Hebrews 1:3-4, compares Jesus to Angels in that “he became greater than the angels”. I thought that angels were created, and Jesus was not created but always God the Creator. The way this is said in the Scripture it sounds like he attained being God or like he was an Angel that became God. Also, Heb. 7:28 says “has been made perfect”
Hebrews brings up this question a lot, because the author often uses the language of “becoming” in regards to Jesus. Specifically he “became superior to angels” but also he “became perfect”, used in 2:10, 5:9 and 7:28.
STARTING AT THE TOP
To begin, keep the immediate context of the verses in mind. Also, let’s not lose sight of everything else the Bible says about Jesus before we land the plane. If we read 1:4 alone, it reads that “He BECAME superior” as if He attained to a status he didn’t have before. But backing up one verse we see that all that Jesus could be or have he ALREADY had:
he is the “radiance of God’s glory and the EXACT representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”Hebrews 1:3 NIV
FOLLOWING JESUS’ PATH OF “DEMOTION”
There are several clear affirmations of Jesus’ divinity in the Bible, but perhaps none more clear than that. So if Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being, the Word of God, he starts at the top. The exact representation of God’s being is clearly superior to angels, because God is superior to angels. So if he starts superior to angels, his becoming superior to Angels must relate to what happens AFTER Jesus is found incarnate as a man.
Do we have reason to think the writer of Hebrews has this perspective in mind? Yes. We read later in the same section on angels:
“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”Hebrews 2:9 NIV
Ah, so his being made superior to angels is clearly in the context of the incarnation when “for a little while” he was made lower than the angels. This must be in view throughout this letter. And this agrees perfectly with how Paul discussed Jesus’ voluntary path of demotion in his letter to the Philippians. There we read a very similar starting point for Jesus, sharing God’s nature and being equal with God. Check this out:
Who, being in very nature God,Phil. 2:6
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
So the author of Hebrews has this exact same High starting place for Jesus. And similarly he charts the exact same path of voluntary demotion as when Paul says in Philippians:
…he made himself nothingPhil 2:7
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
This “emptying” and “being found in appearance as a man” mirrors the line from Hebrews, “for a little while he was made lower than the angels”.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
Now, from this lowly place, Jesus was PROMOTED to the highest place, seated at the right hand of God :
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…Phil. 2:9
Ah, but that’s where he started from! So, depending on which phase of Christ’s journey through incarnation you start with, what is happening to Jesus will be misunderstood. At the top, he is equal with God. Demoted in the flesh, he seems less than God (“made himself nothing”, “lower than the angels”). Exalted to God’s right hand, it seems he’s becoming divine (“God exalted him”, “he became superior to angels”). If you forget the agreed upon starting point, you will misunderstand Jesus’ nature. So, when Hebrews talks of Jesus’ promotion as “becoming” this is not a denial of the starting place he had BEFORE the demotion.
From the place of his lowly birth, (when he was “made lower than the angels for a little while”) yes, his future exaltation looks like he attained to something. But from the starting point of “exact representation of God”, he didn’t attain anything, he simply reclaimed his prior place and position.
PERFECT OR ‘MADE PERFECT’?
So again, in Hebrews 2:10 the author says God:
[God] should make the founder of their salvation perfect through sufferingHeb 2:10 ESV
Again, Jesus being “made perfect” cannot mean he didn’t start out as perfect. We’ve already established that the writer believes Jesus is God and God is obviously perfect. But also, elsewhere in the Bible (and in this very letter) it affirms Jesus was morally perfect: 2 Cor 5:21, 1 John 3:5, 1 Peter 2:22, Hebrews 4:15. So Jesus was morally perfect already.
COMPLETION OF A PROCESS
Then why does the author imply that perfection is something Jesus had to achieve? Well, that word “perfect” in this letter (he uses it a lot!) has the force of “completion of a process”. If we believe that the crucifixion was required for Jesus to be our high priest, then he was not qualified to be that until he completed his mission. Only when he completed his mission did he complete the process of becoming our great substitute.
Thus, he was “made perfect” – which is to say he became perfectly qualified to take on this role, something that he would not have been without what he went through. The same idea carries over in Hebrews 5:9 –
“once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”Hebrews 5:9 NIV
He was already morally perfect… but before his suffering he was NOT the perfect substitute. He had to finish his mission to become the perfect Lamb of God.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF PERFECTION
If you look at the whole verse in Hebrews 7:28 is says:
For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.Hebrews 7:28 NIV
We know that this same idea of “completion of a process” and not “moral perfection” is in view here. The reason is that Jesus is specifically compared with human high priests. They are sinful and weak, whereas Jesus was not. So clearly, when the Son was “made perfect”, it does not mean that he was wasn’t perfect morally. It means that by his process of suffering and obedience he completed his qualification for that role.
Childbirth might be a good way to look at this. A fetus is perfect in the womb. It is exactly as developed as it should be. Nothing is wrong with him. But he must go through the birthing process to be a breathing child in his mother’s arms. There is another kind of perfection of the new born baby when he takes his place among us. He was perfect before birth. But the suffering of birth brought him the right to be part of human community.
This brought a new kind of perfection, a newborn. He couldn’t have that role unless he goes through the trial of birth. Birth didn’t make him perfect where he wasn’t perfect before. Yet the birthing process is required to make him perfect. This gives him the right to his new standing and role, as “perfect newborn.” Just as Jesus by trial became our perfect high priest forever.