Warning Against Drifting Away, 1-4

2:1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2:2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 2:3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 2:4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

‘After presenting the glory of the Son, our author pauses to warn about the practical consequences of our response to what he has done. The message of the OT covenant spoken by angels was sure and its punishments sure. The greater salvation Jesus brought was more secure, so its punishment was more severe. Jesus announced it; his hearers confirmed it; God added his witness to it. The system of Mt. Sinai brought a just punishment for violation. There is likewise no escape if we neglect this greater salvation personally brought by Jesus himself.’ (College Press)

‘From Heb 2:1-4 it appears that the original readers held the popular Jewish belief that angels were involved in the giving of God’s law to Moses. (cf. Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19) They needed to be assured of the superior status and character of the one who was the agent of the new revelation. Likewise, many people today need to be convinced that Jesus Christ is more than a prophet or an angelic messenger. No greater revelation of God has been given or can be expected. Hence the danger of disregarding the message of salvation that has come from him.’ (NBC)

‘In the first chapter all previous revelation from God was contrasted with the final revelation of God in his Son. In chapter two our author narrows this view to put the NT over against the single finest, fullest pinnacle of OT revelation, i.e., the covenant of Mt. Sinai. He says that the Sinai revelation was spoken through angels. (Heb 2:2) Stephen mentioned this (Ac 7:53) and so did Paul (Gal 3:19; see 3:28), although it was only suggested in the Pentateuch. (Deut 33:2) The thirteenth century rabbi, Nachmanides, claimed, “Though myriads of angels were present, the Torah was communicated to Israel directly by God.” By contrast, the new message was much more significant, because it was given by the Son, who is much more significant than the angels.’ (College Press)

We must pay more careful attention – This is the first of many exhortations in the book of Hebrews. They appear sometimes in the ‘you’ form, and sometimes, as here, in the ‘we’ form. See Heb 2:1-4; 3:6, 7-19; 4:1, 11, 14-16; 5:11-14; 6:1-12, 18-20; 10:19-39; 12:1-17, 25-28; 13:1-22.

We are apt to forget what we have learned, and therefore need to be reminded.

Hebrews uses no less than four different words to indicate necessity: (a) “compulsion;” Heb 7:12,27; 9:16,23), (b) “must;” Heb 2:1; 9:26; 11:6), (c)”to owe;” Heb 2:17; 5:3,12) and (d) “to be fitting;” Heb 2:10; 7:26). Here, ‘we must’ pay more careful attention because of the greater offer from a greater person with greater confirmation at a greater point in the history of redemption and greater evident consequences of improper response.

So that we do not drift away – as a ring might slip off a finger; as water might run through the fingers; as a travellor might take a wrong direction; as a boat might drift from its moorings.

The whole epistle is called In Heb 13:22 “a word of exhortation.” So often does the writer sound a note of warning that he evidently had some reason to think that his readers were in danger of drifting away. See Heb 3:12-14; 4:1-2, 11, 15; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-11:3, 6; 12:1-13:25.

‘Regularly meeting together with other Christians (Heb 10:25) and daily encouragement from other Christians (Heb 3:13) combined with daily prayer and Bible reading (Heb 4:12-16) will greatly reduce the risk of drifting away.’ (College Press)

‘The paragraph contrasts the two systems. The Sinai covenant was (a) a message spoken by angels; (b) it was binding; and (c) it included a just punishment for every infraction. The covenant Christ brought was (a) announced by the Lord himself; (b) confirmed by hearers and by God himself; and (c) included no escape for ignoring or even drifting away.’ (College Press)

Notice the ‘if…then’ structure of the argument in vv2f: ‘If the message was binding, and every violation was punished, how then shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?’

How not to drift away

Hebrews gives us a number of practical steps

  • Pay much closer attention to what we have heard (Hebrews 2:1)
  • Beware of an unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12)
  • Encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Work hard to enter the rest promised through the gospel (Hebrews 4:11)
  • Move from elementary doctrines to maturity (Hebrews 6:1)
  • Draw near to God (Hebrews 10:22)
  • Hold on tight to the confession of hope (Hebrews 10:23)
  • Live in a community of mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)

(Daryl Dash)

The message spoken by angels – Deut 33:2 says that angels were present on Mt. Sinai when the law was given, but does not say what they did. Stephen (Ac 7:38,53) and Paul (Gal 3:19) also testify to the activity of angels at that time.

Binding – The word is a legal term, used, for example of wills.

Just punishment – Punishment received from God is always just.

How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? – In the context of v2, the issue here is to do with escaping punishment. The gospel is greater than the law, but punishment for neglect of the gospel is by the same token greater than that for neglecting the law. There is no escape, because there is no other means of evading the ‘wrath to come’?

Salvation is great in (a) its source, v3; (b) its confirmation, v4; (c) its mediator, 1:4; (d) its method, 2:10; (e) its effects, 2:10.

First announced by the Lord – not by angels, showing once again the superiority of the gospel of Christ. The gospel was announced both directly by the Lord, Jn 18:20-21, and also indirectly by his messengers, Mt 10:5ff; Lk 10:16.

Confirmed to us by those to us by those who heard him – ‘These words are understood by some to indicate that the author of Hebrews must have been a second generation Christian. How else could he say the message of Christ “was confirmed to us by those who heard him?” These scholars remind us that Paul, by contrast, strongly defended his firsthand information which he received directly from the Lord himself because he was an apostle. See 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1-3; 2 Cor 10:8,13; 11:5-6,10-12; 12:1-13; 13:2-3; Gal 1:1,11-12,16-17 2:6-15.’ (College Press) Alternatively, the author may be using an editorial ‘we’ here, as in Heb 5:11 6:9 7:15.

God testified to the gospel with signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts – God testified to it – not to (a) the apostles, or to (b) Scripture, but to (c) the message of salvation. If either of the former, then we might reasonably suppose that miracles died out when the apostles died or when the Scriptures had been written.

Signs, wonders, and various miracles – as recorded, of course, in the Gospels. The three terms refer to the same phenomena from different angles: ‘signs’ point to things away from themselves; ‘wonders’ excite amazement in observers; ‘miracles’ (or ‘powers’) are demonstrations of unusual might. John describes these supernatural occurrences as ‘signs’, while the Synoptists give many examples of ‘wonders’ and ‘miracles’.

‘By putting these together an event called a “miracle” would be an unusual display of power which is admired by beholders and points to something beyond itself. It is unfortunate that the word “miracle” has come to be used for wonder alone, i.e., anything which excites man’s wonder, like a sunset or a birth or one’s transformation at conversion. While these are certainly admirable events, they are in a totally different class from the events mentioned in the Bible as miracles.’ (College Press)

The writer regards these things as common knowledge: if not, he would scarcely have appealed to them in this way.

These events have an important role in testifying to and confirming the gospel message. They continued to be performed during the first Christian era, as the message of salvation was proclaimed. But their purpose, as Calvin reminds us, is to testify to God’s word. How strange then to find those (both in Calvin’s day and our own) who ‘employ fictitious miracles for the purpose of overthrowing the truth of God.’

‘It is unfortunate that the word “miracle” has come to be used for wonder alone, i.e., anything which excites man’s wonder, like a sunset or a birth or one’s transformation at conversion. While these are certainly admirable events, they are in a totally different class from the events mentioned in the Bible as miracles.’ (College Press)

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

According to his will – the sovereignty of God in distributing the gifts of the Holy Spirit should be noted by those who deny the continued possibility of extraordinary spiritual gifts. On the other hand, it should also be taken to heart by those who teach that these gifts are ours ‘for the asking’.

Exposition of Psalm 8: Jesus and the Destiny of Humanity, 5-18

‘The use of Psalm 8 is…interesting, for this passage was never considered to be Messianic. The original context is man, yet not in his ordinary state but in his ideal state, indicated by the use of the title ‘son of man’. At creation man was given dominion over the earth, but ever since the fall that authority to subject has been lacking. The psalm is only perfectly fulfilled, therefore, in the ideal Man, Jesus Christ, who alone has that authority. The writer sees a fulfilment of this psalm in a way that the Jews never foresaw. The same psalm is cited by Jesus (Matt. 21:16) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:27), both in a way which points to its fulfilment in Jesus himself.’ (Guthrie)

‘Our author understands the psalm to refer to Christ, as well as to humanity, in this instance not merely because of the possible messianic associations of the psalm (i.e., in the last two lines of the quoted material) but, rather, because he regards the Son as the archetypal human being. That is, Jesus is the true embodiment of humanity, the last Adam who realizes in himself that glory and dominion that the first Adam and his children lost because of sin. In him the words of the psalmist have their fulfillment. If the words were meant originally to apply to human beings, they find their fullest realization in the one who is preeminently human, who reveals humanity as humanity was meant to be.’ (Hagner)

2:5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 2:6 Instead someone testified somewhere:
“What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?
2:7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while.
You crowned him with glory and honor.
2:8 You put all things under his control.”

TNIV translates: ‘What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’ It has been noted that ‘The TNIV obscures the Messianic application of “son of man” to Jesus Christ by mistranslating the Greek singular words anthropos (man), huios (son), and autos (him) with neuter plural forms. These changes also obscure the quotation from Ps 8:4.’  Allen adds that ‘changing the singulars to plurals shifts the focus of Psalm 8 away from Adam as the representative head of the human race and obscures the notion of the unity of the race, a vital point in Heb 2:10–18. .

The world to come, about which we are speaking – the world that was ‘inaugurated at Christ’s enthronement…and is consummated at Christ’s second coming.’ (Allen)

Someone testified somewhere – Both the author and his readers would have been well aware of the source of the quotation.  But, ‘since he regarded all of the Old Testament as the Word of God, the author did not identify the human author of the quotation unless it suited his purpose to do so.’ (Allen)

What is man that you think of him? – The writer quotes from Psa 8.  But ‘how…can this be used by the writer to the Hebrews to refer to Christ? Was he failing to follow normal, literal interpretation? No, he was seeing Christ as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), in contrast to “the first man Adam.” Christ then is viewed as the “perfect Man.” “The ideal not realized by Adam [is] now embodied in the ‘last Adam.’ … The psalm itself gives no indication that anything other than man in his ideal, created state is in view; but in the light of the New Testament, it can now be seen that none other than Christ fulfills this role of the ideal man.” In appealing to Psalm 8, the writer to the Hebrews did not make “an appeal to a meaning deliberately hidden in the text by God but to the meaning that that text can now be seen to have in the light of the significance of Christ.”’ (Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, quoting Moo).

The son of man – This title would, have Hagner remarks, have jumped out at the author of Hebrews (and his readers), and immediately suggested a Christological understanding of Psalm 8.  Allen is not so sure, but points out that v9 settles the question in favour of Messianic interpretation, regardless of the significance of the present phrase.  Barclay insists that there is no Messianic meaning implicit in Psa 8 – the title ‘son of man’ is simply a parallel to, and a synonym of, ‘man’.

Care – ‘a medical term in Greek for a visit from a doctor.’ (Allen)

“You made him lower than the angels for a little while” – NIV has ‘a little lower’.  NASB, RSV, GNB and other translations favour ‘for a little while’.  As Hagner observes, this fits the author’s argument that Jesus was humbled temporarily, before being ‘crowned with glory and honour’.

Hebrews follows the LXX in saying that he was made ‘lower than the angels’ (the Hebrew of Psa 8 reads ‘Elohim‘ which would most naturally be translated ‘God’).  The argument is not significantly affected, for, either way, man’s lofty nature is affirmed.

Commentators discuss whether the referent is to humanity generally, or to Christ.  Allen is probably correct in saying that both are intended, for the whole point of the present section is to present Christ as the perfect, representative, man.

Even if we accept the mechanics of evolutionary theory, we cannot countenance a philosophical conclusion that asserts no status for human beings other than ‘a little higher than the beasts’.

‘But, the writer to the Hebrews goes on, the situation with which we are confronted is very different. Man was meant to have dominion over everything but he has not. He is a creature who is frustrated by his circumstances, defeated by his temptations, girt about with his own weakness. He who should be free is bound; he who should be a king is a slave. As G. K. Chesterton said, whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain–man is not what he was meant to be.’ (DSB)

“You crowned him with glory and honour” – In Psalm 8, this was a statement of the ideal.  Now, as applied to Jesus, it is an affirmation of the real.  ‘He was certainly crowned with glory, as Paul points out in Philippians 2:9ff., and to him all things are to be subjected, as Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 15:27f.’ (Guthrie)

“You put all things under his control” – ‘What humanity once had, but lost, has now been gained by the one who became a human being for that very purpose. In him humanity has begun to realize its true inheritance.’ (Hagner)

Marvellous humiliation!

‘It was a marvellous humiliation to the Son of God, not only to become a creature, but an inferior creature, a man, and not an angel. Had he taken the angelical nature, though it had been a wonderful abasement to him, yet he had staid (if I may so speak) nearer his own home, and been somewhat liker to a God, than now he appeared, when he dwelt with us: for angels are the highest and most excellent of all created beings:For their nature, they are pure spirits; for their wisdom, intelligences; for their dignity, they are called principalities and powers; for their habitation, they are stiled the heavenly host, and for their employment, it is to behold the face of God in heaven. The highest pitch, both of our holiness and happiness in the coming world, is expressed by this, we shall be “isangeloi,” “equal to the angels,” Lk 20:36.’ (Flavel)

A Christmas text? 

‘Who has ever read this chapter for the Christmas story? Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter two are used. Rarely will anyone read Philippians two, though for variety some might dare to use John chapter one. But Hebrews two demonstrates its value to us in that while we were lower than the angels he came to rescue us. If Hebrews one is titled the grandeur of the Son, Hebrews two should be called the grandeur of the Savior.’ (College Press)

For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 2:9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

Hagner describes 8bf as

‘the first instance of our author’s midrashic treatment of an OT passage—that is, where he presents an interpretation of the quotation, utilizing specific words drawn from the quotation itself. (See the same phenomenon in Heb 3:7–4:11; 10:5–14; 12:5–11.) The result may fairly be described as a Christian commentary (i.e., seen from the perspective of the fulfillment brought by Christ) on the passage that enables the author to drive home his point and thereby also to demonstrate the continuity he finds between old and new.’

He left nothing outside of his control – Indeed, he sustains all things by the word of his power, Heb 1:2f.

At present we do not yet see all things under his control – Cp Eph. 1:20–22 and 1 Peter 3:22 which indicate that Christ’s cosmic control is complete.  How, then, are believers then and now to understand why they are suffering under hostile powers, if these powers are already under Christ’s control?  The already/not yet tension is already implicit in Psa 8 and Psa 110, the first of which sings of present dominion, while the second looks to the future (‘…until…’).  See discussion by George Guthrie.

We shall reign with Jesus

‘When the author of Hebrews says that we do “not yet” see everything in subjection to man (Heb. 2:8), he implies that eventually all things will eventually be subject to us, under the kingship of the man Christ Jesus (note v. 9: “But we see … Jesus, crowned with glory and honor”). This will fulfill God’s original plan to have everything in the world subject to the human beings that he had made. In this sense, then, we will “inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5) and reign over it as God originally intended.’

(Grudem, Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., p1427)

We see Jesus – ‘It is remarkable that when at length he introduces a name in Heb 2:9 it is the name of Jesus he chooses.’ (Guthrie)

Crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death – The theme of suffering will become prominent throughout the rest of this letter.

‘Jesus, already so crowned, has in principle “everything under his feet” (v. 8a). We do not, however, yet see that reign in the present world. Indeed, the delay is already alluded to in a key text previously quoted (Heb 1:13): “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Ps. 110:1). In fact, now we see neither man nor Christ ruling over all things; but Christ’s rule will in the future be fully consummated, and when that occurs, mankind will experience the full realization of the rule spoken of in Psalm 8 (cf. Phil. 3:21).’ (Hagner)

F.F. Bruce also writes of ‘a tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the Christian hope, but each is essential to the other. In the language of the seer of Patmos, the Lamb that was slain has by his death won the decisive victory (Rev. 5:5), but its final outworking, in reward and judgment, lies in the future (Rev. 22:12). The fact that we now “see Jesus crowned with glory and honor” is guarantee enough that God “has put all things under his feet” (Heb. 2:8–9). His people already share his risen life, and those who reject him are “condemned already” (John 3:18). For the Fourth Evangelist, the judgment of the world coincided with the passion of the incarnate Word (John 12:31); yet a future resurrection to judgment is contemplated as well as a resurrection to life (John 5:29).’ (EDT, art. ‘Eschatology’)

Foundational Truths

  1. Incarnation – a little lower than the angels
  2. Atonement – he suffered death
  3. Resurrection – we see Jesus
  4. Exaltation – crowned with glory and honour

(Pickering, 1,000 Subjects)

There is a run of three ‘everythings’ in v8, and another in v10. This context suggests that the ‘everyone’ of v9 should also be ‘everything’. The Gk, which is similar in all 5 cases, allows this, and consistency supports it.

The argument of the passage is: God made Christ a little lower than the angels (ie, in the form of a man), and made everything in creation subject to him. At present, because of sin, all things are not yet subject to him. But the final and assured victory of his death will be that all things do become subject to him, for he suffered death that everything might be brought under his rule. Christ’s death, then, not only brings many sons to glory but also (eventually) removes the curse of sin from God’s creation. Cf. Rom 8:19-22.

A little lower than the angels – ‘In becoming man Christ took upon him a nature that was capable of dying. This the angels were not; and in this respect he was, for a season, made lower than they.’ (A.W. Pink)

So that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone – An alternative reading has ‘apart from God’ (choris theou) instead of ‘by the grace of God’ (chariti theou).

F.F. Bruce thinks that it is likely that a scribe, having read v8 (‘he left nothing that is not subject to him’), wrote in the margin, ‘apart from God’ – recollecting Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 15:27.  This marginal comment then became attached to v9, then to be ‘softened’ by a later scribe to ‘by the grace of God’.

P.E. Hughes notes that a number of early Christian teachers accepted and even defended the reading, ‘apart from God’.  They understood the text to mean that Christ suffered ‘apart from his divine nature.’  But he adds that this assumes a rather questionable construction in the Greek.  Another understanding of the text was that it meant that Christ tasted death for all, apart from God.  But this too is improbable, since it is incredible that anyone should suppose that the ‘everyone’ for whom Christ tasted death might have included God.  A further possibility (if ‘apart from God’ represents the original and correct reading) is that this means that when Christ tasted death he did so ‘separated from God’.  This would be in line with the cry of dereliction from the cross (Mk 15:34), but again relies on a rather unnatural construction.  Hughes opts in the end for ‘by the grace of God’ as the more likely reading.

Guthrie supports the reading ‘by the grace of God’.

So that…he might taste death for everyone – ‘He means that Christ died for us, because he took on himself our lot, and redeemed us from the curse of death’ (Calvin).  Lightner (The Death Christ Died) says: ‘Calvin evidently assumed this reference to be confined to the elect by his use of the word “us.”’  This appears to be an unwarranted conclusion by Lightner: it is not clear that Calvin is here expressing any view as to the extent of the atonement.

‘A good deal of the letter will now be devoted to explaining how this comes about, and what it means. For the moment, we should simply celebrate the fact, which is central to all Christianity, that in Jesus God has already dealt with death on our behalf, and is already ruling the world as its rightful Lord.’ (Wright)

Matthew Poole: ‘to render sin remissible to all persons, and them salvable, God punishing man’s sin in him, and laying on him the iniquities of us all, Isa. 53:4–6; 1 John 2:2; and so God became propitious and pleasable to all; and if all are not saved by it, it is because they do not repent and believe in him, 2 Cor. 5:19–21: compare John 10:15.’

John Brown observes that, in context, ‘every one’ means every member of the class of persons mentioned – ‘the heirs of salvation’, the ‘many sons’ of God, the ‘sanctified ones’, the ‘brethren’ of Christ, ‘the ‘children’ of Christ, ‘whom God had given him.’

John Murray takes a strictly ‘limited-atonement’ view: ‘Christ did taste death for every son to be brought to glory and for all the children whom God had given to him.  But there is not the slightest warrant in this text to extend the reference of the vicarious death of Christ beyond those who are most expressly referred to in the context.’

Hughes concludes: ‘The application to Christ of what this psalm says about man is explained by the fact that the incarnate Son was the perfect, indeed the only perfect, man, and that the intention and achievement of his incarnation was precisely to restore to fallen man the dignity and the wholeness of his existence as he reintegrated in himself the grand design of creation. Psalm 8 relates to the whole of mankind, but it finds its true focus pre-eminently in him who is uniquely the Son of man and in whom alone the hurt of mankind is healed. Only in union with him can man become man as God meant and made him to be.’

‘The Psalm speaks of humankind in general as set in authority over the world, with ‘everything subjected to him’. But, says Hebrews, this clearly hasn’t happened yet. Humans are not ruling the world, bringing God’s order and justice to bear on the whole of creation. Everything is still in a state of semi-chaos. How then can this Psalm be taken seriously?

‘The answer is that it has happened—in the case of Jesus. He is the representative of the human race. His exaltation as Lord, after his earthly ministry, suffering and death (in which he was indeed ‘lower than the angels’) has placed him in the role marked out from the beginning for the human race. He has gone ahead of the rest of us into God’s future, the future in which order and justice—saving order, healing justice—will come to the world.’ (Wright)

When God seems silent

If we reign with, and in Christ, then why do bad things happen to us?  Why does prayer for protection, for healing, for romance, for success, for job security, for relief from temptation, for peace, seem so often to fall on deaf ears?  Why are we left, all too often, with the almost-despairing prayer of Psa 44:23-26?

And what about our brothers and sisters of the persecuted church, where simply to possess a Bible may be regarded as a crime worthy of death?

Truly, God’s people have seen prayers answered.  Through faith, they have ‘conquered kingdoms, administered justice … gained what was promised; … shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword …’ (Heb. 11:33–34).  But ‘some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goat-skins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated (Heb 11:36–37).

So, what is our problem?  Guthrie quotes Larry Crabb: ‘We have become committed to relieving the pain behind our problems rather than using our pain to wrestle more passionately with the character and purposes of God. Feeling better has become more important than finding God. And worse, we assume that people who find God always feel better.’

Guthrie adds: ‘To focus on our situations, our problems, our pains as primary (rather than the purposes of God) is to move away from important aspects of following Christ. We must follow Christ in the way of suffering. God’s people have always been persecuted as counter to the power systems of this world; the enemy death still walks the highways of the globe, having yet to be put completely out of commission (1 Cor. 15:25–27); this “in-between time” is a time of tears and pain (Rev. 21:4).’

To follow the path of suffering is to follow in Jesus’ steps, 1 Pet 2:21.  Persecution is normal for Christians, Matt. 24:8–10; Mark 13:9–13; Acts 5:29–42; Rom. 8:35–37; 2 Cor. 4:8–12; Phil. 1:29; Col. 1:24.  For us, as for our Saviour, our darkest hour may actually be the high point of our work for him (cf. Mt 27:45f).

Moreover, writes Guthries, ‘Moreover, as we consider Jesus, the now exalted Lord of the universe, we perceive that the last chapters of our stories have yet to be written. The exaltation heralds the ultimate demise of all powers of persecution, the burial of death, and the wiping away of all tears from our eyes, reunion with loved ones, and the supply of every need. We will not always live in the “in-between time.” The age of hope looms on the horizon, dwarfing the pains of the present.’

Guthrie concludes: ‘The problem of evil for the Christian lies not in God’s abilities, nor even in our perception of his will and timing (cf. Job 42:3–4), but in our perception of Jesus. As a pilot in a dense fog keeps on course by looking to the instruments, Jesus provides a reference point from which to assess the greater realities of any given situation. What we need is to “see Jesus” (2:8–9), to take a “double look” at him in his incarnation and exaltation.’

2:10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Heb 2:10-18 emphasises Christ’s humanity, and his identity with the human race.  ‘The author has argued that Jesus was greater than the angels and that his greatness is to be seen in the salvation he obtained for us. But he lived on earth as an ordinary man. There was nothing about the Teacher from Nazareth to show that he was greater than the angels. Indeed, the reverse was true, for he had undergone humiliating sufferings, culminating in a felon’s death. The author proceeds to show, however, that, far from this being an objection to his greatness, this was part of it. This was the way he would save us. He would be made like those he saves.’ (EBC)

O’Brien explains how v10 and v17f act as an inclusio, bracketing off and clarifying the content that lies between these bookend.  ‘The term it is fitting (v. 10) corresponds to had to be (v. 17), where the necessity or appropriateness of an aspect of the incarnation is expressed. At both the beginning and end of the paragraph the Son’s ‘preparation’ for his salvation-historical role is stated: according to v. 10 he is made perfect, while in v. 17 he ‘becomes’ a merciful and faithful high priest. He helps the sons and daughters (v. 10) or brothers and sisters (v. 17) for whom he effects salvation, while both his perfection (v. 10) and his becoming high priest (v. 17) involved his suffering (vv. 10, 18). Because the paragraph is framed by references to what Jesus suffered (2:10, 18), then what it asserts must be understood in the light of his suffering death.’

It was fitting – The way of salvation is not arbitrary, but befitting the character of God.  ‘The words show that the sufferings of Jesus did not take place by chance; they had their place in God’s great eternal purpose.’ (EBC)

‘The notion of a crucified Lord was a scandal to the first-century world. Crucifixion was a public form of execution, and its cruelty was well known. For Jews, death by crucifixion meant that a person was under the curse of God, while pagans protested that it was sheer madness. To associate God with the world of suffering was therefore utterly inappropriate. But in spite of the offensive nature of Jesus’ suffering and death, that is precisely the way God has worked, and Hebrews gives it a central place. It was fitting that God should effect his glorious saving purposes through Christ’s sufferings.’ (O’Brien)

Bringing many sons to glory – Bearing in mind the inclusive scope of this passage, O’Brien renders this, ‘sons and daughters’.

‘Bringing’ has strong connotations of leadership.  There are strong echoes of Yahweh’s leading of Israel at the time of the Exodus, Exod. 3:8, 17; 6:6–7; 7:4–5.

‘God overcame many obstacles in bringing many sons to glory.

  1. Man fell.
  2. Man was inclined toward heavy sinfulness. (Gen 6:5-7; Rom 3:10-20)
  3. God’s own holiness prevented his simply brushing man’s guilt aside.
  4. his unique son Jesus must die in man’s place to bear the brunt of this wickedness.
  5. Satan lured many angels away from God and encouraged man’s sinfulness.

Yet God was not content to lose man or even let him sink to a lesser role. He was determined to bring him all the way to the throne to be with him for all ages to come.’ (Eph 1:3-2:10) (College Press)

Author of their salvation – Jesus is both our founder and our leader; the translation ‘pioneer’ would express this well.

‘Jesus is the author (Gk. archegon, as in Heb 12:2) of their salvation, or perhaps more accurately ‘the pioneer of their salvation’. He certainly accomplished something unique on behalf of others (9) and is rightly called ‘the source of eternal salvation’ in Heb 5:9. But the writer also wishes to stress that Jesus is in some respects the leader who acted like a trail-blazer, opening up the way for others to follow.’ (cf. Heb 6:20; 12:1-3) (NBC)

“Take heart therefore, O ye saints, and be strong; your cause is good, God himself espouseth your quarrel, who hath appointed you his own Son, General of the field, called ‘the Captain of our salvation’.” (Gurnall)

Perfect – ‘Three times we are told that he was made perfect (Gk. teleiosai, cf. Heb 5:9; 7:28). There is no sense in which he was morally imperfect, but by his suffering and temptation, his death and heavenly exaltation, he was ‘qualified’ or ‘made completely adequate’ as the saviour of his people.’ (NBC)

2:11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 2:13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am, with the children God has given me.”

Of the same family – Both he and they are descendants of Adam, and therefore ‘brothers’.

Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers – and we should not be ashamed to do so either; see Heb 13:1.

“I will declare your name” – That is, ‘your character’.

To my brothers – ‘ Jesus’ promise to declare God’s name to his brothers and sisters demonstrates his solidarity with them. This is consistent with the Gospel traditions about the way Jesus spoke of disciples as his ‘brothers’ or family during his earthly ministry (Matt. 12:46–50; 25:40; 28:10; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21; John 20:17).’ (O’Brien)

“The congregation” – ‘The word “congregation” (ekklesia) can mean a properly summoned political group (Ac 19:39) or an assembly of almost any kind, including the rioting Ephesians (Ac 19:32, 41). But it is also used of the congregation of ancient Israel (Ac 7:38). In the NT it became the characteristic word for the “church,” the gatherings of Christians.’ (EBC)

“I will put my trust in him” – Isa 8:17.  ‘The context in Isaiah…speaks of difficulties, and the thought may be that just as Isaiah had to trust God to see him through, so was it with Jesus. In this he was brother to all God’s troubled saints.’ (EBC)

“Here am I, and the children God has given me” – Isa 8:18.  We can picture Isaiah standing with his two children, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (whose name predicts the removal of his oppressors – “the spoil speeds, the prey hastes.”) and Shear-Jashub (whose name means, “a remnant shall return”). With their God-given names, his sons provide reassurance that they (and all God’s people) have a future.

See Mt 12:49-50; Mk 3:34-35. The quotation is from Isa 8:17-18 (LXX). ‘The immediate reference, of course, is to the Prophet Isaiah and his unique sons who were given significant names. (see Isa 7:3 8:1-4) But the ultimate reference is to Jesus Christ. Not only are believers his brethren, but we are also his children: “Behold I and the children which God hath given me”.’ (Heb 2:13) (Wiersbe)

‘These children are “given” by God as the disciples were given to Jesus (Jn 17:6).’ (ECB)

‘These words, applied to Christ, are a sublime statement of confidence. It is as if he places his arms around the sons and daughters of the suffering church and says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (Heb 2:13) -“The fact that I have family-brothers and sisters-is a prophecy of the future. This blessed remnant will survive the onslaught, whatever comes.”

Taken together these three Messianic quotations provide huge comfort to the fearful little church because they reveal rich benefits coming from Christ’s solidarity with his people.’ (R. Kent Hughes)

‘Christ brings none to the Father, but those given him by the Father; and this donation, we know, depends on eternal election; for those whom the Father has destined to life, he delivers to the keeping of his Son, that he may defend them. This is what he says by John, “All that the Father has given me, will come to me.”‘ (Jn 6:37) (Calvin)

‘The description of Christians as the “children” or “sons” of Christ is peculiar to this epistle among the New Testament writings; yet the Old Testament precedent for it might be found not only in the words of Isa 8:18 but in a statement about the Suffering Servant in Isa 53:10 “when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring” (RSV).’ (Bruce) But other commentators think that the writer is referring to Christians as children of God, and therefore brothers of Christ, as in v12.

The exalted Christ still shares our human nature

Peter Lewis remarks that Christ, even in his supreme exaltation and incomparable glory, ‘remains united to us and committed to us.  He has not shed the human nature he once took, but has taken it with him into the holy of holies (Heb 9:24), into the central presence of God where he abides, the God-man: everlastingly human now, as well as eternally divine.

‘In that human nature, he who has “one origin” with us by his incarnation (Heb 2:11), who “partook of the same nature” as we (v14), becoming flesh and blood like us and with us, being “made like his brethren in every respect” (v17), is “not ashamed” to call us “brethren” (v11).

‘Indeed, as the writer to the Hebrews so movingly puts it, recalling the words of an ancient scripture, his attitude at the right hand of God is that he is there on behalf of his people and is not to be considered apart from the people he represents: “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (v13).  He approaches the Unapproachable for us and he stands before the presence of the holy God on our behalf.  For him it is not only “here am I” (in the sense of Jn 17:5), but “here am I and the children”.’

The Glory of Christ, p377f, paragraphing added

What dignity this gives to human nature!

‘As the Father loves Christ in his divine nature so he also loves him in his human nature: and as Christi Jesus can no more cease to be man than he can cease to be God, this is the golden and unbreakable link between God and man.  In Christ deity and humanity, uncreated God and created man, yes even Spirit and flesh, are everlastingly joined.  There is a man in heaven who is also God: eternally beloved, infinitely valued.  He now gives massive significance to us as human beings and to every part of our humanness.

‘At a time in our race’s history when the science of astronomy has made many fell so infinitesimally small as to be irrelevant in the universe, this setting of man in Christ in the position of supreme significance, even at the Creator’s “right hand”, is very important.’

Peter Lewis, The Glory of Christ, p379, paragraphing added

2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 2:15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.

These verses (14-18) amply demonstrate that our worst enemies are not without (brutal tyrants, abusive employers, corrupt politicians) but within (the devil, sin, and death).  And they teach that in order to defeat these sinister powers, Jesus had to partake of the same nature as ourselves; he had to share in our humanity.  In order to defeat sin, he would come as our great high priest, offering his very self as the sacrifice for our sins.  In order to vanquish death, he would undergo its torments himself.  In order to overcome the devil, he would disarm him through that very death: ‘Jesus now firmly holds the keys of death and Hades in his powerful hand, for he has invaded the strong man’s fortress, disarmed him, and robbed him of his spoil—the poor wretches held in his clutches (Luke 11:21–22).’ (O’Brien)

Flesh and blood – ‘Blood and flesh’ in the original.

Remember that in all his supreme exaltation, Christ has retained his human nature, Heb 9:24, and remains united to us and committed to us. The same Christ who, after his resurrection, walked and talked with his disciples, occupies the highest place in heaven. He takes up his position at the right hand of God as representative of his people, and not to be considered apart from them, Heb 2:14.

He…shared in their humanity – ‘The basis of the Greek idea of God was detachment; the basis of the Christian idea is identity. Through his sufferings Jesus Christ identified himself with man.’ (DSB)

So that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil

Contrast this confidence with the stark pessimism of Bertrand Russell:-

‘Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destructions omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow fall, the lofty thoughts that enoble his little day;… to worship at the shrine his own hands have built.’ (A Free Man’s Worship and Other Essays)

‘This raises a problem because it is God alone who controls the issues of life and death (Job 2:6; Lk 12:5). But it was through Adam’s sin, brought about by the temptation of the devil, that death entered the world (Gen 2:17; 3:19; Rom 5:12). From this it is logical to assume that the devil exercises his power in the realm of death. But through his own death, Christ destroyed the power of the devil.’ (EBC)

‘It is necessary to distinguish between fulfillment and consummation. The devil has been defeated in principle in and through the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18) and especially through the cross (cf. John 10:31), and yet he is not destroyed, but continues to have real, if limited, power (cf. Eph. 4:27; 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:7; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8). In a similar way, the NT can say that Christ “has destroyed death” (2 Tim. 1:10), and yet death continues to he a reality with which humanity must reckon. The devil and death are p 53 clearly overcome in Christ’s work, even if in this interim period between the cross and the return of Christ we do not see the full effects of Christ’s victory.’ (Hagner)


In my early twenties I used to be a postman. One day I had to deliver a letter to a house I had never visited before. I opened the garden gate only to find myself confronted by the largest and most vicious dog I had ever seen! It barked furiously and then leapt towards me. I stood there helpless and terrified until, to my immense relief, I saw that this massive, angry dog was chained to a huge stake set in concrete. The chain was a long one and the dog had considerable freedom, but not enough to reach me. I saw I could easily deliver the letter and did so. The incident became like a parable to me. As a matter of fact, whenever I had to visit that house in the course of my work, I took little notice of the aggressive dog. I always kept my eye on the strong stake! At the cross the enemy of souls, the devil, was made impotent, limited and chained down. when he has ‘bitten’ us it is usually because we have been far too near. (Brown, BST)

‘God has allowed Satan astonishing freedom. (Lk 4:6; 1 Cor 10:13) Satan rebelled at the beginning and has always appeared in opposition to God and his people. He drew a large number of other angels away from God. He lures people into sin, (Ge 3:1-19; 6:1-7) for example, Peter, (Mt 16:23) Judas, (Lk 22:3; Jn 13:27) Elymas (Ac 13:10) and Ananias and Sapphira. (Ac 5:1-11) he even tried to entice Jesus to sin. (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) he hinders the gospel (Mk 4:15; Acts 26:18; 1 Thess 2:18) and spreads destruction. (Mt 13:24-30,36-43) he blinds the eyes of unbelievers. (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2 Col 1:13) his cunning ranges from fearsome lion-likeness (1 Pet 5:8) to beauty like an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14) he is the father of lies. (Jn 8:44; Eph 6:11) his demise is sure. (Mt 25:41; Jn 12:31; 16:11; Rom 16:20; Rev 20:1-15; 21:8) Satan probably did not understand what God was going to achieve through Jesus’ death. None of the rulers of this age understood it or they would not have crucified Jesus. (1 Cor 2:6-10) On the cross Jesus crushed the head of the serpent. (Ge 3:15) As Jeremiah learned, good work is not entirely building things up. Some things must be torn down.’ (Jer 1:9-10) (College Press)

‘It was not enough that Christ should die for us. In dying he must be a conqueror, otherwise his death would not profit us. Indeed, he suffered in order that he might overcome, Heb 2:14, That through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. This was shown and proven by his resurrection. This is the reason why Paul, after he had demonstrated by many arguments that Christ was risen, and then shown what was the glorious cause of it, concluded the passage with a note of triumph, 1 Cor 15:57, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that Christ conquered all on his cross: there the battle was fought and there the victory was gained. But that victory was made into a triumph in his resurrection. Now his enemies fled, quitting the field. Ps 68:1, Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those also who hate him flee before him. He made a conquest of death itself, and it lay dead at his feet. Christ would never be known as a conqueror, except for this. If death had held him as her captive, where would his victory be?’ (Samuel Willard)

‘Jesus suffering death overcame: Satan wielding death succumbed.’ (Bengel)

Free – The word is used in non-biblical literature for divorce.

Fear of death – ‘Fear is an inhibiting and enslaving thing; and when people are gripped by the ultimate fear—the fear of death—they are in cruel bondage. In the first century this was very real. The philosophers urged people to be calm in the face of death, and some of them managed to do so. But to most people this brought no relief. One of the many wonderful things about the Christian Gospel is that it delivers men and women from the fear of death (cf. Rev 1:18). They are saved with a sure hope of life eternal, a life whose best lies beyond the grave.’ (EBC)

Pagans – Greeks and Romans alike – tended to be terrified of death.  There was little thought of personal survival beyond death.  Their only hope was that a good man might ‘live on’ in the minds of those who held him in esteem.  Other than that, they could only live for the present day.

The believers who received this letter may have had their own fears.  Facing persecution, they may have imagined what it might be like to experience a violent and painful premature death.  But to them had been proclaimed Jesus, who is ‘the resurrection and the life’, Jn 11:25f.  The sting of death has been drawn.  (See the relevant section in BST).

Fear of death

‘Of all human experiences, said James Denney, the most universal is a bad conscience. If that is so, second in order of universality is surely the fear of death. The epistle to the Hebrews describes the redeemed as persons who ‘through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage’ (Heb. 2:15). All the world knows death to be what is called in Job ‘the king of terrors’ (Job 18:14). All ages and cultures have found the thought of death traumatic: it shocks, upsets, unnerves. All the world over, people get embarrassed and rattled if you talk to them about dying. Everywhere, the experience of bereavement, or the death of a friend, shakes people to the core; everywhere, the expectation of dying casts invalids into apathetic despair. (That is why our doctors and hospitals staff, often cruelly, try to hide from the dying their real condition.) Nineteen times the Bible calls the prospect of death its ‘shadow’, and this figure well brings out our feeling about it. We see death looming up ahead of us as a gross, dark threat, casting a shadow before it, streaking our sunniest moments already with chill and gloom. Daily we advance towards it; soon its shadow will engulf us completely, and life’s sunshine will be over for ever. We shall have passed into the dark. As we contemplate that passage, we feel obscurely uneasy. What lies beyond the darkness? When this life stops – what starts? The question bothers people more than they are usually willing to admit.’ (J.I. Packer, God’s Words)

The test of faith

‘The judgement of God always shows itself in consciousness of sin.  It is from this fear that Christ has released us, by undergoing our curse, and thus taking away what was fearful in death.  Although we must still meet death, let us nevertheless be calm and serene in living and dying, when we have Christ going before us.  If anyone cannot set him mind at rest by disregarding death, that man should know that he has not yet gone far enough in the faith of Christ.’ (Calvin)

2:16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 2:18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

See Is 41:8, 9; Lk 3:8, 19:9; Jn 8:39; Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7, 8, 9, 29; Heb 8:9.

Abraham’s descendents – ‘This expression does not refer to humanity in general, nor to national Israel in particular, but to all who have ‘fled to take hold of the hope offered to us’ in Jesus, who are ‘the heirs of what was promised’ to Abraham (Heb 6:17–18).’ (NBC)

Hagner suggests that this reference to ‘Abraham’s descendants’ is intended to focus attention upon his Jewish readers.  ‘But since the church is the heir of the OT promises in Christ, it is not wrong to understand the expression in a wider sense as referring to the entire community of faith (cf. Gal. 3:7).’

He had to – The word can be used of financial debts.  ‘There is the sense of moral obligation here. The nature of the work Jesus came to accomplish demanded the Incarnation.’ (EBC)

TNIV translates: ‘For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ It has been noted that ‘it is impossible for the Greek word adelphoi (brothers) to mean “brothers and sisters” in this context because Jewish high priests were exclusively male and Jesus is male. Jesus was not “made like his sisters in every way.”‘

Made like his brothers in every way – ‘In the earlier reference [v14] the focus was upon Jesus’ adoption of human nature; here the stress is on his sharing in all the experiences of life. Later the author of Hebrews will qualify this to guard against any possible misunderstanding by insisting on his sinless character, which sets him apart from other men and women (Heb 4:15; 7:26). For now, however, the stress is on the total identification of the incarnate Son with his brothers and sisters.’ (O’Brien, Pillar)

Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation) says: ‘Although Jesus was “God with us,” he still completely assumed the cultural trappings of the world in which he lived. In fact, this is what is implied in “God with us.” Perhaps this is part of what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he said that Christ was “made like his brothers in every way” (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a first-century Jew. The languages of the time (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) were his languages. Their customs were his customs. He fit, he belonged, he was one of them.’  This is fair comment; however, it is reasonably clear the author of Hebrews is thinking primarily about temptation and suffering, rather than about culture.  Moreover, Enns tends to stress the human aspects of his incarnational model at the expense of the divine aspects.

This statement can scarcely be held to rule out the Virgin Birth, any more than it rules out Christ’s sinlessness.

Make atonement – Gk. hilaskomai.  ‘When people sin, they arouse the wrath of God (Rom 1:18) and become his enemies (Rom 5:10). One aspect of salvation deals with this wrath, and it is to this that the author is directing attention at this point.’ (EBC)

He himself suffered when he was tempted

‘Jesus, being divine, was impeccable (could not sin), but this does not mean he could not be tempted. Satan tempted him to disobey the Father by self-gratification, self-display, and self-aggrandizement, (Mt 4:1-11) and the temptation to retreat from the cross was constant (Lk 22:28, where the Greek for “trials” can be translated “temptations;” Mt 16:23; and Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane). Being human, Jesus could not conquer temptation without a struggle, but being divine it was his nature to do his Father’s will, (Jn 5:19,30) and therefore to resist and fight temptation until he had overcome it. From Gethsemane we may infer that his struggles were sometimes more acute and agonizing than any we ever know. The happy end-result is that “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”.’ (Heb 2:18) (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology)

How Christ helps those who are being tempted

Brown (BST) identifies a number of ways in which Christ ‘is able to helps those who are being tempted’:-

  1. He takes away our fear.  There is nothing so paralysing as fear of death.  But Christ has overcome that great enemy.
  2. He manifests his mercy.  There is nothing so debilitating and discouraging as a sense of failure.  But in him we can know that our sins are forgiven, our guilty consciences cleansed, and our pardon assured.
  3. He proves his faithfulness.  He is not an occasional or half-hearted helper.  He is  trustworthy and reliable.  He has shown himself to be completely dependable and suitable to our needs.
  4. He shares our sufferings.  He did not life his life in a bubble detached from the anxieties and pains of this world.  He experienced life’s hazards and hardships, and went through such anguish of soul as we shall never ourselves know.  When the readers of this letter – now and well as then – face persecution, rejection, and deprivation, they can know that their Saviour understands their needs.  He can offer both sympathetic insight and practical guidance, as by his example and teaching we learn how best to react to the difficult situations we find ourselves facing.
  5. He supplies strength.  His power, evinced in his resurrection (Heb 7:16; 13:20) is both wonderfully invincible and readily available.  He is able and willing to bring his many sons to ultimate glory.  We are, in Paul’s words (Rom 8:37), ‘more than conquerors’.