David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 2:1-18 - JESUS, OUR ELDER BROTHER
A. Therefore: Because of the superiority of Jesus to the angels, we must give heed to Jesus.
1. (Hebrews 2:1) The lesson of Hebrews 1:1-14 is applied: listen and don’t drift away.
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
a. The use of therefore in Hebrews is instructive; it makes us pay attention to a point of application after the writer has developed a principle. The Scriptural fact of Jesus’ superiority over the angels has life-changing application - and now we must consider the application.
b. What we must do: give more earnest heed to the words of Jesus. It’s easy to think this exhortation to give the more earnest heed is directed to unbelievers; but it is something “mature” Christians must be challenged with also. We can become desensitized to the glory of Jesus’ message, thinking we know it all.
i. Give the more earnest heed has not only the idea of hearing carefully, but also in doing what we have heard - and we must give the more earnest heed.
c. If we do not give the more earnest heed, we will drift away. Drifting is something that happens quite automatically when we are not anchored to anything solid; if we are not “anchored” in the superiority of Jesus, we will drift with the currents of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
i. One doesn’t have to do anything to simply drift away; most Christian regress comes from a slow drifting, not from a sudden departure.
ii. An ungodly farmer died, and they discovered in his will that he had left his farm to the Devil. In the court, they didn’t quite know what to do with it -- how do you give a farm to the Devil? Finally, the judge decided: “The best way to carry out the wishes of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion, the best way to leave something to the Devil is to do nothing.” We can leave our lives to the Devil the same way - doing nothing, drifting with whatever currents will drive us.
2. (Hebrews 2:2-4) The lesson emphasized: how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
a. The word spoken through angels is a way of describing the Mosaic Law, which was received . . . by the direction of angels (Acts 7:53). The idea is that the law was “delivered” to Moses by the hands of angels.
i. The concept that angels mediated the Law is found in Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19 and Josephus, Antiquities, 15.53.
b. The Mosaic Law was steadfast and strict (every transgression and disobedience received a just reward). It demanded to be taken seriously.
c. How shall we escape: If we must take the word which came by angels seriously, how much more seriously must we take the word which came by the Son of God - who has been proven to be greater than the angels?
i. A greater word, brought by a greater Person, having greater promises, will bring a greater condemnation if neglected.
d. Therefore, we must not neglect so great a salvation. The word neglect is amelesantes, which is used in Matthew 22:5 (they made light of it) of those who disregarded the invitation to the marriage supper. It means to have the opportunity, but to ignore or disregard it.
i. This is a word to believers, not to the unsaved. The danger described isn’t rejecting salvation (though the principle certainly applies), but neglecting salvation.
ii. Remember that Hebrews was written not primarily as an evangelistic tract, but as an encouragement and warning to discouraged Christians, those who neglected an abiding walk with Jesus.
e. Spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders: This word was spoken by Jesus, then confirmed by eyewitnesses (those who heard Him). Then it was confirmed with signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God.
i. In saying and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, the writer confirms he is not a “first generation” Christian. He has heard the message second-hand through the apostles and eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry.
ii. Hebrews 2:3 is one reason many believe Paul did not write Hebrews. In other passages, Paul seems to put himself on an equal level with the apostles and other eyewitnesses of Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11).
f. God does confirm His word with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit - but doing it all according to His own will.
i. Jesus said miraculous signs would follow those who believe (Mark 16:17); if there is no element of the miraculous, one may question whether there is true belief in Jesus or if the word of God is truly being preached. After all, is the preacher giving anything for God to confirm?
ii. On the other hand, the Spirit brings such miracles and gifts according to His will. Miracles can’t be “worked up” and hyped; much damage has been done by those who don’t think enough miracles are happening, and want to “prime the pump” through the enthusiasm of the flesh.
iii. It’s hard to say which is worse - the denial of miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the fleshly counterfeit of them. But the devil doesn’t care which side of the boat he throws you over, just as long as you get soaking wet!
B. The glorious humanity of Jesus Christ
1. (Hebrews 2:5-8 a) We know Jesus is human, because God has put the world in subjection to man, not angels (evidence: Psalms 8:4-6).
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.
a. You have made him a little lower than the angels: In chapter one, the writer to the Hebrews demonstrated the deity of Jesus and His superiority over all angels brilliantly from the Scriptures. Now he will demonstrate the humanity of Jesus from the Scriptures, and apply the implications of Jesus’ humanity.
i. It is Scripturally wrong to think of Jesus as merely God or merely man. It is wrong to think of Him as 50% God, 50% man (or any other percentage split). It is wrong to think of Him as “man on the outside” and “God on the inside.” The Bible teaches Jesus is fully God and fully man, that a human nature was added to His divine nature, and both natures existed in one Person, Jesus Christ.
ii. Significantly, the first false teaching about Jesus arising in the church was not that He wasn’t God, but that He wasn’t really human and He only seemed to be human. The heresy was called Docetism, coming from the Greek word to seem, and was taught by Cerinthus, who opposed the apostle John in the city of Ephesus, and whose teaching is probably the focus of 1 John 4:2; 1 John 5:6.
b. He has not put the world to come . . . in subjection to angels: God never gave angels the kind of dominion man originally had over the earth (Genesis 1:26-30); angels do not have dominion over this world, or the world to come.
c. What is man: The quotation from Psalms 8:4-6 shows both the smallness of man in relation to the God of creation, and the dominion that God has given man, even though he is a little lower than the angels.
d. He left nothing that is not put under him: The writer emphasizes the point: God has put all things (not some things) under subjection to human beings.
i. So, how can Jesus rule and reign over the world to come if He is not human? Then God’s promise to put the world under subjection to man would be untrue.
2. (Hebrews 2:8-9) A problem and its solution.
But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
a. But now we do not yet see all things put under him: How can we say that all things are subject to man? It seems to be an unfulfilled promise.
b. But we see Jesus: The promise is fulfilled in Jesus, who is Lord over all, and through whom man can regain the dominion originally intended for Adam (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Matthew 25:21).
i. How many things we do not understand are put into proper focus if we will only see Jesus! The answers to life’s most perplexing questions are not questions of “Why?” though we often torture ourselves asking “Why?” The greatest answer is a Who - Jesus Christ!
c. This promise of dominion could only be fulfilled through the humility (a little lower than the angels) and suffering (the suffering of death) of Jesus, who defeated the evil Adam had introduced into the world - which was death (Romans 5:12).
i. God gave man dominion over the earth, but man forfeited his power (not his right or authority) to take that dominion through sin, and the principle of death took away the power to rule. But Jesus came, and through His humility and suffering, defeated the power of death, and makes possible the fulfillment of God’s promise that humans will have dominion over the earth - fulfilled both through Jesus’ own dominion, and the rule of believers with Him. (Revelation 20:4)
3. (Hebrews 2:10-13) We know Jesus is human, because He calls is brethren.
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”
a. Not only was it necessary - it was fitting for the sovereign God - for whom are all things and by whom are all things to be made perfect through sufferings in the task of bringing many sons to glory.
i. Conceivably, God could have engineered a way to save us that did not require the suffering of the Son of God; but it was fitting for Jesus to save us at the cost of His own agony.
ii. This is the ultimate illustration of the fact that real love, real giving, involves sacrifice. As David said, nor will I offer . . . offerings to the LORD my God which costs me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). God’s love for us had to show itself in sacrifice, and what could God sacrifice unless He added humanity to His deity and suffered on our behalf?
b. Jesus was made perfect through sufferings. It isn’t that there was anything lacking in His Deity, but only in His experience: how does God in heaven know suffering by experience?
i. “To make perfect does not imply moral imperfection in Jesus, but only the consummation of that human experience of sorrow and pain through which he must pass in order to become the leader of his people’s salvation.” (Vincent)
ii. The point is that it was fitting for the Father to do this, in the sense that it pleased the LORD to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10) for the sake of bringing many sons to glory.
c. Therefore, we are sanctified by One who has been sanctified. We are all of the same human family, so Jesus is not ashamed to call them (that is, us) brethren. He could not be our brother unless He was also human like us.
i. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brethren. But are we ashamed to openly say that we belong to Jesus? Who should be more embarrassed?
d. The writer cites three evidences to the fact that Jesus the Messiah calls His people His brethren from the Old Testament: Psalms 22:22, Isaiah 8:17-18.
i. In each one of these examples, we see Messiah willing to associate Himself with His brethren, whether it be in a congregation of worship, a community of trust in the Father, or declaring a common family association.
4. (Hebrews 2:14-16) What Jesus did as our Brother.
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.
a. He Himself likewise shared in the same: For Jesus to truly fulfill the role of “Elder Brother” for the family of the redeemed, He had to take on flesh and blood. He had to enter into the prison to free the captives.
b. Through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil: Some take this as meaning that Jesus destroyed Satan’s “right” to rule over man, which was presumably given to him in the garden of Eden through Adam’s rebellion. The idea is that Jesus took away Satan’s “right” to rule by allowing Satan to “unlawfully” take Jesus’ life on the cross, and Satan’s “unlawful” action against Jesus forfeited his right to rule over man. In this thinking, the end result is that the devil has no right over those who come to God through Jesus’ work on the cross.
i. Since death only has dominion over those who are born sinners or who have sinned (Romans 5:12), Satan had no “right” to take the life of Jesus, who had never sinned nor was born a sinner - and the devil then committed an “unlawful” murder, according to his nature (John 8:44). Jesus allowed the devil to bruise His heel so that He could bruise his head (Genesis 3:15).
ii. The problem with this approach is that we know the devil did not take Jesus’ life; He laid it down of His own accord, and no one took it from Him (John 10:17-18).
iii. However, one might say the devil is guilty of “attempted unlawful murder” over someone he had no rights over, because there was no stain of sin on Jesus. Satan certainly wanted to murder Jesus, and tried to, and is guilty of that.
c. Release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage: The fear of death rules as a tyrant over humanity. Some try to make peace with death by calling it their friend. But Christians have no fear of death (though perhaps a fear of dying), not because death is their friend, but because it is a defeated enemy who now serves God’s purpose in the believer’s life.
d. He does give aid to the seed of Abraham: The Father’s work in Jesus was not primarily for the sake of angels (though it is for the angels in a secondary sense according to Ephesians 3:10), it is for the people of faith (the seed of Abraham).
i. Seed of Abraham here is used in the sense of those who are Abraham’s children inwardly, not ethnically (Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 3:7).
4. (Hebrews 2:17-18) Therefore: Jesus is our faithful High Priest.
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
a. Made like His brethren: If Jesus were not like us, He could not be our High Priest, representing us before the Father and making atonement (propitiation) for our sins.
i. Neither the Deity nor the Humanity of Jesus are negotiable. If we diminish either and He is unable to save us.
b. That He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest: The High Priest wore a breastplate that had stones, engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, on both his chest and his shoulders. The High Priest would therefore be in constant sympathy with the people of God, carrying them on his heart and in his work (on the shoulders).
i. Jesus did not wear the High Priest’s breastplate; but the wound in His chest and the cross on His shoulders are even more eloquent testimony to His heart for us and work on our behalf - to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
c. Because Jesus added humanity to His deity, and has experienced human suffering, Jesus is able to aid those who are being tempted, and when we are suffering. He really does know what you are going through!
d. It is astonishing: there is a God in Heaven who by experience knows what I am going through, and can aid me, not just feel bad for me!
i. “This is the most powerful preservative against despair, and the firmest ground of hope and comfort, that ever believing, penitent sinners could desire or have.” (Poole) “Were the rest of the Scripture silent on this subject, this verse might be an ample support for every tempted soul.” (Clarke)
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