Category Archives: Hebrews

The Suffering of the Son

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Continuing in Hebrews 2, we reach another transitional section following the author’s discussion of Christ’s humanity in verses 5-9 and the family of God in verses 10-13, to now the suffering of the Son, alluded to in verse 9 and expanded upon in the remaining verses of this glorious but challenging chapter. In connecting the humanity of Christ with His death, it then becomes apparent that the chief purpose of our Lord’s incarnation was His subsequent death. Our Lord lived in order to die.

What a staggering and profound truth that the King so splendidly described in chapter 1 as the Supreme Being in the universe, the high and exalted One, the Son of God, should come to earth, suffer, and die. It hardly seems believable, yet it’s true, and in verses 14-18 we begin to see several of the purposes behind His suffering unto death.

In setting forth these purposes, we find in verse 14 the familiar transitional formula that is so often utilized in the book of Hebrews, namely the conjunction “therefore.” This is an important marker for Bible readers to pay close attention to because it most often serves to 1.)Maintain the continuity of an idea established earlier by transitioning to an explanation of why an earlier statement was made or 2.)To summarize a previously lengthy section with a more succinct statement. In verse 14a we have the latter, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things”. This part of the verse serves to restate the solidarity in the flesh that Christ shares with His “brothers”.

In the second part (b) of verse 14 we find the first purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, namely his power over death. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A similar sentiment is conveyed in Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Finally, we read the words of Jesus heralding His imminent triumph over the devil, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32

The sentence begun in verse 14 continues into verse 15 and provides for us the second purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Destroy and Deliver, the twin themes of our Lords earthy purpose.

Those who were subject to lifelong slavery because of the fear of death is author’s eighth way of defining the “everyone” from verse 2:9. He has employed the terms: sons (vs.10), those who Christ leads or Captains (vs.10), those who are sanctified (vs.11), brothers (vs.11), brothers (vs.12), children (vs. 13), children (vs.14) and now those who have been set free from fear of death by the death of Christ. Or as John Owen so clearly stated, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”  Why should there have been slaves to a fear of death?  Our Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56 that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  It becomes apparent then that slavery to a fear of death is directly related to the law, specifically punishment that the law demands because it has been violated.  Those identified in this passage are no longer subject to the fear of death because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf thereby setting them free.

Keeping those recipients of Christ’s death in mind, we arrive at verse 16 and find the contrast once again between angels and the children of God, this time referred to as the “seed of Abraham.” This verse has seemed a mystery to commentators and translators alike throughout history. The King James Version translates the verse as, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Here they have offered a bit of interpretation into their translation, to which John Owen agrees. He interprets verse 16 similarly and sees it not as a reference to helping or giving aid (the verb used here) to the seed of Abraham instead of angels, rather he sees the verb meaning “to take hold of” or “appropriating” and therefore associates it with Christ’s incarnation.  In other words, for Owen and the KJV translators, Christ took on the nature of Abraham’s seed, not the nature of angels.

Taken this way, this verse provides a further polemic against those who deny the humanity of the Son of God (established in verses 2:6-9) and likewise is a sufficient rebuke for those who say that Christ was a spirit being or angel prior to His incarnation (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for example). Surely this interpretation is biblically valid, for in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Christ’s lineage was traced back to Abraham. Additionally, this builds upon the context of the humanity of Christ, from Adam, that has been the subject since verse 6 of chapter 2, by making Him the physical seed of Abraham that was promised in the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 12-22; Galatians 3:16).

A second option follows the ESV translation of this verse, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Since the verb, here  translated helps, is elsewhere translated to mean offering a hand to, i.e. Matthew 14:31 with reference to Peter sinking in the water, this translation has in view the helping or saving of the seed of Abraham instead of angels. We know this to be biblically true as well (see discussion below). This too would seem to fit the context and further define everyone in verse 9, i.e. children, brothers, sons, etc. thus making Christ the helper of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

Both of these interpretations are biblically valid and supported elsewhere in Scripture, leading one to wonder if the Divine Author of Hebrews doesn’t have both options in mind when He pens this verse.  This is the direction I’m inclined to take, concluding that both Owen and the modern commentators are correct.  Due to the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e. promises to his physical seed and promises to his spiritual seed, Christ came from the physical seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) in order to save the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12; Gal. 3:9,14,29) thereby becoming the Inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and the Distributor of those promises to all who have faith in Him.  Important to note here is that the humanity of Christ as the second Adam has already been established in chapter and this verse narrows the help that Christ gives from the universality of Adam’s children to specifically Abraham’s seed, literally the children of God, keeping with the familial motif established throughout several verses of this chapter.  One additional note, Schreiner points out that the author is possibly drawing from Isaiah 41:8-10:

8But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Much more is left to be said regarding the seed of Abraham, but for now we move on to verse 17 and find continuity (therefore) with our previous conclusion, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.Explicitly tied to the humanity of Christ, in becoming like His brothers, is His qualification and appointment as “High Priest in the service of God”.  We may conclude that this is a third purpose for the humanity of Christ, namely to serve in the office of High Priest as intercessor between God (faithful) and man (merciful) and as we will see, to mediate the New Covenant established in His blood (this is the first of 17 references to Christ as High Priest and more will be developed in the coming chapters).  Christ not only serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who makes a sacrifice, as typified under the Levitical system, but IS the sacrifice, truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Additionally, we find in this verse one of the specific functions of Christ as the High Priest is to “make propitiation”.  Typically, the word propitiation carries with it a dual concept of the removal of guilt or forgiveness of sins (expiation) and the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath (propitiation).  The Old Testament type for this can be found in Leviticus 16 where we find the high priest commanded by God on the Day of Atonement (note some translations use the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” instead of propitiation, see NIV) to place their hands on the head of a live goat symbolizing the transference of the people’s sin and guilt (expiation).  Likewise, we see the command from God to the high priest to kill a second goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (the root of the word propitiation).  Therefore, we find biblical precedence from this passage that our concept of propitiation should include both ideas.  As previously stated, the high priestly function is fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ who is both the sacrifice AND the High Priest.

Finally, in verse 18 “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” we find a fourth reason for the incarnation of our Lord, namely the Sympathetic Resonance of Christ with His brothers.  The term sympathetic resonance refers to a harmonic phenomenon wherein an instrument, such as a tuning fork, is struck and another instrument of like kind resonates with the sound that is made and offers a corresponding sound.  This expression is fitting for describing our Lord’s humanity in relating, literally resonating, with His brothers who are tempted, so that we may be reminded that He was tempted in every way as we are and is yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Also, found in this verse is the second use of the word help, which would seem to be in line more with “giving aid” (assumption #2 from above) though we must remember He is able to do so because He shares the same flesh and blood (assumption #1 from above).

Jesus’ humanity qualifies Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest.  This, along with several other purposes for His incarnation, were identified in this passage, namely His deliverance of the saints from fear of death, destruction of the works of the Devil, providing propitiation, and having sympathetic resonance with those for whom He mediates the better covenant.  What is man that our Lord would condescend Himself from the glory and exaltation that He shared with the Father, to the humiliation and suffering as a man among sinners. Truly He is an awesome God, worthy of all praise and honor.

Solus Christus!

 

*Image credit: http://cmda.org/resources/publication/the-suffering-and-death-of-christ

The Humanity of the Son

 

As Hebrews chapter 2 unfolds, the author returns to his polemic discussion of Christ by transitioning out of his exhortation to pay attention to what has been said and to avoid drifting brought about from neglect. This transition occurs in verse 5 as is made evident from the conjunction, “For”. Likewise, we see that angels again come into view picking right up where he left off at the end of chapter 1 verse 14. The two verses are below; observe how the thought in the author’s mind is continuous, only interrupted by the brief warning of exhortation.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” Hebrews 2:5

“Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14

The point that the author wishes to address in this section is, “To whom has the ‘world to come’ been subjected?”  Though he will define it more fully in the verses to follow, perhaps at this point we may ask, “What or When is this world to come?”  By implication, it obviously is a future world.  However, the language of the passage indicates that God has already made a determinative action in subjecting this future world to Someone.   Summarizing: this future world has already been made subject to Someone, but it has not yet come into its fullness in time, hence the already/not yet theological concept utilized by the author of Hebrews.

As we read in the verse above, this future world has clearly not been made subject to angels. It has already been established for us in chapter 1 what their role was under the Old Covenant and what their role is now as ministers to those who are to inherit salvation under the New Covenant. To answer the question of “To Whom has it been subjected to” the author again appeals to the authority of Scripture and once again to the Psalms.

In introducing the passage, it’s interesting to note how he calls the reader’s attention, not by writing David said, or in the Psalms we read, instead he leaves the citation with a vague reference, “It has been testified somewhere.” It isn’t that he’s ignorant about the location of the passage, rather his intention is to highlight the Scriptures and allow them to be authoritative on the basis of their divine revelation alone (perhaps this is insight into why the book of Hebrews has an unnamed author?). He then proceeds to cite Psalm 8:4-6 (From the Septuagint – Greek OT). Psalm 8 (from the MT – ESV tradition) has been included below:

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:1-9

In reading the original context of this Psalm we find David extolling the majesty of God above all His creation. As he enters into verse 3 we read, “When I look at your heavens, the work of you fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” This puts the passages that follow specifically in the context of creation. After meditating on the wonder of God’s creation and comparatively seeing man as a speck in the universe, the psalmist then poses the God-ward question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?”.

To answer this question, he again turns to creation and finds man created in the image of God, given dominion and power from His Creator (Psalm 8:5-6). Note the background that the Psalmist is likely drawing from, Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26

In the created order, as earthly beings, mankind is lower than the heavenly beings, yet nevertheless it is man that has been created in the image of God, not angels. It is man that has been crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over creation, not angels.  The dignity of man is inextricably linked to being made in the image of God.

This is the context on which the author of Hebrews is drawing as he steps outside the Old Testament citation to offer commentary in verse 8, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.” We are still in the context of the dignity of man, who was originally created to be a vice-regent of God, exercising dominion over creation on His behalf. As we look around our world today, does that seem to be the case? Does man currently have dominion over all things? Over disease, or death, or demons, or dominion over the animal world? Hardly. It would seem that man’s dominion is not quite what it once was, or at least what it was intended to be at creation.

This is precisely the point the author of Hebrews draws upon in the latter part of verse 8, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” At present is both contrasted with the future, i.e. “the world to come” from verse 5 and the past, i.e. the implication of the psalmist as he meditates on creation in its Edenic state. The answer to the implied question of why we do not presently see man with the dominion that he was created with is based solely on the presence of sin. Both the psalmist and the author of Hebrews recognize that the disturbance in the created order has been caused by the in-breaking of sin in the world from Genesis 3. The fall of man in Adam has caused man’s dominion to be absent in the present. Though still created in the Imago Dei, this image is now distorted, corrupted as the product of sin, and longing for all that is wrong to be made right. The glimmer of hope offered for us in verse 5 of our Hebrews passage, the anticipation of a future world, comes into full view in verse 9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus.” This brings Christ humanity into view as the last Adam; the God-Man through whom a New Creation will come; the one through whom reconciliation of the world will happen.

Summing up the author’s intention here, we see him use an Old Testament reference, Psalm 8, in order to establish the humanity of Christ and to allude to the restoration of all things in Him that have been distorted and destroyed because of sin.  Man regains his dignity and dominion on the basis of Christ, the last Adam. Created order regains its intended purpose through the reconciliation and redemption that has come through the work of Jesus Christin fulfilling God’s law and being obedient unto death on the cross. The intentions of God were that man would have dignity because only man was created in the image of God.

  • Man’s created dignity finds its origin in the Imago Dei.
  • Man’s present dignity is tarnished through the corrupting influence of sin.
  • Man’s future dignity can only be restored on the basis of Jesus Christ and it is only through union with Him by faith that this can occur.

As we saw in chapter 1 of Hebrews, the supremacy and superiority of the Son of God was put clearly on display. The great condescension of this Supreme Christ is made evident in these verses from chapter 2, where we see the anticipated restoration of created order and the vindication of fallen man by way of the incarnation of the Son and most notably through His death. While man received his crown and glory via life at creation, Christ received His crown and glory via death at the cross. It is therefore only through union with Christ by faith that man can regain life and recapture the former glory that once was, being crowned again with glory as co-heirs with Christ.

The Danger of Drifting

 

After extolling the supremacy of Christ in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author enters into an interlude of exhortation in verses 1-4 of chapter 2 on the dangers of drifting and neglect of the message which they (we) have heard. The practical nature of this exhortation cannot be limited to the original audience of Hebrews, but must by necessity extend to us, as believers, today just as his message concerning Christ must by necessity stir our hearts towards affections for Him.

Beginning in 2:1, we see the warning that follows on the heels of the majesty of Christ

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  

In the passage quoted above we have what is often referred to as an imperative statement. Biblically, the imperative most often follows the indicative. This simply means that Scripture often indicates for us a truth, here concerning Christ, His person, and work and then proceeds to give a command based on that truth. In Hebrews 2:1 the command is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In the immediate context, what has been heard refers to all that has just been said in Hebrews chapter 1. In the broader context of Scripture, it refers to the entirety of the Gospel message that holds Christ the center. The truths about who Christ is, namely that He is the eternal Son of God, the Exalted King, His supremacy over the angels (vs. 1:5-14), His purification for sins and His sitting down at the right hand of the majesty on high. That Christ, the exclusive message about Him and His work, along with all that follows in the remainder of chapter 2, requires us to pay much closer attention. A similar warning is also given in Luke 8:18 as Jesus concludes the parable of the soils whose primary focus is on rightly hearing the word of God, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Interestingly, the exhortations of Hebrews have often been controversial as to whom they may be speaking, believers or unbelievers.  In this case, it is clear that the author includes himself in the warning as he states “we” three times in the first verse, two more times in verse 3 and uses us in that verse as well.  It’s clear that his intention is to arouse those true believers who may be sleeping for the purpose of motivating them.  Those found with disingenuous faith will succumb to the results of the warning and drift.

This term carries with the idea of a ship that has sailed past its port and it is emblematic of the Christian life. Our lives are not to be thought of as a pontoon on a placid lake, instead we are actively engaged in a faith-based, Spirit-fueled effort to row in the swift stream of life. Drifting therefore does not take us closer to our destination, but instead leaves us further away. In fact, the argument could be made that the one who drifts is not even aware of the incremental movement, until he or she has drifted quite some distance away.

How then can we avoid drifting and ensure that we are paying closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard? John Owen offers 5 practical solutions centered around diligent attention to the word of the gospel:

  1. Esteem the Gospel in your thoughts. “Constant high thoughts then of the necessity, worth, glory, and excellency of the gospel, as on other accounts, so especially on account of the author of it, and the grace dispensed in it, is the first step in that diligent heeding of it, which is required of us. Want of this was that which ruined many of the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote. And without it we shall never keep our faith firm unto the end.”
  2. Diligent study of the Word. “Silver and treasure are not gathered by every lazy passenger on the surface of the earth; they must dig, seek, and search who intend to be made partakers of them, and they do so accordingly; and so must we do for these treasures of heavenly wisdom.”
  3. Mix the Word with faith. “To hear and not believe, is in spiritual life, what to see meat, and not to eat, is in the natural; it will please the fancy, but will never nourish the soul.”
  4. Labor to conform your heart and life to the express Word. “When the heart of the hearer is quickened, enlivened, spirited with gospel truths, and by them is molded and fashioned into their likeness, and expresseth that likeness in its fruits, or in a conversation becoming the gospel, then is the word attended unto in a right manner. This will secure the word a station in our hearts, and give it a permanent abode in us.”
  5. Be watchful. “Watchfulness against all opposition that is made either against the truth or power of the word in us, belongs also unto this duty. And as these oppositions are many, so ought this watchfulness to be great and diligent.”

May it never be said of us that “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” but instead may Christ count us among his mother and brothers, “But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

As the argument progresses to verse 2, the intensity picks up as the author reinforces the statement he has just made by providing an argument from lesser to greater using the judgment for disobedience of the angels message (the lesser) and the judgment for those who neglect the Gospel (the greater coming up in verse 3), “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”.

The reference to angels here serves to reflect back to the entirety of chapter 1 where the superiority of Christ over the angels was established. Additionally, we gain a little insight into why the questions of Christ’s authority over the angels came up to begin with. Given Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, it would appear that the role of angels in the establishment of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai was at least a belief held by some. Within our context of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that this is the case as the author will unfold his collective argument of the superiority of Christ over the entirety of the Old Covenant.

The fact that the message declared by angels was reliable, was transgressed, and warranted a just retribution cannot be overlooked. As the argument from lesser to greater progresses the message declared by the Lord is even more reliable (this doesn’t mean the old was untruthful; this is simply an added degree; greater validity if you will) and the punishment for transgression of His message will be more severe. “How shall we escape” then becomes rhetorical because none can escape the punishment handed out by neglecting the message of Christ.

This message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, has been attested to by 1) The Lord Himself 2) Those who heard, believed, and subsequently proclaimed and by 3) God through various signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  The message therefore carries with it Trinitarian validation.  Can there be any wonder then why the author of Hebrews exhorts his listeners/readers and us on the dangers of drifting?  How can we hear such a message about Christ, testified to by the 3 Persons of the Trinity, given to men who proclaimed it and had their message validated by divine works, and expect to escape a great and just retribution for neglecting it?  Answer: There is no escape, therefore don’t neglect what you’ve heard.

The call is clear and the message should not be muted for Christians.  Yes, there is perseverance/preservation of the saints, but the warning here is very real.  There is a danger in drifting, a just retribution, therefore, don’t neglect the message of Christ that you have heard.

*Image Credit – www.dallasnews.com