Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentHebrews 2
AN EXHORTATION FOUNDED UPON CHRIST'S SUPERIORITY
FURTHER TEACHINGS IN REGARD TO ANGELS, SATAN, AND CHRIST AS HIGH PRIEST
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we should drift away from them.
The first four verses of this chapter are a digression from the main line of thought for the purpose of exhorting the readers to a more alert fidelity to God's word; and there are no less than five instances in the epistle where such a digression is made. It should not be overlooked that this is a marked characteristic of all Paul's writings. New said, "Like the acknowledged epistles of Paul, this is characterized by frequent, sudden, and brief departures from the general outline of thought." F1 The basis of the exhortation here is that more is required of them to whom more is given, a principle taught by Christ (Luke 12:48); Christ the Son of God, being far greater in dignity than any of those who communicated the Old Testament truths to mankind, is therefore, the argument runs, entitled to receive more careful and obedient attention from them that hear him.
The pivotal words are [Greek: prosechein] ("to give heed") and [Greek: pararrein] ("to slip, to drift") .... Both terms are used in a nautical sense .... It is the picture of a ship "slipping" past its haven because the pilot has not paid "attention" to the course. F2
It is possible to drift away from the teachings of Christ because: (1) some, being in him, are still not anchored in him; (2) subtle and powerful tides and currents surge and tug against the soul's safety; (3) the believer fails to exercise due care and diligence in the defense and development of his faith; and (4) some allow preoccupation with unimportant and secondary things to preempt too much of their time and attention.
The description of apostasy given in this verse is true to life for people seldom turn boldly and dramatically away from the Lord; but their defection, imperceptible at first, is marked by such a gradual departure that the unwary soul is blind to it until the haven is lost and the storms of the great gulf herald the approach of eternal ruin.
For if the word spoken through angels proved stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.
The mediation of angels in the giving of the Law of Moses was not stated at that time, the nearest thing to it being found thus: "He came with ten thousands of saints; from his right hand went a fiery law before them" (Deuteronomy 33:2). Paul stated it clearly, saying that the Law "was ordained through angels in the hands of a mediator" (Galatians 3:19); and Stephen also made reference to it, speaking of them "who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not" (Acts 7:53). The argument is that God's word, although received second or third hand through Moses and angels, was despite that a sacred and binding obligation, not to be despised or set at naught, and was sternly enforced by the imposition of drastic penalties for every infraction or neglect. Many examples of such penalties are recorded in the Old Testament. The sabbath breaker was stoned; Achan was put to death; Saul was rejected from being king; David was not permitted to build the temple; the prophet who did not obey was slain by a lion; and an entire generation perished in the wilderness because of their murmuring and disbelief. Even Moses was restrained from entering the promised land because of his disobedience in striking the rock.
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard?
Escape? None is possible where disobedience of the word of God is involved. Penalties of the most awful consequence await the soul which through unbelief, neglect, or disobedience fails to heed God's message through his Son. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). The inevitability of sin's receiving its just punishment is founded in the holiness and perfection of God, coupled with the utter abhorrence of evil, the latter attribute of God being little noted by many in this day; but everything revealed in the Bible concerning God shows that sin will be punished. God has already executed judgments upon the wicked, and these emphasize the extent of the divine will in that direction. There have already been imposed upon wicked men overwhelming judgments of sorrow and wretchedness because they obeyed not, not merely upon individuals alone, but upon nations, races, cities, extensive populations, and indeed upon the entire race of Adam! Witness the expulsion from Eden, the overthrow of the antedeluvians, and the summary destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the casting out of the angels themselves when they sinned, their removal being recorded in the same verse that detailed their crime; and it is written that they are reserved in chains of darkness until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. Let every man ask himself, "How shall I escape where so many have failed?"
In the cross of Christ you read a manifestation of the wrath of God against iniquity, which must reduce to hopelessness every considerate person still living in sin, or must reduce to silence at the last day every sinner that will cling to delusive hope. F3
It is not necessary to take up arms against God in order to be lost. Not merely the active pursuit of evil but the neglect of positive good can destroy the soul; and it is doubtless from the latter fault that the great majority of unredeemed people shall fail to win the crown.
So great a salvation
is an appropriate designation for the redemption in Christ; and the true greatness of it is apparent because of: (1) the greatness of the Saviour who achieved it; (2) the greatness of the disaster from which it rescues the sinner; (3) the greatness of the eternal reward in heaven provided by it; (4) the greatness of the Saviour's love that underlies it; (5) the greatness of the adversary who opposes it; (6) the greatness of that multitude who shall receive it; and (7) the greatness of those certainties upon which it is grounded.
The contrast in this verse is between the sinners of the Old Testament and the New Testament, leading to the conclusion that if they suffered punishment for disobeying the word that came through angels, how much more certain is it that the wrath and judgment of God shall be executed upon them that neglect or disobey the word delivered by God's Son himself.
Which having at the first been spoken through the Lord
must be one of the most significant utterances in the whole sum of divine revelation. It defines Christianity as the message brought by Christ. Not even the function of the Holy Spirit in the apostles contravened this, for it was declared by Christ of the work of the Spirit that he should "not speak from himself" (John 16:13) but aid their "rememberance" (John 14:26) of the things Christ had spoken. The true faith was Christ-delivered; and Christ is the only source of the words of life (John 6:68). The bearing of this exceedingly significant truth upon the religious problems of these times is seen in the fact that such a vast body of man-originated doctrines, human innovations, and traditional ceremonies have been received, all of which have no connection whatever with Christ. People who accept such things should look to people for their reward, since it is so certain that Christ is not the author of those things. The practical effect of this verse before us is to limit Christianity to the teachings of the New Testament and those parts of the Old Testament approved in the New Testament. Christ made his sayings the basis of everything (Matthew 7:24-27). The great commission made the charter and constitution of faith to be, in the words of Jesus, "Whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). If Christ did not teach it, therefore, it is not part of the Christian religion. And since only the New Testament contains authentic teachings of Christ, it is altogether proper to refer to Christ's system as New Testament Christianity.
Was confirmed unto us by them that heard.
These words are said to remove the apostle Paul from consideration as the author of Hebrews. Cargill, for example, wrote that "Heb. 2:3 indicates that Paul was not the author of the book, because the writer says that he received the gospel secondhand, from those who heard the Lord himself." F4 Common as this view is, it carries no weight at all with this writer. See under "Authorship" in the introduction. Suffice it to say here that the text says nothing that requires one to view it as anything except a delicate and gracious indentification of the author with his readers for the sake of making a more personal and persuasive appeal for their obedience; and for a commentator to interpret the word "secondhand" out of the pronoun "us" is to make that pronoun about the most pregnant ever heard of. The writer of Hebrews used this very same approach in Heb. 6:1-5, and in that instance, there is no question but that he did it for the purpose of achieving a better rapport with his readers and to make a stronger appeal. Since it is certainly the case there, why should it be considered as anything else here?
The confirming of the word of Christ, mentioned here, was, in a sense at least, unnecessary; because nothing can add to the truth and dependability of God's word. Such confirmation, then, must be viewed as a heavenly concession to the decent opinions of mankind, and as respect to the scriptural admonition to establish everything in the mouth of two or three witnesses. The confirming witnesses of Christ's revelation were: (1) the miraculous deeds that accompanied it; (2) the witness of the apostles; and (3) the various gifts of the Holy Spirit next mentioned.
God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.
The signs, wonders, and powers mentioned in this verse are a plain reference to the miracles by which God throughout history consented to authenticate his message to man. Moses appeared before Pharaoh in a series of astounding miracles; Gideon tested the word with the fleece; Elijah raised the son of the widow; Elijah healed the leprosy of Naaman; and so on throughout the Old Testament; but the miracles of Christ are the most impressive and convincing wonders ever to appear upon the earth. Their utility in achieving the desired result is apparent in the testimony of Nicodemus who admitted that "No one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2). Christ established the principle that the ability to perform a miracle resides in any person who can forgive sins, saying, "Which is easier, to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins are forgiven; or to say, Arise, take up thy bed and walk?" (Mark 2:9).
Thus, it was in full keeping with the pattern already established by God himself that the new revelation preached unto people through the apostles of Jesus should have been corroborated and confirmed by certain miracles. The very birthday of the church on that first Pentecost saw the apostles speaking with tongues, not the ecstatic jabberings that later embarrassed the disciples at Corinth, but authentic tongues which citizens of many lands heard, each in his own language. Another miracle was the gift of prophecy, exercised, for example, by Paul when he prophesied that all on board the shipwrecked vessel would be spared alive (Acts 27:34). The apostles also had the power to cast out demons, as in the case of the girl at Philippi (Acts 16:18), the power to inflict divine punishment upon the wicked, as in the case of Elymas who was blinded (Acts 13:11) and that of Ananias and his wife who were stricken with death (Acts 5:1-10). Overwhelmingly, therefore, were the confirming miracles establishing the word of the apostles of Christ as being truly that of God himself.
Why, then, have miracles ceased? If miracles were a good thing in the first age of the church, why not now? Perhaps the answer lies in a study of God's dealings with ancient Israel, a study that quickly reveals the temporary nature of miracles. When Israel entered Canaan, the manna ceased; the pillar of cloud and fire no longer guarded them; and the nation entered a new era (Joshua 5:12). The cessation of miracles in Canaan should lead people to expect that they should have ceased after a few years in the early history of the church. Paul said, "Whether there be tongues they shall cease" (1 Corinthians 13:8). The word of God, having been delivered by Christ and sufficiently confirmed by miracles attending the age of the apostles, there was no further need of miracles. Nor should the claims of certain modern religious teachers to the effect that they can do such wonders as those attesting the validity of the apostles' preaching deceive men. Clearly, no miracles of the scope and significance of those the apostles did are being performed by anybody today. They raised the dead; modern healers do not do so. There are also many other points of variance. Therefore, the claims of miracles, even when seemingly authentic, raises a further question of the origin of such wonders; are they of God? Does God's word need confirming again, or can it be that Satan is operating even as the ancient prophecy foretold, "with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved"? (2 Thessalonians 2:9,10). On the basis of that prophecy, and in view of the marked differences between the so-called miracles in modern times and those of the apostolic age, modern miracles must be held as suspect, regarding both their validity and their origin.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit are a part of the perpetual inheritance of the church; but, even here, there are limitations defining the present age as distinguished from that of the apostles. In that age, the gift of the Spirit enabled the speaker to communicate in languages he had not learned, guided them in the execution of penalties upon the wicked, protected them from such things as poisonous serpents, enabled them to foretell future events, empowered them to raise even the dead, and to heal all manner of diseases. Christians today have a measure of the Holy Spirit and spend their probation under the precious influence of that Spirit; but it simply does not appear that they are able to do such things as the apostles did. That such a limitation of the gift of the Holy Spirit is by divine purpose seems probable in the light of its being called "an earnest" (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5), which means a token or a pledge. Further, the scripture that most fully describes the work and benefit of the Spirit in Christians, has no mention at all of any such things described above but dwells upon inner qualities of attitude and character. These are listed as "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22).
This verse concludes the first of the five special passages of exhortation in Hebrews; and the author's plea for faithful adherence to God's word being concluded, he returned to the subject from which he had broken off.
Verses 5, 6, 7
For not unto angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou crownedest him with glory and honor, And didst set him over the works of thy hands.
Although the great theme continues to be the superiority of Christ, at this point the problem of Christ's sufferings begins to come into view. As Lenski expressed it, "With Heb. 2:5 humiliation begins, the humiliation of Christ's sufferings." F5 Even the humiliation of Christ, however, is made to support the thesis of his overwhelming superiority over angels because, AS ADAM WAS CREATED, even man was superior to angels. Thus Christ, the second Adam, took up in his human nature where the first Adam left off, but without his sin; therefore Christ, on the lowest plane of his being, that of the incarnated state, possessed in his human nature the superiority over angels that Adam had before the fall.
Quoting from Psa. 8:4ff, the author showed from that passage that people, not angels, are destined to be placed over all the works of God's hands; and, of course, from what was written earlier, it is seen that HUMAN NATURE in the person of Christ risen and glorified has already begun to enjoy royal dignity like that foretold in the Psalm concerning people. As Thomas noted,
It is not to angels but to men, in the representative man Christ Jesus, that God has subjected the coming habitable world. Thus the Son is better than angels, not only as the revealer of God (Heb. 1) but also, as will now be shown, as the representative of man. F6
The difficulty of this passage is seen in the author's argument for the superiority of Christ, while at the same time quoting a passage from the Old Testament that seems to contradict it, "Thou madest him a little lower than the angels." The English Revised Version (1885) rendition of the quotation reads, "Thou hast made him a little lower than God"; and, of course, that would remove the difficulty were it not for Heb. 2:9, "But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels." The key to the problem is the expression "a little lower," which actually means "for a little while lower." (See English Revised Version (1885) margin.) The only exception in Christ's superiority over angels was therefore in this, that for a short while he was made lower in order to taste of death for every man; but the short duration of that exception and the grand achievement wrought by it leave the major thesis of Christ's superiority unimpaired.
Throughout all his incarnation, other than that excepted, the angels served Christ, attended his every desire, and were upon call at his request (Matthew 26:53). Therefore, his being made "for a little while" lower than angels was only for this that he might die for man's sin. That death, so absolutely necessary for man's redemption, involved his actually being made sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Surely, therefore, in his humiliation and death, Christ descended to a place lower than angels; but that in no way diminished his superiority over them, because it was for such a brief time, and altogether vicarious at that. The word that declares Christ to have been made sin on our behalf begins with the affirmation that he "knew no sin?'
Apparently, therefore, the author of Hebrews is still affirming the superiority of Christ over angels throughout his entire incarnation (except for that "for a little while lower"), which would therefore justify and make applicable to Christ as perfect man the bold declarations of Psalm 8 regarding man's being placed over the works of God's hands, etc. The special glory that pertained to Christ even in the deepest of his humiliation appears in the fact that God crowned him with glory and honor for that awesome crisis (see Hebrews 2:9).
It is wrong to refer the royal dignity of man to some far-off utopian state such as a millennium; because the coming age has already arrived, or at least dawned (Hebrews 1:1,2). The author of Hebrews makes much of the new order ushered in by Christ. Robertson noted that "The author is discussing this new order introduced by Christ which makes obsolete the old dispensation of rites and symbols." F7 Bruce also identified "the world to come" as "the new world order inaugurated by the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God." F8
What is man ...
This inspiring passage of Psalm 8 dwells upon the paradox of man's physical insignificance contrasted with his spiritual importance, so great that even God is mindful of him. The words "but one hath somewhere testified" do not imply any uncertainty as to the authorship of Psalm 8, which was known both to the author and to his readers as David's; but this was merely a literary way of introducing a quotation. Besides, since the entire Old Testament was held in honor as God's word, it was not necessary to identify the particular writer through whom God spoke.
The son of man
is part of a Hebrew parallelism and means the same thing as "man" in the other clause. Before leaving this wonderful passage, it is well to think of the physical littleness of man, small enough as compared even with other creatures in the animal kingdom, but whose whole environment, earth and all, appears only as a speck of dust in a limitless universe. Lenski wrote that "Modern skepticism, especially Deism and philosophy, observing man's insignificance, imagine that, if there is a God at all, he certainly cannot bother with us little creatures." F9 In the scriptures, however, all that is changed. Man is of eternal consequence, potentially an heir of the blood of Christ and a candidate for everlasting glory; and the reasons for this are clearly outlined.
Thou madest him a little lower than the angels ...
Psa. 8:5 from which this is quoted actually says, "thou hast made him a little lower than God"; but whichever reading is used the meaning is unaltered, the superiority of Christ over angels being unaffected, as noted above. Dummelow wisely noted the important implications of this text thus: "The words imply the doctrine of the incarnation of One who was essentially and previously higher than angels." F10 Holding to the inspiration of the writer of Hebrews, we accept "angels" as the proper translation of Psa. 8:5, which is the way it appears in the Septuagint, and from which it is alleged the author quoted. However, it does no violence to speak of man as but a little lower than God; for the scriptures, in some instances, actually refer to people as "gods." Psa. 82:6 has, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High." It was to this very passage that Christ appealed in these words,
Is it not written in your law, I said,
Ye are gods? If he called them gods,
unto whom the word of God came (and
scriptures cannot be broken), say ye
to him, whom the Father sanctifieth
and sent into the world, Thou
blasphemest; because I said, I am the
son of God? (John 10:34-36).
Thus, there is truly a sense in which people are gods.
The import of this passage challenges people to look beyond the failures, foibles, sins, and wretchedness of people as they appear in their lost and sinful condition and to behold the man perfect and glorious as he was created "in the image of God," and destined for lordship over all God's creation. Mankind in the person of our Lord was returned and uplifted to that exalted state; and yet, through failure to accept Christ and dwell in him, man remains still far short of what the Creator intended. Cargill commented on that failure thus,
Considering the divine origin of man,
and the Bible's description of his
potential to master the universe, it
is exasperating to look around and see
his pitiful condition. He should be
free but is bound; he is described as
king, but is actually a slave. Man is
frustrated by circumstance, defeated
by temptations, gird about with
weakness, and finally humiliated with
The author therefore has maintained the supremacy of Christ over angels, in spite of what seemed at first a difficulty posed by the incarnation, especially the passion and death. But the difficulty was cleared up on the basis of these considerations: (1) Christ's incarnation was served by angels who ministered to him throughout all of it. (2) His being made lower than angels, as the scriptures said of him, was but for "a little while," and for the noblest purpose. (3) Christ's being made a man is no problem at all, when it is remembered that man himself, when viewed AS GOD MADE HIM, is higher than the angels, since it is said that man is made in God's image and was given dominion over all things; and it should be remembered that Christ became man in the highest and best sense.
Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he subjected all things unto him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.
This verse emphasizes the differences between man's potential and what he has actually become. The grave consequences of the fall of Adam, the expulsion from Eden, the cursing of the ground, and the imposition of the penalty of death - all these things have for long ages frustrated the human attainment of the purpose of God in man. Instead of all things being in subjection to him, man finds that he cannot even control himself; and beyond that there are countless things that he cannot subdue or subject to himself, so much so that unaided humanity must ever despair of any true realization of the royal dominion assigned in Gen. 1. But Jesus Christ came, taking upon him the form of a servant, providing for the plenary discharge of man's sins, tasting of death for every man, and rising to heaven with man's glorified nature upon him, and thus on man's behalf achieving that dominion of man intended from the beginning. Although prior to this writing of Hebrews, Psalm 8 was never understood as Messianic, yet it is only in the Messiah that it could ever be true.
But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man.
Here is the abysmal depth in which, for a little while, the Son became lower than the angels. (The true translation is "for a little while"; see English Revised Version (1885) margin.) As G. Campbell Morgan so well expressed it,
The Son was made lower than the
angels, descending to the level of
human nature (especially regarding his
passion and death), in order that he
might die. From death, angels are
exempt; therefore, he passed them by,
coming not merely to the level of
ideal humanity, but to the level of
failing humanity; made lower than the
angels that he might taste of
This verse has one of the most astounding statements in the Bible, i.e., that Christ was crowned with glory and honor in order that he might taste death for every man. Again, from Morgan, "The amazing and revealing declaration then is that God conferred upon his eternal Son a crown of glory when he gave him to death for the ransom of the race." F13 Here is set forth the importance and centrality of the death of Christ, not merely for some, but for every man. Christ did not come into this world merely to deliver noble teaching, nor to establish some kind of ideal, but to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world.
For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
On this place, Westcott noted that
The difficulties which at first sight
beset the conception of a suffering
Messiah vanish upon closer thought.
For when we consider what is the
relationship between the Son of man
and men - the Son and the sons -
what man's condition is and how he can
be redeemed only through divine
fellowship, we ourselves can discern
the "fitness" of the divine method of
redemption. So far, therefore, from
the death of Christ being an objection
to his claims, it really falls in with
what deeper reflection suggests. F14
The use of the word "became" is in the sense of that which compliments or enhances; and it calls attention to the excellent beauty and perfection in all of God's work, even in the smallest particulars. In all the wondrous annals of the scheme of redemption, there is no ill-fitting or unbecoming thing, but only total loveliness, appropriateness, and aesthetic satisfaction pertaining to everything that God did. How marvelous are his ways. The cross itself, dark and terrible as it looms upon the horizon of human history, is clothed with glory and beauty that surpass the imagination; and, seeing this, Christ said, "And, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32).
The word "author" is also translated "captain" (English Revised Version margin), and some have found in the word such a meaning as "pathfinder" or "pioneer." Another word of challenging interest in this verse is "perfect," which poses a problem; for how can the author speak of Christ's being made perfect when he is already perfect? Bruce commented thus,
The perfect Son of God has become the
people's perfect Saviour, opening up
their way to God; and in order to
become that, he must endure suffering
and death. The pathway of perfection
which his people must tread must first
be trodden by the Pathfinder. F15
For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.
This is a further explanation of the fitness of Christ's death for people. Since the Son has taken upon him the form of human beings, and in that sense is one with them, he is not ashamed to call them brethren, even to the extent of partaking of all their sorrows and sufferings, even death itself. The sanctification spoken of here is on a higher level than is usually thought of in connection with this term. It applies to the setting up of a new relationship to God rather than to achieving some greater holiness of character and partakes of the meaning of "justification" as used by Paul in Romans and elsewhere. Adam Clarke, speaking of "sanctifieth" in this verse, wrote:
The word does not merely signify one
who sanctifies or makes holy, but one
who makes atonement or reconciliation
to God; and answers to the Hebrew word
[kaphar], to expiate (Exodus 29:33-36).
He that sanctifies is he that makes
the atonement; and they who are
sanctified are they who received the
atonement, and, being reconciled unto
God, become his children, through
adoption, by grace. F16
That Christ is "not ashamed to call them brethren" is a most instructive thought. That the sinless and perfect Saviour should not be ashamed of vile and sinful man, and through his great love for them, should consent to partake of all their sufferings, even death, and should even go so far as to receive them as his spiritual body and make of them his bride - that must be hailed as an attitude of loving grace that beggars all description. Nor will Christ ever be ashamed of his brethren but will confess them before God and his holy angels (Mark 8:38). But if the attitude of Christ toward people is so commendable beyond all human comprehension, how loathsome is the opposite attitude of people who are ashamed of him?
Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise.
As proof of Christ's being unashamed of his brethren, the author here begins a series of three quotations from the Old Testament, this one from Psa. 22, which opens with the words, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and which from New Testament times has been universally hailed as Messianic and as a detailed prophetic account of the crucifixion. The author of Psalm 22 is thought to be David who, as a type of Christ, came to his own throne through suffering which was followed by joyful fellowship. The second portion of the Psalm hails the triumph after rejection and sorrow (Psalms 22:22).
A choice of words by the author of Hebrews gives grounds for a very significant deduction, as pointed out by Bruce:
Our author uses the word [Greek: ekklesia] for congregation (the Hebrew
of Psa. 22:22 has [qahal]). The
employment of this word is a
synonymous parallelism with "brethren"
in a Christian context indicates that
those whom the Son of God is pleased
to call his brethren are the members
of his church. F17
The dramatic meaning of this will not be lost in the good and honest heart.
And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me.
This quotation from Isa. 8:17ff shows the Old Testament basis for Christ's not being ashamed of his brethren, the Messianic import from the quotation being that the Messiah shall not be glorified alone, but in conjunction with his spiritual "children," synonymous with "brethren." This use of the term "children," thus making disciples to be the sons of Christ, although the term is not so used elsewhere in the New Testament, is nevertheless founded on a valid deduction from this place in Isaiah and is also supported by Isa. 53:10 which has, "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed." There is also another point in the quotation, i.e., that God has given those children, which has New Testament corroboration in John 17:9, "I pray not for the world but for those whom thou hast given me."
Since the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.
The superiority of mortal man to the animal kingdom is implicit in the word that they are sharers in flesh and blood, indicating some higher element in man's existence. Milligan and Lenski agree in this interpretation of "sharers."
This implies that "flesh and blood" is
not, as in the case of the brute
creatures, the whole of their being;
theft soul or spirit, their real
person exists only in fellowship with
a physical body. F18
The apostle does not say that the
children are flesh and blood, but they
have been made partakers of flesh and
blood; thereby making a distinction
between what constitutes the essential
and eternal part of man's nature, and
what is merely accidental, and in
which we now live, as in a clay
tabernacle (2 Corinthians 5:1). F19
Here is the explanation of the mingled love and pity that humankind have for animals, flesh and blood being the common bond between them, and man's higher self the impassable gulf that separates them. A sympathetic view of the essential kinship of man and animals is seen in these words of Borland,
And I saw the tracks of a rabbit, a
fox, two field mice. I heard a
cardinal whistle and a jay scream.
Warm blood like mine. Flesh, like
mine, that quivers with pain. Senses
keener than mine. F20
Partook of the same.
Christ took a mortal body, partaking of blood and flesh; and this is an essential Christian doctrine. "He who was manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16) was constantly extolled and adored from the earliest Christian times; and the man who would not receive the truth that "Christ came in the flesh" was held to be of the antichrist (1 John 4:3). The old creeds were altogether correct in their affirmation that Christ is both God and man and fully representative of both, being "wholly God and wholly man."
The reason for Christ's partaking of flesh is given in this verse, namely, that he through death might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. It is regrettable that so many modern scholars make so little of man's ancient and implacable foe, the devil; and although it must be confessed that faith in the devil never saved any person, yet the true believer does not hesitate to accept the things spoken by our Lord and the apostles concerning the person and devices of the evil one.
Death was the instrument Christ used to bring Satan to naught, and a more unlikely weapon cannot be imagined. That the death of Christ should have appeared to the author of Hebrews, and to Christians generally, as an instrument of world-shaking victory is absolutely astonishing and provides most convincing inferential evidence of the truth of Christ's resurrection. Think of the death of Christ. He was rejected, despised, condemned, and tortured to death, not in some out-of-the-way province, but in the very capital of Hebrew hopes and aspirations. Not even his disciples understood what was taking place, and their gloom is seen in the words of his followers who said, "But we had hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Abandoned by his disciples, hated by the leaders of the nation, betrayed by an apostle, Christ did not even defy the government in his dying agony, but spoke mysteriously of God's having "forsaken" him! Who could have believed that the followers of One who died that kind of death would be hailing it as a cosmic victory over the prince of evil within seven weeks and a day of the event itself?. And yet they were! Bruce said,
This sudden change from
disillusionment to triumph can only be
explained by the account which the
apostles gave - that their Master
rose from the dead and imparted to
them the power of his risen life. F21
Satan's weapon, death, was therefore wrested from him and used as the instrument of Satan's own destruction; and just as David took Goliath's own sword and cut off the giant's own head with it, David's greater Son took Satan's weapon of death and destroyed him with it. That all evil heads up to a fountain source in Satan is everywhere set forth in scripture, and that this source is personal and malignant is evident from the temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-4). That Satan had the power of death means that, by tempting Adam and Eve to sin and causing them to fall, he was the means of bringing death upon all mankind; and this may be the reason that Satan is called a "murderer" from the beginning (John 8:44). That the purpose of Satan toward the family of man is destructive, and only that, is evident from the examples of his operations, given now and again throughout the Bible. Thus, Satan brought death to Job's family (Job 1:19), entered the heart of Judas, making him a suicide (John 13:27), and accomplished the destruction of the swine as soon as his emissaries were permitted to enter them (Matthew 8:32).
How can it be said that Christ has brought the devil to naught? Satan was brought to naught in that his sole purpose regarding mankind was absolutely frustrated and eternally defeated. It should be noted that all of Satan's activity against humanity could have had only one objective, the destruction of the entire race, that being the primary objective of his seduction of Eve in Eden. Christ became a man, paid the penalty due Adam's transgression, and opened up the way for the renewal for the lost fellowship with God. The motivation of satanic opposition to people would appear to lie in the desire of the evil one to fight back against the Eternal who had cast him out of his former estate and reserved him unto punishment, mankind providing the only known opportunity of Satan for any kind of a counter-movement against God. The seduction of mankind, therefore, should be viewed as a device of Satan in striking at God through God's highest and favored creation, man. Inscrutable as the designs of God assuredly are, it is nevertheless possible to conjecture that God's motivation in permitting Satan's access to man was simply that of providing a test of man's faith and obedience, a test which the first parents miserably failed. Satan's failure was total and complete. He was not able to destroy mankind, but on the other hand found himself used as a means of testing and developing people; and the fact that some, even many, people will be lost must itself be seen as an utter failure of Satan to frustrate God's purpose; for God will doubtless create and redeem the total number of humankind included in the original purpose, regardless of Satan or evil men who will follow Satan. Exell expressed it thus,
Since Jesus died, the devil and his
power are destroyed. Destroyed?
Certainly. Not in the sense of being
extinct. Still, he assails the
Christian warrior, though armed from
head to foot; and goes about seeking
whom he may devour, and deceives men
to ruin. Yet he is destroyed. Are we
not all familiar with objects which
are destroyed without being actually
This verse outlining the victory of Christ over Satan, is actually the introduction of a theme to be treated extensively somewhat later in the epistle; and that is the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of humanity, called the atonement.
And might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
The victory over death, as announced here, was prophesied of old: "And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:7,8). This victory over death prophesied by Isaiah pinpoints some significant facts with reference to it. Where shall such a victory be achieved? "In this mountain," meaning on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, one of the mountains of Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac, and where our Lord suffered, Golgotha, nowhere else! (See "Isaac a Type of Christ" under 11:17). And at what time shall it be achieved? Isaiah's mention of the "veil" or "face of the covering" suggests that when the victory is achieved, a "veil" will be destroyed. That occurred when the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, an event conspicuously connected with the death of Christ on the cross. Thus, whether determined by the place the victory was won, on Mount Zion, or by the destruction of a veil, as of that in the temple, the victory was won by Christ alone. Here again is the same paradox noted in the preceding verse where the destruction of Satan did not mean he was annihilated. Likewise here, death is destroyed, and yet people die. How can this be?
Since the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:55), Christ's providing the remedy for sin has removed the most dreadful part of the fear of death, which is the fear of punishment afterward. Moreover, death with the resurrection to follow is not death in the former sense. It is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that robs death of so much of its terror; and it is Christ who said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live"! (John 11:25).
Cargill spoke of Christ's victory over death as follows:
He destroyed the principle of sin,
which is the cause of death. It is
just like the cure for polio; we have
it, but everyone is not cured;
however, the end of it as a dread
epidemic is in sight. Jesus
annihilated the effects of death in
his resurrection. He promises us the
same victory. F23
The fear of death is surely included in the word that says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18). Paul flatly declared to Timothy that Christ abolished death (2 Timothy 1:10).
For verily not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham.
It is hard to understand why the translators gave this rendition, since the margin gives the Greek text thus, "For verily not of angels doth he take hold, but he taketh hold of the seed of Abraham."
The meaning of this verse is that Christ took upon himself the flesh of the seed of Abraham; and the expression "he took hold of" is very illuminating, for it shows that Christ had an existence before he decided to partake of flesh and blood, and that it was by his own volition that he did so. Exell so understood this, as indicated by
He TOOK; he did not inherit or receive
a body. It is not the language that
describes the ordinary birth of a
common man. How strange it would
sound if we were to speak of our
children as if they had a thought or
volition respecting their nature, and
as if they were pleased to take on
them such and such a body, when they
were born. It describes voluntary
action. It was an act contemplated
beforehand. It implies not only
pre-existence, but power, dignity, and
MYSTERY OF FORGIVENESS
Also, here is a problem. Why did Christ elect to enter the arena of human life as a man and to suffer and die for human redemption, whereas it is revealed that he made no such decision or movement on behalf of fallen angels who also had sinned? People have offered learned explanations why such should have been so, alleging that angels sinned with their eyes open, whereas man was deceived, and that angels found the source of temptations within themselves and not from an external source, as in the case of man; but the view here is that it is a part of the mystery "hidden before times eternal!" and that it does not lie within the periphery of complete finite understanding. The forgiveness which God provided for man is absolutely unique, there being no precedent of any such thing in heaven or upon earth. Where, in all the universe, is there such a thing as the forgiveness of sins, apart from Christ our Lord? No forgiveness was provided for the angels when they sinned; none of the laws of God's natural creation ever forgave either man or beast; no one ever fell off a cliff and received a reprieve from the law of gravity; no dog ever forgave the quarry; no poisonous serpent ever forgave the victim; no hawk ever forgave the prey; and even in the Law of Moses, there was never any such thing as actual forgiveness, since sins were remembered again every year (Hebrews 10:3). How utterly unaccountable, therefore, is the heavenly grace exhibited on behalf of sinful man, a grace conveyed at such awful cost!
The fact of God's willingness to undertake the redemption of man, despite all precedent to the contrary, and without any hesitation at the extravagant price of it, added to the other plain implications of God's word in this chapter, bespeak the most overwhelming encouragement for humankind. The argument set forth in these verses presents Christ as superior to angels even during his incarnation as a man, a superiority that was not contravened even by Christ's being made "for a little while" lower than the angels that he might taste of death, thus making it plain that man himself (as God created him) is superior to angels. No imagination then, however fertile, can conceive the fullness of the privilege of being a human being, created in the image of God, immortal except for the fall, destined for dominion over all things, and enjoying such a kinship with the Creator as would make such a thing as the incarnation possible; and furthermore, after having thrown it all away through sin and transgression, receiving the further privilege of forgiveness through Christ and reinstatement as an heir of everlasting glory! Any soul that despises all that God has done for man is surely worthy of the death that God has ordained for them that "know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 1:8). At last, the lost themselves will have no word of defense or complaint but shall concur in speechless acceptance of their judgment; for they shall be like him of whom Jesus said, "He was speechless" (Matthew 22:12)!
The meaning of "taketh hold of" in this verse is two-fold according to Milligan, "The Greek word means: (1) to take hold of anything as one's own, and (2) to take hold of any person with a view to helping him." F25 Due to the emphasis on "partook of" in Heb. 2:14, and "made like unto his brethren" in Heb. 2:17, the first meaning seems preferable here; but, of course, since the purpose of Christ's partaking of flesh and blood was to help man, the second meaning is certainly not excluded.
CHOICE OF ABRAHAM
That Christ entered earthly life as a descendant of Abraham was due primarily to the promise of human redemption made to Abraham by God, to the effect that it would be in Abraham's seed that all the families of man should be blessed (Genesis 12:3). For Christ to have entered human life through any other human family would have vitiated that prophecy. Further, the choice of Abraham's posterity as the vehicle of God's entry into our earth life and the selection of Abraham to receive the promise did not derive from any caprice or partiality on God's part but were founded in the most convincing logic; and God saw fit to explain it as follows:
For I know the he (Abraham) will
command his children and his household
after him, and they shall keep the way
of the Lord, to do justice and
judgment; that the Lord may bring upon
Abraham that which he hath spoken of
him (Genesis 18:19).
Thus God discerned in Abraham the necessary qualities required for the long process through which redemption would be achieved. Any thought of partiality on the part of God disappears in the consideration that it was God's purpose to bless through Abraham's seed all the families of the earth, Jewish and Gentile alike, all of whom are invited to be Abraham's spiritual children (Galatians 3:9,16,29). All people should thank God that such a man as Abraham was found, whose broad shoulders could carry such a dreadful weight of responsibility. In the long centuries afterward, Abraham (in his posterity) surely did what God knew he would do, that is, "command his children after him," an ability which the Gentiles, on the other hand, conspicuously failed to demonstrate. A mention of the seed of Abraham in this verse is dramatic reference to the fact that the Jews themselves needed the help of that promised "seed" which was Christ, in order to achieve forgiveness. This was a truth which the wavering Jewish Christians who received Hebrews might be tempted to overlook.
Verses 17, 18
Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren that he might become 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 hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.
carries with it the idea of indebtedness, as of money owed, and indicates that Christ, having decided to help people, incurred the frightful obligations inherent in such a decision. "Like unto his brethren" is suggestive of the great prophecy concerning "that Prophet" (Deuteronomy 18:15) who was specifically promised as one who would be "like unto his brethren." That Christ was made "in all things" like his brethren should be qualified by the considerations that: (1) in his birth; (2) in his sinlessness; and (3) in his death for our sins according to the scriptures, Christ was utterly different from all others who ever lived. The expression "merciful and faithful high priest" involves a dual relationship, toward God and toward man.
"Merciful" is placed before the verb
and is thus emphatic; so that we
evidently have two predictions: "made
merciful" toward his brothers, and a
"faithful" high priest toward God. F26
The merciful nature of Christ's priesthood contrasted sharply with that of the cold and merciless Sadducees with whom the original readers of this epistle were familiar. Robertson noted that "The Sadducean high priests were political and ecclesiastical tools and puppets out of sympathy with the people and chosen by Rome." F27 The Jewish Christians who first received Hebrews must have warmed to the thought of such a high priest as Jesus is shown to be. It may at first seem that the designation of Christ as high priest in this place is abrupt, but it logically follows the marvelous statements made concerning him a little earlier, to the effect that he is the "author" of salvation, and made "purification for sins," and "tasted of death for every man." More on this below.
A merciful and faithful high priest
denominates Christ as the holy and effective high priest of his people, and much of the subsequent material in this epistle is concerned with an elaboration of this significant office of the Saviour. As Hewitt observed, "The word `high priest' occurs here for the first time in Hebrews. It is also the first time that it is directly applied to Jesus in scripture." F28 In fulfillment of the office of high priest, Christ is the reality of that which was typically performed by the Jewish high priest who, on the day of atonement, entered into the holiest place and offered blood for the sins of the people; Christ entered heaven and offered his own blood for the sins of all people; and, just as the priest slew the victim prior to offering its blood, Christ offered himself upon the cross, thus combining in himself the functions of both the victim and the one offering the blood. The high priesthood of Christ is so predominantly discussed in Hebrews that some find this as the theme of the entire epistle. Many other things pertinent to this subject will be discussed later in the epistle. The verse before us stresses the qualifications of our Lord, i.e., his sympathetic mercy toward man and the utmost fidelity toward God.
We note especially the sympathy of Jesus as indicated by his mercy. People who have never fallen are likely to be too severe, those who have, too lenient; but Christ, though tempted in all points, did not fall, and is alone capable of making the proper judgment concerning people. How encouraging is the thought that, whatever sorrow or temptation befalls man, Christ has full and perfect knowledge of it. In him, there is none of that cold arrogant detachment that characterized men like Annas and Caiaphas. How thankful all people should be for the mercy of the Lord.
Make propitiation for the sins of the people
focuses attention upon the meaning of "propitiation." Although the Greek usage of the word applies it to making sacrifices to gods or men to mollify their anger or procure their favors, scholars assure us that there is no implication of any exactly parallel meaning in its application to the work of Christ. This is true because God cannot be appeased or propitiated in the sense such was understood of pagan deities or worldly princes. It is not God who needs to change his mind, but people who need to change theirs. The sacrifice of Christ therefore was not to reconcile God to man, but man to God. As Paul taught, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (1 Corinthians 5:19). Other New Testament passages in which the word "propitiation" is found are: Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; and in the prayer of the publican, Luke 18:13. Thus, as Paul explained it in Rom. 3:24ff, God's righteousness and justice could be vindicated only by the invocation of the penalty of death. The great love and mercy of God are seen in that he paid it himself, in the person of his Son upon the cross, thus doing for man that thing which man alone could not in a billion years have done for himself; also making God the one who propitiates and the one propitiated at the same time!
In the inexpressibly sublime and wonderful fact that God gave the sacrifice for man's sins, the Christian faith parts company with all the ethnic and purely human religions which through the ages have risen and flourished on the earth. In all the human religions, without exception, it is man who pays and pays a thousand years; it is the boldest warrior of the tribe that faces the dragon; it is the fairest maiden offered as a sacrifice; and it was a man, Prometheus, who was bound to the rock forever with the vultures upon him. Strangely enough, in that latter myth, the sentence was eternal and could be lifted only when some immortal consented to die in Prometheus' place, thus providing pagan testimony to the spiritual truth that redemption must come from without mankind. But it is precisely in this business of "Who pays?" that the unique superiority of Christianity appears; for in the Bible it is God who pays it all.
as used here, seems to make Christ's temptations to consist chiefly of his sufferings. He might well have thought, "Why bother with it all? Why go through such an agony as the cross for the sake of saving people who constantly seemed to prove themselves unworthy of it?" That some such thoughts did occur to Jesus is implied by his reference to the twelve legions of angels whom he had the power to summon to his aid (Matthew 26:53). Only his great eternal love could have strengthened and steadied him against aborting his mission of salvation and calling it off.
As for the alleged impossibility of Christ's committing a sin, such has never appeared reasonable to this writer; because, in the very nature of all things, no man can be tempted to do that which he is incapable of doing. The value of Christ's temptations is seen in the enhanced position it gave him as one able to comfort his human children. Cargill explained this thus,
He did not suffer in vain. If you
have never known temptation, you
cannot succor another. I have
observed that there is no comforter
for a widow like one who has lost her
husband. The mother who has lost her
child is the most comforting to
another mother. F29
Footnotes for Hebrews 2
1: C. New, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 21, Hebrews, p. 67.
2: Clarence S. Roddy, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 27.
3: Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 85.
4: Robert L. Cargill, Understanding the Book of Hebrews (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1967), p. 15.
5: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, Minn., Augsburg Publishing House, 1958), p. 71.
6: W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 32.
7: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1932), p. 344.
8: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 33.
9: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 73.
10: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Whole Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1017.
11: Robert L. Cargill, op. cit., p. 18.
12: G. Campbell Morgan, God's Last Word to Man (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1936), p. 33.
13: Ibid., p. 34.
14: Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), p. 47.
15: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 43.
16: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 696.
17: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 46.
18: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 88.
19: R. Milligan, New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 98.
20: Hal Borland, Homeland (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1969), p. 115.
21: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 49.
22: Joseph S. Exell, op. cit., p. 164.
23: Robert L. Cargill, op. cit., p. 23.
24: Joseph S. Exell, op. cit., p. 162.
25: R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 101.
26: A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 351.
27: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 94.
28: Thomas Hewitt, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), p. 17.
29: Robert L. Cargill, op. cit., p. 25.
30: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 273.
31: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 967.
32: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895.
33: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 396.
34: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 666.
36: S. J. Eales, op. cit., p. 4.
37: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 274.
38: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895.
39: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 708.
40: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 412.
41: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 895. THE BOOK OF HEBREWS
42: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 183.
43: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 87.
45: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 213.
46: Newport J. D. White, op. cit., p. 102.
47: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 113.
48: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 543.
49: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.
50: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 531.
51: Ibid., p. 532.
52: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
53: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 111.
54: William Hendriksen, op. cit, p. 88 footnote.
55: James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976).
56: Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 486.
57: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 436.
58: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.
59: David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 194.
60: B. C. Carlin, op. cit., p. 64.
61: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 437.
62: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 141.
63: Ibid., p. 143.
64: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.
65: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 769.
66: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 50.
67: Ibid., p. 48.