present heaven and earth (12:26-28).[6]

Seventh, this citation from Psalm 110:1 resembles the first two since it is presented as another rhetorical question and is about the exaltation of the Son. Yet here the Son’s ruling seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high is more in view, and the author is emphasizing that no angel has ever received such a lofty station.

Indeed, this also ushers in the final contrast with the angels made in verse 14. While the Son has accomplished the work that the Father gave Him to do and is now seated in glory until all of His enemies are placed beneath His feet, the angels are still active servants sent forth from God’s throne to minister to God’s people. The angels are certainly glorious beings, but they are servants of Jesus our God and King and sent by Him to minister to us who have inherited salvation from the One who has been appointed the heir of all things.


I originally intended for these passages to be two separate sermons, yet these four verses explicitly give us the exhortation that we are meant to take away from Christ’s superiority to the angels. Therefore, let us consider them together.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The word therefore signals to us that the author is carrying over the entire weight of his previous argument into the following words. That is, since Jesus is so much superior to the angels, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. We must pay much closer attention because we have received a better word through a better mediator than the angels. Again, the Old Testament law was given through and declared by the angels, and it proved reliable. Yet we have received a greater covenant through God’s own Son.

But, some may say, I haven’t heard Jesus speak? How can this apply to me since I wasn’t one of Jesus disciples? The author notes in verses 3-4 that since Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand we do not hear Him speak directly to us. He did indeed speak directly and audibly during His earthly ministry; however, now His words have been attested to us by those who heard, that is, by the apostles. And God Himself bore witness to the apostolic attestation by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Here the author seems to indicate that he and his readers were not among the apostles who heard Jesus speak directly; rather, they themselves heard the words of Jesus out of the mouths of the apostles. Those words were verified by the grand displays of miracles and signs that Luke records happened in Acts.

Today, we too hear the attestation of the apostles through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit inspired them to write down. We also know that the early church received the New Testament writings as God’s Word because in Peter’s second epistle he speaks about Paul’s letters and places them alongside “other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-17). Thus, as we read the New Testament, we are hearing the good news that Jesus proclaimed, and as we read the Old Testament, we are reading the Scriptures that pointed toward Him (see the previous seven OT citations in 1:4-14 as well as Jesus’ statement in John 5:39-40).

All of this is to say that this exhortation is still very much for us today in the 21st century. If an angel appeared in all of its splendor before us right now, would we not pay attention to its words? Would we not listen intently to every word of the message that it had for us? Yet because the Scriptures reveal Jesus to us, we have in them a much greater message that requires us to pay much closer attention. Indeed, we should submit to them even if an angel were to give us a contrary revelation. In Galatians 1:8, Paul declared that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” I would argue that that is precisely what happened to both Mohammed and Joseph Smith. I will grant to Muslims and Mormons that their founders both received their messages from an actual angel, but because the message contradicted the gospel of Jesus, they were deceived by damned angels that masqueraded as angels of light. Thus, as unlikely as it sounds, do you know your Bible well enough to recognize if an accursed angel attempted to deceive you?

We are not, however, out of danger simply because we will probably not be tempted by visible demons. Let’s read verses 1-3a again:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

The danger is of not paying close enough attention, of drifting away, and of neglecting our great salvation through Christ. Those are three passive actions. Attention is the opposite of neglect, and it requires focus. A ship must be anchored to avoid drifting. The author is calling us to actively pay attention to what we have heard because passive neglect is damning. Or, in the words of Spurgeon:

One need not go to the trouble of despising salvation, or resisting it, or opposing it. One can be lost readily enough simply by neglecting it. In fact, the great mass of those who perish are those who neglect the great salvation.[7]

If that sounds extreme, consider the great flood. It took faith, hope, and endurance for Noah and his family to prepare and use the ark. All it took for everyone else on the planet to perish was to neglect doing what Noah’s family did. Likewise, Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:13-14 that the path to destruction is broad and easy, while the gate to life is narrow and lies at the end of a difficult road that few will find. That too may sound harsh to our ears, yet we should keep in mind that Jesus also said just as few verses before:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Matthew 7:7–8

The reason that few find the door to life is because “no one seeks” (Romans 3:11). Left to our own devices, we would all be Esau’s neglecting the words of life from God Himself for a single meal to momentarily satisfy our worldly appetites. That is the great danger that is ever before us, that we would neglect the great salvation that God has worked for us through His Son, that we would love our trinkets and sins of this life more than the resurrected King who secured our status as co-heirs with Him through His own blood. Lewis’ words through the fictional demon Screwtape are all too accurate:

Murder is no better than cards if cards do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.[8]

While I pray that our whole time of worship each Lord’s Day is no small signpost, warning any who may be drifting away to pay much closer attention to God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper is particular warning against neglecting the salvation that Christ’s sacrifice brings to us. The author of Hebrews rightly warned us, saying, For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? We hear echoes of that same wake-up call in Paul’s warning against receiving the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

In those verses, Paul is summoning us to pay much closer attention to what we have heard as we come to eat the bread and drink the cup. After all, they are visible and physical symbols of Christ’s body and blood that He offered up as a sacrifice for our sins. They are a visual sermon that the God who “laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning” paid Himself the penalty of our disobedience against Him. Each week this Table is a call for us to anchor ourselves in Christ, lest we drift away from Him.

Because each of us has heard God’s Word, there are three proper responses to the Table set before us.

For any who have not yet believed in Christ, go to Him in prayer as those around you are going to the Table. Confess your sin and place your faith in Him to rescue you from your sins.

For any who are followers of Christ but have not yet been baptized, we ask that you refrain from partaking in the Lord’s Supper until you have done so.

For baptized followers of Christ, Isaiah 55:1-2 says,

            “Come, everyone who thirsts,
                        come to the waters;
            and he who has no money,
                        come, buy and eat!
            Come, buy wine and milk
                        without money and without price.
            Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
                        and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
            Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
                        and delight yourselves in rich food.

What richer food is there than this bread and cup which summon us to taste and see the goodness of our God through these tangible pictures of Jesus’ atoning death.

The only fourth option is to neglect such a great salvation.

[1] John Brown: “Of the manner in which the angels were employed in the giving of the law, we have no particular account. But the fact seems plainly enough stated both in the Old Testament and the New.”

[2] Dennis Johnson, ESV Expository Commentary Vol XII, 36.

[3] Ibid, 37.

[4] Geoffrey Wilson, New Testament Commentaries Volume Two: Philippian to Hebrews and Revelation, 330.

[5] ESV Study Bible

[6] Johnson, ESV Expository Commentary Vol XII, 39.

[7] The Spurgeon Study Bible, 1643.

[8] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 61.


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