Hebrews – Week 3: Jesus, Angels and Humanity

Hebrews 1:5 – 2:18

Historical context

Angels

Angels had a special place of reverence for the Jews in the NT (and today). One can get an idea of the status of angels when studying the letters to the seven churches in Revelation – all of them addressed to the “angel of the church in …” The meaning of the Greek word “angelos” – variously translated as angel, messenger (from God), pastor, or leader.

In the hierarchy of the Jewish mind you had first God, then angels, then human beings and then animals and plants.

Angels healed God’s servants from impurity (Isaiah 6, Zechariah 3), petitioned God on behalf of humans (Zechariah 1), acted as warriors (Daniel 10,12) and messengers from God (Genesis 18, Judges 13).

Literary context

In the introductory paragraph the focus is on Jesus as the divine Son of God, expressing the very character of God. Since we are called to imitate God, and since Jesus is the exact representation of God, it makes sense that Jesus – as the final expression of God’s Word – is worthy of imitation. He himself is the message – in contrast to the message previously revealed to the ancient Jews through the prophets.

This section ends with the simple statement that Jesus is superior to the angels (with the implication that His message is also superior – but more about that later).

The following section – which we are now studying – goes into detail of how the message of Christ is superior to that of the angels, despite him becoming human, flesh and blood. A brief explanation as to why this was necessary is included and the wonder of the gospel is explained.

Once this is established, the author concludes in chapter 3 and following that Jesus’ message is greater than that of Moses, and that the audience should be careful not to drift away from this good news (back into the laws and regulations of Judaism).

Analysis

Verses 5-13 continues the argument regarding Jesus’ divinity, especially his superiority to the angels. While angels are revered and respected as messengers of God (bearing in mind that Satan is also an angel turned bad), Jesus is infinitely more and of higher rank. Later on the argument develops similarly pertaining to humans.

1:14 Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

The angels are servants sent by God so that they can care for God’s people. The brothers and sisters of Jesus.

2:1 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.

The perseverance of the saints (can you lose your salvation or not) is not the main point of this passage. This passage is rather a continuation of the foregoing and what follows, i.e. celebrating the supremacy of Christ and in particular God’s message that He revealed to us through Christ.

2:2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

Despite making the very strong point in this letter regarding the supremacy of Christ, the author also makes it clear that the message has not changed – even if it was delivered by angels who are subordinate to Christ. According to Jewish tradition, the law was delivered to Moses on Mt Sinai by angels (Gal 3:19, Acts 7:53).

The message in this sub-passage seems to be that since the law has always stood firm, so the consequences – which no one can escape. Therefore, do not ignore the great salvation that is available, announced by Jesus himself and then passed on by other believers who heard him speak. It seemed to be normal that the salvation message was accompanied by signs and wonders in the early church.

2:5 And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6 For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,

or a son of man that you should care for him?

7 Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels

and crowned them with glory and honor.

8 You gave them authority over all things.”

 When God created human beings, he gave them authority (dominion) over the earth – Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

With the fall, man gave up this authority, and seems to have handed it over to Satan who is the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 2 Cor 4:4).

However, there seems to be promise for God’s people who will one day have authority over all things (1 Cor 6:2, Rev 3:21, Daniel 7:22, Luke 22:30). This is again the promise of future authority – as it was right in the beginning at creation.

In the mean-time, however, we live and work in God’s kingdom with delegated authority – Mathew 28:18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go an d make disciples of all the nations…”

2:8b Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. 9 What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honour.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.

This passage addresses the “already, but not yet” concept … Jesus already came to bring salvation and free us from sin and in the process introducing the Kingdom of God. He is already “crowned with glory and honour” and He has done everything necessary for us to experience it in its fullness, but we do not see or experience it yet – that is because Satan still has a degree of freedom in this world. Satan is finally punished (and fully contained) at the end of time – Revelation 20:10

10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.

I will praise you among your assembled people.”

 13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”

that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

 14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

This second section deals with the humanity of Christ and his close association with humanity. Humans who were “brought into glory” with Christ, are His brothers and sisters, and will as such share in His glory.

It was necessary for Christ to become human in every respect (completing the Biblical reference for Anselm of Canterbury’s statement that Jesus needed to be fully divine so that he would have the capacity to free us from sin (not having to pay for his own sin, since he is free of sin), but also fully human so that he would have the obligation to be punished for the sins of humanity).

The author makes a remarkable statement in verse 15, almost in passing stating the reason for our suffering and bondage, the ultimate consequence of sin: “he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

This does make sense in that the consequence of sin is death (Gen 2:17, Rom 6:23) and when we see death as more as simply a consequence of sin, but a person in the sense that it is the last foe defeated in Revelation 20:11-15, we can start coming to terms with the fact that death is humanity’s ultimate fear – we are slaves to the fear of death.

Reflection

This passage seems to deal with God’s solution to the ultimate fear of humanity – the seeming finality of death and the grave.

At the fall God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden lest they will also eat from the fruit of the tree of life (Gen 3:22). This has been reversed through the work of Christ on the cross and life is again available to humanity (Rev 22:2).

This is the Good News – and it can only be achieved through “the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.”

Application

How do we appropriate the “great salvation” referred to in Hebrews 2:3? The only way that this can be done is through faith in Christ (e.g. Ephesians 2:8).

As Adam and Christ represent humanity – the one introducing death, and the other life, so the fear of death represents all fear – being the ultimate fear.

The opposite of fear is faith and we are assured that through Christ we can be delivered of all fear. Because He was tempted and experienced what we experienced, He is able to help us to deal with this.

We know that in the end we do not need to fear death as death and the grave is finally defeated, but deliverance is already available here and now through Christ.

(All Scripture quotes from NLT)

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