The epistle to the Hebrews is really an answer to the question new believers of the early church were asking: “What do we have in our newfound faith?” The answer is “Christ, who is far greater than the prophets, the angels, Moses, and Joshua, in all His superior attributes.” The author of Hebrews is trying to point out that Christ’s priesthood is greater than that of Aaron’s, for He serves a better sanctuary and has given a better covenant. The once-and-for-all offering of Himself is superior to the repeated sacrifices of bulls and goats. It is believed that Hebrews was written during a time when some of the Hebrew Christians were in danger of falling away or reverting to Judaism. In Hebrews 1, the writer argues that Christ is superior to the angels, because He is the Son of God, Creator, Upholder, and Purifier; therefore, no angel or man can claim these attributes. He wants to show that Jesus is preeminent, predominant, and paramount. Then before showing that He is also superior as the Son of Man, the author digresses to give the first of several solemn warnings that are to be found in the book.
Warnings in Hebrews
The first warning is against drifting away from the Gospel. We are urged in Hebrews 2:1 to believe the Gospel’s message: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” When the author uses the phrase “things we have heard,” this means the Gospel’s message and salvation in Christ. We know that one day we will hear this Gospel for the last time, and every time we hear it and then refuse it we add another degree to the intensity of our eternal punishment, should we die without Christ. There is always the danger of being so close to believing, even enjoying some of the benefits of the Gospel, only to slip into the state of apostasy – the sin for which there is no repentance. (See Hebrews 6:4-6) This is why the author here wants his audience to remember not to “drift away.”
The second warning lies in Hebrews 2:2: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward […]” The mention of angels here refers to the Jews’ attaching special importance to the ministry of angels, since angels had declared the law. (See Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19) Those who disobeyed this law were promptly punished. For example, consider the situation of Nadab and Abihu, who offered unauthorized fire to the Lord, and were consumed immediately for their disobedience. (See Leviticus 10:1-3) A similar situation occurred with the followers of Korah who rose up against Moses and rebelled against God’s chosen leader. The earth opened up and swallowed them, their families, and their possessions because they were disobedient to God’s law. (See Numbers 16) These stories and the reference to angels are reminders that we must be fully obedient to what the Lord has commanded.
Hebrews 2:3 continues by warning, “…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him…” The author here is contemplating that if those believers who broke the law were punished, what would be the fate of those who neglect the Gospel, which tells of the “so great a salvation?” This shows that to neglect such great salvation is more serious than transgressing the law, because the Gospel story was spoken directly by the Lord Himself, rather than angels. Those that heard Him and witnessed His life and death alongside Him, therefore, also confirmed the Gospel; its message bears a serious responsibility for response and obedience.
The Gospel Message Verified
Hebrews 2:4 authenticates the importance of the message of the Gospel, saying that God the Father and God the Spirit showed their approval of the Gospel by signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. He continues, “…God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” These four elements named here were parts that signified to the Jewish people that all of this work was from God and an authentication of the Gospel message to us. First, signs were miracles performed by the Lord and the apostles, which signified spiritual truths, for example, the feeding of the five thousand that typifies Jesus calling Himself the Bread of Life. (See Matthew 14:13-21 and John 6:35) Secondly, wonders were miracles that were intended to amaze people and lead them to belief through miraculous acts, like the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (See John 11:38-44) Third, miracles were a display of supernatural power, which superseded the laws of nature. This could be seen with Jesus walking on water or calming the storm. (See Matthew 14:22-36 and 8:23-27) Lastly, gifts of the Holy Spirit were special enablements given to men to speak and act beyond their natural ability, for example, Moses with Pharaoh, Gideon, the judge with his army of three hundred, Daniel with the Babylonian and Persian kings, Esther with the King Ahasuerus, and Peter at Pentecost. (See Exodus 6, Judges 6, Daniel 1 and 6, Esther 1, and Acts 2)
A Little Lower than Angels
Hebrews 2:5-8 gives us a glimpse of God’s original purpose for man. The author clearly states that in the “age to come,” dominion will not be given to angels: “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.” Hebrews 2:6-8 continues by showing that dominion will indeed be given to man, quoting an Old Testament text from Psalm 8. He confirms that man is insignificant and unimportant, yet God has great plans for him. In the scale of creation, man has been given a place only a little lower than the angels, because man is more limited in knowledge and power and subject to death. Despite these limitations, God intends to crown man with glory and honor, and give him power over all creation. (See Hebrews 2:6-7)
In Hebrews 2:8, the author confirms what God commands man in Genesis 1:28, saying, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.” All of creation has been put under man’s authority in the coming age: the angelic hosts, the world of animals, the birds and fish. This whole concept was God’s original plan for man, and the way He intended for creation to be ordered. The reason we do not see this authority now is because, as a result of sin, man lost control and fell from a right standing with God. Through Adam’s sin, docile creatures became ferocious and the ground brought forth thorns and thistles, thus, man’s authority is limited in this age. However, we can be assured that in the next age, it will be complete, and everything will be how it is supposed to be under Christ’s almighty reign.
In Hebrews 2:9-18, the author addresses the superiority of the Son of Man over all things, even though our Lord was also made lower than the angels in order to come from heaven to Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha, and ultimately, the grave. These five places mark the stages of His humiliation: from birth, to suffering, to judgment, and death. Now, however, the Lord is crowned with glory and honor through the victory over death in His resurrection. It was always God’s purpose that Christ should taste death for every man, bearing God’s judgment against sin so that all who believe will never bear the weight of sin and judgment. Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” His great purpose in “tasting death for everyone” was “to bring many sons to glory.” (Hebrews 2:9-10) Although morally our Savior was already perfect, in obtaining our salvation our “captain” had to be made perfect as Savior to procure eternal redemption for us, suffering the punishment that our sins deserved.
The author continues in Hebrews 2:11-13 to describe Jesus’ true humanity, His perfections of manhood. He speaks to the solidarity Christ has with all believers because of this, saying, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11) This means that both Christ and man possess true humanity, and Christ has a oneness with believers. Because He became a true man, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Hebrews 2:12-13 illustrates the Lord identifying Himself with His people in worship: “I will declare your name to my brethren. In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to you…I will put My trust in Him…Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Here, two verses from the Old Testament are quoted to show Jesus’ perfect humanity. First, Psalm 22:22 is referenced in regards to praising His name in the congregation. Secondly, Isaiah 8:17-18 is quoted, where the Lord speaks through Isaiah, encouraging His people: “I will put my trust in Him. Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.” We should notice Isaiah’s mention of trust in this passage. Putting trust in God is one of the greatest marks of true manhood! Also, the thought here is that the Lord and His redeemed children are members together in the family of God, living as witnesses and blessings for the other people in the world so that the Lord might be known to them.
Blessings in Christ
We are shown four important blessings that are ours through the humanity of the Lord in Hebrews 2:14-18. We are told, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same…Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Paul addressed this similar message in Philippians 2:5-8, where he wrote, “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” This is what Paul called the “mystery of godliness.” (See 1 Timothy 3:16)
Let us examine these four blessings of Christ’s humanity. The first blessing the author addresses is the imminence of the unavoidable destruction of Satan, starting in Hebrews 2:14. He says, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil […]” At Calvary, the devil received his death blow: his head was bruised, he became a defeated foe, and his time is now limited. The risen Christ has the keys of both death and Hades because He has complete authority over them, and at the Rapture, all living believers will go to heaven without dying. Because of this victory and the authority Christ has had, the author continues in Hebrews 2:15 to give us hope regarding Satan’s power, the second blessing mentioned. He says, “…and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” This second blessing that flows from the Lord’s humiliation is emancipation from fear! Before the Cross, the fear of death held men in lifelong servitude. There might have been flashes of light and a glimmer of hope concerning the life to come, but the general attitude was one of uncertainty. What was dark before Christ has been made clear after Christ. He has “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (See 2 Timothy 1:10)
The third blessing the author points out is expiation from sin. He says, “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:16-17) This means that when our Lord came unto the world, He did not espouse the care of angels, rather He elected to die for the seed of Abraham. This “seed” represents not only Abraham’s direct descendants, but the people of God, or the believers of every age! Beloved, this means you and me! Our High Priest made a propitiation for the sins of His people, which includes believers then and now and in between. This also means that the sin question has been settled forever. He was “made like His brethren,” assuming true and perfect manhood to be a merciful and faithful High Priest. His chief function as High Priest was to take away the sins of the people. In doing so, He did what no priest ever did or could do: He offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice. Here we see the fourth blessing is in Hebrews 2:18, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Because He Himself was tempted and suffered much, He can help others who are being tempted. The Lord Jesus in His perfect manhood was always tempted from without, never from within. The Savior could not be tempted to sin by lusts within Himself, because not only was there no sin to be found in Him, but He was perfectly sinless. Nothing in Him responded to sin!