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.

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Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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