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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Hebrews 2

 

 

Verse 1

(1) Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.—Better, to the things heard; for this expression contains the complement of the thought of Hebrews 1:1. Both “speak” and “hear” are words which carry weighty emphasis in this Epistle. (See Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 12:25; Hebrews 3:5; Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 4:2, et al.) Because of the supreme dignity of Him in whom at the last God speaks, men are bound to give the more earnest heed to the words spoken, whether heard by them from the Lord Himself or (as in this case, Hebrews 2:3) from His servants.

Lest at any time we should let them slip.—This translation (first introduced by the Genevan Bible of 1560) substantially gives the sense, but inverts the figure presented in the Greek. The words must be rendered, lest possibly we drift away (Wiclif, “lest perauenture we fleten awey”). It is the man that is in danger of being carried along by the current: unless the mind be held closely to the words that God has spoken, it must drift away from them, and from the salvation which they promise. There seems no foundation for the rendering of the margin, first given in the Genevan Testament of 1557.


Verses 1-4

II.

(1-4) These verses must be closely joined with the first chapter. Before advancing to the next step in his argument, the writer pauses to enforce the duty which results from what has been already established. But (as in Hebrews 4:14-16) the exhortation does not interrupt the thought, but rather serves as a connecting link. (See Note on Hebrews 2:5.)


Verse 2

(2) The word spoken by angels.—Or rather, through angels (comp. Hebrews 1:2): the word was God’s, but angels were the medium through which it was given to men. In accordance with the tone of the whole passage (in which the thought is not the reward of obedience, but the peril of neglect of duty), “the word” must denote divine commands delivered by angels, and—as the close parallel presented by Hebrews 10:28-29, seems to prove—especially the commands of the Mosaic law. Hence this verse must be joined to the other passages (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; comp. also Acts 7:38) which bring into relief the ministration of angels in the giving of the Law; and the nature of the argument of this Epistle gives special importance to the subject here. The only passage in the Pentateuch which can be quoted in illustration is Deuteronomy 33:2 : “The Lord came from Sinai. . . . He came from amid myriads of holy ones.” The Greek version (introducing a double rendering of the Hebrew) adds, “at His right hand were angels with Him;” and two of the Targums likewise speak of the “myriads of holy angels.” Psalms 68:17 is difficult and obscure, but very possibly agrees with the passage just quoted in referring to angels as the attendants of Jehovah on the mount. Nowhere in the Old Testament is the thought carried beyond this point; but there are a few passages in Jewish writers which clearly show that such a ministration of angels as is here spoken of was a tenet of Jewish belief in the apostolic age. Philo, after saying that the angels have their name from reporting the commands of the Father to His children, and the wants of the children to the Father, adds: “We are unable to contain His exceeding and unalloyed benefits, if He Himself proffers them to us without employing others as His ministers.” Much more important are the words of Josephus (Ant. xv. 5, § 3), who introduces Herod as reminding the Jews that the noblest of the ordinances and the holiest of the things contained in the laws had been learnt by them from God through angels. Jewish writers quoted by Wetstein speak of the “angels of service” whom Moses had known from the time of the giving of the law; and, moreover, of the angel who, when Moses had through terror forgotten all that he had been taught during the forty days, delivered the law to him again. Such speculations are of interest as showing the place which this tenet held in Jewish doctrine and belief. Here and in Galatians 3:19 (see Note there) this mediation of angels is adduced as a mark of the inferiority of the law; in Acts 7:53, where no such comparison is made, the contrast implied is between angels and men as givers of a law.

Was stedfast.—Rather, proved steadfast or sure; evidence of this was given by the punishment which overtook the transgressor, whether inflicted by the direct visitation of God or by human hands faithfully executing the divine will. Of the two words well rendered transgression and disobedience, the one points especially to the infraction of a positive precept, the other is more general: the former relates more commonly to “thou shalt not;” the latter rather to “thou shalt.” The two words are here united, that every violation of the command may be included. The use of reward in a neutral or unfavourable sense (2 Peter 2:13; Psalms 94:2, et al.) is not uncommon in our older writers. (Comp. “the reward of a villain,” in Shakespeare.)


Verse 3

(3) How shall we escape?—In a different context these words might naturally mean, “How shall we, transgressors of the law, escape from the penalty it threatens, if we neglect the one means of deliverance now offered us?” (Comp. Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5.) Here, however, are placed in contrast the command and threatening which came through angels and the salvation “spoken through the Lord”; while the one “word” is thus wholly unlike the other in substance and in form of proclamation, each is a law, in that neglect is visited with penalty. On the intrinsic greatness of the salvation the writer does not dwell; it is implied in the unique dignity and commission of Him through whom it was given.

Which at the first began to be spoken.—Better, which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was made sure unto us by them that heard. “Through the Lord” (comp. Hebrews 1:2) was spoken this word of God which brought salvation. In two other passages Jesus receives the name “our Lord” (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 13:20), but nowhere else in this Epistle (unless perhaps in Hebrews 12:14) is He spoken of as “the Lord”; the dignity of the title here heightens the contrast. “By them that heard “the word from Him, the writer says, it “was made sure” (not confirmed, as if stronger attestation were the meaning intended) “unto us.” It is evident that the writer here classes himself with those who had not immediately heard the word from Jesus. Such language as this stands in striking contrast with St. Paul’s claim, repeatedly maintained, to have received his doctrine directly from the Lord Himself (Galatians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 9:1, et al.).


Verse 4

(4) God also bearing them witness.—That is, bearing witness with them to the truth they preached. Mark 16:20 is a striking parallel; see also Acts 4:30. The divine attestation was given by miracles and by “gifts” (literally, distributions, as in the margin; see 1 Corinthians 12:11) “of the Holy Ghost.” We have here, as in Acts 2:22 and 2 Corinthians 12:12 (see the Notes), the full threefold description of miracles, as “signs” and “wonders” and “powers”; as wonderful works that are wrought by divine power, and are thus signs of the divine presence and symbols of a corresponding spiritual work. The words here used are illustrated especially by 2 Corinthians 12:12, in its reference to miracles as attesting the apostolic preaching. But yet “greater works” (John 14:12) were wrought by the messengers of Christ, in that through them were bestowed the gifts of the Spirit. The last words, “according to His will,” bring us back to the first words of the section (Hebrews 1:1); as it is God who speaks to men in His Son, it is He who works with those who proclaim the word that they have heard, attesting their message by gifts according to His will.


Verse 5

(5) For.—There is a very clear connection between this verse and Hebrews 1:14. “Angels are but ministering spirits, serving God in the cause of those who shall inherit salvation; for not to angels is the world to come made subject.” But the connection with Hebrews 2:2-3, is equally important: “the salvation that is now given has been proclaimed not by angels but by the Lord, and it is God Himself who works with the messengers of the Lord; for not unto angels,” &c. The word “salvation” binds together this section and the first. (See Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 2:10.)

Hath he not put in subjection.—Better, did He subject; for the reference is to the passage quoted in the following verses, which is already in the writer’s thought. “He:” God, speaking in the prophetic Scripture.

The world to come.—The same expression occurs in the English version of Hebrews 6:5, but in the Greek “world” is represented by entirely different words. Here, as in Hebrews 1:6, the meaning is “inhabited earth,” “world of man”; there, the word properly relates to time, “age.” Is “the world to come” still future, or is it here looked at from the Old Testament point of view? (See Hebrews 1:2.) The following verses (especially Hebrews 2:9) make it clear that the period referred to is that which succeeds the exaltation of Christ. We ourselves cannot but markedly distinguish the present stage of Messiah’s kingdom from the future; but in the perspective of prophecy the two were blended. The thought of this kingdom amongst men has been present from the first verses of the Epistle onwards; hence, “whereof we speak.”


Verses 5-18

(5-18) It was needful that Jesus, as Author of salvation to man, should in all points be made like to those whom He saves, and in their likeness suffer and die; thus He becomes for them a merciful and faithful High Priest.


Verse 6

(6) But one in a certain place.—Better, somewhere. The expression is perfectly indefinite (comp. Hebrews 4:4). As a rule, the words of Scripture are in this Epistle quoted as God’s own utterances; and though the nature of the quotation (which is an address to God) made this impossible here, the writer seems gladly to avoid the mention of the human prophet, perhaps as distracting the thought from the divine prophecy. This studious indefiniteness in citation is common in Philo, and sometimes occurs where he cannot possibly have been in doubt as to the source of his quotation.

Testified.—That is, in Biblical usage, solemnly declared: the words are no light exclamation of wonder. The quotation which follows (from Psalms 8:4-6) agrees verbally with the LXX. version. The only point of doubt is whether the last clause of Hebrews 2:7 was included in the quotation, as in some very good ancient authorities it is absent from the text. The weight of external evidence is certainly in its favour; but it is easier to see how a scribe may have introduced the clause through his familiarity with the Psalm than to explain its omission if it stood in the original text of this Epistle. The Greek translation here faithfully represents the Hebrew, except in one point. For “a little lower than the angels,” the Hebrew text has “a little less than God.” The change (which is similar to that noticed in Hebrews 1:6) was probably introduced by the translators on a principle which we may often trace in their work—a wish to tone down expressions relating to the Deity which seemed strong or bold. In quoting the passage the writer does not depart from the rendering most familiar to the readers of the Greek Bible; but, though the clause in its altered form accords well with what had preceded the quotation, and, so to speak, more completely interweaves the words of the Psalm with the context in which they are here placed, yet no stress is laid on “angels.” The argument of this section would not be affected materially if the true rendering of the Hebrew were restored. The eighth Psalm is an expression of amazement that God, who has “set His glory upon the heavens,” should deign to remember man. Not only is He “mindful of man,” but He has made him but “little less than God,” “crowned him with honour,” given him “dominion over” all His works. The original blessing pronounced on man (Genesis 1:28) is clearly in the Psalmist’s thought, and suggests his words. The language which here precedes (Hebrews 2:5) and follows (Hebrews 2:8) shows that the last clause (“thou didst subject all things under his feet”) bears the stress of the quotation. (That the same words are the groundwork of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is one of the most interesting coincidences between this Epistle and St. Paul.) It is easy to see, therefore, for what purpose these verses are here adduced. Not to angels is “the world to come” subjected: in the Scripture there are found words declaring that a divine decree has subjected all things to man. How the thought is combined with the argument of the whole passage will be seen in Hebrews 2:9. A question at once arises: Did the meaning here assigned to the Psalm exist in David’s thought? If not, on what principle does this application rest? David had in mind the words of the primal blessing, and probably did not himself think of more than those words seemed to imply. But the complete meaning of God’s words can be learnt only when they are fulfilled in history. To Him who speaks in Scripture the material dominion was the symbol of a higher and a universal rule, to be fulfilled in the Son of Man when the fulness of time should come. The Psalm is not directly Messianic,—it relates to man; but it is through the Man Christ Jesus that it receives its complete fulfilment for mankind.


Verse 8

(8) Thou hast put . . .—There is in the Greek a studious repetition of the leading word, which should not be lost in translation: “Thou didst subject all things under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing unsubjected to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.”

For in that . . .—The assertion of Hebrews 2:5 is established by this Scripture; for if God has thus declared all things subject to man, there is nothing that did not fall under his rule. “Did not,” in the divine purpose; but this purpose is not yet fulfilled in regard to the race of man.


Verse 8-9

The Crowned Christ

But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man.—Hebrews 2:8-9.

We have a comparison in this chapter between humanity uncrowned and humanity in Jesus Christ crowned. Humanity is a tender and beautiful plant, but it is flowerless apart from Jesus Christ. All the strength, the grace, and the beauty of the race express themselves once for all in Christ who is the flower of the race. And we see the meaning, the purpose and the sovereignty of the human race when we see Jesus crowned.

Following the writer’s thought, let us consider,

I. Man’s unrealized Destiny.

II. His Sovereignty secured in Christ.

I

Man’s unrealized Destiny

“But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.”

1. That man was made for sovereignty was declared by the Psalmist whom the writer quotes. “Thou hast made him”—that is, man—“a little lower than the angels. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” And this is not a doctrine peculiar to the Psalmist; it is not merely the excitement and rapture of genius that affirm it. Read the earliest pages of the Jewish Scriptures, and you will discover that in the record of creation it is said that man was made in the image of God, was appointed to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth; and he was charged by God to subdue the earth, which had been made his kingdom.

Readers of Tennyson will remember the magic Hall of Camelot, with its four great zones or belts of sculpture. On the lowest belt were represented beasts slaying men. On the next higher, men are slaying beasts, on the third are warriors, perfect men, while on the highest are men with growing wings; and over all the ideal man beckoning upward to those beneath. A wonderful parable of the advancing man. To the writer of the 8th Psalm man had already tamed the beast, tamed its passions. He had made the ox the slave of agriculture. He had harnessed the fury of the fire, and found a way for his commerce in the seas. But while he thus felt how great was his place in the universe, nothing impressed him so much as that God thought about him and visited him. The greatest thing one can say is that man can hold communion with his God, that man can walk with the Eternal and have the atmosphere of heaven.1 [Note: J. E. Rattenbury.]

(1) Man’s sovereignty extends over the material universe.—Man is infinitely more than the last and the highest result of operations entirely within the material. He is the last and the highest result of such operations, in certain senses; but he did not become man by such operations and processes. He became man by an act of God, distinct from all other acts; an act by which He did, in the mystery of His wisdom and the operations of His might, differentiate by infinite distance between man and everything that lay beneath him in the scale of creation. God’s place for this man in the earth is that of dominion. He made him to have dominion over the whole earth; over all that the earth yields in the mystery of its life; over all that dwells upon the earth, having sentient life. Over all these He placed man, that he might have dominion over them. All beneath man is imperfect without him, and can be perfected only as he exercises his dominion.

I refuse to be reduced to the same rank, to be placed in the same order, as the cattle that browse on the hills, or the fish that people the sea. I assert my supremacy. I believe that I have received from the hand of God crown and sceptre, and that although other designs may be accomplished by the existence of the material and living things around me, they are intended to serve me. The sun shines that I may see the mountains and the woods and the flashing streams, and that I may do the work by which I live. For me the rain falls and the dews silently distil—to cherish the corn which grows for my food, to soften the air I breathe, and to keep the beauty of the world fresh and bright on which I rejoice to look. The music of the birds is for me, and the perfume of flowers. For me it was that forests grew in ancient times and have since been hardened into coal; for me there are veins of iron and of silver penetrating the solid earth; and for me there are rivers whose sands are gold. The beasts of the earth were meant to do my work; sheep and oxen are given me for food. Fire and hail and the stormy wind were meant to serve me. I have authority to compel the lightning to be the messenger of my thought, and the servant of my will. Man is placed over the works of God’s hands; for those works were meant to minister to man’s life, man’s culture, and man’s happiness.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 49.]

(2) Man bears “the image of God.”—In the creation which surrounds us, there are marvellous manifestations of the Divine attributes. A power to which we can give no other name than omnipotence, a knowledge which we cannot but call infinite, a wisdom whose depths are unfathomable, and an inexhaustible goodness, are revealed in the heavens above and in the earth beneath. But in man, God has given existence to a creature in whom we recognize not merely the operations of the Divine attributes, but the attributes themselves, though in a less noble form and an inferior degree. There is the manifestation of wisdom, of power, and of love, in the other works of God; but in man there is wisdom itself, love itself.

The preparation of the Declaratory Act, to remove difficulties and scruples felt by some in reference to the declaration of belief required from persons who receive office or are admitted to office in the Free Church, was undertaken with great care. At the Assembly of 1891, Principal Rainy was able to bring up the document which the Committee proposed to be adopted. The fourth section read as follows: “That in holding and teaching, according to the Confession of Faith, the corruption of man’s whole nature as fallen, this Church also maintains that there remain tokens of his greatness as created in the image of God; that he possesses a knowledge of God and of duty; that he is responsible for compliance with the moral law and with the Gospel; and that, although unable without the aid of the Holy Spirit to return to God, he is yet capable of affections and actions which in themselves are virtuous and praiseworthy.”1 [Note: P. C. Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, ii. 125.]

(3) Man is endowed with freedom.—He is like God in this, that he possesses freedom to choose the objects of his life, and the means by which he will secure them. Let the iron hand of necessity control all things besides,—the eagle in her daring flight, the tumult of the ocean, the dance of the spray, the rush of the winds, the fury of the storm,—the will of man stands erect, confronting and defying all authority and all power. No outward force can compel it; no inward necessity bind it. The foundations of that throne on which the human will has been placed by the hand of the Creator cannot be shaken by the tremendous energies which rend asunder the everlasting hills. A solitary man can stand against a million; they may torture his physical frame till he cries aloud in his agony, but the whole force of a great empire has been met and mastered by the will of a quiet scholar and of a feeble woman. God has given to the human will the power of refusing to bow before His own greatness, and of disobeying His own commands. This imperial faculty it is, beyond all others, which stamps man as the rightful master of the world. He alone has this indispensable attribute of sovereignty. All creatures besides are in bondage to irresistible law; he alone has received the gift of freedom. “Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”

But it exceeds man’s thought to think how high

God hath raised man, since God a man became;

The angels do admire this mystery,

And are astonished when they view the same.


Nor hath he given these blessings for a day,

Nor made them on the body’s life depend.

The soul, though made in time, survives for aye;

And though it hath beginning, sees no end.2 [Note: Sir John Davies.]

2. Man’s sovereignty, conferred on him originally by the appointment of his Creator, has not been fully realized. How miserably he has come short of it has been shown by the condition of all nations and of all ages. His freedom has been manifested in his violation of the most solemn and imperative obligations. The image of God has been so defaced that it has almost disappeared. The intellect of man has sunk into a chaos of ignorance and error, and, instead of rightly understanding the universe, he has constructed a thousand monstrous theories concerning its origin, concerning the very structure of material things, concerning his own nature and destiny. The commonest laws of the external world remained hidden from him for thousands of years, and remain hidden even now from the immense majority of his race. Instead of being the master of the inferior creation, he has been—and to a large extent, continues still—its unhappy victim. His life is destroyed by the poison of reptiles, and by the brute strength of beasts of prey. The vineyards he has laboriously cultivated he cannot protect from blight. The harvests he is ready to reap are wasted by destructive rains. On the land, his cities perish by earthquakes: on the sea, his ships go down in the storm. His health is ruined and his moral nature corrupted by the strong temptations of the outward world, which betray him into sensual excesses. He has come to be so humiliated and degraded that he has looked up to the moon and stars which were made to serve him, and has called them his gods; he has placed four-footed beasts and creeping things in the shrine of his temples, and has implored them to avert the calamities he dreaded, and to bestow on him the blessings for which he longed. The traces of his kingship have not disappeared; slowly and painfully in one province of his dominions after another, especially since Christ came, and in the lands of Christendom, he has been winning back the authority he had lost; but his hand is too feeble to hold the sceptre, and on all sides the subject creation is in open revolt—revolt which he seems often unable even to check, and is quite unable to subdue. “We see not yet all things put under him.”

If that psalm be God’s thought of man, the plan that He hangs up for us, His workmen, to build by, what a wretched thing my copy of it has turned out to be! Is this a picture of me? How seldom I am conscious of the visits of God; how full I am of weaknesses and imperfections, the solemn voice within me tells me at intervals when I listen to its tones. On my brow there gleams no diadem; from my life, alas! there shines at the best but a fitful splendour of purity, all striped with solid masses of blackness. And as for dominion over creatures, how superficial my rule over them, how real their rule over me! I can tame animals or slay them; I can use the forces of nature for my purposes. I can make machinery, and bid the lightning do my errands, and carry messages, the burden of which is mostly money, or power, or sorrow. But all these things do not signify that man has the dominion over God’s creation. That consists in using all for God, and for our own growth in wisdom, strength, and goodness; and he only is master of all things who is servant of God. “All are yours, and ye are Christ’s.” If so, what are most of us but servants, not lords, of earth and its goods? We fasten our very lives on them, we tremble at the bare thought of losing them, we give our best efforts to get them; we say to the fine gold, “Thou art my confidence.” We do not possess them, they possess us, though materially we may have conquered the earth (and wonderfully proud of it we are now), spiritually, which is the same as to say really, the earth has conquered us.

The sense I had of the state of the churches brought a weight of distress upon me. The gold to me appeared dim, and the fine gold changed, and though this is the case too generally, yet the sense of it in these parts hath in a particular manner borne heavy upon me. It appeared to me that through the prevailing of the spirit of this world the minds of many were brought to an inward desolation, and instead of the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and heavenly wisdom, which are the necessary companions of the true sheep of Christ, a spirit of fierceness and the love of dominion too generally prevailed. From small beginnings in error great buildings by degrees are raised, and from one age to another are more and more strengthened by the general concurrence of the people; and as men obtain reputation by their profession of the truth, their virtues are mentioned as arguments in favour of general error; and those of less note, to justify themselves, say, such and good men did the like.1 [Note: The Journal of John Woolman.]

II

Sovereignty secured in Christ

“But we behold him … even Jesus … crowned with glory and honour.”

The writer of the Epistle has quoted the 8th Psalm as an illustration of his thesis that Christ, and we in Christ, are exalted above angels, and then he proceeds to admit that, as a matter of fact, men are not what the Psalmist describes them as being. But the psalm is not, therefore, an exaggeration, or a dream, or a mere ideal of the imagination. True, as a matter of fact, men are not all this. But, as a matter of fact, Jesus Christ is, and in His possession of all that the psalm painted our possession is commenced and certified. It is an ideal picture, but it is realized in Jesus, and, having been so in Him, we have ground to believe that it will be so in us. We see not yet all things put under man—alas, no—but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour; and as He tasted death for every man, so in His exaltation He is prophecy and pledge that the grand old words shall one day be fulfilled in all their height and depth.

1. Christ’s sovereignty was won through humiliation and suffering.

(1) He was content to be “made a little lower than the angels.”—Wherein was Jesus set under the angels? Not simply in that He became man; for His manhood is as truly the ground of His exaltation as of His humiliation. It is to man as man that the psalm ascribes the coronet of glory and honour—the exaltation over all creatures into which Jesus has entered. With Jesus, as with man in general, the inferiority to the angels is one of dispensation, not of nature. To be subordinated to the angelic dispensation is the same thing as to be “made under the law.” Jesus shared man’s humiliation, to win, not for Himself only, but for men, His brethren, the destined glory. God brings many sons to glory along with Him, inasmuch as He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one piece. Thus the blessings of the psalm do, in the world to come, fall to man. But they are earned for him by the man Christ Jesus who, tasting death for all, delivers us from the fear of death and so from bondage. And this blessing of deliverance from the bondage of the Old Covenant belongs even now to Christians, who have already tasted the powers of the world to come, who are regarded as dissociated from the earthly theocracy and living in view of that which is to come. “The world to come” is in fact the equivalent of the Kingdom of God in the gospel—already present among men, though hitherto as an object of faith, not of sight.

(2) He endured the suffering of death.—There are many ways of winning a crown. Here, and in these great chapters of Revelation (5, 6), we see Jesus greeted with unspeakable acclaim because He has suffered. Because of the suffering of death which He bore, because of the way in which He bore it, and because He bore it to such limits of endurance as are possible on earth, He was raised from the cross of shame to the throne of God. If we see truly, He changed the cross of shame into a throne of glory. Because it was He who was crucified, and because of the manner and spirit in which He bore the suffering of death, He Himself transformed and transfigured the shameful cross, until to-day it is the throne from which this universe is ruled.

(3) Because He wears the crown He still drinks man’s cup.—“That by the grace of God he should taste death for every man.” Jesus did not finish His suffering on Calvary. We have to recall the thought which John taught us when he showed us the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne, as though it had been slain—the thought that Calvary was but the revelation of the suffering of God which was from the foundation of the world, and shall be until earth and heaven are brought to peace and righteousness. So here we have this thought in a new and wondrous form. The crown of Christ and the glory which was awarded Him were like no other crown or glory ever awarded to man. We speak in our poor fashion of Christ’s suffering being followed by glory, and we mean a glory according to the fleshly heart of man. We speak of His exchanging the cross for the crown, not knowing that the crown is ever the crown of thorns. This writer tells us that the glory with which He was crowned was the glory of tasting death for every man. That was the glory He won by suffering so supremely on Golgotha. That was the glory He attained to because He was very faithful on that narrow cross, even as far as death.

The Cross of Calvary was taken into the very heart of the Eternal. From earth there went One who, by the experience of earth, was fitted to regain His place in the fellowship of God. That is the thought that places us at the very heart of what we generally mean by the Atonement. The Saviour who bears the sin of this world to-day is a living crucified Saviour to-day. Wherever there is sin, there is He crucified. So much of it as was possible out of the venom and malice of those Jewish foes fell upon Him in Jerusalem, but to-day He is free from the limits of mortal flesh, and has entered into the eternal Spirit of God once again; and wherever there is sin, there is Christ crucified. As He died that day for those who then lived, He tastes death in every ruined life, He is crucified in every lustful heart; His heart is broken in every ruined home, and smitten with pain by our coldness, and failure, and disobedience.1 [Note: F. W. Lewis, The Work of Christ, 86.]

2. Christ’s crown is the prophecy and pledge of man’s dominion. He is the pattern of human nature. From Christ comes the power by which the prophecy is fulfilled and the pattern reproduced in all who love Him. Whosoever is joined to Him receives into his soul that spirit of life in Christ which unfolds and grows according to its own law, and has for its issue and last result the entire conformity between the believing soul and the Saviour by whom it lives. It were a poor consolation to point to Christ and say, “Look what man has become, and may become,” unless we could also say, “A real and living oneness exists between Him and all who cleave to Him, so that their characters are changed, their natures cleansed, their future altered, their immortal beauty secured.” He is more than pattern, He is power; more than specimen, He is source; more than example, He is Redeemer. He has been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, that we may be in the likeness of His body of glory. He has been made “sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

The hopes for the future lie around us as flowers in some fair garden where we walk in the night, their petals closed and their leaves asleep, but here and there a whiter bloom gleams out, and sweet faint odours from unseen sources steal through the dewy darkness. We can understand but little of what this majestic promise of sovereign manhood may mean. But the fragrance, if not the sight, of that gorgeous blossom is wafted to us. We know that “the upright shall have dominion in the morning.” We know that to His servants authority over ten cities will be given. We know that we shall be “kings and priests to God.” The fact we know, the contents of the fact we wait to prove. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Enough that we shall reign with Him, and that in the kingdom of the heavens dominion means service, and the least is the greatest.1 [Note: Alexander Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, ii. 185.]

(1) “For every man.” The virtue of Christ’s cross is for all. Criminals may put themselves outside the pale of human sympathy easily enough. Their misdeeds may slay the sentiment of pity for them even in the heart of the most pitiful. Society, horrified and revolted by their evil doing, may with one voice demand the full penalty of the law. Yes, and even a mother’s love, the divinest thing on earth, may not be deep enough to condone the evil. Man by his sin may put himself outside the circumference of the tenderest human affection, beyond the range of the most pitiful human compassion. But no sinner can outrange the infinite love of God. His compassions flow beyond the widest and wildest wanderings of man’s transgressions. His tender love is deeper than the lowest depths of vice and wickedness. And the death of the Crucified One is gloriously sufficient to atone for the sins of every member of our sinful race.

I do find the love of God is the only power in the universe to accomplish any result. All must be the Devil’s, if it were not at work. Shall it not in some way or other vindicate all to itself? I wish to think awfully on the question, confessing with trembling that there is an unspeakable power of resistance in our wills to God’s love—a resistance quite beyond my understanding or any understanding to explain—and not denying that this resistance may be final, but still feeling myself obliged when I trust God thoroughly to think that there is a depth in His love below all other depths; a bottomless pit of charity deeper than the bottomless pit of evil. And I answer that to lead people to feel that this is a ground for them to stand upon is the great way of teaching them to stand. They are not made to hang poised in the air, which is the position I fear of a good many religious people, in a perpetual land of mist and cloud, never seeing the serene heaven, nor feeling the solid earth. “God is in the midst of us, therefore we cannot be moved.” What might there is in these words!1 [Note: The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 528.]

(2) Christ’s crown and ours are in the last resort the fruits of grace. This was granted to Him—this awful eminence, this sole right and power to taste death for every man, was granted to Him “by the grace of God.” It was by God’s gracious act and permission that He was welcomed back into the eternal Sonship. He had lived with the Father in eternity before He came to earth, and He went back not only Son of God but Son of Man. He went back the Head of our race. He went back our Brother. He went back, as He is called in this letter, the Leader whose followers we are. We have gained a place in the fellowship of the eternal suffering; our blood is there shed, mingled indistinguishably with the blood of God. We see not yet all things won and conquered, but we see this: that from our cradle, and our weakness, and our frailty, and our strife, Jesus has gone into the perfect suffering of God our Saviour, and man with God is on that awful throne. By the grace of God it has been granted. We have been taken into the veriest Divinity, for there is no Divinity ever imagined by man comparable with the Divinity that is revealed in the suffering of God; and we in Jesus Christ have been united with the very heart of the mystery of God Himself. Many things—all good things—come from the grace of God, which giveth all; and St. Paul tells us it has been “granted” to us not only to believe, but also to suffer (Philippians 1:29). The word there is the same as the word here—the word “grace.” God’s highest gift is not the gift of all enjoyment, it is not the gift of all peace and blessedness; the highest gift of God is the gift of the fellowship of suffering, whereby we are raised into the society and friendship and likeness of no less an One than the Eternal God, who thereby becomes, as He never was before, our Father; thereby we become, as never before, His children.

I have so much cause for wonder at the human as well as the Divine love which has been poured out upon me. No one ever deserved it less. I am sure if I do not know what free grace means, or use the expression as a mere cant one, I am more to blame than all. It seems to me, from the highest to the lowest, from the manner of God’s redemption to the kind look and obedience of a servant, all is grace; all are parts of one living chain which is let down upon me and which is meant to draw me up.1 [Note: The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 527.]

Seven vials hold Thy wrath: but what can hold

Thy mercy save Thine own Infinitude,

Boundlessly overflowing with all good,

All loving kindness, all delights untold?

Thy Love, of each created love the mould;

Thyself, of all the empty plenitude;

Heard of at Ephrata, found in the Wood,

For ever One, the Same, and Manifold.

Lord, give us grace to tremble with that dove

Which Ark-bound winged its solitary way

And overpast the Deluge in a day,

Whom Noah’s hand pulled in and comforted:

For we who much more hang upon Thy Love

Behold its shadow in the deed he did.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poetical Works, 264.]

The Crowned Christ

Literature

Edwards (T. C.), The Epistle to the Hebrews, 21.

Griffith-Jones (E.), Faith and Verification, 146.

Lewis (F. W.), The Work of Christ, 80.

Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, ii. 170.

Norton (J. N.), Short Sermons, 136.

Sowter (G. A.), Trial and Triumph, 199.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxv. (1879), No. 1509.

Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 59.

Wynne (G. R.), In Quietness and Confidence, 138.

British Weekly Pulpit, iii. 225 (A. Cave).

Christian World Pulpit, xl. 241 (J. Clifford); lvi. 4 (J. T. Parr); lxx. 166 (J. E. Rattenbury); lxxii. 73 (A. Clayton); lxxxii. 273 (G. C. Morgan).

Marylebone Presbyterian Pulpit, ii., No. 6 (C. Lorimer).

Record, Feb. 6, 1914 (E. N. Pearce).


Verse 9

(9) But we see Jesus . . .—Rather, But we see Him who has been made a little lower than angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour. There is One in whom the divine purpose is fulfilled in all its parts. He was made a little (the rendering of the margin, “a little while,” is much less probable) lower than angels, and He is crowned with glory. In one point we note an apparent departure from the sense of the Psalm, since words (“a little lower”) which there denote dignity here denote humiliation. This difference is not essential; in each case it is the position of man that is signified, and our Lord’s assumption of human nature must in any case be spoken of as a descent to a lower sphere. There is peculiar fitness in the use of the human name, Jesus, for Him in whom the Psalmist’s words concerning man are literally fulfilled. It is noteworthy that we do not read, “We see all things put in subjection unto Jesus”—this would conflict with the truth stated in Hebrews 10:13 : other words of the Psalm are substituted, which do not imply that the complete actual subjection is already accomplished. This exaltation of One is not a substitute for, but involves (Romans 8:17; Romans 8:29, et al.), and renders possible, the exaltation of the many. This is clear from the “not yet” of Hebrews 2:8; and the same truth is brought out in a different form at the close of this verse. In the midst of this application of the words of Scripture to Jesus, the writer introduces his first reference to His death. The offence of the cross (Galatians 5:11) was an ever-active force among Jews; this is present to the writer’s mind throughout the Epistle. The words thus suddenly brought in here, reminding us that the exaltation of Christ was a reward for His obedience unto death (another echo of St. Paul—Philippians 2:9-10; see also Hebrews 12:2), prepare for the more detailed teaching of the following verses—Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:17.

There is an apparent difficulty in the position of the last clause of the verse, “that He should taste death for every man.” We cannot doubt that these words depend on those which immediately precede; and yet how can it be said that Jesus has been crowned with glory in order that He may “taste death for every man”? Almost all difficulty is removed if we consider that (to use Dean Alford’s words) “it is on the triumphant issue of His sufferings that their efficacy depends.” But it is impossible for the Christian to separate, even in thought, the one from the other—the sufferings from the certain triumph. We might, perhaps, say that it is only by a misuse of human analogies that we separate them even in time: in the Gospel of St. John, at all events (if not in this very Epistle—see Hebrews 2:14), we are taught that in His crucifixion Jesus is exalted. This clause, then, brings us back to the thought of the glory reserved for man: through death the fulfilment of God’s purpose might seem to be frustrated; through the death of Jesus on behalf of every man (1 Peter 3:18) it is fulfilled. The outline presented here is filled up in later chapters; there we shall read that man’s inheritance was forfeited through sin, and that only through the virtue of a death which made atonement for sin is the promise again made sure (Hebrews 9:15-16; Hebrews 9:28). To “taste death” is a familiar Hebraism. If it has any special significance here, it would seem less natural to see (with Chrysostom) a reference to the short duration of our Saviour’s death, than to understand the words as pointing to the actual taste of all the bitterness of death. (Comp. Hebrews 6:4-5.)

One various reading it is impossible to pass by, though it is preserved in but two of our Greek MSS., and these of no early date. For “by the grace of God” many (apparently most) copies of the Epistle that were known to Origen read “apart from God.” This reading was followed by others of the Fathers, and found its way into some manuscripts of early versions. The Nestorians gladly accepted words which to them seemed to teach that in suffering the man Jesus was apart from God. Origen and others understood the words differently, as meaning, taste death for every being except God. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:27.) A reading so widely known, which in later times has been favoured by as eminent a critic as Bengel, demanded notice, though it is almost certainly incorrect. No interpretation which the words admit yields a probable sense; on the other hand, the reference to “the grace of God” is full of significance. (See Hebrews 2:4; Hebrews 2:10.)


Verse 10

(10) For.—What seemed to Jews incredible, that the Christ should die, was ordained “by the grace of God.” For thus to make sufferings the path to His kingdom was worthy of God, for whose glory and through whose power all things exist; who as Creator commands all agencies, and who cannot but do that which will subserve His glory. If the means at which men wondered were chosen by God, no one may doubt their supreme fitness for the end. In what this fitness consisted the following words partially explain.

In bringing.—It is doubtful whether the Greek word should not be rendered, having brought. With this translation we must certainly explain the words on the same principle as the past tenses of Hebrews 2:7-8. As in the divine counsels all things were subjected to man, with the same propriety it may be said that God had brought many sons to glory when the Saviour suffered and died.

Many sons.—The new thought here introduced is of great importance in the argument. The divine purpose is to bring many sons (comp. Hebrews 1:14) unto glory—the glory already spoken of as reserved for man—through His Son, who has Himself received this glory that He may make it theirs.

Captain.—This word occurs in three other places. In Acts 5:31 it bears its original meaning, “Leader” (“a Leader and a Saviour”); in Hebrews 12:2 and Acts 3:15 the idea of “leading the way” has passed into that of origination. In the present case, also, Author is the best rendering; but in a context which so distinctly presents our Lord as taking on Himself the conditions of man’s lot, and so passing into the glory which He wins for man, the primary thought of leading must not be entirely set aside. It is as the Author of salvation that He is made perfect through sufferings. Three aspects of this truth are presented in the Epistle. By His suffering unto death He “bare the sins of many” (Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 9:28); He offered the sacrifice of a perfect obedience (Hebrews 5:8); He was enabled to be a perfect representative of man. This last thought pervades the remaining verses of the chapter.


Verse 11

(11) For both he that sanctifieth . . .—The special meaning of “sanctify” in this Epistle (Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:12) seems to be, bringing into fellowship with God, the Holy One. “They who are sanctified”—literally, are being sanctified (comp. Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 1:18)—are those whom the Captain of their salvation, in fulfilment of the Father’s purpose (Hebrews 2:10), is leading unto glory. The thoughts of the last verse, therefore, are repeated here, with a change of figure; and again (as in Hebrews 2:9) we note the brief reference to a subject which will be prominent in later chapters; see especially Hebrews 13:12.

Are all of one.—Of one Father. This is the connecting link between Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 2:10, which speaks of the “many sons” and their Saviour. Though His sonship is unique and infinitely exalted, He is not ashamed to own them as brethren.


Verse 12

(12) I will declare thy name . . . .—The quotation is taken (with very slight variation) from the 22nd verse of Psalms 22 (Psalms 22:22)—a Psalm remarkable for its close connection with the narratives of the Passion of our Lord. Whether the inscription which speaks of David as author is correct, or whether (from the difficulty of discovering any period in David’s history to which the expressions used can apply) we consider the Psalm to have been written after the Captivity, there can be no doubt of its Messianic character. Some would class this Psalm with Psalms 110 (see Note on Hebrews 1:13), as simply and directly prophetic, having no historic foreground; but the language of some of the verses is so definite and peculiar that we must certainly regard it as descriptive of actual experience, and must rather regard the Psalm (comp. Hebrews 1:8-9) as typically prophetic of Christ. Each division of this verse is in point as a quotation. (1) Those to whom the Messiah will declare God’s name He speaks of as “brethren;” (2) not alone, but in the “church” (or rather, in a congregation of God’s people; see Psalms 22:22) will He sing the praise of God. The latter thought—community with men, as attested by a like relation to God—is brought out with still greater prominence in Hebrews 2:13.


Verse 13

(13) I will put my trust in him . . . Behold I and the children . . .—Of the two passages cited in this verse, the latter is certainly from Isaiah 8:18; and though the former might be derived from 2 Samuel 22:3 or Isaiah 12:2, yet, as the words are also found in the same chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:17), we may with certainty consider this the source of the quotation. That the section of Isaiah’s prophecies to which Hebrews 8 belongs is directly Messianic, is a fact that must be kept in mind; but the stress of the quotation cannot be laid on this. The prophet, as the representative of God to the people, has given utterance to the divine message: in these words, however, “I will put my trust” (better, “I will have my trust,” for continuous confidence is what the words denote) “in Him,” he retires into the same position with the people whom he has addressed; their relation towards God’s word and the hope it inspires must be his also. This two-fold position of the prophet symbolised the two-fold nature of Him of whom every prophet was a type. (In Isaiah 8:17, the Authorised version, “I will look for Him,” is nearer to the strict meaning of the original; but the difference is of little moment.)

The second passage is free from difficulty up to a certain point. In Isaiah 7, 8 we not only read of the word of God sent by Isaiah, but also find his sons associated with him in his message to the people. The warning of judgment and the promise are, so to speak, held up before the people inscribed in the symbolic names borne by the sons, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“Speed the spoil, hastens the prey”) and Shear-jashub (“A remnant shall return;” see Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 10:21), and by Isaiah himself (“Salvation of Jehovah”). “Behold I,” he says, “and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts.” By God’s own appointment, the children whom God gave him, though themselves no prophets, were joined with himself in the relation of prophets to the people, and were representatives of those whom God, who “hideth His face from the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 8:17), will save. As in the former passage Isaiah is taken as representing Christ, so here those who, being of the same blood, are joined with him in his work and in the promise of salvation, represent those whom the Son calls “brethren.” The difficulty is that, whereas the original passage speaks of “the children” of the prophet, the meaning here must be children of God, given by Him to the Son. But no type can answer in every respect to that which it represents. The association of Jesus with His, people contains three elements of thought—His essential superiority, His sharing the same nature with His people, His brotherhood with them. The first two thoughts are truly represented in this Old Testament figure; the last no figure could at the same time set forth. And though Hebrews 2:12-13 are directly connected with the word “brethren,” yet, as the next verse shows, the most important constituent of the thought is community of nature. It should be observed that in these two verses the citations are not so distinctly adduced by way of proof as are those of the first chapter.


Verse 14

(14) Forasmuch then . . .—The two members of this verse directly recall the thoughts of Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:9. (1) It was the will of God that salvation should be won by the Son for sons; (2) this salvation could only be won by means of death.

The children.—Said with reference to Hebrews 2:13.

Flesh and blood.—Literally, blood and flesh, the familiar order of the words being departed from here and in Ephesians 6:12. This designation of human nature on its material side is found four times in the New Testament, and is extremely common in Jewish writers.

The emphasis of the following statement is note. worthy: “He Himself also in like manner took part of the same things.” His assumption of our nature had for its object suffering and death.

Destroy him.—Rather, bring him to nought; annul his power. The comment on these words will be found in Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:26; for it was as the lord of sin, which was the cause (Romans 5:12) and the sting (1 Corinthians 15:56) of death, that the devil held dominion over death (or, as the words might mean, wielded the power possessed by death). (Comp. 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 John 3:8; also Revelation 1:18.) Combined with this is the thought which runs through this chapter—the assimilation of the Redeemer to the redeemed in the conditions of His earthly life. By meeting death Himself, He vanquishes and destroys death for them.


Verse 15

(15) Deliver them who through fear of death . . . .—This verse brings into relief the former misery and the present freedom. We may well suppose these words to have been prompted by the intense sympathy of the writer with the persecuted and tempted Christians whom he addresses. He writes throughout as one who never forgets their need of sympathetic help, and who knows well the power of the motives, the allurements and the threats, employed to lead them into apostasy. The crushing power of the “fear of death” over those who had not grasped the truth that, in Christ, life and immortality are brought to light, perhaps no thought of ours can reach.


Verse 16

(16) He took not on him the nature of angels.—The rendering of the margin approaches very nearly the true meaning of the verse; whereas the text (in which the Authorised version differs from all our earlier translations) introduces confusion into the argument. Having spoken in Hebrews 2:14 of our Lord’s assumption of human nature, the writer in these words assigns the reason: “For surely it is not of angels that He taketh hold, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham.” Though the words “take hold,” which occur twice in the verse, probably cannot directly signify “help” (as is often maintained), they distinctly suggest laying hold for the sake of giving help; and a beautiful illustration may be found in some of the Gospel narratives of our Lord’s works of healing (Mark 8:23; Luke 14:4). It is probable that the language used here is derived from the Old Testament. In Hebrews 8:9, a quotation from Jeremiah 31, we read, “In the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” Isaiah 41:8-9, however, is perhaps a still closer parallel (for the word used in the Greek version is very similar, and no doubt expresses the same meaning): “Thou Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend; thou of whom I have taken hold from the ends of the earth.” If the writer had these verses in his thought, it is hardly necessary to inquire why he chooses the expression “seed of Abraham,” instead of one of (apparently) wider meaning, such as Hebrews 2:7-8, might seem to require. But even apart from this passage of Isaiah, and the natural fitness of such a phrase in words addressed to Jews, we may doubt if any other language would have been equally expressive. For as to the means, it was by becoming a child of Abraham that the Saviour “took hold of” our race to raise it up; and as to the purpose, St. Paul teaches us that “the seed of Abraham” includes all who inherit Abraham’s faith.


Verse 17

(17) Wherefore.—Since it is “the seed of Abraham,” His brethren, that He would help.

In all things.—These words must be taken with “made like.” In all respects (the single exception does not come into notice here, see Hebrews 4:15) He must be made like to “the brethren” (a reference to Hebrews 2:12): like them, He must be liable to, and must suffer, temptation, sorrow, pain, death.

That he might be.—Rather, that He might prove, or become (the words imply what is more fully expressed in Hebrews 5:8), a compassionate and faithful High Priest. The high priest was the representative of men to God; without such likeness (see Hebrews 5:1-2) He could be no true High Priest for man. The order of the Greek words throws an emphasis on “compassionate” which is in full harmony with what we have seen to be the pervading tone of the chapter. One who has not so understood the infirmities of his brethren as to be “compassionate,” cannot be their “faithful” representative before God. But the word “faithful” is still more closely connected with the following words. If through the power of sympathy which the Saviour has gained “by sufferings” He becomes “compassionate” as our High Priest, it is through “the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:9) that He proves Himself “the faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation (or rather, propitiation) for the sins of the people.” The word “high priest,” hereafter to be so prominent in the Epistle, is brought in somewhat suddenly, but several expressions in this chapter (see also Hebrews 1:3) have prepared for and led up to the crowning thought here brought before us. The characteristic function of the high priest was his presentation of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, that expiation might be made for the sins of the whole people, that the displeasure of God might not rest on the nation on account of sin. (Comp. Hebrews 2:11.) The words rendered “propitiate” and “propitiation” are not of frequent occurrence in the New Testament (Luke 18:13; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10—see also Romans 3:25), but are very often found in the LXX. The subject receives its full treatment in Hebrews 9, 10.


Verse 18

(18) For.—The necessity of being “in all things made like to His brethren” has been shown from the nature of the case; it is now illustrated from the result. The “brethren” and the “people” of Hebrews 2:17 are here “the tempted.” Through the temptations arose those sins of the people for which He makes propitiation. In His having been tempted lies His special ability to help the tempted, by His sympathy, by His knowledge of the help that is needed, by the position of High Priest which He has gained through suffering. It is difficult to decide between two translations of the first words of the verse: (1) “In that He Himself,” (2) “Wherein He Himself hath suffered being tempted.” The former is simpler, but, perhaps, less natural as a rendering of the Greek. The latter may indeed at first seem to set a bound to our Lord’s ability to help, but with the recollection of the infinitude of His life (comp. John 21:25) all such limitation disappears.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Hebrews 2:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/hebrews-2.html. 1905.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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