The Superiority of Christ
In the midst of showing Christ’s superiority to angels, the author of Hebrews paused to apply what he had presented previously. He then warned and exhorted Jewish believers in Jesus—the recipients of this letter—not to neglect the superior revelation of salvation they have received from Christ. Because of opposition and persecution, these Hebrew Christians were dangerously close to renouncing their commitment to the Messiah. But doing so, he wrote, would bring inescapable discipline from the Lord.
Christ’s Stern Warning
Chapter 2 begins with a stern warning: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Heb. 2:1). Therefore points back to the preceding revelation of Christ’s preeminence as the Son of God. The phrase drift away pictures a boat that is loose from its moorings and is floating into unsafe waters. These Jewish believers were exhorted to heed the revelation, or they would “drift away” from their new faith.
The author continued to illustrate his point:
For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 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, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (vv. 2–4).
Angels delivered the Old Testament Law to Moses, and it was binding on the house of Israel (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19). Those who disobeyed Moses’ Law suffered judgment. This being the case, how much greater the judgment would be on all who disregarded revelation through Christ.
Those addressed here are a generation of Jewish believers who did not hear Jesus personally. They received Christ through the witness of apostles who performed signs, wonders, and miracles that authenticated and confirmed their messages were from the Lord. To return to Judaism and the Levitical system would indicate indifference to Christ’s revelation and their profession of salvation. If God punished indifference to the Law given through angels, He would certainly punish those who were indifferent to the revelation of His Son.
At this point the author returned to his theme of Christ’s preeminence over angels. In the preceding chapter, he revealed that Jesus the Son of God is eternal and coequal with God the Father and is now seated at the Father’s right hand. So why did the Son leave heaven and become incarnate? The remaining verses of the chapter answer that question.
Christ’s Sacrificial Work
Christ Is Sovereign. Although angels are great and glorious, the Lord “has not put the world to come [the Millennial Kingdom]…in subjection to angels” (v. 5). It was always God’s plan to give man dominion over His creation (Gen. 1:27–30). God ordained that man should rule over the earth. Knowing this fact, the author asked a rhetorical question, quoting Psalm 8:4: “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him?” (Heb. 2:6). That is, Why does God, who created the vast universe, care for an insignificant creature like weak and puny man who appears as less than a speck in God’s universe?
Continuing to quote from Psalm 8, the author cited four facets of God’s design for humanity. (1) Man is distinguished in rank: “You have made him a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:7). Man was created lower physically since he is limited to Earth, but not lower in spiritual rank. (2) Man was created with dignity: “You have crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 7). In his unfallen state, Adam was the federal head of humanity; and in his exalted position over creation, he was crowned or granted glory and honor. (3) Man received dominion: God “set him over the works of [His] hands” (v. 7). In his unfallen state, man was granted authority and responsibility to rule the world (Gen. 1:28). But after the fall, this privilege was removed. (4) Man has a destiny: “You have put all things in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:8).
Because of sin, God set aside—but did not terminate—His original design for mankind to rule the world. At Christ’s Second Coming, He will establish the Millennial Kingdom and restore—to redeemed man, this time—the right to rule the Earth.
A number of scholars do not believe these verses refer to humanity but to Christ because Jesus used the phrase Son of Man, referring to Himself in the Gospels. Although Christ will be the one who ultimately rules over all things (1:13), the author of Hebrews probably had mankind in mind up to this point. Psalm 8 refers to mankind, and the author of Hebrews focused on mankind’s status in creation in order to emphasize the exaltation of Christ later in this chapter.
A commentator explained: “The author may have been thinking about the double meaning included in the words ‘son of man,’ showing that Jesus fulfilled the role and destiny originally commissioned to people. What humans could not do, Jesus will do.”1
Christ Was Submissive. Jesus came to Earth as a man to redeem mankind from its fallen state and to regain mankind’s original destiny: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
The name Jesus, rather than the title Christ, is used to stress both His humanity and humiliating death on the cross. His mission in coming to Earth is declared in verse 9. Although He is the Creator and Lord over all angels, He took on flesh and became a man, becoming a little lower than the angels. His purpose: to die physically in man’s place (paying the price and penalty for the sins of all mankind) so that individuals could be redeemed and reconciled with God. Jesus’ humiliating death enables God’s grace (unmerited love and favor) to be manifested to all who put their faith in Him.
This entire plan was conceived in eternity past by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 4:28). Upon accomplishing His mission, the Lord arose from the dead and ascended back to heaven, where He is seated in exaltation at the Father’s right hand and is crowned with glory and honor.
Christ Secured Salvation. What God the Father did through Jesus was “fitting [proper, suitable, and not out of character]…in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect [complete, as having attained its goal] through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). The word captain refers to a pioneering prince or leader within a family. Jesus became a man within the family of mankind in order to become the leader of redemption through His death and resurrection.
Christ Sanctifies Saints. To those who have experienced salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, He becomes their Sanctifier—the one putting them on a path to holiness: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one” (v. 11). Believers are united out “of one” source with Jesus in the sanctifying process, and “He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (v. 11).
This union between Christ and His brethren was spoken of in three Old Testament passages: Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17–18. Those who come to Christ are united with Him and identified as His “brethren” (Heb. 2:12; cf. Ps. 22:22). While Jesus endured suffering on Earth and eventual death, He put “trust in Him [God]” (Heb. 2:13; cf. Isa. 8:17 [Septuagint]) and was completely dependent on Him, becoming an example for His brethren to follow. All believers are children of God, and God the Father gave them to Christ (Heb. 2:13; cf. Isa. 8:18 [Septuagint]).
Christ Subdued Satan. Another reason Jesus came to Earth was to set man free from bondage to the Devil’s power:
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, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14–15).
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ broke death’s power and the Devil’s power over death. The word destroy does not mean the Devil has been annihilated or is inactive. Rather, at the cross, his power was rendered inoperative or ineffective in holding believers in bondage. Believers have been delivered from spiritual death now and will be delivered from physical death at the Rapture. Thus, those who put faith in Christ no longer need fear the sting of dying because death is swallowed up in the victory and deliverance gained through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54–57).
Christ Sympathizes With Sufferers. Jesus did not come to bring salvation to angels but to people: “For indeed He does not give aid to [take on the nature of] angels, but He does give aid to [takes on] the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16). It is not angels whom He came to save, but the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham. The verbs in this verse are in the present tense, indicating that Christ’s help did not stop with providing salvation; it is ongoing to the redeemed.
Christ became incarnate so that “He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God” (v. 17). A high priest in Judaism mediated between God and Israel. He offered sacrifices according to the Mosaic Law and interceded for the sins of the Jewish people. Christ was “merciful,” or full of compassion and sympathy, which was often lacking in Aaronic priests who were sometimes unfeeling and cruel. He was “faithful,” or showed uncompromising fidelity, in His priestly service to God when He made “propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17). In short, propitiation is the aspect of Christ’s atoning death that satisfied the righteous demands of God’s judicial holiness and wrath (provoked by mankind’s sin), thereby making it possible for God to show mercy and bestow salvation on all who believe.
In becoming a man, Jesus experienced human temptation, testing, and suffering: “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted [tested], He is able to aid those who are tempted” (v. 18). Feeling the full force of Satan’s cunning, power, and wrath, Jesus endured greater testing than any man, being tested “in all points…as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
Thus Jesus is “able to aid,” or bring immediate help and relief, to those who cry out for His assistance in their times of testing because He understands their human condition and weakness.
Jesus Christ is superior to angels in His person and work, and He is uniquely qualified to satisfy the righteous demands of God. Jesus provided salvation through His death on the cross and is swift to help people in their times of trouble. Therefore, it behooves everyone, especially believers, to heed the warning not to neglect the Lord or the “so great salvation” He has provided.
- Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman, Linda Taylor, and Philip Comfort, Hebrews, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1997), 20–21.