Why Jesus Became Man, part 5 (Hebrews 2:16-17a)

We have been exploring Hebrews 2, which starting in verse 10 expounds our solidarity with Christ through His incarnation.  The progression of thought is like this: the fact of solidarity (2:10, 11), the character of solidarity (vv. 12, 13), the liberation that comes from solidarity (2:14–16), and now the significance of the Church’s solidarity with its high priest (2:17, 18).  Thus, the weightiest truth, in terms of comfort for the storm-tossed church, is given last.

The magnificent train of thought in this famous text presents Christ as a being who is at once a perfect priestly mediator, propitiator, and helper.

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Here is the mystery:  Jesus is both God and man.  He is not 50% God and 50% man, but fully God and fully man.  There is no salvation unless Jesus is undiminished deity and undiminished humanity.  He must be fully both.

1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh…”

How can it be that…

Perfect deity took on sinful humanity?

Omnipotence becomes weary?

Omniscience grew in wisdom?

Sovereignty became a bond slave?

Omnipresence was confined to a womb?

HOW He was both God and man is a mystery; but WHY He came as the God-man is at least partially explained for us here.  Our passage gives us three reasons in vv. 16-18.

First, to rescue us from sin (v. 16)

Second, to represent us before God (v. 17).

Third, to relate to us in temptation (v. 18).

16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

Verse 16 is actually the reason, or grounds, for which Christ “share[d] in flesh and blood” (v. 14).  Christ did not come to help angels, but rather “the offspring of Abraham,” He had to become like them, taking on human flesh.  Only in this way could He die for them/us.

Angels do not need to be saved.  One third of them fell with Satan in rebellion.  But there is no Savior for them.  They’ve made their final choice and there is no recourse for their defiant rebellion.  Some of them have already been confined to hell, only to be let loose during the great tribulation.  Most of them are present and active in our world (Eph. 6:12).  Yes, they need to be saved, but there is no Savior for them.  Jesus did not come for them.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” Jesus said in Matthew 25:41.

Peter tells us: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;” (2 Peter 2:4).

And in Jude 6 we read: “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—”

How gracious God is to give us a Savior!  He didn’t have to.  Do you realize that?  He could have left us to judgment after Adam sinned.  He could have left the whole human race in condemnation because we chose to rebel just as Adam did.

But He didn’t.  He sent a Savior.  God in flesh.  Jesus Christ.

We just sang at Grace Bible Church this past Sunday:

  1. “Man of Sorrows!” what a name
    For the Son of God, who came
    Ruined sinners to reclaim.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  2. Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
    In my place condemned He stood;
    Sealed my pardon with His blood.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!
  3. Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
    Spotless Lamb of God was He;
    “Full atonement!” can it be?
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Christ gave “help the descendants of Abraham.”  This is not his physical seed, but his spiritual seed, those who believe in Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 3:29 Paul says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed…”

The word “help” here is epilambano, an intensive word.  It is the same verb used in Hebrews 8:9 where God recalls how he “took hold” of his people Israel by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, and in both places it carries with it the idea of delivering help.

Used in Matthew 14:31, when Peter was sinking, Jesus reached out his hand and “took hold of” or “grabbed” Peter and rescued him from drowning.

It reminds me of a story.  I don’t know if it is actually true or not.

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in an old swimming pool behind his house.  In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks and shirt as he went.

He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.  His mother, who was in the house and looking out the window, saw the boy swimming towards the alligator.  Petrified, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son to get out as loudly as she could.

Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.  It was too late.  Just as he reached the bank where his mother was, the alligator reached him.  The mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs.  And then began an incredible tug-of-war between the two.  The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was totally consumed by her passion for her son and was gripped by a holy strength.

While this terrible struggle was going on, a farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, and saw what was going on – he took his gun, raced from the truck, and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived.  His legs were badly scarred by the vicious attack of the alligator.  He also had deep scratches on his arms where his mother’s fingernails had dug into his flesh in her efforts to hang on to the son she loved.

The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars.  The boy showed him his legs.  And then, with great pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms.  I have great scars on my arms, too.  I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”

Jesus Christ came to our rescue.  Satan, the great dragon, had us firm in his grip.  But Jesus rescued us and now holds onto us and will not let go.  The only difference is that the scars are His, not ours.

Salvation is not us reaching up to God and pulling ourselves to safety, but Christ reaching down to us and rescuing us when we were helpless to save ourselves.

I was sinking deep in sin
Far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within
Sinking to rise no more
But the master of the sea

Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me
Now safe am I

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

There is no other way for us to be rescued from sin and Satan and judgment and death.  Only Jesus could have done that.  Only His deity was of infinite value to pay for our sins; only His humanity made Him vulnerable to death.  Only His life and death offered a sufficient sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins.

So He came to rescue us from sin.  But secondly He came to represent us before God.

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

In this verse Christ is presented as a mediator and a propitiation.

The writer introduces these thoughts with a memorable reference to Christ’s incarnation, saying, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (v. 17a; cf. 2:11).  Jesus did not merely resemble humanity in some qualities of human nature, but “in every respect”—“in all things” (NASB).  Christ did not just “seem” to be human (Docetism), but really was human.  Christ’s likeness to us was not simulated but absolute and real (Philippians 2:7)—except for sin (4:15).  “In every respect” means in every way, specifically by experiencing human life and by suffering.

The result of becoming fully human is that he “might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…”  Eli was a high priest, but he was neither merciful nor faithful.  He interpreted Hannah’s prayers as drunken ravings and allowed his sons to misuse the offerings and rebelled against God.  But Jesus Christ is merciful towards sinners and faithful towards God.  He never fails in His priestly ministries.

Mercy is more than an emotion.  It might begin there, but it ends in action—action which helps relieve someone’s misery.  We are in misery because of our sin.  We don’t always realize that, but we are.  We are in a miserable condition.  And Jesus did something about that.

Mercy doesn’t just rubberneck as it drives by, nor does it merely express sorrow or hope that someone else helps, but mercy moves to give help.

Christ our mediator actually feels the pangs of human existence in himself.  And thus, his compassion is not simulated but perfectly real.  Even more, from the depth of Christ’s compassion springs mercy as he acts to meet our needs.  This in turn involves his faithful priestly mediation between us and God as he bears our sins and infirmities, interceding for us with tender mercy.

He is faithful in that He always lived in obedience to God, therefore was imminently qualified to serve as our high priest.

Jesus implicitly expressed this when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).  As Leon Morris says, “It is not simply that he does not act in independence of the Father. He cannot act in independence of the Father” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p. 312).

His faithfulness to God is seen in two ways.  First, he was faithful as mankind’s sin-bearer.   He did everything required.  Nothing deterred him from the cross.  He drank the bitter cup to its dregs.  “Our hell he made his, that his heaven might be ours” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 120).  Never has there been such faithfulness!

Second, he is faithful in representing us to the Father.  At God’s right hand his blood is applied to man’s sins.  There he faithfully prays for his own with compassion and tender mercy, honed by his human experience.  This is a truth every informed heart holds dear, as did Paul when he encouraged Timothy, reminding him, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

As our high priest He must deal with our sins.  He couldn’t just turn a blind eye to our sins.  Because of His holiness and unchanging hatred of sin, it had to be dealt with.  Sin cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored.  The Father’s just and righteous character demanded the death of the sinner.  Jesus became human, took on sinful flesh so that He might become a sin offering and die in our place.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson, Arwen, a female elf, exchanged her immortality for mortality, out of love.  Talking to Aragorn, a human, she asked him if he remembered what she had said when they first met.  Aragorn replied, “You said you’d bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people.”

Arwen committed again to give up her immortality out of love.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.  I choose a mortal life.”

In essence, this is what Jesus said when he took on humanity.  He became mortal.  He gave up His immortality so that He could live with us and die for us.  “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world without you.  I choose mortal life.”  That is what the incarnation is all about.

Jesus “became a…high priest.”  This will be a major theme of the center section of Hebrews and a major motif throughout.  A high priest was commissioned by God to represent the people of God before God.  The prophet represented God to the people; but the priest represented people to God.

Once a year he made atonement for the people, spreading the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sin of the people.  Only the high priest could do this.  What one man did had an effect for all the people of God.

Throughout Old Testament history, from about 1445 B. C. to the coming of Christ, for 1,500 years, the high priest had been entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice to God.  But it was always an inferior sacrifice, only temporarily remitting sin, until the Perfect Sacrifice appeared.

Jesus, at the cross, went into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled His blood on the mercy seat.

Jesus represented us before God.  He took our place, bearing the judgment and condemnation of our sins.  To represent us, He had to become like us.  He had to take on flesh, to become human, so that he could be qualified as a high priest for us.

Hebrews 5:1 makes this clear.  “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

No angel, no God, nor the Holy Spirit, could represent us.  Only Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Here is what is so wonderful about Jesus Christ.  Many high priests came before Him, representing the people before God.  But they were all fallible sinners, bringing imperfect sacrifices, and therefore sin was never fully and completely and finally removed.

But Jesus, the God-man, could represent me as man, but offer a perfect sacrifice because He was God.e was GodH

He became a man to become my high priest.  I can’t be my own high priest.  I cannot argue my case before God.  I needed someone to represent me before God, to plead the sacrifice for sin on my behalf.  And Jesus did just that.  Through His shed blood my sin has been fully, completely and finally removed.

Why Jesus Became Man, part 4 (Hebrews 2:14-15)

This theme of “the crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world.  To the Jews, the idea that their Messiah could die, especially a death like crucifixion, was a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23), an expression of “weakness” (1 Cor. 1:25) that was unworthy of God. 

There was nothing about the Teacher from Nazareth to show that he was greater than the angels.  Indeed, the reverse was true, for he had undergone humiliating sufferings culminating in a felon’s death.

Yet, as Paul pointed out “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25) and it was precisely through the cross that Jesus Christ defeated Satan. In 2 Corinthians 2:14 Paul presents the victory of Christ as a “triumphal procession” (cf. Eph. 4:7-10).  This reflects a Roman emperor’s custom of leading conquered leaders of hostile forces through the streets in a victory parade.

The apostle John tells us that one of the reasons Jesus came was to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Here is how our author puts it:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

Have you ever had to face a bully?  I remember a guy in third grade.  I won’t tell you his name just in case he is a relative of yours.  He was head and shoulders above the rest of us…must have been held back two or three years.  He looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger to me.

If he had told me to meet him after school on the playground, I would have run the other direction…fast!

If you’ve ever faced a bully you know that the best way to do that is to have a bigger brother you can bring to the fight with you.

Christ came, as our Elder Brother, to defeat out greatest enemy and to make null and void the greatest weapon in his arsenal.

The incarnation was an invasion.  Jesus came on a mission to rescue to captive slaves.  Jesus came to rout the devil and release His captives.  In verses 14-15 we see four actions: (1) incarnation, (2) crucifixion, (3) domination, and (4) liberation.

Christus Victor is the element of the atoning work of Christ that emphasizes the triumph of Christ over the evil powers of the world, through which he rescues his people and establishes a new relationship between God and the world.

Christ, through both His death and His resurrection, conquered Satan and broke the power of death.  That victory meant victory over sin and the condemnation of God’s law as well (1 Cor. 15:51–56), for death is the only fair wage for sinning, and God’s condemning law passes its judgment on violations of any kind (Rom. 6:23a).

Martin Luther said: “Christ resisted Satan’s power and won “a victory over the Law, sin, our flesh, the world, the devil, death, hell, and all evils; and this victory of his he has given to us.  Even though these tyrants, our enemies, accuse us and terrify us, they cannot drive us into despair or condemn us. For Christ, whom God the Father raised from the dead, is Victor over them, and he is our righteousness” (Luther’s Works, 26:21–22).  This victory of the Savior means that he “takes away the law, kills my sin, destroys my death in his body, and in this way empties hell, judges the devil, crucifies him, and throws him down into hell.  In other words, everything that once used to torment and oppress me Christ has set aside; he has disarmed it and made a public example of it triumphing over it in himself” (Luther’s Works 26:160–161; cf. Col. 2:15).

According to our passage, one of the primary tools Satan uses to torment and oppress us is death, and the fear of death.  Jesus died to free us from death, thus we no longer have to be afraid of death. 

We have just lived through a time when many people died of the COVID-19 virus.  Many people were frightened.  Death has become real and palpable to so many people in ways that it was not before the pandemic.  The response, by and large, was not one of confidence and peace, but of anxiety and fear.

As a hospice chaplain for 16 years, I met hundreds of people who were near death.  Some of them had a sweet peace, knowing that when they died they would be in the presence of Jesus.  They had no fear of death.  Like E. H. Hamilton, they thought, “Afraid? Of what?  To feel the spirit’s glad release?  To pass from pain to perfect peace.  The strife and strain of life to cease?  Afraid – of that?”  They know that the Good Shepherd will walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Do you know that peace?

Others, however, had some fear, not so much of death itself, but of the process of dying.  Then there were those few who truly had a fear of dying.

Like Puritan Samuel Bolton said, “Death is the godly man’s wish, the wicked man’s fear.”

Why might we fear death?  The reasons are many and of various weight: (1) the fear of pain (though most deaths are, medically speaking, not that painful); (2) the fear of separation from what we know and from the ones we love; (3) the fear of the unknown—launching one’s vessel on an uncharted sea; (4) the fear of non-being—in Bertrand Russell’s words, “Brief and powerless is man’s life; on his and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark”; and then there’s (5) the fear of everlasting punishment.

Maybe we have the same opinion as Woody Allen, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Death reveals our brevity (Psalm 103:15), exposes our weakness (Job 14:2), taunts us with its suddenness (Job 21:13), and mocks us with its power (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Death is an intrusion into God’s original design (Genesis 1-2). Perhaps the anonymous author captured the power of death best with these striking words:

He is a preacher of the old school, but He speaks as boldly as ever.  He is not popular, though the world is his parish and he travels over every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor; calls upon the rich and preaches to people of every religion and no religion, and the subject of his sermons is always the same.  He is an eloquent preacher and he often stirs the feelings, which no other preacher can stir and brings tears to eyes that seldom weep.  His arguments none are able to refute; nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals.  He shatters life with His message.  Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name?  Death.  Every tombstone is his pulpit.  Every newspaper prints his text.  And one day, every one of us will be his message” (As quoted in John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 441-442).

Linger over that last line, “And one day, every one of us will be his message.”  It’s chilling.  And true.  Life is fleeting and death is real. It is required of us all (Luke 12:20), the appointment we will one day keep (Hebrews 9:27).

Much of our lives we can deny death, pretending it won’t happen.  We refuse to think about it.  We try to avoid it.

Somerset Maugham told the story of a servant and his master, from Samarra, who were in Baghdad near the market.

The servant said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned I saw that it was death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture.

Now lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, dug his spurs in its flanks, and rode as fast as he could.

When the merchant went down to the market he saw Death standing in the crowd and he came to Death and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture,” Death said, “It was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him in Samarra tonight.”

When it is our time, our appointed time, we cannot avoid death.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t ignore or avoid this problem.  Instead, he entered right into it.  Our text says that in order to die He had to become like us.  He shared our life and died our death, that we might share His life.

His humanity was real.  Since we “share in flesh and blood,” Jesus did the same.  He was not a ghost, a disembodied spirit, as the Docetists claimed.  Jesus added a real human nature, complete with a physical body.

It was the incarnation that was amazing.  Paul confesses this mystery, that the “mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body!” (1 Timothy 3:16).

But to fulfill the role of the Elder Brother, He had to become like us.  To free the captives, He had to enter the prison.  In order to stand in our place He had to become “flesh and blood.”

Humanity shares in “flesh and blood.”  It is part of what makes us human.  We are unique in many ways, but what unites us is that we have bodies made of flesh and blood.

Since mankind is flesh and blood; he became flesh and blood (cf. Jn 1:14).  Men are sinners; he became sin for them that through him they might receive the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). 

Malcolm Muggeridge captured this truth when he wrote: “As man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, He would not; Incarnate (God in flesh), he could and did” (Jesus, The Man Who Lives, p. 30).

He came onto enemy turf.  Our stronger brother took on flesh to come onto the playground and beat up our bully.  Our champion stepped onto the battlefield, made himself vulnerable to death, all to rout our enemy.

If we are careless in our thinking about Jesus, we can slip into a form of Neoapollinarianism, embracing Jesus’ divinity but holding his full humanity at arm’s length.  Yet, it is important that we understand the extent to which God went to win our redemption.  Through the Incarnation God became an “insider,” not merely acting on our human predicament from without, but transforming it from within.  In a famous answer to Apollinarianism in the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus stated, “What has not been assumed cannot be restored,” meaning that for redemption to reach into every darkened corner of human existence, Jesus had to take on that existence in its entirety.  He was not merely God encased in flesh, but was truly human, as human he was vulnerable.  (George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 118)

His taking of flesh and blood is an act of total identification for the purpose of our everlasting redemption.  Though he had every cause to be ashamed of us and to abandon us to the judgment we justly deserve, he compassionately abased himself in order that we with him might be raised to glory (Phil 2:5ff.; 2 Cor 8:9).  It should be emphasized that, as the NT consistently shows, and not least this epistle, our brotherhood with Christ rests not solely on the fact of his incarnation, but much more precisely on the redemption which that incarnation enabled him to accomplish at the cross.  (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 106)

The only way to destroy Satan was to rob him of his weapon, death–physical death, spiritual death, eternal death.  Satan knew that God required death for us because of sin.  Death had become the most certain fact of life.  Satan knew that men, if they remained as they were, would die and go out of God’s presence into hell forever.  Satan wants to hold onto men until they die, because once they are dead the opportunity for salvation is gone forever.  Men cannot escape after death.  So God had to wrest from Satan the power of death.  And for just that purpose Jesus came.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, 69-70)

He did this for the purpose of defeating the power of death and delivering us from the slavery that comes from fearing death.

The fear of death enslaves unbelievers in that this fear leads them to behave in ways that please Satan (e.g., selfishly, living for the present, etc.)

“It is ironical that human beings, destined to rule over the creation (Ps 8:5-7 LXX, cited in vv 6-8), should find themselves in the posture of a slave, paralyzed through the fear of death (Kögel, Sohn, 80).  Hopeless subjection to death characterizes earthly existence apart from the intervention of God…” (Lane, p. 61).

Christ’s atoning death effected the destruction of Satan’s power of death and thus freedom from the fear of death.  Our glorified Lord commands us, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17, 18).

Satan is described as the one who had the power of death.  This does not mean that he has the power to kill people at will.  The risen Christ holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:17, 18).  God determines the length of each person’s life (Ps. 139:16) and He alone has final authority in this matter (Job 2:6Luke 12:5).  But Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and through sin, death entered this world.  Satan was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).  He delights in seeing people die outside of Christ, because they then join him in hell throughout eternity, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).

Sinners are held in “lifelong slavery” because of the “fear of death” (Heb. 2:14).  Satan holds the “power of death” insofar as he tempts people to sin, accuses sinners of their sins, and, in God’s providence, wields a certain power over death.  Sinners are powerless to free themselves from the enslavement of the fear of death and from the vise grip of the power of death.  That bondage can be broken only in one way—through the death of the incarnate Son of God (Heb. 2:14).

The only way we can face death with hope and confidence is if we know Jesus Christ as our Savior.

For His people, Christ brings an end not to the experience of death but to the fear of death.  That is to say, death and its terrors no longer hold us in bondage.  Why is that?  Because Christ died, experiencing death in all its terrors, pains, horrors, and agonies of soul and body.  Because Christ, in His death and resurrection, defeated death.  

He did this for us.  As we approach death, we need to see it through the spectacles of the finished work of Christ.  The gospel tells us that Christ has conquered and subdued death.  That is the only way that we can face death with hope or confidence.

Christ has conquered death.  It is a, for Christians, toothless foe.

Let us have the attitude of Paul.  In Philippians 1 he saw death as “gain” (Phil. 1:21) and whereas continuing to live would be advantageous to the Philippians, for him death would be “far better” (Phil. 1:23), not a little better, but incomparably better!  So instead of trying to ignore the reality of death, we need to say “Go ahead, death — make my day.”  Say, “If you let me live, Christ will be honored on earth in my life.  If you take away my life, I just get more of Christ in heaven.  I can’t lose.”

I close with the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Question 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him (in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. by Philip Schaff [Baker], 3:307-308).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 3 (Hebrews 2:11-13)

Because the angelic host was so highly regarded in 1st century Judaism, and because Jesus was crucified, which symbolized to the Jews that Jesus was accursed, the author of Hebrews has been showing that Jesus, by becoming man, accomplished His work in our behalf, yet still is superior to the angels.

God didn’t “subject the world to come” to angels, but to Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:5).  He was, for a “little while lower than the angels” but now is “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:7).  Yet, He became man so that he might “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9) and “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).  The picture of verse 10 is of a great family procession as it winds its way through this life and moves ever upward to “glory.”  Leading the procession is the pioneer, the captain, the champion of our salvation.  He has gone before us as the perfect man—living a perfect, sinless, spotless life—overcoming every temptation and hardship—dying as the perfect atonement for all our sins—then resurrected to glory—and now leading us over his bloodstained path to the same glory.

The endless procession follows its leader until they are before the throne.  “After this I looked,” says John, “and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

The great retinue is made up of redeemed sons and daughters who all part of the family of the Father and the Son.  Their hearts’ cry is, “Abba ! Father!”  They are brothers and sisters, “fellow heirs with Christ,” the pioneer of their salvation (Romans 8:15–17; cf. Galatians 4:5, 6; Ephesians 1:5).

Our author goes on from this foundational truth to say…

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him. “And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Christ, through his humanity and through His death on the cross shows His solidarity to us.  We are “of the same family” (NIV, “from one source,” ESV) and are “brothers.”  In the context of this family relationship, He sanctifies us.  The “he who sanctifies” in this context is Jesus, who sanctifies us principally through His death (cf. Heb. 10:10, 14).  United to Him, we receive His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Verse 11 shows that Jesus (“he who sanctifies”) and every believer (“those who are sanctified”) all come from the same stock, we have a common paternity, Adam.  Jesus and all humanity share the same human ancestor.  Jesus Christ was 100 percent homo sapiens, just as all of us are descendants of Adam.  But his relationship to humanity was different than that of any other man, because he imparts holiness to those who are in him, the second Adam. Sin came to all humanity through “one man,” Adam. But righteousness comes through the “one man,” Christ (cf. Romans 5:12, 19).

As believers, however, we also have a common paternity in God the Father.  Of course, Jesus is Son in a unique and special relationship to the Father, but through adoption we have become sons of God in a real, though different sense.  As such, we become co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus brought us into the family of God by entering into the family of man.  His incarnation, perfect life and substitutionary death created, through the Holy Spirit, a bond between Jesus Christ and every believer forever.  We are God’s sons, brothers of Jesus Christ.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit we have been united to Christ, and His divine nature has been given to us (2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Peter 1:3).  This does not mean that we are now divine.  We are in no way equal to God.  But it means that our old nature has been radically changed, or exchanged, for a new nature, a nature that loves God and loves righteousness.

Thus, Christ is “not ashamed to call [believers] brothers.”  Isn’t that a fantastic statement?  Jesus Christ could call us much worse things, like weak, sinners, enemies (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10).

A. B. Bruce says…

“On the contrary, he calls them brothers with all his heart, with the fervour of love, with the eloquence of earnest conviction” (A. B. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1988), p. 16).

Christ glories in these family designations: “These are my brothers and sisters!”

Isn’t it wonderfully liberating to know that Jesus is never ashamed to own me as his brother?  And why is that?  It is certainly not because of my daily behavior, as if I’m always pleasing to Him.  No.  It is because He has sanctified us.

This is definitive sanctification, which happened the moment we believed.  We were made “saints.”  Christians are people who have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11Acts 20:32Heb. 10:10, 141 Pet. 1:2).  We are “holy” by virtue of God’s calling and our faith union with him.

God counts us as righteous because He sees the righteousness of Christ in us.  Jesus Christ is unashamed to call us his brothers because He sees Himself in us.  He is proud of me!  His chest swells up with pride when he thinks of me.

This expresses the destiny of believers.  Believers will be glorified and there will be no condemnation or shame.  Unbelievers, however, will be filled with shame as God turns His back on them forever.

This is different from progressive sanctification, which is the day-by-day process by which I cooperate with the Holy Spirit in making me more like Jesus Christ.  In progressive sanctification we “become what we are.”

This is reflected, for example, in 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  That is, our consecrated status must become evident in real life; “be what you are,” as we like to say (cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).  But the New Testament writers generally address this matter of personal godliness in other categories—they use the terminology of renewaltransformation, becoming like Christ, becoming godly and pure, living out what God has worked in us, even the now/not yet experience of glorification (2 Cor. 3:18), and so on.

Finally, there is ultimate sanctification, which will happen the moment we see Christ.  Then we will become like Him in fact just as we have been in God’s eyes from the moment of salvation.

Verses 12 and 13 quote three passages from the Old Testament.  These quotations illustrate that Jesus will not blush to identify with the people of God. The emphasis in the first quotation is on the character (name, reputation) that Jesus Christ and believers share.  The point of the second quotation is that Jesus, as well as His followers, trusted God. This is the basis for intimate fellowship. Daily trust in God characterized Jesus, and it characterizes Christians who continue to follow God faithfully.  The point of the third quotation is that believers are Jesus Christ’s spiritual children.  As such He will provide for us and prepare us for the future—like a loving parent who has had greater experience traveling the same path (cf. John 14:1-3)

The writer of Hebrews then quotes from Psalm 22:22—a Messianic psalm—in which Christ refers to his people as his brothers.  What a marvel of grace—that Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven, took upon himself a human nature and human body, making Him vulnerable to suffering and death, all so that we could be born again into a new nature and be a part of His family.

Jesus says, “I will tell (or declare) of your name to my brothers.”  Jesus magnifies the name of God so that our hearts will be filled with wonder and adoration and praise.  He is our worship leader.

From Psalm 22, this first quote stems from that portion of Scripture that the early church perceived as containing significant prophecies of Christ’s sufferings.  It begins with the cry of anguish from the cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46), then verses 16-28 speak of the piercing of Christ’s body and casting lots for his garments (Matthew 27:35; John 19:23, 31-36). 

Psalm 22:14, 15 describe his agonies: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” 

But later the psalm turns to a declaration of praise in the very midst of suffering, in which the righteous one expresses joy and praise for God’s attention to his cry for help.  This is why He declares God’s name to his brothers.

This idea will tie in to the idea of trust in verse 13.

The later part of verse 12 says, “in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Did you realize that you have a singing God?

Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that He sings love songs over us.  Here He is leading in worship, singing praise to God.

Spurgeon says…

“Behold, then, in your midst, O Church of God, in the days of his flesh there stood this glorious One whom angels worship, who is the brightness of his Father’s glory in the very heaven of heavens; yet when he stood here, it was to join in the worship of his people, declaring the Father’s name unto his brethren, and with them singing praises unto the Most High.  Does not this bring him very near to you?  Does it not seem as if he might come at any moment, and sit in that pew with you; I feel as if already he stood on this platform side by side with me; why should he not?”

John Calvin remarks here: “This teaching is the very strongest encouragement to us to bring yet more fervent zeal to the praise of God, when we hear that Christ leads our praise and is the Chief Conductor of our hymns” (Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1964), pp. 63, 64).

Note that it is only to his brothers, his congregation, that Jesus sings praises to God.  Unbelievers will not participate in this.

This verse supports the author’s proclamation of solidarity between Jesus and believers in two ways.  First, he sees in its reference to “brothers” the establishment of a spiritual family relationship made possible by the Son’s sacrificial death.  Second, the phrase “in the congregation” places emphasis on Jesus’ location in our midst on the earth, where he was for a little while “lower than the angels,” thus referring to His incarnation.

Here in verse 13 he quotes from Isaiah 8:17 and 18, two short declarations: “I will put my trust in him.” And then “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Isaiah 8:17 is also a Messianic passage.   Isaiah 8 is sandwiched between chapters of immense messianic teaching.  Chapter 7 of Isaiah is decidedly messianic, containing the famous prophecy of Christ’s birth: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  And chapter 9 is likewise messianic with its equally famous prophecy of Christ’s names: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  But most of all, chapter 8 itself is a well-mined quarry of messianic prophecies.  Verse 8 with its prophecy of the name “Immanuel” (along with Isaiah 7:14) is used in Matthew 1:23.  Verse 12, an exhortation to have courage, is quoted in 1 Peter 3:14ff.  And verse 14, which describes “a rock of stumbling,” is applied to Christ in Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8. So the whole of Isaiah 8 (though it is by and about Isaiah) has a rich messianic aroma!

The full passage says

17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Due to God’s judgment that was about to come upon Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Isaiah expresses this deep trust in God, to wait upon Him and hope in Him.  It wouldn’t be an easy time to maintain hope in God!

So it was with Christ as he shared the solidarity of our humanity.  Isaiah’s words in the mouth of Christ—“I will put my trust in him,” quoted in 2:13—show that while undergoing persecution in the flesh Jesus depended on God.  While in the frailty of human flesh, Jesus exercised faith!  Even his final words on earth were words of dependence: “‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’” (Luke 23:46).  What solidarity—what communion of nature—Jesus shares with the suffering church.  They suffered?  So did he!  They were weak?  So was he!  They must depend on God—just as he did!

The third and final Old Testament quotation immediately follows in Isaiah 8:18, though the author of Hebrews introduces it with the formula,  “And again . . .”  This is because he wants to make a further point, this time about the confidence that Christ’s solidarity with his own brings.

When Isaiah originally said, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me,” he was referring to his own two physical sons, of whom he continued by saying, “[We] are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.”

Both boys had been given prophetic names.  One was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which has the meaning “the spoil speeds, the prey hastes,” signifying the speedy removal of Syria and Israel as enemies of Judah (cf. Isaiah 8:1–4).  The other was named Shear-jashub, which expressed the confidence, “a remnant shall return” (Isaiah 7:3).  Along with this, Isaiah’s name means, “Yahweh is salvation.”

Isaiah 8:18 gives a vivid picture of confidence.  Let’s envision Isaiah (“Yahweh is salvation”) standing between his two boys.  He places his hand on Maher-shalal-hash-baz, whose name predicts the removal of his oppressors—“the spoil speeds, the prey hastes.”  Then he places his other hand on Shear-jashub—“a remnant shall return.”  Now, with both hands on his prophetically named sons, he confidently says, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.”  His sons have given him the confidence that he and those sons (and, indeed, all God’s people) have a future.

These words, applied to Christ, are a sublime statement of confidence.  It is as if he places his arms around the sons and daughters of the suffering church and says, “Behold, I and the children God has given me” (v. 13)—“The fact that I have this family—my brothers and sisters—is a prophecy of the future.  This blessed remnant will survive the onslaught, whatever comes.”

The phrasing of this quote from Isaiah 8:18 shows how precious Jesus’ people are to Him.  “He likes to dwell on that fact.  They are precious to him in themselves, but far more precious as the Father’s gift to him.  Some things are valued by you as keepsakes given by one you love; and so are we dear to Christ because his Father gave us to him.” (Spurgeon)

The phrase “children God has given to me” is an uncommon phrase.  It parallels the fact that Christ had made himself an offering for sin, and would “see his offspring” (Isaiah 53:10), those “whom [God] gave me out of the world” (John 17:6).

Jesus had told his disciples (John 6:37) “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (cf. John 6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24: 18:9).  Thus, “all that the father has given me” equals the fruit of His labors.  It also strongly communicates the finality of it all—being given to Jesus means that we will always be His.

Taken together, these three Messianic quotations provide such a comfort to the fearful believers, because they reveal the rich benefits coming from Christ’s solidarity with His people, through His incarnation, death and resurrection.  This solidarity would not have been possible had not Christ taken on a human nature and had he not died a cruel death on the cross for us.

In each of these examples the Messiah is willing to associate Himself with His brethren, whether it be in a congregation of worship, a community of trust in the Father, or declaring a common family association.

Throughout these verses, the author of Hebrews is expressing quite strongly that Jesus’ humanity does not make Him inferior to angels, but rather it allowed Him to fulfill His purpose of redeeming to Himself a people for His own possession.

As the Cappadocians, a group of early church fathers, affirmed, “What he (Christ) did not assume he could not redeem” (Allison, p. 107, citing Gregory of Nyssa, Against the Eunomians, 2.10).  To redeem people, Jesus had to assume human nature in its entirety, yet without sin.

Why Jesus Became Man, part 2 (Hebrews 2:9b, 10)

The New Testament theme of the “crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world.  Paul spoke of the cross as a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  To many minds a suffering Savior was not a God-worthy concept.

As the writer of Hebrews pens his letter to the harried little church, having reminded them of this dangerous drift in thinking as he alluded to Christ’s suffering death in 2:9, in verse 10 he turns the tables on the critics with an eloquent assertion that the cross is the most fitting and the most God-worthy way of salvation.  The argument crowns and controls all that follows to the end of the chapter.  Moreover, its few lines contain so much that we must give them extra attention before we proceed.

Agreeing with Paul, the author of Hebrews shows how the death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, was “fitting” (ἐπρεπεν), placing that word at the beginning of this first sentence for emphasis.  As unthinkable as was the death of Christ to men, it was “appropriate” and “suitable” from God’s viewpoint.  Conceivably God could have done it some other way, but He did not, and the way He chose to do it is amazingly fitting.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Here the writer of Hebrews is giving us a commentary on verse 9, especially his last phrase, “by the grace of God.”  Here is how that grace was displayed.

It was fitting that Jesus Christ should suffer and die for sinful man.

  • Jesus became a man, what we are, that we might become what He is.  (Not God, but holy like God.)
  • He took upon himself our flesh, so that he might take upon himself our sins.
  • He was born in our image, that we might be re-born in His image.
  • The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.

Basically, Jesus became man so that he might die for mankind.  If He had only a divine nature, He could not die.  But by dying, He paid the penalty for my sins, since “the wages of sin is death.” 

Becoming man, dying, and especially dying a shameful death on the cross, was horrifying and despicable in the eyes of Jews and Greeks.  But it is God’s way of salvation, His marvelous way of salvation!

The means of salvation is by no means arbitrary or out of line with God’s will or God’s nature.  Rather, it befits the God “for whom and by whom all things exist.”

As the work of creation is totally of God, so also is the work of salvation.  Just as God poured Himself into the work of creation, not only being the agent that accomplished it but the receiver of all its glory, so Christ poured Himself into the work of our salvation, not only being the agent who accomplished it but who now deserves all the glory.

Christ’s sufferings and death are not only congruent with the character of the almighty God who did everything in creating the universe—they are an even greater demonstration of his power.  Creation was done with a word.  He spoke and voila!—there it was and is, ex nihilo.  But his speech was not enough to effect salvation.  It took not a word, but the Word—his Son incarnate who was humiliated, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and is in session at the right hand of God—to effect a salvation that was consonant with his character.  From the cross come the loftiest conceptions of him “for whom and by whom all things exist.”  Our salvation is the greatest display of his power and character (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), pp. 237, 238).

In other words, the display of the glory of God is even more powerful through the crucifixion of Jesus than through the creation of the vast cosmos.

The purpose of Christ’s death, the reason that He endured the cross and despised its shame, the reason He did all this with joy in His heart, is because it would allow him to “bring many sons to glory.”

This was His heartfelt desire in going to the cross.  This is the reason He endured the disgraceful shame of the cross—to bring you and me to glory.  The glory that Adam originally possessed, but lost in the fall, spoken of in Psalm 8 and back in vv. 6-8, will be restored.

It’s the same glory promised in Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:7, “You have crowned him with glory and honor and appointed him over the works of your hands.”

Paul identifies this glory with the final stage of God’s work in our behalf.  In Romans 8:30 he says…

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We experience some of that gloryifying now, as we behold Jesus in His Word.  In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We are in the process of becoming more and more like Him, but one day that process will be super-charged and we will immediately take on the dazzling purity of His righteous glory.  The moment we see Jesus “we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Someone has said, “sanctification is glory begun, and glory is sanctification done.”  Verse 11 will speak more about this process of sanctification.

Every single believer in Jesus Christ will be glorified.  Notice that Romans 8:30 puts this in the past tense, as if it has already happened.  Why?  Because in God’s eyes it already has, and that gives us the strong assurance that nothing can derail it.

Jesus here is called the “founder” of our salvation.  He is the source, yes, but more than that, the word (ἀρχηγὸν) is literally more like “pathfinder, pioneer (NIV)” or “captain of a company.”  It describes someone who begins something so that others may enter into it.

Notice that Christ only brings “many sons” to glory.  Not everyone partakes of this glory.  Only those whom the Father draws to Jesus Christ.  But at least there are “many,” not just a few.

Literally, He is “leading” us to glory.  He has been glorified through His death, resurrection and ascension, and is leading us to that destiny in Him.  Marcus Dods says, “He is the strong swimmer who carries the rope ashore and so not only secures His own position but makes rescue for all who will follow.”

Kent Hughes points out how this title bears resemblance to the second of four names Isaiah gives to the “son born to us” in Isaiah 9:6, that he is El Gibbor, “mighty hero God.”  As such, He accomplishes our salvation.  Yes, He did so through a battle with the forces of darkness.  He triumphed over them in the cross.

Have you recognized Jesus as the captain of your life?  Are you submitting to His orders, following in His path?  He will lead you and encourage you, but you have to follow Him.

That pathway, notice, is through suffering.

Oh, we don’t like that.  No thank you, Jesus.

This verse says that Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering.  If you’re like me, this take you aback…because you know that Jesus, by nature, is already perfect.  There is no sin in Jesus, no fault—neither His enemies nor those closest to Him ever reported any fault or failure, any sin, on His part.  Even this letter comments on this.  Hebrews 4:15 says he is “without sin.”  And Hebrews 7:26 claims that Jesus was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners…”

The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  At the announcement of His birth, an angel called Him “that Holy One who is to be born.”  Pilate’s wife told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that just man.”  Pilate himself said, “I find no fault in Him.”  The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.”  The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47).  Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (4:34).

If Jesus were not sinless, He would have been required to die for His sins, and His sins only.  His death would not have been accepted in the place of others.

So Jesus had to be man to die; had to be God for that death to be universal and eternal; and had to be sinless so that His death would pay for others’ sins, not His own.

This is what v. 9b said, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  In other words, Jesus became man so that He could die for us.  “Taste death” is a metaphor, but it does NOT mean “to take a sip,” but rather it refers to drinking the full measure of that “cup” of suffering.” 

In the garden Jesus had asked God to “remove this cup from me,” but He went on to submit to God’s will so that He could bring “many sons to glory.”

What was in that cup?  All of man’s iniquity and depravity, the poison of the curse, the filth of the defilement of sin.  This was handed to Christ and He took that cup and fully drank it.  He then handed it back to the Father and said, “It is finished.”

It was a self-initiated death—“by the grace of God.”  What pushed Him to the cross was grace! It was not my goodness or worthiness or value that drew Him to the cross, but God’s initiative to show us kindness and mercy.  God doesn’t love us because we are valuable; rather we are valuable because God loved us.

What did God see when He looked at me?  I was pitiful, poor and perverted; hopeless and helpless; condemned and judged.  Yet…within Himself there arose this passionate love and richness of mercy and out of grace He commissioned His one and only, beloved Son to enter this world and die on the cross for me…and for you.

The initiative that procured our redemption is God’s, not ours.  Were it not for the priority of divine grace we should be without help and without hope.  This truth is pressed home by Paul is his threefold insistence that “while we were still weak,” “while we were yet sinners,” and “while we were enemies” God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son (Romans 5:6, 8, 10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18ff) and by John’s reminder that “in this was love, not what we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Because this love is entirely motivated by God’s own heart it makes it stronger.  It cannot be caused or forfeited—by me.  It didn’t begin with me and it cannot end with me.

This death He tasted was also a substitutionary death.  He didn’t deserve to die.  He wasn’t a sinner.  He didn’t deserve to drink that cup.  We deserved it, but He drank it.  He died in our place.  Not only was it voluntary, because of grace; but it was vicarious.  “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood, sealed my pardon with His blood.  Hallelujah! What a Savior!” (Philip Bliss)

“Taste death for everyone” is the gospel in a nutshell.  That word “for” is (ὑπὲρ), which means “in place of” or “in behalf of” another.  This is the heart of the good news—that Jesus died in my behalf, for my benefit, in my place.  I should have been there on the cross paying for my sins.  Instead, He took my place and paid my sin debt with His own life.

We find this in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins…”. Galatians 1:4, “gave himself for our sins…”.  Galatians 2:20, “gave himself for me.”  John 10:11, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” in their place.  A chorus says…

He paid the debt he did not own, I own the debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace”
Christ Jesus paid the debt I could never pay.

Thirdly, this death was a “sufficient” death.  This death did enough to reconcile mankind to God.  Verse 10 says only “many” are brought to glory because the reality is, not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.

And that gets us back to verse 10, where we see that through the suffering of death Christ was in some sense “made perfect.”  Obviously this doesn’t mean that He was a sinner in need of sanctification.

Rather, it means that through his suffering his humanity was brought to maturity.  Here being “made perfect” means “learning obedience” through suffering. This does not mean that he was once disobedient and then became obedient.  It means that Jesus moved from untested obedience into suffering and then through suffering into tested and proven obedience.  And this proving himself obedient through suffering was his “being perfected.”

Incarnate, Christ underwent a series of perfections.  Hebrews 5:8, 9 tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”

He was, of course, already obedient or he would never have undergone the Incarnation.  But he became perfect (complete) in experiencing obedience in human flesh.  Likewise, we believe that he learned such things as patience and faith.  Jesus became perfect in regard to temptation by suffering temptation and putting the tempter to flight (Matthew 4:1–11).  Christ’s sufferings through his atoning death on the cross when “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), taking all the sins of the world so that they were on him and in him, so that he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)—rendered him horribly perfect as our atonement.

And finally, all of this—his perfection in incarnation, temptation, and atonement—rendered in our pioneer a perfect identification with us.  It was impossible for God to fully identify and thus fully sympathize with mankind apart from Christ’s incarnation and human experience. But now Christ’s perfection makes possible an unlimited capacity to sympathize with those exposed to troubles and temptations in this life.

Lewis Bayly, one of John Bunyan’s two favorite writers, eloquently portrayed Christ’s willingness to embrace suffering, and his resulting ability to sympathize and lend assistance, through this imaginary dialogue between a redeemed soul and Christ:

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be taken when you might have escaped your enemies?

Christ. That your spiritual enemies should not take you, and cast you into the prison of utter darkness.

Soul . Lord, why did you let yourself be bound?

Christ . That I might loose the cords of your iniquities.

Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be lifted up upon a Cross?

Christ. That I might lift you up with me to heaven.

Soul . Lord, why were your hands and feet nailed to the Cross?

Christ . To enlarge your hands to do the works of righteousness and to set your feet at liberty, to walk in the ways of peace.

Soul . Lord, why did you have your arms nailed wide?

Christ . That I might embrace you more lovingly.

Soul . Lord, why was your side opened with a spear?

Christ . That you might have a way to come near to my heart.8

What wonders of tenderness and sympathy Christ’s incarnation and suffering have wrought!

Perfection in Hebrews has to do with fully completing a course, making it to the end of God’s plan.  Remember in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus had said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).

That Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”, therefore, connotes his full obedience to his mission of death on the cross and, perhaps, the adequacy of that act for bring the children of God to glory.

Now the writer says (in Hebrews 2:10) that it was fitting for Christ to attain this proven perfection through sufferings.  Why?  Because Christ is leading many sons to glory and so he must succeed where we failed.

His being made “perfect through suffering” has reference to his being made a perfect pioneer of salvation.  The idea is that he was perfectly equipped to do the job. His perfection was rooted in the Incarnation.  Man was created in the image of God, the imago Dei, but when Christ came he took on the imago homini—he became man.  

Mike Mason beautifully states the significance of this: “In Jesus the centerpiece of the human race, the wild tangent of all the frayed and decrepit flesh of this fallen old world touches perfectly the circle of eternity” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage (Portland: Multnomah, 1978), p. 115).

Why Jesus Became Man, part 1 (Hebrews 2:5-9)

Whereas Jesus’ family and disciples had no problem initially seeing Jesus as a man, and only later grasped that He was also fully God, we today seem to have a greater problem believing that Jesus was ever human, that He was fully man as well as fully God. 

Significantly, the first false teaching about Jesus in the days of the early church did not deny that He was God, but rather it denied that He was really human and said He only seemed to be human.  The heresy was called Docetism, coming from the ancient Greek word “to seem,” and was taught by Cerinthus, who opposed the apostle John in the city of Ephesus and whose teaching is probably the focus of 1 John 4:2 and 1 John 5:6.

Some of the original Jewish readers of Hebrews felt inclined to abandon the Christian faith because of Jesus’ humanity and, even more so, because of His death.  The writer said that Jesus was superior to angels, even though Jesus died and angels do not die (Luke 20:36).  The writer had stressed Jesus’ deity first, in chapter 1, because some Jews failed to appreciate that.  In chapter 2, he showed why Jesus was not inferior to the angels even though He was a man.

So far in our study of Hebrews, the author has maintained a persistent focus on the exalted status of the Son of God as Creator, Sustainer, Purifier, etc.  In 2:5-9, however, that focus shifts to move the discussion from the Son’s heavenly position to his earthly ministry.

In this paragraph (2:5-9), the author resumes his exposition on Christ–from which he had briefly departed in 1:14-2:4—by introducing Psalm 8:4-6 to his discussion.  This Old Testament quotation, interpreted Christologically in 2:8-9, contains both elements of exaltation and incarnation, and therefore, it provides the perfect vehicle for moving to a discussion in 2:10-18 about the Son’s solidarity with humanity.

This paragraph might be titled, “The Superior Son for a Time Became Positionally Lower Than the Angels.”  It consists of an introduction, followed by the quotation of Psalm 8:4-6, and then the author’s interpretation of the Psalm’s Christological implications in vv. 8b-9.

Why did Jesus become man?  Why did Deity add sinless humanity?  Chapter 2 will give us four reasons: (1) to recover lost dominion (vv. 5-9), (2) to redeem lost sinners (vv. 10-13), (3) to rout the devil (vv. 14-16), and (4) to relate to saints (vv. 17-18).

So let’s read vv. 5-9

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet. “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

If we were to read Heb 1:14, skip 2:1-4, and pick up with 2:5, the connection would be seamless. In 1:14, the author refers to angels as ministering spirits who render service for “those who will inherit salvation.”  Then, in 2:5, he mentions angels again and refers to the future world “concerning which we are speaking,” connecting the readers not to the warning of 2:1-4, but to the argument of 1:1-14. 

This fledgling congregation, tossed about by persecution, wondered if hanging onto Jesus Christ would be worth it, will be comforted again to know that who Jesus is gives them massive significance in the world to come.

Once again, the author is illustrating the superiority of Jesus Christ over the angels.  Ancient Judaism held to the belief that God had placed angels over the nations of the world.  This belief goes back to an interpretation of Deuteronomy 32:8, which referred to the boundaries of the nations as set according to the number of God’s angels, literally “sons of God.”  Later, in Daniel 10:20-21 and 12:1 it is even more explicitly explained that angels are designated with the titles of “prince of Persia” and “prince of Greece,” and Michael is referred to as “the great prince” who watches over God’s people, Israel.  Some of these principalities are evil—they are demons.

It was the quoting of Psalm 110 back in Hebrews 1:13 which causes our author to clarify…

5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

The “world to come” refers to the “new world-order inaugurated at the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God and will be culminated in the kingdom when Jesus returns.  While it may seem that angelic beings—good and bad—have dominion, it is actually Jesus Christ who holds dominion.

Some believe that the “world to come” refers not to this present age, but the kingdom age to come after Christ’s return.  Dwight Pentecost says, “This will occur at His second advent when He returns to this earth to sit as David’s Son on David’s throne and rule over David’s kingdom in fulfillment of God’s covenants and promises.”  In that case, angels will not have dominion, but man will, co-reigning with Jesus Christ.

The author establishes this as the ultimate intention by demonstrating that it is in accord with the original intention of God for humanity. 

His proof is a quotation from the middle of Psalm 8 that celebrates God’s original intention for man. He introduces and recites it in verses 6–8a of our text: “It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

Let me just note something which you may have picked up in verse 6.  Our author is definitely quoting from Psalm 8, but he curiously says, “It has been testified somewhere…”  The fact is, this author never identifies the human author of any quotation he uses.  This is because he is concerned that his audience realizes that it is God’s voice they should listen to, not the voice of man (or angels).  It is the voice of the Holy Spirit that concerns him; the human author is incidental.  And John Owen is right: his audience would be well familiar with these passages and know where they would be found in the text and who the human authors were.

So getting back to our text:

“It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.’”

These is a significant difference between this quotation in Hebrews 2, which is using the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The actual Hebrew text has “little lower than God” whereas the Septuagint reads “little lower than the angels.”  The writer of Hebrews evidently chose the Septuagint version because it suited his purpose. God made man a little lower than both Himself (God the Father) and the angels, so what the writer of Hebrews wrote is true.

This marvelous declaration of God’s intention can only be appreciated in the full context of the Psalm.  The psalmist is contemplating the mighty expanse of the evening sky, studded with its orbs of light, and he is so overwhelmed with the greatness of God that he bursts into psalm—first celebrating God’s majestic name, then declaring God’s worthiness of praise, and next wondering at God’s intention for puny little man.  Says the psalmist:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:3–6)

Compared to this vast universe, man is next to nothing.  But in God’s creation, man is exalted to the highest place.  F. F. Bruce comments: “The Psalmist is overcome with wonder as he thinks of the glory and honor which God has bestowed on mankind, in making them but little lower than himself and giving them dominion over all the lesser creation.”

Think of man’s astonishing position: “You made him for a little while lower than the angels.”  Puny man is only lower than the angels in that man is in a corporal body and the angels are incorporeal.  Man is therefore limited in a way angels are not and has much lesser power.  However, man is not lower spiritually or in importance.

Think of man’s astonishing honor: “you have crowned him with glory and honor.”  Adam and Eve were the king and queen of original creation.  God set them in a glorious paradise and walked with them.

Consider man’s amazing authority: “Putting everything in subjection under his feet.”  This was given to mankind through Adam (Genesis 1:28).  Man was given rule over the world. Adam and Eve were God’s viceroys—creature king and creature queen with the responsibility of ordering creation under the Lordship of God.

God’s original intention is that Adam and Eve and their progeny, would have dominion over all the earth.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

The original intention of God, to say the least, was stupendous. If the intention had been carried out, we descendants of Adam would be living with our primal parents in the same astounding position and honor and authority—a world of kings and queens.

However, something went terribly wrong.  This is totally different from what we see in the world today.  We have no dominion, no control.  Our author wants us to feel this disjunction, to recognize the incongruity.  In fact, he voices it: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (v. 8c).

One author says

“Some traces of the old lordship are still apparent in the terror which the sound of the human voice and the glance of the eye still inspire in the lower creatures…But for the most part anarchy and rebellion have laid waste man’s fair realm…So degraded has he become, that he has bowed before the objects that he was to command; and has prostrated his royal form in shrines dedicated to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”

Paul expresses it this way in Romans 8:20-23

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Man’s rule over creation has through the centuries become an ecological disaster.  Chesterton was right: “Whatever else is true about man, this one thing is certain—man is not what he was meant to be.”

Because Adam and Eve failed in their dominion over creation, we see a greater “Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, fulfilling this role.  The last Adam did what the first Adam could not do.  The author understands both Psalm 8:4-6 and Psalm 110:1 to contain a reference to those placed under Christ’s feet, signaling His victory over a vanquished foe.

Here our text takes a great turn in the transition between verses 8 and 9: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him [Jesus] . . .” “We do not yet see . . . we see him [Jesus].”  Not only is God’s original intention achieved, but his ultimate intention is achieved in Christ, the second Adam.

We must understand that Psalm 8 was not only a celebration of the significance of man in the vast cosmos—it was also a messianic psalm that had its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.  We know this because while the term “son of man” originally meant nothing more than man, with the advent of Christ it came to be a messianic reference to Jesus.  He repeatedly called himself “the Son of Man.”  He is the son of man par excellence and fulfills everything the psalm celebrates regarding man.

Through Jesus, man can regain the dominion originally intended for Adam (Revelation 1:65:10 and Matthew 25:21).

Jesus Christ fulfills this passage in a way that the original Adam could not.  He became man, coming from heaven and being incarnated and for a little while as a human being he voluntarily took on a lower status than the angels.  Thus, our author says, “you made him a little lower than the angels.”  It is possible that this word refers to a temporary time period, a “little while” rather than an inferior status, “a little lower.”

The Psalm then moves from Christ’s humiliation to his exaltation, in which He is said to have been “crowned with glory and honor” and to have had “everything” placed “under his feet.”

As mankind’s true representative, accordingly, He must share in the conditions inseparable from the human condition; only so could He blaze the trail of salvation for mankind and act effectively as His people’s high priest in the presence of God.

This means that he is not only the One in whom the sovereignty destined for humanity is most fully and initially realized, but also the one Who, because of human sin, must attain that sovereignty through suffering and death.  Therefore, although he has already been introduced as “so much better than the angels,” for a time He had to be “made a little lower than the angels.”

The important thing is that we believers, “see” Jesus this way, through the eyes of faith—that we see Him, although having suffered and died, now exalted in glory.  It is important that we see Him as our Savior, who died for us.

When the author says we “see” Jesus, he anticipates later exhortations to “consider” Him (3:1; 12:3).  These exhortations focus both on Jesus’ earthly obedience to His Father and to His subsequent exaltation.  To “see Jesus” therefore, does not mean a physical perception, but rather a spiritual perception, recognizing the truth about his earthly endurance and his present exalted position.  One day we will see every knee bow and hear every tongue confess!

Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  God crowned Jesus with glory and honor precisely because he suffered and died on the cross.  He did this for us—tasting our death.  Jesus didn’t come to live a long and happy life on earth, but to suffer and die for others.

Jesus’ death was for everyone in that by dying He paid the penalty for the sins of every human being—elect and non-elect (cf. 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 2:1; John 3:16).  His death was sufficient to accomplish the salvation of everyone, but it is efficient (it accomplishes its intended result) only for those who belong to Him.

To summarize, the writer made three main points in verses 5 through 9: (1) God created man to have mastery over the earth, (2) man through his sin failed to obtain the mastery, and (3) Jesus, the man superior to the angels, came to enable man to do what he was created to do.

“There is a profound note of anticipation in the OT teaching about humanity. The words of the psalmist look forward into the future, and that future is inextricably bound up with the person and work of Jesus.  His condescension to be made for a brief while ‘lower than the angels’ set in motion a sequence of events in which abasement and humiliation were the necessary prelude to exaltation.  His coronation investiture with priestly glory and splendor provide [sic provides] assurance that the power of sin and death has been nullified and that humanity will yet be led to the full realization of their intended glory.  In Jesus the hearers are to find the pledge of their own entrance into the imperial destiny intended by God for them” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, 47a, Hebrews 1-8, p. 50).

This final phrase in v. 10, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” anticipates the next section, which deals with the Son’s suffering on behalf of the heirs of salvation.  Only as man could Jesus die.  Only as man could He die for man.

So Great a Salvation, part 2 (Hebrews 2:2-4)

Last week we began looking at the first warning passage in the book of Hebrews in the opening verses of chapter 2.  The author is very concerned that his audience–mostly Jewish Christians or Jewish people curious about Christ–that they would stop paying attention to the apostolic message—the gospel—and began to listen to the siren call of the more familiar, more comfortable, Mosaic Law—with its rituals and regulations.  So the author of Hebrews says…

1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 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, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Having established the supremacy of Christ to the angels in chapter 1, our author reminds them that the Old Covenant was “declared by angels” and that those who disobeyed it received “just retribution”—severe punishment—for that disobedience.  But our gospel was “declared…by the Lord,” by the exalted Son of chapter 1, and thus will receive an even greater condemnation for those who disobey it.

C. H. Spurgeon said:

Seeing Christ is so excellent in His person, and seeing the Gospel has such a glorious Author, let us take great care that we esteem His person, revere His authority, reverence His ministry, and believe His message; and let us take heed that our memories be not like leaking vessels, suffering the word at any time to slip or run from us.

The writer wants to drive this point home in an even more forceful way to his wandering friends. So he uses a Hebrew argument style called qal wa homer (literally, “light and heavy”), which employs the reasoning that if something is true in a light or lesser way, it is even more true in a heavy or greater way.

We see it at work in a backwards way in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God giving us “all things” that we need to be glorified (v. 30) may seem like the more difficult thing, but it pales in comparison to the greatest difficulty of God giving up His one and only Son for us.  Thus, we can be certain that if God has already done the most difficult thing, that giving “us all things” is a cinch.

Here the writer of Hebrews argues from the lesser to the greater.  If disobeying the Old Covenant–“declared by angels (v. 2),” by the way—brought “just retribution”—which we will see in a moment involved some pretty terrible judgments—then disobeying and disbelieving the gospel message “declared by the Lord” (v. 3) will bring even greater condemnation and judgment.

The qal, the less heavy argument from the Law, is stated in verse 2 and then flows into the great question in verse 3: “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 writer refers to the common view in contemporary Judaism and in the New Testament that the angels mediated the giving of the law.

For example, Stephen, in his famous sermon, referred to Moses as being “with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers.”  Speaking of that memorable event, Moses said that God came “with myriads of his holy ones” (Deut. 33:2). The Greek translation of the text, which was the Bible the pastor read, added these words: “angels were with him at his right hand.”  He received living oracles to give to Israel (Acts 7:38; cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).  In the midst of all the fire and lightning on Sinai, God the Father spoke through an honored angel who in turn dictated to Moses.  Josephus also repeated this idea in his ancient history (Antiquities, 15.53).

The Old Testament Law and Prophets were “proved to be reliable.”  God has always been, and ever will be, faithful to keep His promises.  Even in the midst of the horrific judgment upon Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminds us that God’s faithfulness is “great” (Lamentations 3:23) and when God brought victory to Israel against all their foes as they came in to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, we read this refrain near the end of the book:

43 Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers.  Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

No promise failed, every one of them came to pass.  That is true of the New Covenant promises as well.  In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].”

Since God is faithful, even His promises of judgment would come to pass.  Yahweh had warned Israel that He would bless obedience and curse disobedience.  Thus we read in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 that Yahweh enumerates all the different judgments that could come upon them, from crop failures to barren wombs to sicknesses to exile from their homeland.  Penalties for breaking the Old Covenant were temporal and largely physical.

These were serious and painful consequences because of their “transgression” and “disobedience” to the covenant made with Moses through angels.  “Trangression” likely refers to a positive offense—doing something that they had been commanded not to do—while “disbobedience” refers to the negative offense of failing to do something they were supposed to do.  Disobedience is that unwillingness to heed God’s voice.

The sanctions which attended the law given at Sinai were severe and inescapable.  Every commandment had the appropriate penalty prescribed for its infringement, and for those who deliberately defied or disregarded the law of God there was no reprieve—no escape from judgment, sometimes the death penalty.

As in chapter 1, verses 1 and 2, the validity of the Old Testament is presupposed.  Our writer is not denying the validity of the Old Testament as if it were now false and the New Testament was true.  Rather, he is arguing from the lesser to the greater.

We also see that God is always consistent in bringing about punishment for sins, whether under the law or under the grace period delivered through His Son, transgressions will still be confronted and punished.

Paul tells us that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12).  “The problem lies not with the law,” writes Philip Edgecombe Hughes, “which is the divine standard of life…, but with the sinful man who is the law-breaker. With the consequence that the law stands over against him as an ordinance of condemnation and death” (A Commentary on the Epistle of the Hebrews, p. 76).  It is at this point that the comparison is enjoined.  “For the glory of the law is completely surpassed by the glory of the gospel because the latter brings life where the former brought death” (Hughes, p. 76).

A greater word brought by a greater Person having greater promises will bring a greater condemnation if it is neglected.  Whereas the penalty for violating the Old Covenant was temporal and mainly physical, the penalty for neglecting the great salvation we have in Jesus Christ would be eternal and primarily spiritual.

There is no escaping that judgment, as the next verse reminds us with the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation…?”  He will go on to tell us why this is such a great salvation but for now let’s just linger on the reality that he is telling us—you and me—that there is no escaping the penalty for neglecting this apostolic message, the message of the gospel.  There is greater judgment, in other words, if we go back under the law after learning about Jesus Christ, entertaining the idea that He is such a great Savior, and then trading that all in to go back under the law.

We like escape stories against impossible odds.  Your favorite might be The Great Escape, or Shawshank Redemption, or escape from Alcatraz.  Mine is The Count of Monte Cristo.

Edmond Dantes is falsely accused and unjustly convicted of a crime.  He is sent forth to the most dreaded prison, Château d’If.  There he suffered for years in solitary confinement, until one day he met a co-prisoner, an aged priest who had been there for decades and had spent much time trying to dig a tunnel to escape.  But he didn’t do his math correctly and ended up burrowing into Dantes’s chamber.  So the two met and had fellowship together.  The old priest became Dantes’s mentor and counselor, teacher of science and philosophy and theology.  The priest also told Dantes about a map that led to a vast treasure, hidden under the waters in the sea.  The old priest died in prison.  Through an extraordinary series of circumstances, the death of the priest led to the possible escape of Edmond Dantes from Château d’If. Dantes found the vast treasure that financed the remainder of his life and his nom de plume became the Count of Monte Cristo.

We have NO ESCAPE if we neglect this great salvation.  There is a much more dire and dreadful kind of captivity to those who neglect this salvation through Jesus Christ.

Alcatraz could possibly be escaped from, or Devil’s Island, or even the Château d’If.  But the one prison from which no one ever escapes is hell.  There’s no escape route. You can’t dig under it.  You can’t climb over it.  No guard can be bribed.  The sentence cannot be amended.

Now this is a sobering word for the world and for the church, because most people do neglect the greatness of salvation.  How many people do you know who give serious, sustained attention to the salvation accomplished by Christ—who love it, and think about it, and meditate on it, and marvel at it, and feel continual gratitude for it, and commend it to others as valuable, and weave it into all the lesser things of their lives, and set their hopes on it?

John Newton, near the end of his life, while lying on his death bed, was visited by a young ministerial student named William Jay, hoping to gain some nuggets of pastoral wisdom.  But Newton said: ‘My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.’” John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 401.

Of course, he was the one who wrote Amazing Grace.  Are you still amazed by grace?  Is your salvation great in your estimation?  Do you treasure it?

John Piper helps us out in understanding what’s at stake here:

Only what is it really—this great salvation?  What he’s really saying is: Don’t neglect being loved by God.  Don’t neglect being forgiven and accepted and protected and strengthened and guided by Almighty God.  Don’t neglect the sacrifice of Christ’s life on the cross.  Don’t neglect the free gift of righteousness imputed by faith. Don’t neglect the removal of God’s wrath and the reconciled smile of God.  Don’t neglect the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship and friendship of the living Christ.  Don’t neglect the radiance of God’s glory in the face of Jesus.  Don’t neglect the free access to the throne of grace.  Don’t neglect the inexhaustible treasure of God’s promises.  This is a great salvation.  Neglecting it is very evil.  Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

We have a great Savior who saved us from a great penalty because of our great sin.

And we “don’t neglect” it by paying utmost attention to it (2:1).

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord [contrast “through angels” for the law in verse 2], it was confirmed to us by those who heard [that is, the apostles, the eyewitnesses who heard the earthly teaching of the Lord Jesus], 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Why is this great salvation neglected?  One reason might be because we don’t value it as much as something else, so we spend our time and effort valuing whatever it is that we find more valuable—which the Bible calls an “idol.”

Another reason is that we just might not know how great this salvation really is.  Maybe we don’t have the evidence.  That is what vv. 3 and 4 address.

Besides being “great,” why should we devote such attention and affection to this salvation?

First, it is announced.  It was declared to us “by [or “through”] the Lord” Jesus Christ.  While angels mediated the Law, Jesus Christ proclaimed the gospel.  That makes His communication infinitely superior and absolutely true.

“The good news of salvation, then, derives from the Lord, whose mediatorship is absolutely other than that of angels” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 77, 78).  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

That it was “through” the Lord Jesus Christ means the revelation of this great salvation comes from the Father (the source), but it comes through the mediation, not of angels, but through Jesus Christ.

In Acts 10:36, Peter says to Cornelius that the gospel is, “The word which [God] sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).” So the great salvation was spoken by God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Second, it was confirmed.  Next the text says that the salvation “was attested to us by those who heard” (v. 3c).  This primarily refers to the apostles attesting what Jesus said and passing it along from faith to faith through the succeeding generation (cf. Luke 1:2). The apostles were the first generation eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, while these were second generations recipients of the apostolic message.

Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History , has preserved an autobiographical fragment from Irenaeus of Lyons that relates how the Apostle John passed along the story of the gospel to Polycarp who, before his martyrdom in AD 155 or 156, passed along the story to young Irenaeus. Irenaeus says of his experience:

And as he [Polycarp] remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the “Word of life” [John], Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God’s grace, I recall them faithfully. (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. , V.xx.5ff., A. C. McGiffert’s translation.)

Remember that Paul, wanting to establish the credibility of the resurrection, mentioned more than 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom were still living.  This gospel could be fact checked.

Now, just consider for a moment how critical and strategic these witnesses were.  Without them, there would be no faith communicated to the next generation.  These peoples’ faith rested on the testimony of these witnesses.  Many people today will not hear of this great salvation without the testimony of witnesses.

Finally, God authenticates the gospel message.

“God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (v. 4).

The testimony was dynamic.  “Signs” pointed beyond themselves to the mighty hand of God.  “Wonders” brought awe and amazement to those who saw.  “Miracles” (literally “powers”) showed the power of God beyond human ability.  And “gifts of the Holy Spirit” were given according to God’s will to minister to the church.

These spectacular gifts served to get people’s attention and attest to the authenticity of the one giving this “new, strange message” about Jesus Christ as Messiah and salvation by grace through faith.

To neglect a salvation announced by Jesus, confirmed through multiple eyewitnesses and authenticated through signs and wonders is very serious indeed!  The neglecting of God’s “great salvation” deserves the severest penalty “in view of the greatness of the grace which is offered in it….God wishes His gifts to be valued by us at their proper worth.  The more precious they are, the baser is our ingratitude if they do not have their proper value for us” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter , trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 19).

We, too, must take action to guard ourselves against this impertinence.  It is not necessarily an intentional act, but something that happens through inattention and laziness, through lack of vigilance regarding our own hearts.  It comes through a little neglect of reading and meditating on God’s Word, a little neglect of one’s prayer life, a little neglect of fellowship and accountability.  If we are not actively and studiously availing ourselves of these opportunities, we are in danger of drifting away…and that is very dangerous!

For most of us the threat of life is not so much that we should plunge into disaster, but that we should drift into sin.  There are few people who deliberately, and in a moment, turn their backs on God; there are many who day by day drift farther and farther away from Him.

Don’t let that be you!

So Great a Salvation, part 1 (Hebrews 2:1)

In 1989, Michelle Hamilton, a teacher from Australia, planned a getaway trip for herself and her mother on the small Philippine island of Boracay.  The island was a tiny tropical paradise only four miles long and a mile wide.  After getting acclimated to her surroundings Michelle rented a small canoe.  The little boat, called a bunca, was only about seven feet long (2.13 m.) with outriggers attached to its sides.  Michelle, only 22 years old and full vigor and daring, decided to paddle the little canoe to the end of the island.  She was having a wonderful day enjoying the lush tropical scenery and listening to her favorite music on headphones.

However, as Michelle began rowing back toward the harbor she realized that she was caught in a very strong ocean current.  With a sick feeling in her stomach she began rowing with all her might only to see the harbor and at last the whole island slipping away from her and finally disappearing from sight.  Michelle, clad only in a bikini and with almost no provision found herself a captive of the vast Pacific Ocean.

To make bad matters worse, on her first night at sea the bunca was overturned in a terrifying storm and Michelle was left helplessly clinging to the wreckage of her little boat.  For three days she drifted some 100 miles (160 km.) as she was battered by the waves, blistered by the sun, parched by thirst and threatened by sharks.  At last, through several direct miracles from God, she was rescued by Philippine fishermen.  Michelle, who became a believer in Jesus on that harrowing trip, later began a ministry telling others of her Jonah-like experience and of the God who can rescue those who drift away.

Dangerously drifting away is what our passage is about today.  We are in Hebrews 2:1-4.

1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 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, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

This is the first of five admonitions (2:1-4; 3:7— 4:13; 5:11— 6:12; 10:19-39 and in 12:14-29) scattered throughout the book of Hebrews.  Their purpose is to encourage the readers to pay attention to God’s Word and not to let go of Jesus Christ, not to go back to trusting in law keeping to save them.  This largely Jewish constituency was in danger of going back under the law, believing that Jesus and His obedience and work for them on the cross was not enough.

These admonitions will become stronger and more serious as they progress.  Here, the problem is drifting from what was heard while the last warning regards defying God’s Word (Heb. 12:14-29).

As we look at this first warning passage it is divided into three parts:

First, a statement concerning the danger of drifting and the safeguard against that drifting by paying careful attention to the apostolic message, the gospel (2:1).

He then gives his rationale for this caution by making a comparison between God’s judgment against the Israelites for their failure to pay attention to the Old Testament law and prophets, which shows the more dangerous possibility they face of judgment for neglecting the New Covenant message (2:2-3a).

That message is then described in vv. 3b and 4 as a more authoritative and authenticated word to believe in.

Our passage begins with the word “therefore,” and we should always ask, “What’s it there for?”  This word shows us that our admonition is based upon the doctrinal teaching of chapter 1—that Jesus is superior to the angels and therefore deserves the highest attention.  The Scriptural fact of Jesus’ superiority over the angels has lifechanging implications about how one should respond to that.

Doctrine forms the basis for practice.  Orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy, or as I like to say it here at Grace Bible Church—the indicative (what God has done for us) precedes and forms the basis for the imperative (what we are called to do for God).  If we get these out of order, we fall back into legalism, which is exactly the problem being addressed here in the book of Hebrews.

You might have noticed that most of Paul’s epistles begin with several chapters of doctrinal teaching before getting to any exhortations about how to live.  Sanctification is important.  But sanctification flows out of justification.  These are inseparable, but distinct, and should not be confused.

This admonition is written for believers.  Notice three times in verse 1 and once in verse 3 the writer addresses this admonition to “we,” not “you” or “they.”  “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” and “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation…?”

We will have to look closely at who is being addressed in each of these admonitions.  At this point, the writer includes both genuine Christians and those who seem to be Christians, or at least deem themselves to be Christians.  All of us have the possibility of drifting away from our salvation by failing to pay closer attention to it.  This is a warning that we should take seriously and it is a very real possibility for all of us.  Even though this is the mildest of the five rebukes, it is still a very stern warning for us all.

We are challenged to “pay much closer attention,” which is actually in the superlative degree and might be better translated, “pay most closest attention,” even though we rarely say it that way.  That is because eternal issues are at stake.

I like William Barclay’s rendition of this section: We must, therefore, with very special intensity pay attention to the things that we have heard.

Maybe your Mom or Dad has said to you, “I want your full and undivided attention.”  That is what God is calling for here.

Why? God has spoken in His Son. We must continually hold to the Words of Truth spoken by the Son Who alone is Truth. There is nothing else to that needs to be said! No more revelation is forthcoming for none is necessary.

William Newell reminds us: If the Old Testament prophets should be heard, how much more the Lord of glory Himself! He having come to earth, become Man, and speaking to men! 

Not only that, but the particle “must” is here used to indicate that this is a moral obligation placed upon us.  This is not optional.  We can’t take it or leave it.

Also, the present tense is used to convey the idea that this is to be a continual activity—we must never stop paying attention to the apostolic message.  In today’s words, we must constantly “preach the gospel” to ourselves.

It is also in the active voice, meaning that it was the personal responsibility of each person to take action for themselves.  No one else could do this for them.

To have heard the gospel before, but not to give its life-giving, Christ-exalting message the utmost daily attention is to face the danger of drifting into great peril.

We are also exhorted by Peter, having already brought up cleverly devised tales and mountain top experiences like the Mount of Transfiguration and seeing a slight glimpse (although still overwhelming) of the glory of Jesus, that

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, (2 Peter 1:19)

Don’t pay attention at all to cleverly devised tales (v. 16) and don’t put all your confidence in your glorious experiences, rather “you do well to pay attention” to the prophetic word made “more sure” because it comes through the Spirit’s revelation (vv. 20-21).

Pay attention to the Word you have heard.  “Hearing” is a key idea in Hebrews (2:1; 3:7; 3:15; 4:7; 5:9, 11; 11:8).  Verses 3 and 4 show us that these were second generation Christians, hearing the gospel message and doctrine from the first generation of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry and resurrection.  They needed to pay attention to what they had heard.

We may not always perceive the supreme importance of listening.  It might seem optional to us, simply because in daily life we don’t usually listen very well to those around us.  We are constantly distracted by noises around us or our own voice inside our heads.  Biblically, hearing included obeying.  In other words, if you didn’t obey you didn’t really hear what was told to you.

He is not encouraging unbelievers to become Christians here, but encouraging Christians to pay very, very close attention to the Word that had been taught to them, the apostolic teaching, the gospel teaching.

They faced the very real danger of neglecting their salvation and drifting away from Jesus Christ.  The late New Testament Greek scholar, William Barclay, notes that both words used here have a nautical sense dealing with current and tide.   The words “to pay attention” (Gk. prosechein) means “to moor a ship,” while “drift away” (Gk. pararrein) speaks of a ship allowed to drift due to wind or current.

The word used here, pararuomai, could signify objects that are slipping away, like a ring that slips off a finger, or objects that go in the wrong direction, like a golf ball when I play.

It makes me think of the story about the explorer Edward Perry who took a crew to the Artic Ocean.  They were endeavoring to move further north in some of their chartings, so they charted their location by the stars and began a very difficult and treacherous march north.  They walked and they walked, hour after hour after hour, for multiple hours.  Finally, in total weariness and utter exhaustion, they stopped and took their bearings again from the stars and found that they were actually farther south than when they had started.  The reason:  They had been walking on an ice floe drifting south faster than they were walking north.

This reminds me of the uselessness of legalism, like that of a hamster on an exercise wheel, working, working, working, and getting nowhere.

In the case of Michelle Hamilton there were many points along the island where she could have easily returned.  There were other points after she realized her dangerous position that she could have swallowed her pride and signaled for help from the islanders.  She did neither but tried vainly to save herself after it was already too late.

Drifting away is a gradual process that doesn’t even register to us—we don’t even realize it is happening.  The nautical image likens this process to a boat whose anchor was never dropped, or has broken loose, and the boat just gradually and silently slips away into dangerous waters.

Drifting often happens slowly, without splash or fanfare.

Paul speaks of those whose faith had been “shipwrecked” in 1 Timothy 1:19.

In his autobiography, Charles Darwin wrote: “I came to gradually disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation …. Disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last it was complete.  The rate was so slow that I felt no distress and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct.”

Jesus told us that the seed can be sown into different types of soils, or hearts.  Some reject it outright, some can’t stand the heat of persecution and others get their faith choked out by the cares of this life.

We who live in the modern era are busy people, and the multiplicity of our cares and duties can overwhelm us. A snowflake is a tiny thing, but when the air is full of them, they can bury us. Just so, the thousand cares of each day can insulate us from the stupendous excellencies of Christ, causing us to begin a deadly drift.

How easy it is to be distracted.  Statistics show that we spend almost 7 hours a day on screens—from television to computers to phones.  We find it difficult to spend 7 minutes a day in God’s Word.  How can we possibly be paying the most closest attention to God’s Word?  We are in great danger of treating God’s Word too lightly.

This idea of drifting away uses the same verb that is found in the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:21, where it is used in reference to someone gradually losing sight of God’s wisdom, suggesting that the fundamental nuance is a gradual departure rather than an abrupt one.

William Newell warned us: “The world is ever tugging at the believer, and that so often unconsciously to him, to go along with its false hopes. Satan likes nothing better than a neglecting Christian! We all know, too, that the tendency of our natures is to drift along with earthly things away from the gospel” (Hebrews, Verse-by-Verse, pp. 35-36).

The writer of Revelation uses different language but refers to the same thing when he quotes Jesus as saying to the ostensibly healthy Ephesian church, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

When our anchors begin to lift from our soul’s grasp of the greatness and supremacy of life, we become susceptible to subtle tows.  C. S. Lewis sagely remarked: “And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1976), p. 124)

The writer of Hebrews was concerned for his readers. The danger of drifting was real for them, so he warns them: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” It seems that some of them were tempted to abandon Jesus and the new message of grace to return to the old ways of law-keeping, sacrifice, and systematic religion.

In Hebrews 6, we are told that

we who have fled for refuge [to Jesus Christ] might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

We have an anchor, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.  That anchor is our hope in Jesus Christ, a hope that is fed by paying closest attention to what we have been taught.  If we do not diligently remain in the truth—and to do so we must know it and remember it and put it into practice—we will depart from it.  We live in a world that is striving to separate us from it.  Satan also wants us to abandon it (cf. Gen. 3; Matt. 4).

Warren Wiersbe notes: “More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part.  We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10:25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift.  The anchor does not move; we do” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, p. 807).

W. Griffith Thomas said, “The protection against drifting is to have Christ as once the anchor and rudder of life. The anchor will hold us to the truth, while the rudder will guide us by the truth.”

Again, as the metaphor is communicating, this apostasy from Jesus Christ is not intentional but arises from lack of paying attention.

Matthew Henry uses another metaphor, saying “we have received gospel truths into our mind, we are in danger of letting them slip.  Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them…”

John Piper shares these insights:

We all know people that this has happened to.  There is no urgency.  No vigilance.   focused listening or considering or fixing of their eyes on Jesus.  And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away.

That is the point here: there is no standing still.  The life of this world is not a lake.  It is a river.  And it is flowing downward to destruction.  If you do not listen earnestly to Jesus and consider him daily and fix your eyes on him hourly, then you will not stand still; you will go backward.  You will float away from Christ.

Drifting is a deadly thing in the Christian life.  And the remedy for it, according to Hebrews 2:1, is: Pay close attention to what you have heard.  That is, consider what God is saying in his Son Jesus.  Fix your eyes on what God is saying and doing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This is not a hard swimming stroke to learn.  The only thing that keeps us from swimming against sinful culture is not the difficulty of the stroke, but our sinful desire to go with the flow.

Let’s not complain that God has given us a hard job.  Listen, consider, fix the eyes — this is not what you would call a hard job description.  In fact, it is not a job description.  It is a solemn invitation to be satisfied in Jesus so that we do not get lured downstream by deceitful desires.

One writer phrases it this way…

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at its ebb, leads to victory; neglected, the shores of time are strewn with the wreckage.

That is the danger we face if we stop paying closest attention to the gospel.

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 3 (Hebrews 1:10-14)

Welcome back to our study of Hebrews.  We are still in chapter 1, noticing how the author piles up Old Testament quotation upon Old Testament quotation to drive home the fact that Jesus is superior to the angels.

Jesus is supreme above all.  The supremacy of Christ is a doctrine surrounding the authority of Jesus and His God-nature.  In the simplest of terms, to affirm the supremacy of Christ is to affirm that Jesus is God.  Jesus is not just a new way of doing things, leaving the temptation to go back to the old and familiar, but He is the better way, the best way, indeed the “only way.”  Thus, it would be foolish to abandon him.

The portion of Scripture we are looking at today is Hebrews 1:10-14.

10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

We have seen how Jesus has a superior name (vv. 4-5), a superior honor (v. 6) and superior role (vv. 7-9).  Now, in vv. 10-12 we see that Jesus has a superior nature.  Specifically, He does not change.  From age to age, Jesus is the same.

This is the attribute of immutability.  He doesn’t mutate.  He doesn’t change.  He stays exactly the same, no matter the circumstances or the age.  All else changes; Christ does not.

I love how A. W. Tozer applies this doctrine in his little book The Knowledge of the Holy:

In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a source of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not?  That His attitude toward us now is the same as it was in eternity past and will be in eternity to come?

What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself.  In coming to Him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood.  He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith.  He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one.  Neither does He change His mind about anything.  Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.

God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm.  His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the eastward garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hands and cried, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed.  He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer.  In all our efforts to find God, to please Him, to commune with Him, we should remember that all change must be on our part. “I am the Lord, I change not.”  We have but to meet His clearly stated terms, bring our lives into accord with His revealed will, and His infinite power will become instantly operative toward us in the manner set forth through the gospel in the Scriptures of truth.

In the OT God reminded Israel that “Even to your old age, I shall be the same” (Isa 46:4) a truth reiterated in the Malachi: “I, the LORD, do not change” (Mal 3:6)

And what is true about God the Father is said here to be true about the Son.  He never changes.

For the fourth proof of Christ’s superiority, the writer quotes Psalm 102:25–27, which contains a broken man’s rising awareness and celebration of God’s transcending existence against the background of even what seems to be the most constant things in existence—the earth and heavenly bodies—being transient.  Mountains and planets seem so stable and secure.  But they are not.

10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain…

Jesus is the Lord of creation.  Every created thing changes and eventually perishes.  Jesus Christ remains.  Even the “foundations of the earth,” that which we esteem to be very stable and permanent, changes.  Jesus does not.

While the Greeks felt that the universe was a permanent fixture, modern physicists know that due to the law of entropy, or what is known as the second law of thermodynamics, our universe is running down.

In contrast, Jesus doesn’t change.  He is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews compares the creation to a garment, which wears out and eventually is changed out.  We might live out many suits in our lifetime, but Christ remains the same—eternal and unchanging.  He will never be given away to Good Will.

“they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

The word used here is palaioo and it has the meaning of being “worn out.”  The Book of Revelation speaks of the universe as simply coming apart in the last days.  We actually see much of the earth burned up (Rev. 8:7), the sea destroyed (16:3), springs and rivers becoming bloody (16:4), the sun turning black and the moon turning to blood (6:12).  We then see the stars of the heavens falling to earth and the heavens themselves being rolled up like a scroll (6:13-14).

John MacArthur comments that “During the Tribulation, as if the heavens were to be stretched to the limit and the corners then cut, they will roll up just like a scroll.  The stars are going to fall, come crashing down to earth, and every island and mountain will move out of its place.  The whole world will fall apart.

We noted in verse 3 that Christ actively “upholds” the universe so that it doesn’t fly apart.  Colossians 1:17 is even more explicit, where Paul says “in him all things hold together.”

Then, 2nd Peter describes that day when it all flies apart…

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved… (2 Peter 3:10)

When our clothes wear out and lose their beauty and usefulness, we fold them up, lay them aside, and replace them with new garments.  That is what Jesus Christ will eventually do with this world.  When it has served its’ purpose, he will fold it up, put it away and create something new and better, a “new heavens and new earth” (Rev. 21:1), because the first earth had “passed away.”

All else, including angels, are temporal and dependent.  Jesus Christ remains the same.  All else is subject to decay, as the rebellion of the angelic host proves; but Jesus remains constant.

To the suffering Jewish believers who first heard these words, these sure words about Christ must have felt like refreshing rain. Their world was not only changing—it was falling apart. But their superior Christ remained the same—eternal and unchanging.

Our ever-changing culture needs the never-changing Christ who alone can provide both the foundation and direction for Christian faith and practice as the church faces the challenges of a new era. (Daniel Akin)

By the way, did you notice that God the Father again addresses Jesus Christ as “Lord.”  Look again at the beginning of verse 10, “He [that is, God the Father] also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth…’”  God is calling Jesus Lord, the creator of the earth (and heavens, in the rest of this verse).  He is the Creator, alongside the Father and the Spirit, equal in nature and substance, but a distinct person.

So in verse 8 Jesus was called “God” and here in verse 10 he is called “Lord.”  Clearly the author of Hebrews is communicating that Jesus is God.  He is clearly superior to the angels.

Finally, not only does Jesus have a superior name, a superior honor, a superior role and a superior nature, but He has a superior status to the angels.

Again, they are servants; He is sovereign.

Verse 13 says, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’”

This is a quote from Psalm 110, another Messianic psalm.

1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Verse 3 told us that “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” and here he says “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Our author puts this in the form of a question, asking if God has ever said such a thing to the angels, the same formula he had used back up in verse 5.  So let’s put them side by side.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you?” (Heb. 1:5)

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?”

The answer to both of these questions is clearly: “None, not one, not a single one!”

Again, God is declaring the superiority of His Son over any of the angels.  Even the most powerful and glorious are inferior to the Son.

This, of course, happened when Jesus ascended on high after His resurrection from the grave.  He is seated, having finished his work, at the place of highest honor—at the right hand of the Father.

Here, a time frame is included, “until I make your enemies your footstool.”  This image is taken from the custom of conquering kings putting their feet upon the necks of the conquered as a sign of complete and ultimate victory (cf. Joshua 10:24-26).  This was usually after the conquered person bowed and kissed the conqueror’s feet.

One day every knee will bow before Christ, and every tongue will confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25), including all the angels, both good and bad.

The New Testament uniformly interprets Psalm 110 as referring to the coming Messiah.

In Acts 2, Peter refers to this by saying…

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

And in Acts 3:21 Peter says about Jesus…

21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Thus, this seems to be referring to the fact that Jesus will sit in heaven at the Father’s right hand until that time that He returns as conquering King and defeats the armies of the Antichrist.  At that time He will receive the kingdom, His earthly kingdom and reign on the earth for a thousand years, fulfilling God’s covenant to David.

But that isn’t the end of it.  In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us what happens next:

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.

What an encouragement this is!  This glorious truth should remind all believers in all ages that Christ ultimately and totally triumphs over all unrighteousness, all sin, all suffering, even death, the last enemy.

Are you suffering because of your faith now?  Are you belittled or ostracized because of Jesus?  Then you need to look carefully at the “time expression” in this verse—“until.”  Not “if it might occur at some time,” but “until.”  “Until” means up to the time and in this context it is that glorious day when our Lord will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all creation.  He will bring justice for all.  Hold onto this word “until” if you are weak and tired and feel like throwing in the towel, for He will return and right all wrongs.

Finally, we read in verse 14.

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

The most exalted angels are those whose privilege it is to “stand in the presence of God,” like Gabriel (Luke 1:19).  But none of them has ever been invited to sit, still less to sit in the place of unique honor at His right hand.  Their standing position betokens their promptness to execute his commands, or simply to abide His pleasure.

All of them, from highest to lowest, are but servants of God, “ministering spirits” and not to be compared to the Son.

More remarkable, even, is that they are here to serve us, the heirs of salvation, because of our close association with the Son.

Though our author does not enlarge upon the specifics of angelic ministry to us here, it only requires a review of Bible stories to see that such ministry involves protection (Psalm 91:1), guidance (Genesis 19:17), encouragement (Judges 6:12), deliverance (Acts 12:7), supply (Psalm 105:40), enlightenment (Matt. 2:19-20) and empowerment (Luke 22:43), as well as the occasional rebuke (Numbers 22:32) and discipline (Acts 12:23).

Angels are sent to minister to us; not us to them.  Only Christ is to be served and worshipped.

This service, by the angels, is not a disgraceful vocation.  Far from it!  It is a sublime privilege.  But the point is that this shows they are inferior to the sovereign Son, who deserves everyone’s service.

The ”salvation” spoken of here at the end of verse 14 clearly lies in the future, even if its blessings are beginning to be enjoyed even now.  It is that eschatological salvation (our glorification) which, in Paul’s words “is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11) or, in Peter’s words is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

The word “salvation” can refer to the past—justification, to the present—sanctification or to the future—glorification.

What these readers needed to understand was that the fearful dangers to which they would be exposed could not keep them from their ultimate salvation.  Likewise, it reminded them to make sure they didn’t treat lightly this salvation and fail to listen to the Son.

So to the beleaguered Jewish believer who was being tempted to say that Christ is an angel and thus escape persecution, God’s Word issues a clear call: Christ is superior to angels because he has a superior name —he is Son; a superior honor —all the angels worship him; a superior role —he is Sovereign King; a superior nature —he is eternal and unchangeable; a superior status —he rules the universe.

I want to leave you with this truth ringing in your heart:  Jesus Christ is infinitely superior to all angels.  They were created not to compete with Christ for glory, but to give Him glory and to serve Him.  The chief way they do that on earth is by serving us so that we hold fast to Christ and treasure Him and ultimately experience glory with Him.  Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 2 (Hebrews 1:5-9)

Welcome back to our study of the book of Hebrews.  We were talking last week about how the author of Hebrews wants to establish the superiority of Jesus so that the recipients of this letter don’t walk away from Jesus back into Judaism.  In this first portion he is establishing the superiority of Jesus over the angels.

Throughout the latter half of chapter 1 he uses seven Old Testament quotations, which the Jewish people would highly respect, to show that Jesus is superior to angels.

So, let’s begin looking at chapter 1, verses 4-14…

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Jesus has the superior name—“Son.”  Although collectively the angels were sometimes referred to as “sons of God,” this is the special name the Father gave to Jesus Christ.  It is a special relationship; Jesus is the one and only Son.

From eternity Jesus Christ has been the Son to the Father.  While equal to God in substance and nature, in the economic Trinity, or the way that the Trinity works, is that Jesus is the Son, who submits to the Father.

We noticed last time that he first quotes from Psalm 2:7, a Messianic Psalm.  “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”  This verse pinpoints the time of Jesus’ begetting as the resurrection, when he was declared “Son.”  This verse, in its Old Testament context, was part of a coronation liturgy used by the Davidic dynasty.  On the day of coronation, he would be known as “Son.”  For Jesus Christ, that coronation took place at His resurrection, not his incarnation.

We will start today from the second quotation in verse 5, from 2 Samuel 7:14 or 1 Chronicles 17:13, like the first, ties in with the Davidic Covenant and advances the previous point.

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”

The immediate application in David’s experience was to his son, Solomon, whom God would love and discipline as a son (Psalm 89:27).  However, Solomon would fail to fulfill the conditions of this covenant.

So, the ultimate application of this statement is to Jesus Christ, the “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).  Although Solomon did go on to build the temple, the promises of David were not exhausted in him, but looked forward to Jesus Christ.

He is the peaceful ruler of Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

He is the prince with four names, according to Isaiah 9:6-7.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those names are greater names than any angel had!  He goes on to say…

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1 were, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

So we see that Jesus is superior to the angels because he always was God’s Son and because two Old Testament sonship prophecies were marvelously fulfilled by him at his incarnation and resurrection and exaltation.  His name is “Son,” while all that can be said of angels is that they are messengers.  How dare anyone ever think of demoting him to the position of an archangel, much less to a perfect man!

Not only does Jesus Christ have a superior name, but He also has a superior honor.  The next point in the author’s argument for Christ’s superiority over angels is that he is worshiped by angels. “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’” (v. 6).

Here he turns to the final lines of verse 43 of the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:43), which the Jews considered to be Messianic.  The line he borrows, “Let all God’s angels worship him,” is not in the Hebrew original but is a Greek edition called the Septuagint.

This occurred at Jesus’ incarnation when the angelic host announced His arrival.  “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’” (Luke 2:13, 14a). 

At the nativity the sky exploded with the glory of God and an entire army of angels was there in force, greeting the birth of the Savior.  They announced His birth and led the worship of the Son of God.  God does not call us to worship angels, but calls angels to worship Jesus Christ.

Again, the “firstborn” son always had a special place in the heart of his father (e.g., 2 Sam. 13:36-37; 1 Chron. 3:2), shared the father’s authority and inherited the lion’s share of his property.  Yes, the word can indicate one who was born first among sons and daughters in a family.  But it also stood for an idea—the idea of one who held special place in the father’s judgment and affections.  Thus David (Psalm 89:27) and Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9) are called firstborn not because they were the eldest sons, but because of their importance.

The Rabbis used the term “firstborn” as a specifically Messianic title. One ancient Rabbi wrote, “God said, ‘As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born (Psalm 89:28).’” (R. Nathan in Shemoth Rabba, cited in Lightfoot)

This word says nothing about a beginning or creation point for Jesus, but rather the special place He had in His Father’s heart.

The incarnation is not the only point where we see the angels worshipping Christ.  It started before the incarnation, during his thirty-three years on earth and now in heaven.  We see a glimpse of this in Revelation 5.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11–13)

Ultimately, every being will bow before Jesus Christ and proclaim Him Lord.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Not every knee will bow willingly, but they will all bow to the glory and authority of Jesus Christ.

So even though the angelic host greeted His first coming, it will be at the second coming that every knee will bow.  This may be the primary reference since we read the word “again” in verse 6.  Most scholars, however, believe the word “again” refers to yet another Psalm called upon to witness to Christ’s superiority—“again” as in “another proof.”

Thirdly, in addition to a superior name and superior honor, Jesus Christ has a superior role.  He came to rule, angels are here to serve.

Now, it is true that Jesus initially came to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45), but taking Jesus’ lifeline as a whole, He came to reign.

In verse 7 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 104:4.  “In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits [or “winds”], and his servants flames of fire.’”

In the context of Psalm 104, this shows that the place of angels, though high in the created order, is in a far inferior position related to the supremacy of the Son.  They are presented here as “servants.”  While they are servants, the Son is sovereign.

The meaning of the text seems to be that the angels are executing the divine commands with the swiftness of wind and the strength of fire. The chariot of fire that bore Elijah from the earth were possibly angels.  Certainly those chariots of fire surrounding Elisha and his servants were the angels of God (2 Kings 6:17-18).

A. W. Pink says: “How sharp is the antithesis!  How immeasurable the gulf which separates between creature and Creator!  The angels are but “spirits,” the Son is “God.”  They are but “ministers,” His is the “throne.”  They are but a “flame of fire,” the executioners of judgment, He the One who commands and commissions them.”

In the next verses Jesus will be addressed as God, possessing a throne, a scepter and a kingdom, loving righteousness and hating wickedness, forever and ever.  No angel could claim these attributes.

Here the writer quotes Psalm 45:6, 7, a nuptial Psalm addressed originally to a Hebrew king, but phrased in language that could only be fulfilled by the ultimate Davidic king, the Son of God.

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.” (vv. 8, 9)

Angels minister before the throne, but they don’t sit on the throne.  The Son does…alone.

Notice first of all that Jesus is called “God” here.  He is the one being referred to in the words “Your throne, O God…”  When the First Person of the Trinity spoke to the Second Person of the Trinity, He called Him God.  Therefore, we should too.  This is unique and powerful evidence of the deity of Jesus.

Some argue that there are many beings called “gods” in the Bible such as Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4) and earthly judges (Psalm 82:1 and 6).  But these others are supposed gods, pretenders to the throne.  They might think of themselves as gods and others might, but they are not by nature gods.  These are false gods, but Jesus is the true God.  Jesus is the True and Living God, called so here by God the Father; and also by John in John 1:1, by Thomas in John 20:28, and by Paul in Titus 2:13 and Titus 3:4.  With the exception of the Gospel of John, Hebrews contains the clearest expression of the deity of Christ.

His throne is both unending (“forever and ever”) and unchanging.  All things created, including the angelic beings, are subject to time and tide, change and decay.  Christ’s kingdom is the only kingdom that never ends and the only one characterized by perfect righteousness.  This righteousness and justice which are the foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14) are equally the foundation of Messiah’s throne (Isaiah 11:5).  The prophets expected the Messiah to rule in righteousness.

One of the main teachings of Psalm 110 is that Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed (Messiah in Hebrew, Christos in Greek), is now enthroned in glory.  Jesus himself referred to this important psalm (Mark 12:35-37; 14:62) and Peter used it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:34-36).  His kingdom was inaugurated when He ascended to heaven but will find its fullest expression, a more physical and geographical expression, when He returns.

His throne, his scepter, his anointing give us the dimensions of his brilliant sovereignty.  His throne—his rule—will never end. His scepter—his authority—will be executed in his righteousness—a righteousness that he established in becoming a sacrifice for our sins.  His being anointed with the oil of joy refers to the heavenly joy that was his as sovereign King of kings.

Wouldn’t we love to have rulers that loved righteousness and hated wickedness?  But only the Messiah will embody these attributes perfectly.

“God your God” is the Father, anointing His Son.  And that anointing has in mind the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit for the three-fold offices of prophet, priest and king.  Here His kingship is being emphasized.

Notice that this anointing with the oil of gladness is a consequence of the Messiah “loving righteousness and hating wickedness.”  True joy is the result of loving what is right and good and beautiful.  It should remind us that there is no gladness, no real joy, in sinning.  Real joy arises out of heart that loves Jesus and loves what is right and good and beautiful.

Was Jesus a happy person?  I believe so.  This verse tells us that he was anointed “with the oil of gladness beyond your companions,” meaning that He was the happiest person among every group of people He has ever interacted with.

John Piper writes, “Jesus Christ is the happiest being in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven.  He mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father” (John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p. 36).

Spurgeon said, “We are happy to think Christ is happy. I do not know whether you have ever drank that joy, Believer, but I have found it a very sweet joy to be joyful because Christ is joyful” (Spurgeon, “The Special Call and the Unfailing Result,” Sermon #616)

Jesus is not stern or moody, He is overflowing with joy!

Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).  The gospel is “the good news of the glory of the happy God.”

Like priests and prophets, Old Testament kings were anointed with oil, signifying God’s appointment to ministry.  Kings were anointed with oil when they ascended to the throne.

In the clearly Messianic Psalm 2:2, the writer records…

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed

Jesus has been specifically appointed to this role by anointing.  He is the “anointed One” par excellence.

In Psalm 89 we read of David’s anointing which pictures the anointing of one greater than David, “I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him” (Psalm 89:20).  But this ultimately refers to Jesus Christ.

The companions above whom this Messiah is glad would have in the original context been the royal family or kings of surrounding nations.  In Jesus’ life it would have been His disciples and now it would be the “many sons” he is bringing to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

Peter, in his Pentecostal sermon, quoted from Psalm 16 to show that Jesus’ resurrection and eternal joy was prophesied by David.  Paraphrasing Psalm 16:11 Peter says about Jesus, “you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

We, too, will be full of forever gladness when we step out of death and into God’s eternal presence.  O what a day!

The Superiority of Jesus to the Angels, part 1 (Hebrews 1:4-5)

Angels are “in.”  You can walk into a bookstore and find a whole shelf devoted to the topic of angels.  The television show Touched by an Angel ran for nine seasons and movies such as Ghost and City of Angels delved into the world of angels.  There are magazines such as Angel Times, which is dedicated to recounting the contacts with numerous angelic beings.

For a long time, angel figurines were very popular.  Angels are created beings, grand and glorious beings and certainly are active for God’s service as well as for ours (Heb. 1:14).  The Hebrew word for angel is malak and the Greek word is angelos, both of which mean “messenger.”

The godly Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, as a little boy, fell into a well.  His playmates ran for help, thinking he had perished.  But when the adults arrived to rescue him they found the young boy out of the well, drenched, and declaring that “a bonny white man” had rescued him.

John Patton, the Scottish missionary to the Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific, experienced an unusual deliverance by angels.  He and his wife were surrounded by a group of headhunters, but as Patton prayed, the headhunters all fled.  Later the chieftain of the group described to Patton that they had seen a group of men in shining white clothes with drawn swords surrounding the hut; so they left without doing any harm.

That may remind some of you of the time that Elisha’s servant was afraid of the vast armies that were around the city and Elisha prayed

“O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.”  So, the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

While we might find our minds thrilled with such angelic feats, they all pale into insignificance when compared to our Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished for us.

Angels were also an important part of the Jewish religion, primarily because thousands of angels assisted in the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.  This fact is recorded for us in Deuteronomy 33:2, which says…”The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.”  This is also found in Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19.

The writer’s contrast of Jesus Christ’s authority and name with that of the angels suggests that his original readers may have regarded the angels too highly.  This was true of certain first-century sects within Judaism, one of which was the Essene community that lived at Qumran.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that this group had a highly developed angelology and that they regarded angels with more veneration than they should have.

Some people still believe that angels are mediators between us and God.  People who are hesitant to talk about Jesus are unashamed to bring up angels.

Since the writer of Hebrews is seeking to establish the superiority of Jesus Christ so that all faith would be placed in Him, he has to deal with this issue of the place of angels.  Warren Wiersbe notes:

“This long section on angels is divided into three sections.  First, there is an affirmation (Heb. 1:4-14) of the superiority of Christ to the angels.  The proof consists of seven quotations from the Old Testament.  Second, there is an exhortation (Heb. 2:1-4) that the readers (and this includes us) pay earnest heed to the Word God has given through His Son.  Finally, there is an explanation (Heb. 2:5-18) as to how Christ, with a human body, could still be superior to angels, who are spirits” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: NT, p. 805).

So we’ve just looked at seven facts about Jesus that make him superior, in vv. 2 and 3, now we’re going to look at seven quotations that continue to argue for His superiority.

Tom Constable points out these parallels:

Parallels between 1:1-4 and 1:5-13
1:1-41:5-13
A       Appointment as royal heir (2b)A’      Appointment as royal Son and heir (5-9)
B       Mediator of the creation (2c)B’      Mediator of the creation (10)
C       Eternal nature and pre-existent glory (3a-b)C’      Unchanging, eternal nature (11-12)
D       Exaltation to God’s right hand (3c)D’      Exaltation to God’s right hand (13)
https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm#_ftnref88

Again, the number seven is significant to the Hebrews to communicate a sense of perfection or completion.

Why is it important to understand that Jesus is better than angels?  Why is important for us to compare and contrast them?

First, because we often understand things best when they are set in contrast to one another.  This way we can see the differences.

Second, since the Old Covenant came with the help of angels, the writer of Hebrews wants to establish that the New Covenant came through Jesus, giving it prime place.

Third, there has been a dangerous tendency to worship angels.  This is what Colossians 2:18 is referring to, and possibly Galatians 1:8, and Hebrews shows us that it is more important to worship Jesus, and Him alone, than any angelic being.

What the writer said here about angelic mediators applies especially to those who claim to mediate knowledge concerning God and the after-life to humankind.  Such self-proclaimed mediators today include leaders of some cults such as Theosophy, some New Age proponents, Shirley MacLaine, and other advocates of reincarnation.  Finding one’s spiritual “guide” and “channeling” to the unseen world, through that being, is popular in some circles.  

Fourth, there is a heretical idea that Jesus Himself was an angel.  Jehovah Witnesses believe he is the same person as the archangel Michael.

Finally, because understanding how Jesus is better than the angels, that helps us to understand how he is better than any of the “competitors” that come into our lives.

So, let’s begin looking at chapter 1, verses 4-14…

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

So this section is comprised of seven quotations from the Old Testament, each of which proves the superiority of Jesus Christ.  This writer favors the Greek version of the Old Testament, which we call the Septuagint, since seventy men were commissioned to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language.

First, Jesus has a superior name, and that name is “Son.”  The more excellent name that Jesus possesses is “Son.”  It is through this name, and relationship, that Jesus is superior to the angels.

While the angels collectively could be called “the sons of God” (as in Job 1:6), no angel could claim this title individually.  This is also true about us.  We are called “sons of God” in passages such as Romans 8:14 and 19 and Galatians 3:26.  But we don’t have special claim to that title like Jesus does.

From eternity Jesus Christ has been the Son to the Father.  While equal to God in substance and nature, in the economic Trinity, or the way that the Trinity works, is that Jesus is the Son, who submits to the Father.

“Inheriting” the name does not mean that he did not possess it before, yet he “inherited” it when it was “declared” by the resurrection, so Paul says he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4)  Although Jesus has been “Son” before the creation began, His resurrection declared that for all to see.

Jesus has a superior name, “Son,” and that makes him “much superior” to the angels.  He is not just a little better, but much better.  He is not temporarily better, but eternally better.

Now our author launches into seven quotations from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament to buttress his argument for the superiority of Jesus.

HebrewsOld Testament QuoteProves that…
Hebrews 1:5Psalm 2:7Jesus is God’s only begotten son
Hebrews 1:52 Samuel 7:14God is His Father; Jesus is the Son
Hebrews 1:6Psalm 97:7 (or Deut. 32:43Jesus is to be worshipped by the angels
Hebrews 1:7Psalm 104:4Angels are His ministers
Hebrews 1:8-9Psalm 45:6-7Jesus is God forever and ever
Hebrews 1:10, 11-12Psalm 102:25-27Jesus is immutable and eternal
Hebrews 1:13Psalm 110:1Jesus is honored as victor over all

One commentator notes that this was a common ancient practice, adducing a quantity of texts “to offer so much evidence that your listeners shook their heads in agreement with you by the end of these quotations” (Guthrie, p. 67).

The quotation in verse 5 begins with “to which of the angels did God ever say…? The passage also ends, in v. 13 with the same statement, forming an inclusio.

The quotation in verse 5 is from Psalm 2:7, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”  This verse pinpoints the time of Jesus’ begetting as the resurrection, when he was declared “Son.”  This verse, in its Old Testament context, was part of a coronation liturgy used by the Davidic dynasty.  On the day of coronation, he would be known as “Son.”  For Jesus Christ, that coronation took place at His resurrection.

The whole Psalm presents a glorious kingdom quashing rebellion and becoming an eternal kingdom.  It is alluded to in Luke 1:32, starting in verse 30…

30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The eternal Son of God “… entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by His Sonship when, after His suffering had proved the completeness of His obedience, He was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce).

When you “beget” something, you “beget” something of the same kind as yourself.  Thus, Jesus has the exact same nature as the Father.  He is equally God.

In the Old Testament context, this verse was about Solomon, whom God would love and discipline as a son (of the Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 7).  But the ultimate application is to Jesus Christ, the greater Solomon (Matthew 12:42).

Son of God is a title that referred to the Davidic kings (2 Sam. 7:14) and specifically to Jesus Christ: God the Son (Mark 1:11; Luke 1:32). 

The use of the word “begotten” throws some, thinking that this must mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning, that He is not, in fact, eternal.  First, recognize that this verse, nor any other, says that Jesus was “made” or “created.”  That he was begotten just speaks to his role as Son, not to His eternal nature.

Aside from that, where it speaks of Jesus being “begotten” in John’s gospel (John 1:14, 3:16), it uses the term monogenes.  Actually, the word “to beget” is gennao, with two “n’s.”  This word is genes, which means “kind” or “race.”  Thus, a better translation, rather than “only begotten,” is “one of a kind,” or “unique.”

He is the unique Son of God, there is none like Him in all creation.

According to Jewish thought, a person’s name revealed his essential nature and could express rank and dignity.  Jesus had the name “Son” from all eternity, and it is the name he will always keep, as the perfect tense of the phrase “the name he has inherited” indicates.

The second quotation, from 2 Samuel 7:14 or 1 Chronicles 17:13, like the first, ties in with the Davidic Covenant and advances the previous point.

Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”

Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but He is also the promised son of David (Luke 1:32-33, 68-69; Rom. 1:3).  Even though Jesus Christ was always God’s eternal Son (in eternity past), in human history He becamethe Son prophesied to rule over David’s house.  He received permission to rule the whole earth after His ascension (cf. Ps. 2:8).

To summarize, the title Son refers to Jesus in three separate respects: He was always the pre-existent Son (v. 3a-b; cf. 5:8), He became the incarnate Son at His birth (v. 2a), and He became the exalted Son when He returned to heaven.

In all three ways Jesus is superior to the angels.

God never said to an angel, “You are my son.”  However, he said that several times to Jesus Christ.

First, at his baptism.

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Then on the Mount of Transfiguration, in Matthew 17:5:

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

At his resurrection (Psalm 2:7; Rom. 1:4; Heb. 5:5)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:3-4)

You will notice in verse 3 that Jesus was already God’s Son, but he was “declared to be the Son of God in power” when He rose from the dead.

So F. F. Bruce said:

“The eternity of Christ’s divine sonship is not brought into question by this view; the suggestion rather is that he who was the Son of God from everlasting entered into the full exercise of all the prerogatives implied by his Sonship when, after his suffering had proved the completeness of his obedience, he was raised to the Father’s right hand” (F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 54).

The early church understood these passages to refer to the induction of Jesus into His royal position as King of the universe at the time of His resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand.  These events vindicated Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and inaugurated His kingdom.