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.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 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.