The first major point of Hebrews is that Christ is better than the angels. Hebrews 1 gave the opening argument for that point. After the exhortation of Hebrews 2:1-4, the argument is concluded.
Christ's Superiority to the Angels - Hebrews 2:5-18
The conclusion to the argument that Christ is superior to the angels is developed in two stages. The first stage, Hebrews 2:5-9, answers an objection that could have been raised against the Christian claim of Christ's superiority to angels. Psalm 8:5 speaks of humankind being created a little lower than the angels. Since Jesus was human a person could argue that Jesus was a little lower than the angels. Hebrews 2:5-9 argues against such an interpretation. The second stage of the argument, Hebrews 2:10-18, shows the way Christ identified with humanity by means of the Incarnation. The humanity of Jesus did not jeopardize the supremacy of Christ, but enhanced it.
Humiliation and Glory - Hebrews 2:5-9
The author of Hebrews changes the style of writing in verse 5. The language of exhortation found in verses 1-4 gives way to explanation. Verses 5-9 follow up on the treatment of Christ's superiority to the angels that was given scriptural support in Hebrews 1:5-14. The heart of the paragraph is devoted to a quotation of Psalm 8:5-7.
The first point the author makes as he renews the argument that Christ is superior to the angels is that God has not entrusted them with the administration of the coming world. Behind this sentence is the Jewish assumption that angels did have a governing role in this present world. The author of Hebrews does not argue this; he assumes it to be true. What he states is that God did not give the angels this authority over the world to come. For He did not subject the world which is coming to angels. Early Christians knew that the world to come was subject to Christ. In fact, that coming world was brought into being by Christ. Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God that is described in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was the clear announcement that the coming world had arrived with his ministry. The author assumes that all his Christian readers understood that Jesus, the proclaimer of the Kingdom of God, would rule the coming world.
Since that was a safe assumption our author argues the point from another approach. He will quote Psalm 8:4-6 to make the point that human being are a little lower than the angels, but that they are promised that all things will be subjected to them. In the following verses the author will then argue that Jesus, as the true Human, was only temporarily a little lower than the angels and that his suffering and death actually illustrate his ultimate superiority over them.
The quotation of Psalm 8 begins with verse 4, "What is man that you remember him? or the son of man that you come to him?" The purpose for including this verse in the quotation has been debated. Some scholars believe that the author of Hebrews simply chose to begin his quotation at this point to provide adequate context for the next verses. Others believe that he intended to make an important statement about Christ.
The difference of opinion revolves around how the expression son of man should be understood. It is possible that the author understands son of man to be a title for Christ. Jesus' favorite title for himself was "son of man" according to the gospels. More importantly, the author of Hebrews understood son of man to express the concept of Christ as Second (or Last) Adam. Paul gives the fullest treatment of Jesus as Second Adam in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49. Christ as Second Adam reversed the Fall. By First Adam's disobedience, sin and death entered the world. By Second Adam's (Christ's) obedience the possibility of righteousness and life became available. It is likely that the author of Hebrews wanted to include Psalm 8:4 in his quotation so that his readers would recognize the concept of Christ as Second Adam in the phrase son of man.
The other view is that the author, in the style of typical Hebrew poetry, used son of man in the second line of Psalm 8:4 as a poetic expansion on the word man in the first line of the verse. If that is the case verse 4 would be quoted to show the degree to which Jesus identified with human beings. He became a representative of the human race and accomplished the purpose for which God had created mankind.
Another significant concept from Psalm 8:4 is in the final verb. Most English versions translate the son of man that you are concerned with him or the son of man that you care for him. No single English word (or even phrase) can capture all the nuances of meaning contained in both the Hebrew and Greek verb. The root idea of the verb is to come and visit with the purpose of overseeing. (The English word "episcopal" and related words comes from the Greek of this verb.) The idea of concern or care is part of the meaning; so is the concept of coming to one to visit and guide them. The idea that God would come to Christ at various times during his earthly ministry to oversee and guide him is an important thought. Luke 1:68 contains the same word as it describes God visiting and redeeming his people Israel through the coming of Christ. God visited and guided Christ as a representative human representing all of us. Likewise, in Christ, God visits, guides, and redeems us.
In Hebrews 2:7 the author follows the Greek translation of the Old Testament which is different than the Hebrew original. The Greek reads:
The Hebrew text is more difficult to translate:
The Hebrew word for God is actually a plural form, and some translators believe Psalm 8:5 should read, "You have made him a little lower than the gods." The author's choice of the Greek version to quote enables him to make his point about Christ's superiority to the angels in an oblique way. To say that mankind was a little lower than the gods or than God might have been a compliment. Most Jewish writers of that time would have said that humans were a lot lower than God. To have said that Christ as the representative human was a little lower than God would not have fit well with the bold declaration of Christ as the exact representation of God that was made in Hebrews 1:3.
The Greek version, on the other hand, has two important differences from the Hebrew text. First, the comparison is made with angels instead of with God (or gods). The author may have been attracted to the Greek version simply to get the word angels into his quotation. However, to state that human beings were a little lower than angels is obvious and to say that Christ was a little lower than the angels would actually undercut the argument.
The other difference in the Greek text is that the word it uses for little can be translated either a "little time" or a "little distance." The Hebrew text implies that mankind was a little distance lower than God (or the gods). The Greek Old Testament indicates that man or the Son of Man (Christ) was made lower than the angels for a little while. The brilliant (but unexpected to us) logic of the author concluded that the reference to Christ being made lower than the angels for a little while referred to the time of his ministry on earth. Since that status of being lower than the angels was only for a little while, then when that time was over, Christ would return to his normal state of being superior to the angels. From Hebrews 1:3-4 it is most likely that the author thought that that return to superiority over the angels would have happened at Christ's ascension.
The goal of the quotation appears in Hebrews 2:8 which quotes from Psalm 8:6, And you subjected all things under his feet. If God had subjected all things to Christ, then Christ in his ascended state was again superior to the angels. After all, they governed the present world, but Christ has been granted subjection of all things. In the final part of verse 8 the author notes that the psalm verse had promised the subjection of all things, which meant nothing left not in subjection. The final clause of verse 8 is the crux of the argument from the logical standpoint of the author. There he states that, "Now we do not yet see all things having been subjected." Left unstated is the final logical jump of the author. If the promise of God is that all things will be subjected to Christ and simple observation shows that all things are not subject to him in the present world, then the promise must apply to the coming world. Thus the point of verse 6 has been argued.
Verse 9 picks up two phrases from the Psalm 8 quotation to further explain Christ's role. Jesus, who was lower than the angels for a little while in his earthly life is now "crowned with glory and honor." This must be a reference to the ascension to the right hand of the Father. But that ascension and that glory comes because of the sufferings of death. The humiliation, suffering, and death of Christ become the reason for his exaltation. The reason for his incarnation and thus his humiliation, suffering, and death is in order that he might taste death for everyone. The idea that the author has in mind is clearly the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Jesus the Pioneer of Salvation - Hebrews 2:10-18
Hebrews 2:10-18 will bring to conclusion the author's argument for Christ's superiority over the angels. It also prepares the way for the next section and argument. The role of this paragraph in the argument is based on its connection with verse 9. The word "angels" only appears once in the paragraph, in verse 16, and it is not used there in comparison with Christ. Rather, the author is building on the idea of Christ as the means of salvation.
The question of what was appropriate or fitting for God to do, especially in regard to the problem of human suffering, was debated by both Jewish and secular thinkers in the first century A.D. The author opened verse 10 with the phrase, it was fitting or it was appropriate. He did not use the word God, preferring to allude to God by the expression, for whom are all things and through whom are all things. These words remind us of God's intention that his human creation find meaning and fulfillment in covenant relationship with himself. However, since humankind had fallen God, by means of Christ, became involved in leading many sons to glory. This phrase reminds us that the work of redemption is a process of returning our fallen human race to the glory of God. Since the words glory and image are often used together in the New Testament God, in Christ, was restoring his own image in us. Neither the Old Testament nor the New describe how the image of God in which we were created was damaged (or lost) by sin. However, the New Testament clearly indicates that Christ came to restore us to the image of God we enjoyed at creation.
The grammatical kernel of the sentence is that it is fitting for God to perfect the pioneer of their salvation through suffering. It is difficult for Christians to think about God perfecting Christ because we tend to assume that that would mean some imperfection in Christ before the perfecting began. It is even more difficult to think of God perfecting Christ through suffering. Three observations are in order.
First, the Greek word for perfect (either noun or verb) did not carry the connotation of absoluteness that we associate with perfection (see The English Term "Perfect"). Rather, it spoke of completeness or fullness. That which was perfect was all it was supposed to be at that given point in time. That did not mean that the perfect thing could not grow and change. It could then become perfect in a new role or setting.
Second, the writer of Hebrews does not suggest that Christ was not a perfect Son. What he says is that God made him perfect as a Savior by means of suffering. The perfect Son had no need for suffering. For the Savior to be perfect suffering would be necessary and through the Incarnation God made it possible for that suffering to take place. The author of Hebrews also was aware of the way the Greek Old Testament sometimes used the verb, "to perfect," to indicate the act of sanctifying a priest for his priestly office. The Hebrew expression meant "to fill the hands." Thus the idea of consecration to his role as a Savior who is High Priest is on the author's mind though the priestly character of Christ will not be fully developed until later in the book.
Finally, the perfecting of Christ that is in view in verse 10 is to make him perfect as pioneer of our salvation. This shifts attention from the idea of Christ's identification with God to his identification with us. The role of Christ is that of a pioneer, a pathfinder. He will be the one who will mark the way to God for us. The way to God from the right hand of God in heaven was not a difficult thing for Christ to accomplish. However, the path from the side of fallen humanity to the side of God in heaven was a new trail to be blazed. Though the author of Hebrews does not specifically speak of it, the very real humanity of Jesus is on his mind. To be truly human and to follow the path of total obedience to God would involve suffering. Since it was a new trail for Jesus to blaze, it also meant that he would have to become perfect in that role. More amazing is the fact that the idea of a pioneer or pathfinder implies that others would follow.
As a truly human being Jesus was not blazing an impossible trail. Rather, his authentic humanity means that we can follow him on that trail to full obedience and fellowship with the Father. That is to say that God can and wants to also perfect us. However, as with Christ, so for us perfecting will be done through suffering. To his original readers this was word with great potential. They were under pressure, either being persecuted or about to be persecuted, because of their faith. The writer wants them to know that that persecution can be a means by which God brings them further along the trail of perfection that Christ as already pioneered. The pressures of our lives may be different than those of the first readers of Hebrews, but the principle is the same. God is wanting to perfect us; he desires to move us closer to full obedience and fellowship with himself and he intends to use the pressures of our lives to accomplish that goal. Thus, if Jesus is to truly be a trail blazer or pioneer for us, we must not resist or flee from our pressures, but face up to them and seek the grace of God to find our way through them to closer communion with the Father.
Several conclusions quickly follow as verses 11-12 show. As pioneer on the perfection trail there is a true sense in which Jesus is also the one who perfects us. Shifting to the language of priestly consecration, the author states in verse 11 that the one who sanctifies - that is Jesus - and those who are sanctified - that will be all of us who will follow Christ on the trail to fellowship and obedience to God - have one Father. In other words, life on the trail between fallen humanity and a holy God is a family life, a community life. It is the family formed by shared obedience and being made perfect by suffering. Thus Jesus is not ashamed to call them [us] brothers and sisters.
This family of suffering relates to what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 about the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. The family concept leads the author to quote Psalm 22:22 in verse 12. This psalm was another well-known and much used psalm in the earliest church. The fact that Jesus quoted its opening words from the cross made it an especially forceful testimony to the work of God in Christ. The family concept is clear in the quotation from Psalm 22:22, and the allusion to Isaiah 8:17-18 in verse 13 also reflects the sense of community and belonging between God and his people understood as family.
Hebrews 2:14-18 develop the idea of Jesus as perfect pioneer further. The identification of Jesus with us in our humanness is emphasized in verse 14. In the same way that we as humans live in the context of flesh and blood so Jesus shared the same things. Part of what would have to be shared would be death. Only if Christ shared fully in human death and would be able to be victorious over it would there be any hope for victory over death for us. Since death was the penalty for human sin (see both Genesis 2:17; 3:22 and Romans 6:23) the restoration of the Creation image of God to fallen humanity would require victory over death.
Intertestamental Judaism had come to believe that the devil had the power of death. This was not by intrinsic right, but as a result of human choice to place ourselves in disobedience to God and thus to ally ourselves with all that opposed God. Jesus described his ministry as the conflict between the strong man (Satan) and the stronger man (himself) in Luke 11:21-22. The work of salvation was the task of setting people free from the bondage to Satan that we create for ourselves by our own sins. The writer of Hebrews appears to have the situation of his own readers in mind here. They were in bondage through the fear of death by persecution. As a result they were "captives of an evil tyrant who possessed the power to intimidate them" (Lane, WBC, p. 62). But there was (and is) no need to be intimidated by the devil; Christ has won the victory through his resurrection.
Jesus Greater Than Moses - Hebrews 3:1-6
Having established the superiority of Christ to the angels with some of the implications of that, the writer now turns to argue the superiority of Christ to Moses. In some ways this argument is related to the issue of angels. Many Jews believed that God used the angels to deliver the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. However, the Old Testament did not state this and Moses was considered the most sacred figure in Israelite history. He was viewed, rightfully so, as the founder of Israelite faith and Jewish religion. If the author of Hebrews is going to successfully persuade his readers to stay true to Christ during a time of persecution, he must convince them of Christ's superiority to Moses. This point is made clearly in verse 3 and again in verses 5-6.
The starting point of the argument is the priestly role of Jesus mentioned in Hebrews 2:17. The readers are called to consider or think about Jesus. The Greek word indicates that the author wishes them to engage in serious thinking. Serious thinking will be necessary to follow the author's line of thought. Yet the Biblical writers are never interested in thinking that does not lead to action. Thought must inform life. Since that is true, correct living will require correct thinking about Christ.
The author describes Jesus as both apostle and high priest.< The word apostle means that Jesus was sent by God to accomplish a particular task. In fact, the task was to be high priest. Hebrews 2:10-18 has already described the way Jesus would function as high priest. Verse 2 of chapter 3 affirms that Jesus was faithful in his fulfillment of his role like Moses was faithful in all God's house>. Moses' faithfulness is described in verse 5 as the faithfulness of a servant who specifically testified of things to come. However, the contrast between the Old Testament and the revelation of God in Christ first mentioned in Hebrews 1:1-2 is still in mind. The things about which Moses testified have now come to fulfillment in Christ. Thus, Christ is superior to Moses because the fulfillment of the promise is always greater than the promise of the fulfillment.
The author also contrasts Moses as servant in the household of God and Christ as Son. The Son is always greater than a servant or employee of a household. And it is in his role as Son that the author affirms that Jesus was faithful.
The writer then shifts to the thought that we, the church, are the household of Christ if we hold firm. He had been addressing his readers indirectly in 2:5-18. Now, he shifts to include them with himself by use of the word we in verse 6. The condition for being part of Christ's house is defined here as holding firmly to the confidence and pride of hope. The author does not mean that salvation - or entrance into the household of God - comes by the human effort of holding fast. That would be justification by works. Rather, he assumes that his readers as Jewish people were part of the household of God. But the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ have created a new situation for God's household.
Now, for his readers to continue to be part of God's household they must maintain their faith in Christ. Verse 6 is hint at the kind of exhortation found in Hebrews 2:1-4. The author does not want his readers to give up. Their participation in the household of God as it is now defined in terms of Christ depends on their holding firmly to the confidence and pride of their hope. That confidence is, in fact, Jesus. The pride of their hope is Jesus. Just as Jesus was faithful in the household of God by obediently fulfilling the Father's will, the writer wants his readers to be faithful also. The pride and joy of their hope is the assurance that because of Christ's faithful obedience, God will bring them through the difficult times to victory. There might be suffering; there might even be death - there was for Jesus, but through death there was also victory over death.
The pressures we experience in the modern Western world are not usually the same as the persecutions faced by the first readers of Hebrews. But the confident assurance of our hope can be the same. Whatever the pressure, whatever the difficulty, Christ's faithfulness and his victory over the one who holds the power of death provides us with the confident assurance that he is capable of meeting our needs also.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray that the Lord would speak to you through his Holy Spirit as you open yourself to his word.
First Day: Read the notes on Hebrews 2:5-3:6. Look up the Scripture references that were given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that caught your attention and seemed important to you. Tell why the idea seems significant.
2. Select a truth for which you see a particular personal application in your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking God to help you follow the trail blazer, Christ, in the journey toward full obedience and fellowship with him.
Second Day: Read Hebrews 3:1-19. Focus in on Hebrews 3:7-11.
1. The focus verses mention events that took place at Meribah and Massah. Read Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13. Describe the attitude of the Israelites at Meribah and Massah. Should or should they have not had that attitude? Why?
2. Hebrews 3:7-11 quote Psalm 95:7b-11. Read all of Psalm 95. What truths in Psalm 95:1-7 prepare you for the appeal of verses 7-11?
3. In what ways have you tested God or been tempted to test God? How should have you responded at those times?
Third Day: Read Hebrews 3:1-19. Focus on verses 12-19 now.
1. What is the warning that the author sounds in these verses? In what ways does a similar danger exist today?
2. What responsibilities toward other believers do we have according to these verses? What are some ways in which we can carry out those responsibilities?
3. Read 1 Corinthians 10:16-22. What does that passage along with Hebrews 3:12-15 teach us about being partners of Christ?
Fourth Day: Read Hebrews 3:1-19. Focus your attention again on verses 12-19.
1. Summarize the overall message of Hebrews 3:12-19 in your own words. What is the single most important thought?
2. Verses 16-18 are based on Number 14:1-4, 34, 41. Read Numbers 13-14. What are the similarities and differences between the message of Numbers 13-14 and the message of Hebrews 3:12-19?
3. What are some areas of spiritual maturity that you have not yet entered? Is unbelief or disobedience a reason you have not entered these growth areas? Write a brief prayer asking God's help in making a spiritual break-through in these areas this year.
Fifth Day: Read Hebrews 3:7-4:11. Now focus in on Hebrews 4:1-5.
1. What do you think the author means when he speaks of "rest" in these verses?
2. What is the role of faith for entering that "rest?" Why is faith so important?
3. Are there some areas of your life in which you have not learned to rest in God? What do you need to do to begin to learn that kind of rest?
Sixth Day: Read Hebrews 3:12-4:11. Focus on Hebrews 4:6-11.
1. What is the reason the writer of Hebrews gives for those who do not enter the "rest?"
2. The writer compares the "rest" of faith to the Sabbath rest of God following creation. What would a Sabbath rest mean for you? What adjustments in your schedule would you need to make to have a Sabbath rest?
3. Write a prayer describing your desire to rest your faith in Christ and Christ alone.