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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-4

Redemptive Implications for the Sons of Men (2:1-18)

Responsibility for Response on Man’s Part (2:1-4)

This short section comprises the first of a number of "hortatory sections" to be found in the letter (see 4:11-16; 5:11-6:8; 10:19-39). These passages indicate plainly that the author feared that his readers were in danger of drifting away from the tradition which they had received as Christians. It is clear that the community to which this essay was sent belonged to the second, or possibly the third, generation of Christians. They were not among "those who heard" the Lord but were numbered among those who had received the tradition from that earliest group. However, the essay cannot have been written very late in the first Christian century, for it is evident that this community had not received the gospel in written form. They had merely "heard" it (vs. 1), and it had been "attested" to them (vs. 3). They were a link in the chain of tradition which went back to the Lord Jesus, and they were an early link in that chain (see further 5:11-14).

At this point (vs. 2) the author introduces another traditional belief with regard to angels. This is to the effect that the Old Testament revelation, and particularly that at Mount Sinai in the giving of the Law, had been made through the instrumentality of angels. The Greek translation of Deuteronomy 33:2b (a passage in which the Hebrew is obscure) reads "his angels were with him at his right hand." A part of Judaism interpreted this to mean that the Law had been given at Sinai by angels as mediators, and the same idea appears at two places in the New Testament (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).

This idea of the Old Testament revelation as given at the hands of angels, however, did not work against its validity. The Law was accepted as "valid," and its commands as the word of God and therefore to be kept (vs. 2). The author’s argument is from the less to the greater. If a revelation transmitted by angels is to be respected, how much more that delivered through the Son. The new revelation has come to the Christian community from the Lord (the Son) himself, through the first generation of the Apostles and those who, like them, heard him speak; and God himself had applied the message to the hearts of believers, granting his Holy Spirit to seal it to the Church (vss. 3-4).

"Signs . . . wonders . . . miracles" — these are the technical words employed by the Early Church to describe the wonderful works of Jesus and those of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 14:2; Acts 2:22). The word translated "gifts" actually means "distributions" or "divisions" (see 4:12). The idea, however, is probably like that in 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:11 — the Spirit is one and his gifts many.

Verses 5-9

The Son’s Death and Exaltation (2:5-9)

In this section the author begins to come to grips with the major problem with which he wishes to deal, namely, the redemptive activity of the Son of God on behalf of the sons of men. We have already seen that the angels were but "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14) on behalf of these sons. It is not, therefore, with the angels for their own sake that God is concerned (vs. 5), but rather with the redemption of the sons of men and more particularly with "the descendants of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:16). Accordingly the author indicates the present condition of these sons, their future high destiny, and the manner in which this destiny is to be accomplished.

He first states unequivocally the high destiny which God has appointed to man. He does this in terms of Psalms 8:4-6. In the Hebrew the Psalm indicates that man is made "little less than God." As, however, the Greek translation reads "a little less than the angels," the quotation here served the author’s purpose of contrasting the angels with men. In verse 6 "man" and "son of man" are in Semitic parallelism, both terms meaning simply "man." Both authors — of Psalms and Hebrews — no doubt had in mind the original saying in Genesis 1:26 to the effect that God has appointed man his viceroy over all his creation. God has placed "everything in subjection under his feet." For the author of Hebrews the dividing line between the two ages, history and eternity, is the Incarnation. Christians are already living "in these last days," the age of the "Son," not in the age "of old," the age of the prophets (Hebrews 1:1-2). Accordingly, "the world to come, of which we are speaking" (vs. 5) — that is to say, the eternal age — has already arrived for Christians. They have already tasted of the "powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:5). The signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in verse 4 are without doubt a part of these powers. It is clear, then, both from the testimony of Scripture and from Christian experience that God has subjected all things in both ages (the historical and the eternal) to man. It is equally clear that however high and exalted the station of angels may be conceived, the "glory and honor" attendant upon such power as God has committed to man as his viceroy is something which they do not experience.

Nevertheless, "we do not yet see everything in subjection" to man (vs. 8). Man has not yet fully come into his heritage. However, there is one man who has already attained the highest estate which God has appointed to man generally. This man is Jesus, the Son. Jesus accepted man’s low estate, a condition described by the psalmist as being "lower than the angels" (vs. 7). He did this "that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one" — that is, thoroughly to identify himself with man even in the extremity of "death" (vs. 9). Because Jesus accepted this humble estate of man he was "crowned with glory and honor." Identification with man in death involves identification with him in the high estate which God intended for him. This, it should be noted, is exactly the logic followed by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11. But the logic of redemption works also in reverse. As Jesus is identified with man, so man is identified with him. The experiences of each become the experiences of the other; by the grace of God, Jesus Christ tastes of death on behalf of everyone, and so everyone experiences salvation through him.

Verses 10-13

Identification of the Son with the Sons (2:10-13)

The author now argues for the necessity of the Son’s humiliation if he would become the Savior of men. His basic assumption is that an essential unity between Savior and saved is necessary in order that the end in view may be accomplished. The best expression of the principle is found in verse 18: "Because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted." The justification for this principle of a unifying experience as necessary for Redeemer and redeemed no doubt lies in the prophetic ideas of "corporate personality" and of the corporate nature of experience. In neither Old nor New Testament does the individual stand alone. Rather he is conceived at all times as being a part of a larger group — the nation in the Old Testament, the Christian fellowship in the New Testament. If the individual is to be saved, therefore, he will be saved as a member of the group, and similarly the Savior is one who arises out of the group and is one with it in experience.

It is in the light of this principle that the author declares it "fitting" that God, the Creator, "for whom and by whom all things exist," should mature Jesus as man’s Savior by a process of suffering. Salvation here is spoken of as man’s being brought "to glory" (vs. 10). The word is used because of its appearance in the Psalm quoted in verse 7. "Glory and honor" represent the exalted position of viceroyalty which God has purposed for man. It is a condition in which man as the "image" of God (Genesis 1:26) reflects the latter’s power and personality as his appointed viceroy. Jesus as the Mediator of this experience to man is called "the pioneer of their salvation." Sometimes the Greek word employed here is translated "captain" or "leader." In any case, the picture is of one who, as a member of the fellowship, moves ahead, leading the way to ever higher ground of experience. This progressive experience is termed by the author a maturing one ("perfect"; see also 5:9, 14; 6:1; 7:28; 9:9). The language suggests the maturing of the individual person to adulthood and implies successive stages of growth. It is a matter of common experience that without "suffering" such maturing is not possible in the world as we know it

Paul places stress upon man’s justification in the sight of God; Hebrews lays more emphasis upon man’s consecration or sanctification. This is no doubt because the Savior’s function which the author wishes to stress is that of "High Priest," and such terms as "sanctification," "holiness," and "consecration" are those which normally applied to the work of the high priest. Both the sanctifying High Priest and the people whom he prepares for the worship of God are said to "have all one origin"; that is to say, they have a community of experience in their common humanity (vs. 11). In proof of this essential unity between Savior and saved, the author calls upon three passages of Scripture in which the principle is presented. The first of these is Psalms 22:22, a so-called "Servant" Psalm. This is a Psalm in which is pictured the "Suffering Servant of the Lord" in much the same fashion as that redeeming figure is described in Second Isaiah. The Psalm is one of the most frequently quoted in the New Testament, first in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 in describing the agony of the Cross, and thereafter by the various New Testament writers in appropriate contexts. Hebrews therefore is following in the usual tradition of the Early Church in identifying Jesus with the "Suffering Servant" who saves by vicariously assuming the suffering and death common to all mankind. The second and third quotations, in verse 13, are from Isaiah 8:17-18. There the prophet and his followers are declared to be the "signs and portents" of the working of God in Israel, a prefiguring of God’s saving activity on behalf of man through Jesus and the fellowship which clusters about him in the Christian Church.

Verses 14-16

The Sons’ Condition of Slavery (2:14-16)

The author now repeats what he had already said in verse 11 to the effect that Savior and saved "have all one origin," or as he now phrases it, "share in flesh and blood." He now adds, however, the ultimate purpose of this identification with mankind — namely, the destruction of "the devil" and the deliverance of man from "fear of death." Death is generally conceived in Scripture as man’s last great enemy (Genesis 2:17; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:14). The opposite of death is life or salvation, and this is always conceived of as the gift of God and under his power. Naturally, therefore, death belongs to the kingdom of Satan or the Devil, and it represents his final power over man. The nearest scriptural parallel to the series of ideas with which our author is working at this point (flesh and blood, death, the Devil, lifelong bondage) is to be found in Paul’s treatment of the kindred theme in various passages in Romans (5:12-21; 6:1-11; 7:1-5; 8:1-39).

There now follows a repetition of much the same thought as we have already seen in verse 5 above — "it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham" (vs. 16). Between the two verses, however, there has been a marked advance in thought, and in consequence the mode of expression exhibits two striking differences. First, in verse 5 and following, as we have seen, it was of man in general that the author spoke, and the contrast was a general one between angels and mankind. Here, on the other hand, the contrast is between angels and "the descendants of Abraham." Second, in verse 16 the thought is expressed in the language of Isaiah 41:8-9, in which the descendants of Abraham are identified with the Servant of the Lord.

Verses 17-18

Consequence for the Son (2:17-18)

The author finally draws the conclusion (which he has already mentioned in vss. 10 and 14 above) of the necessity of identification on the part of the Savior and his "brethren." This identification is necessary if the end in view is to be accomplished. Now, however, for the first time he states that end in terms of the high- priestly work of Christ, and so begins to sound the greatest note of the letter as a whole. The "merciful" character of this High Priest will find expression in Hebrews 4:14-16 and Hebrews 5:1-10. His "faithful" character is the subject of Hebrews 3:1-6. It is characteristic of the style of Hebrews to introduce in this way items of interest which will later receive fuller development at the author’s hands.

"To make expiation" for sin is not again mentioned in the letter in so many words. However, expiation was the task of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and that service is elaborated at considerable length in Hebrews 8:1 to Hebrews 10:18. "Expiation" is essentially the removal of stumbling blocks between persons, in this case the stumbling block of sin between God and man. The principle of identification between Jesus as High Priest and man goes only so far as his being "tempted," not sinning. On this point the author is very insistent (see Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Hebrews 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/hebrews-2.html.
 
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