The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 2

Heb 2:1

Heb 2:1 -- 7:28: Jesus is superior to the old covenant.

Heb 2:1-18: Jesus made like his brothers to make salvation possible.

Vv 1-4: A (parenthetical) call to faithfulness.

WE MUST PAY MORE CAREFUL ATTENTION, THEREFORE, TO WHAT WE HAVE HEARD, SO THAT WE DO NOT DRIFT AWAY: If the Son is the one of incomparable splendor, then the readers must pay more careful attention to the message of salvation they have heard, lest they drift away. There were pressures working upon them to cause them to compromise the truth of the gospel (Heb 10:29; 12:25) -- pressures like the appeal of old habits and customs, or the natural feeling of patriotism in a time of national crisis.

The KJV has "lest... we should let them slip", but the NIV makes the readers the ones who "slip" or "drift" away -- "like a ship which drifts past the harbour to shipwreck" (Barclay).

Heb 2:2

FOR IF THE MESSAGE SPOKEN BY ANGELS WAS BINDING, AND EVERY VIOLATION AND DISOBEDIENCE RECEIVED ITS JUST PUNISHMENT: The author argues from the accepted truth of one matter to another that has even stronger reason for being accepted as true: if the one is convincing, how much more the other. The lesser matter involves the message spoken by angels. What is in view is the Mosaic law received on Mount Sinai through angelic intermediaries. This message was, of course, binding (the author accepts the validity of God's message to his ancestors, see Heb 1:1), and our author has in mind particularly the reality of judgment upon every violation and disobedience (cp Deu 4:3; 17:2,5,12; 27:26). It was God's word, and therefore punishment came upon those who were not obedient.

THE MESSAGE SPOKEN BY ANGELS: "Thus in Stephen's defense reference is made to "the angel who spoke to [Moses] on Mount Sinai" and to the Jews as those 'who have received the law that was put into effect through angels' (Acts 7:38,53). Paul, too, writes 'the law was put into effect through angels' (Gal 3:19). Indirectly this reference supports our author's thesis about the servant role of angels and thus their inferiority to the Son. The angels are of instrumental importance in the lesser matter; the Son is of central importance in the greater matter" (NIBC).

Heb 2:3

HOW SHALL WE ESCAPE IF WE IGNORE SUCH A GREAT SALVATION?: Implicit in the argument is the superiority of God's message spoken "in these last days." If indeed they received judgment in that earlier situation, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? The last words point up the glorious salvation that the Son accomplished, something taken up at length later in the epistle. Cp the argument in Heb 12:25.

THIS SALVATION, WHICH WAS FIRST ANNOUNCED BY THE LORD, WAS CONFIRMED TO US BY THOSE WHO HEARD HIM: The truth of this salvation is now stressed in order to strengthen the warning to the readers. The Son, who has already been described so effectively in the prologue, or the Lord, is the one who first announced it (cp Mark 1:1,15). It is thus initiated by the authority of the one who stands with God. There can be no greater authority than this to certify the truth of the church's message. And this message has furthermore been carefully attested to both the authors and the readers by those who actually heard the proclamation from the lips of Jesus. The evidence of eyewitnesses is highly regarded, and the writer clearly separates himself from those who were privileged to witness the words and works of Jesus. He thus places himself in the second generation of disciples. In this regard he may be likened to Luke (Luke 1:2).

Heb 2:4

GOD ALSO TESTIFIED TO IT BY SIGNS, WONDERS AND VARIOUS MIRACLES, AND GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DISTRIBUTED ACCORDING TO HIS WILL: This message of salvation is no less true than the earlier message spoken by God on Sinai. Since that event was accompanied by glorious signs, so also God also testified to this, his definitive message. Signs, wonders and various miracles were performed by him through the apostles. But the climactic sign of authenticity is the new outpouring of gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, like Peter at Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-18), our author regards the Holy Spirit as the ultimate indicator of the fulfillment of God's promises and the dawning of the new era. All of this taken together points inescapably to the incomparable superiority and finality of the message proclaimed by the apostles and the church. It can only be foolish and dangerous for the readers to let themselves drift away from the truth.

SIGNS, WONDERS AND VARIOUS MIRACLES: These three terms ("seameia", "terata", "dynameis") occur together in Acts 2:22 and 2Co 12:12. Even more common is the occurrence of the first two terms ("signs and wonders") in describing the early church (see Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). In Rom 15:19, as in the present passage, the two terms are associated with "the power of the Spirit."

GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT DISTRIBUTED ACCORDING TO HIS WILL: "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines" (1Co 12:4,11).

Heb 2:5

Vv 5-18: The main argument of the ch: Jesus was made like his brothers to make salvation possible. And thus Christ is superior to the angels despite his humanity. How could a mere man, mortal and all, be "superior" to the angels, who share the immortality of the Father in heaven? Because Jesus was placed in just such a position, by the foreknowledge and design of God, so that he could accomplish what no angels or company of angels could: the defeat of sin and death!

IT IS NOT TO ANGELS THAT HE HAS SUBJECTED THE WORLD TO COME: There is a tension in these verses: altho we live in the Last Days (Heb 1:2), the writer says, yet there is still a "world to come" (cp Heb 1:8-12), the Kingdom Age, which will truly be in the "Last Days". The Son has been exalted to the right hand of God, the position of all power, and yet some time is to elapse before his enemies are put under his feet. The reality of the Son's finished work, the essence of the gospel, has nevertheless brought this new "world" (or "the coming age": Heb 6:5) into view in the present and to the ecclesia. In fact, the "world" of which the author has been speaking is that new reality already brought into existence by the exaltation of the Son but the end result of which remains yet to be experienced; hence it remains that world yet "to come".        

Heb 2:6

Vv 6-8: Citing Psa 8:4-6. This psa extols the glory of the created order, in comparison with which human beings look woefully insignificant: "When I consider your heavens... the moon and the stars... what is man?" At the same time, however, humanity was given dominion over the rest of creation, over all animals, birds, and fish (Gen 1:26,28), and this position of honor is celebrated by the psalmist. Gen 1 and Psa 8 refer not just to humanity in general, but esp to Jesus. He 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. 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.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE SOMEONE HAS TESTIFIED: Other indefinite introductory formulas are found in Heb 4:4 ("somewhere he has spoken") and Heb 5:6 ("he says in another place"). This usage of indefinite introductory formulas is unique in the NT.

SON OF MAN: The title that Jesus himself preferred during his ministry. He uses it regarding his role in the "renewal" or "regeneration" (Mat 19:28; Mark 10:33).

Heb 2:7

YOU MADE HIM A LITTLE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS: NIV takes "brachy ti" in the sense of degree and thus as modifying "lower," hence "a little lower". The alternate understanding of the words is given in the NIV margin, "for a little while" (thus NASB, RSV). The author's argument is not concerned with the degree to which Jesus was made lower than the angels. But if the words are taken in the sense of time, "for a little while," they fit perfectly as a description of the temporary subjection of the Son, to a status lower than the angels.

Although the Hebrew of Psa 8:5 refers to the smallness of degree to which human beings are inferior -- "thou hast made him little less than God" (RSV) -- the LXX quoted in Heb 2:7 can also be understood in a temporal sense, hence "you made him for a little while lower." And the temporal understanding of the phrase is supported by the argument of v 9.

YOU CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR: But now -- because of his perfect obedience and his perfect sacrificial death (Phi 2:5-9) -- Jesus has been exalted (to the right hand of the Father. What humanity once had, but lost, has now been gained by the one who was made a human being for that very purpose. In him humanity has begun to realize its true inheritance.

Heb 2:8

AND PUT EVERYTHING UNDER HIS FEET: This has a close tie with the author's favorite text (Psa 110:1, quoted already in Heb 1:13).

Our author does not specify the obvious exception noted by Paul in 1Co 15:27: "It is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ."

YET AT PRESENT WE DO NOT SEE EVERYTHING SUBJECT TO HIM: 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" (Psa 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 Psa 8 (cp Phi 3:21).

Heb 2:9

BUT WE SEE JESUS, WHO WAS MADE A LITTLE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS, NOW CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR BECAUSE HE SUFFERED DEATH, SO THAT BY THE GRACE OF GOD HE MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE: This is the first mention of the personal name Jesus, which is used deliberately here to focus attention upon his mortality, his sin-prone nature. It is this which makes Jesus temporarily lower than the angels, and which also makes possible his death on behalf of all.

HE MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE: Implies death and resurrection, as in Luk 9:27.

EVERYONE: That is, all kinds (classes, or races) of men. Examples of "all" prob meaning "without distinction" rather than "without exception": Joh 1:7,9; 3:26; 5:28; 8:2; 12:32; 13:35; Rom 10:13; 1Ti 2:1,2; 4:15; 5:20; 6:17.

Heb 2:10

Vv 10-18: The benefits of Christ's humanity.

IN BRINGING MANY SONS TO GLORY: Along with "my bros" (v 12), this recalls the army of Israel (incl 3 of David's bros), who shared in the benefits of David's victory over Goliath (1Sa 17; Psa 8), altho they contributed nothing (and could contribute nothing) toward it.

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12; cp Rom 8:14,19; Gal 3:26; 4:6).

AUTHOR: "Archegos", which has variously been translated "captain" (KJV), "pioneer" (RSV), "author" (ASV, NIV), "leader" (Moffatt; Phillips, cp NEB, JB). The word has two related meanings: (1) leader, ruler, prince, and (2) originator, founder. "Pathfinder" or "trailblazer" is sometimes suggested as distilling the meaning of the word. It occurs also in Heb 12:2, where it refers to Jesus as the author or pioneer of faith and is linked with "perfecter" (RSV). The only other references are Acts 3:15, "the author of life" and Acts 5:31, absolutely, "Prince."

Jesus is, like Joshua was, the "commander" of the army of God (Jos 5:14,15), and like David, the "commander of the peoples" (Isa 55:4).

IT WAS FITTING THAT GOD... SHOULD MAKE THE AUTHOR OF THEIR SALVATION PERFECT THROUGH SUFFERING: It was appropriate, it was in keeping with the will of God, that His Son be -- first of all -- a human being, and secondly, that in that status, he partake of all that flesh was heir to, up to and including sufferings and death. Jesus became like us that we may become like him (cp 2Co 5:21). Making Jesus perfect through suffering refers primarily to the accomplishment and fulfillment of God's purposes. The perfection is not a moral or ethical perfection, for Jesus in this sense was always perfect. Jesus was made perfect in the sense of being brought to a certain "completeness" associated with the fulfillment of God's plan.

PERFECT THROUGH SUFFERING: This is the first occurrence of "teleos" ("make perfect") in the epistle. This important word occurs -- in its various forms -- frequently in Hebrews (Heb 5:9,14; 6:1; 7:11,19,28; 9:9,11; 10:1,14; 11:40; 12:22,23). The Greek carries the idea of "bringing to perfection" in the sense of fulfillment or completeness.

"And once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Heb 5:9).

Heb 2:11

BOTH THE ONE WHO MAKES MEN HOLY AND THOSE WHO ARE MADE HOLY ARE OF THE SAME FAMILY. SO JESUS IS NOT ASHAMED TO CALL THEM BROTHERS: The work of Jesus, wherein he makes people holy, is accomplished by his death, which in turn depends upon his humanity (cp the words of Heb 10:10: "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all"). In his humanity Jesus is fully one with us, and therefore we all are of the same family (lit, "are all from one" -- ie, one family, one ancestor, one nature). Jesus has identified with us to the extent that he is our brother and is not ashamed to call us brothers. Three OT quotations are provided by the author to support this claim.

Heb 2:12

HE SAYS, "I WILL DECLARE YOUR NAME TO MY BROTHERS; IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING YOUR PRAISES": Cit Psa 22:22. The opening words of this psa were quoted by Jesus from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34; Mat 27:46). Certain details in the psa correspond strikingly with the Gospel narratives concerning the crucifixion (eg, the physical agony, vv 14–17; the mocking, vv 6–8; the gambling for and dividing of Jesus' clothes, v 18); and the gospel writers allude to the Psa in this connection. It is obvious that the whole of Psa 22 is exceptionally appropriate when spoken by Jesus, and hereby his complete identification with humanity is emphasized.

IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CONGREGATION: Literally "in the midst of the ecclesia" or "church" (see KJV). Although in the LXX the "congregation" or "assembly" of Israel is meant, the author and his readers would quite naturally have had their minds turned to the ecclesia, or church, by this particular Greek word.

Heb 2:13

AND AGAIN, "I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM." AND AGAIN HE SAYS, "HERE AM I, AND THE CHILDREN GOD HAS GIVEN ME": These quotations are from consecutive verses in Isa 8 (vv 17,18). In the OT Isaiah is the speaker, and the similarities between Isaiah and Jesus, as well as the messianic tone of the context, may explain how Jesus can be thought of as the speaker. He, like other man, must puts his trust in "him" (ie, God); he associates himself with the "children" which God has given him.

Heb 2:14

SO THAT BY HIS DEATH HE MIGHT DESTROY HIM WHO HOLDS THE POWER OF DEATH -- THAT IS, THE DEVIL: Whereas in the previous statements, the purpose of Jesus being made a human being is stated positively (as salvation or the purifying from sins), now it is expressed negatively (as the destruction of the power of death).

HE TOO SHARED IN THEIR HUMANITY: "For this cause and forasmuch also as the children (of the Deity) are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy that having the power of death that is the diabolos, or the elements of corruption in our nature, inciting it to transgression and therefore called sin working death in us (Rom 7:13; Heb 2:9,14). Another reason why the Word assumed a lower nature than the Elohistic was that a basis of future perfection might be laid -- in obedience under trial. Jesus has been appointed Captain of Salvation in the bringing of many sons to Glory. Now these sons in the accident of birth are all subject to vanity, with inveterate propensities and relative enticements, inciting and tempting them to sin. A Captain therefore, whose nature was primarily consubstantial with the Deity, could not be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. He would be essentially holy and impeccable and of necessity good. But a necessitated holiness and perfection are not a basis of exaltation to the glories of the Apocalypse. These are to be attained only by conquest of self under trial from without, by which they came out of great tribulation (Rev 7:14). Its promises are to those who overcome, as their Captain has overcome, when it can be said his victory is Apocalyptically complete (Rev 3:21; 11:15). Hence, then, it became the Deity to make the Captain of the Salvation of His many sons perfect through sufferings; and to effect this, he must be of their primary nature, that. when the Great Captain and his associates shall rejoice together in the consubstantiality of the Deity they may all have attained to it upon the principle of voluntary obedience motivated by faith, and maintained in opposition to incitements within and enticements and pressure from without. The flesh is therefore a necessary basis for this and making it possible for him to be tempted in all points according to the flesh likeness without sin. Hence, though the Son of the Deity and Heir of all. things, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect he became the author of Aion-Salvation unto all them that obey him (Heb 4:15; 5:8)" (Eur 1:106,107).

THE DEVIL: "Diabolos" -- the "accuser". The carnal mind (Rom 8:7); the "works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19); "lusts" (1Jo 2:16); or simply the "flesh" (Jam 1:14). // 1Jo 3:8; Rom 8:3.

In keeping with the analogy of Psa 8 and 1Sa 17, "flesh and blood" was the only "valley", the only arena, where Jesus (personified by David) could go to encounter "the power of death" (personified by Goliath), and there challenge him, and conquer him. An angel could not go there -- only a man! See Lesson, Jesus destroys the devil.

Heb 2:15

HELD IN SLAVERY BY THEIR FEAR OF DEATH: The Israelite "army", cowering in their tents, too much the slaves of the Philistines ever to find the faith to defeat them (1Sa 17:24,32). An eloquent picture of mankind, helpless to save themselves from the greatest Enemy. (Yet, after the true victory has been won, they find in the victor the courage for themselves to go and continue the rout of the enemy: 1Sa 17:52,53.)

The Jews tried to obey the Law of Moses, but it could only convict them of sin (Rom 7) -- demonstrating their bondage, and highlighting their fear of its power (cp Acts 15:10). What the Law could not do, however, God DID in the person and work of His Son (Rom 8:1-3).

Heb 2:16

FOR SURELY IT IS NOT ANGELS HE HELPS, BUT ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS: "Helps" is, lit, "takes hold of". In healings, Jesus "takes hold" by the hand (Mat 9:25; Mar 1:31; 5:41; 8:23; Luk 8:54). God takes Israel by the hand -- a quotation from Isa 41:8,9: "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of ABRAHAM my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you."

ABRAHAM'S DESCENDANTS: "The seed of Abraham" (Gal 3:16,27-29) -- of which Jesus was a preeminent part!

Heb 2:17

FOR THIS REASON HE HAD TO BE MADE LIKE HIS BROTHERS 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: In order to help his brothers (alluding to the quotation in v 12), by which the author means "to save them from their sins," Jesus had to become fully like them, in every way (cp v 14). These last words, of course, are not to be taken literally since Jesus was not a sinner, an observation made by our author in Heb 4:15 (cp Heb 7:26f). The full humanity of Jesus enables him to perform the functions of a high priest. This is the first occurrence of what for the author is a most important title of Jesus, and one indeed that in the NT is applied to him only in Heb. A priest represents humanity before God (cp Heb 5:1; Rom 8:34), and in order for a priest to accomplish his task, he must be one with those whom he represents. When our author thinks of Jesus as performing a high priestly service to God, he has in mind, as will be seen in Heb 9; 10, the all–important work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. This work of this high priest, like those before him whose work foreshadowed his, is accomplished that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (cp v 11).

FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST: Poss cit 1Sa 2:35, re Samuel.

Heb 2:18

BECAUSE HE HIMSELF SUFFERED WHEN HE WAS TEMPTED, HE IS ABLE TO HELP THOSE WHO ARE BEING TEMPTED: Altho it is not strictly relevant to the argument at this point, the writer cannot resist a brief note about the practical benefit of having Jesus as our high priest. Jesus, because of his full humanity and because of his suffering, is in a special position to help those who are being tempted and who call upon him. This application is made more explicit in Heb 4:15, and almost certainly is prompted by the actual difficulties faced by the readers.

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