CHRIST’S SUPERIORITY OVER ANGELS NOT COMPROMISED BY HIS HUMANITY
Throughout the gospel accounts we witnessed the disciples of Christ struggling to wrap their minds around the apparent incongruity of a Suffering Savior. It was difficult enough to try to make sense of the Incarnation (how could God take on humanity?); but even more difficult to accept the prophesied reality of His upcoming rejection, suffering and death on the cross. How could these things be? Here we have the author of Hebrews addressing some of these same underlying tensions as he deals with objections to the proposition that Jesus Christ is superior to angels.
MacArthur: Jews could not comprehend the idea that God would become man. Even less could they understand how, having become man, He could die. How could the anointed of God, the Messiah, be the victim of death? Consequently, wherever the gospel was preached to Jews, as in Acts 17, it was necessary to explain why Christ had to suffer and die (vv. 2-3). The cross was a serious stumbling block to them. Jewish converts even had difficulty with this issue. How could Jesus be greater than angels if angels never die? How could He be a Savior if He Himself were killed? These were lingering questions.
I. (:5-9) SUPERIORITY OF JESUS CHRIST OVER ANGELS TEMPORARILY OBSCURED BY HIS HUMAN MISSION OF REDEMPTION
A. (:5) Dominion Never Given to Angels
“For He did not subject to angels the world to come,
concerning which we are speaking.”
Although angels currently have an elevated role over man, that is only temporary because believers will reign with Christ in the world to come. The objection that must be answered here: Does the humanity of Jesus reduce Him to a status that is subservient to angels?
B. (:6-9) Dominion Given to Christ – Although Not Realized Yet
1. (:6-7a) Present State = Humanity = Lower than Angels (Psalm 8)
“But one has testified somewhere, saying, ‘What is man, that Thou rememberest him? Or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about him?’ Thou hast made him for a little while lower than the angels;”
Kent: Man is presently lower than angels because he is subject to mortality (Luke 20:36) and other frailties. But this is not a permanent condition for man, nor was it God’s original intention.
R. Kent Hughes: The marvelous declaration of God’s intention [for mankind to have dominion] can only be appreciated in the full context of the Psalm. The Psalmist is contemplating the mighty expanse of the evening sky, studded with its orbs of light, and he is so overwhelmed with the greatness of God that he bursts into psalm – first celebrating God’s majestic name, then declaring God’s worthiness of praise, and next wondering at God’s intention for puny little man. . . Of course the intention was not new because it was originally spelled out in Genesis 1:26-28. . .
Think of man’s astonishing position: “You made him a little lower than the angels.” Puny man is only lower than the angels in that man is in a corporal body and the angels are incorporeal. Man is therefore limited in a way angels are not and has lesser power. But man is not lower spiritually or in importance. What an astounding position for such temporary specks as us!
Think of man’s astonishing honor: “you crowned him with glory and honor.” Adam and Eve were the king and queen of original creation. God set them in a glorious paradise and walked with them.
Consider man’s amazing authority: “. . . and put everything under his feet.” This was given to mankind through Adam (Genesis 1:28). Man was given rule over the world.
2. (:7b-8a) Future State = Dominion Over All
“Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, And hast appointed him over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.”
Steven Cole: If you feel weak, despised, or insignificant in this evil world, take courage! In Christ, we are more than conquerors. Although it is difficult to fathom, in the ages to come we will reign with Christ in His kingdom. It doesn’t really matter what the world thinks of you. What matters is what God thinks of you. If you have trusted Christ as the One who bore your sins on the cross, then God has imputed His righteousness to you. You are purified from your sins. You can know that although you are just a speck on planet earth, which is just a speck in this gigantic universe, God cares for you and has a purpose for your life. That purpose transcends the short life we have in this body, and extends through eternity in our glorified bodies that we will receive when Christ returns.
3. (:8b) Present Focus – What Do We See Right Now?
a. (:8b) Dominion Temporarily Obscured
“But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.”
Mohler: Many theologians refer to this tension as the already-not yet aspect of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God and the reign of Christ are in some senses already inaugurated, yet we are still waiting for the kingdom’s consummation. However, this perceived chaos in the world around us should not cause us to doubt the veracity of the gospel message or the work of the last Adam.
b. (:9) Human Mission of Redemption Has Already Led to Exaltation
“But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”
Mohler: the person and work of Christ are intimately intertwined. He is the eternal Son who comes to glory through suffering. As the glorious God-man, he is superior to all things, including the angels.
R. Kent Hughes: But whereas the height of exaltation for man is in being made a little lower than the angels, it was for Jesus the depth of his humiliation.
Hewitt: Should taste death means not only that He died (cf. Mt. xvi. 28 and Jn. viii. 52), but that He tasted all the humiliation and bitterness of death. He experienced the wages of sin . . .
F. F. Bruce: As mankind’s true representative, accordingly, He must share in the conditions inseparable from man’s estate only so could He blaze the trail of salvation for mankind and act effectively as His People’s high priest in the presence of God. This means that He is not only the one in whom the sovereignty destined for man is realized, but also the one who, because of man’s sin, must realize that sovereignty by way of suffering and death.
II. (:10-18) SUPERIORITY OF JESUS CHRIST OVER ANGELS ENHANCED BY HIS IDENTIFICATION WITH HUMANITY
A. (:10-13) Necessity of Humanity to Truly Suffer
1. (:10) Suffering Deemed Appropriate
a. Consistent with His Role in the Origination of All Things
“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things,
and through whom are all things,”
Mohler: The main point of verse 10 is the fittingness of the Father’s plan to redeem humanity hrough a perfect and suffering Savior. The justice of God demanded a substitutionary atonement for the forgiveness of sins. This verse hints at the need (it was “appropriate”) of the active and passive obedience of Christ in order to secure our redemption and to atone for our sins.
R. Kent Hughes: Thus the writer answers those who say that a suffering Savior does not fit with the idea of a sovereign, cosmic Creator. The argument is, in fact, reversed. Do you want to see the character and power of God? Look at the cosmos. Turn your face like an astronomer to the Milky Way, and as your visage is illumined, let your mind go 600 trillion miles to the edge of our galaxy and visit its neighboring galaxy, the first of some hundred thousand million more “neighbors.” Then you will see something of him “for whom and through whom everything exists.” Do you want to see even more of God’s character and power? Then look to his final word, Christ, for in him you have an even greater display of his power and moral character. What God did through his suffering Son fits with his eternal power.
b. Consistent with His Role in the Destiny of the Elect
“in bringing many sons to glory,”
c. Consistent with His Role in His Mission of Redemption
“to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”
Kent: Suffering is the common lot of all men in such a world. The particular sufferings in view here are the ones which brought Him to the goal for which He had been born. He accomplished the purpose of His coming when He suffered death for every man (2:9).
F. F. Bruce: He is the Savior who blazed the trail of salvation along which alone God’s “mighty sons” could be brought to glory. Man, created by God for his glory, was prevented by sin from attaining that glory until the Son of Man came and opened up by his death a new way by which humanity might reach the goal for which it was made. As his people’s representative and forerunner he has now entered into the presence of God to secure their entry there.
R. Kent Hughes: divine hero / pioneer of their salvation . . .It was impossible for God to fully identify and thus fully sympathize with mankind apart from Christ’s incarnation and human experience. But now Christ’s perfection makes possible an unlimited capacity to sympathize with those exposed to troubles and temptations in this life. . .
In one sublime sentence the author of Hebrews has taken the detractor’s objection (that suffering is unbecoming to a Savior) and demonstrated that suffering has instead produced a perfect, pioneer Savior who can save to the uttermost because he was perfected by the sufferings engendered by his incarnation. Suffering outfitted him to be a perfect pioneer of salvation. His suffering has blazed the way for the great multitudes of his redeemed to follow. How fitting a suffering Savior is!
2. (:11) Identification with Humanity
a. Common Source of Their Solidarity
“For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified
are all from one [Father];”
MacArthur: In addition to becoming our Substitute and Author of salvation, He became our Sanctifier, the One who makes us holy. From our own perspective and experience, of course, it is difficult to think of ourselves as holy. Sin is too much with us. In thought and practice we are far from holy. But in the new nature we are perfectly holy.
“He who sanctifies” = Christ
“those who are sanctified” = believers
“are all out of one” – the text does not say “Father” here
Kent: The usual interpretation explains the “one” as God or the Father. God is the origin of the human nature of both Jesus and believers. . . Another possibility is to explain “of one” as referring to the common source of their humanity (cf. Acts 17:26). This fits well into the argument of the passage, in which Christ’s humanity is set forth as honorable. It also provides an easier relation to the context regarding angels, for angels can also claim to be of God, and thus Christ’s different and superiority would not be clearly demonstrated. But to say that Christ and believers share a common descent from Adam is to set Christ apart from angels, and the author has already shown that man is not inherently nor ultimately inferior to angels.
Mohler: Since Christ (the Father’s commissioned Redeemer) and the church (those elected by the Father to redemption) are united in the plan and purposes of God for the history of redemption, Jesus is not ashamed to call us his “brothers and sisters.” As the Old Testament citations in verses 12 and 13 confirm, the accent in this phrase is rooted in the reality that because believers are Christ’s “brothers and sisters,” we are also “children” of God.
b. Common Bond of Relationship as Brothers
“for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,”
Jesus does not make this assertion of angels
3. (:12-13) OT Prophetical Confirmation of This Identification with Humanity
a. (:12) Testimony of Messiah to Mankind (Psalm 22:22)
“saying, ‘I will proclaim Thy name to My brethren,
In the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise.’”
Kent: Three Old Testament quotations are cited to demonstrate the identification of Christ with men whom He came to save. The first is drawn from the messianic Psalm 22:22. . . The second quotation is taken from Isaiah 8:17 (Septuagint).
R. Kent Hughes: Having established the fact of the communion of human nature shared by Christ and his suffering people, the preacher now proceeds to extend further encouragement by explaining the privilege and character of Christ’s solidarity with his people.
b. (:13a) Trust of Messiah in the Father (Isaiah 8:17)
“And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’”
R. Kent Hughes: as Isaiah realizes that his message gets no response, he seals it up (8:16) and declares, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him” (v. 17). Isaiah would have to depend on God. So it was with Christ as he shared the solidarity of our humanity . . . while undergoing persecution in the flesh Jesus depended on God. While in the frailty of human flesh, Jesus exercised faith! Even his final words on earth were words of dependence: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). What solidarity – what communion of nature – Jesus shares with the suffering church. They suffered? So did he! They were weak? So was he! They must depend on God – just as he did!
c. (:13b) Thrill of the Messiah in the Souls of the Redeemed
“And again, ‘Behold, I and the children
whom God has given Me.’”
Expression of joy (“who for the joy that was set before Him”) and confidence; confidence that what God said about the future would truly take place
Hewitt: Originally the passage referred to Isaiah and his children Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hashbaz. Our author sees in the prophet a type of Christ and in his children a type of the believing remnant whom He came to save.
B. (:14-16) Necessity of Humanity to Experience Death as the Pathway to Victory and Deliverance
1. (:14a) Identification with Humanity
“Since then the children share in flesh and blood,
He Himself likewise also partook of the same,”
2. (:14b-15) Two Purposes Accomplished by His Death:
a. (:14b) Defeat the Devil
“that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil;”
b. (:15) Deliver Enslaved from Fear of Death
“and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
The two great enemies of mankind: the devil and death – both decisively defeated by Jesus Christ
3. (:16) Dispense Help to God’s Elect
“For assuredly He does not give help to angels,
but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.”
Cf. Gal. 3:7 – spiritual seed of Abraham in view
MacArthur: Ours is not a cosmic God, powerful and holy, but indifferent. He knows where we hurt, where we are weak, and where we are tempted.
Mohler: Hebrews 2:16 reengages the author’s exposition of the incarnation and the atoning work of Christ with the overall argument in chapters 1 and 2 of Christ’s superiority over the angels. The author reminds us that the last Adam is restoring humanity to God’s good purpose of having dominion over the world and displaying God to all of creation. Christ is superior to the angels because he himself is the image of the invisible God and the redeemer of the pinnacle of God’s creative activity – mankind. Indeed, as the One who helps “Abraham’s offspring,” his work is intimately interwoven within the entire fabric of redemptive history. Christ is the white-hot center of God’s purposes and plan for humanity.
C. (:17-18) Necessity of Humanity to Qualify as a Merciful / Faithful High Priest
1. (:17a) Identification with Humanity
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things,”
2. (:17b) Role of High Priest
“that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest
in things pertaining to God,”
Kent: Suffering is part of human life in the present world, and therefore Jesus experienced this as well. Such genuine involvement in human life qualified Christ as a merciful and faithful high priest. By His own sufferings, Christ knew human needs from the standpoint of personal experience, and thus can be expected to be merciful toward those in need. By remaining unswerving in His performance of His task, even when it meant suffering and death, Christ showed Himself to be faithful to His purpose. Hence the sinner can confidently entrust himself to this high priest to care for his relations with God.
Wiersbe: Being pure spirits who have never suffered, the angels cannot identify with us in our weaknesses and needs. But Jesus can! Jesus was “made like unto his brethren” in that He experienced the sinless infirmities of human nature. He knew what it was to be a helpless baby, a growing child, a maturing adolescent. He knew the experiences of weariness, hunger, and thirst (John 4:6-8). He knew what it was to be despised and rejected, to be lied about and falsely accused. He experienced physical suffering and death. All of this was a part of His “training” for His heavenly ministry as High Priest.
If you want an example of a man who was not a merciful and faithful high priest, then read the account about Eli (1 Sam. 2:27-36). Here was a high priest who did not even lead his own sons into a faithful walk with God. Eli even accused brokenhearted Hannah of being drunk (1 Sam. 1:9-18)!
3. (:17c-18) Two Purposes Accomplished by His High Priestly Ministry
a. (:17b) Purpose of Making Propitiation
“to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
b. (:18) Purpose of Strengthening Those Who are Tempted
“For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
F. F. Bruce: Now His people were not only enduring those trials which are common to mankind, but were being tempted in their run to be disloyal to God and give up their Christian profession. What a source of strength it was to them to be assured that in the presence of God they had as their champion and intercessor one who had known similar and even sorer temptations, and had withstood them victoriously!