Having demonstrated in chapter one the superiority of Christ the Son over the serving angels, our writer concludes in 2:1-4 (which would have been placed more appropriately as the ending of the first chapter) with an exhortation and a warning.
His argument is of a type commonly employed by the Jewish teachers of the time, and was called by them an argument qal wahomer – “from the light to the weighty.” A statement is made concerning a “lighter” matter, which then is inferred to be even more certainly true of a matter of greater or “heavier” importance.
Jesus’ statements concerning the Father’s benevolence follow this kind of reasoning (Matthew 6:25-31; 7:9-11), as do His remarks about working on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12). Paul uses the same type of reasoning to show the security of the true believer (Romans 5:8-10) and the abundant provisions of divine grace (Romans 5:15-21). The author of Hebrews later reasons the same way regarding Christ’s unique priesthood (chapter seven) and all-sufficient sacrifice for sin (9:13-14), Christian discipline (12:9-10), and the reverence which should accompany those who are heirs of the unshakeable kingdom (12:25-29).
In these verses he speaks of two agents by whom God’s word has come, and of the consequences of failing to heed that word — especially as spoken by the Son. If Christ’s position is far greater than that given the angels (as has been shown in chapter one), punishment for ignoring or rejecting His message must be far greater than that given for irreverence of the angelic word.
2:1. Therefore is literally “on account of this”; that is, because of the greatness of the Son and in view of the point to follow. Ought is not the simple word for an obligation but the stronger word which means “it is imperative” or “it is necessary.” To give the more, earnest heed translates a verb meaning “to pay careful attention” and an adverb (based on an adjective in the comparative degree) meaning “even more extremely.” The result is an exceptionally strong exhortation. “Because of these things,” he is saying, “it is absolutely necessary for us to be extremely careful to pay attention.”
His readers are to hold to the things which they have heard from the Son by means of His apostles. Lest we let them slip is better translated “lest we drift away (from them),” as in the later versions. The word translated slip was used by Greek writers of an arrow slipping out of the quiver, of snow sliding, of foul language slipping into a conversation or, in medical contexts, of food slipping down the windpipe instead of the esophagus. The writer urges extreme care lest his readers slip from steadfast obedience and trust in the Son.
Their danger, and that of many other New Testament readers then and now, was that of slipping from trust in the Son’s finished work of salvation by His own perfect-life obedience and sacrifice to a reliance on their own performance based on a meritorious view of salvation. The same caution applies equally well to slipping from active obedience to careless disobedience or disregard.
2:2. For indicates the basis of the warning. The word spoken by angels would include every divine message delivered by angels, but has special reference to the Law of Moses which was delivered by means of angels and was highly esteemed by the Jews for that reason (Psalm 68:17; Deuteronomy 33:2; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). Steadfast here means reliable, dependable or strong. God’s word by angels was always a sure word which came to pass.
Transgression refers to a violation of an express command and disobedience refers to a refusal or neglect to obey. The former stresses the act of disobedience; the latter stresses the careless or rebellious attitude which prompts it. Punishment was certain in either case under the Law.
God’s punishment of sin was always the just or fair reward of sin. It was never arbitrary, but always in keeping with divine justice and holiness. Recompense indicates a payment of wages earned. The wages of sin is death — that is the fair payment earned by sin. The man who gets “what he has coming to him” will never be saved.
2:3. We are those to whom the Son has spoken in these last days, and the pronoun is here emphasized. To neglect salvation is to fail to show concern and care for it. Neglect is a positive wrong consisting of a lack of action. By doing nothing one does wrong. The tense of the verb here views life as a whole — this is more an attitude governing all of life than it is a single or specific act (see 6:7-12; 10:28-29). Generalities, of course, are always manifested in specifics. A single act of neglect suggests an attitude of the same and should be cause for repentance and diligence.
We have a salvation which is so great for a number of reasons. It comes from a great spokesman (chapter one). It involves a great work of redemption (1:3; 2:9, 14). This great work brought great results (2:10, 15, 17). So great a salvation carries a judgment equally great for those who reject it (see 6:4-8; 10:28-31; also Mark 16:16; Romans 1:17-18; II Corinthians 2:15-16). This salvation was spoken first by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It was repeated and confirmed to the recipients of this epistle by chosen apostles who had heard him speak. The verb translated “confirm” is a form of the same word “steadfast” in verse two. Christ’s word is a sure word.
2:4. Freely translated, our author says that God added witness upon witness, piling testimony together. He did this by signs (stressing the spiritual meaning of the acts) and wonders (stressing the effect on those who saw), various kinds of miracles (stressing the might involved in accomplishing these signs and wonders; literally the word is “powers”), and spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit which He gives to the church (see I Corinthians 12; Romans 12).
All this was according to God’s own will. He confirmed the supernatural message of a resurrected and ascended Savior by supernatural demonstrations of power — because He willed to do so. The absence of such signs in certain places today speaks not of God’s power but of His will. He can if He wishes. God’s working is in God’s sovereign hands. He gives spiritual gifts and works miracles and signs as it pleases Him.
The answer to the original question must be that there is no escape. If the lesser word of angels was sure and violations of it were strictly punished, there is absolutely no escape for one who carelessly regards the great salvation spoken by the superior Son. Let each true believer hold fast to the Son of God in constant diligence, trusting His work of salvation for total deliverance from sin and yielding to His voice in all things.
2:5. At the beginning of the remarks on chapter one the comment was made that those verses prepared the way for chapter two, in which the author would tell how the Son became lower than angels for a brief period of time, and explain why. By the end of the first chapter the original Jewish readers might very well have asked, “If the Son is so much greater than the angels, why did He become a man and die?”
Beginning with verse five the author answers this question. In the process he shows the intended creation glory and dignity of man, a position never realized fully after the Fall by any man except Jesus Christ. He demonstrates how Jesus now occupies this place of prominence, and how, by virtue of His accomplishments, all men may enjoy their intended state of glory.
There are Biblical indications that the angels have a hand in God’s administration of the present world-order (Daniel 10:20-21; 12:1; Ephesians 6:12). We know that various Jewish sects before and after Christ assigned such a role to angels, and the epistle to the Colossians indicates that certain gentile teachers did the same. Be that as it may, God did not plan the glorified world to come for the benefit of the angels, but for man. The intended glory of man is expressed in terms of all things being put in subjection to him (see Romans 8:19-25; 11 Peter 3:7, 10, 13-14; Revelation 21:lff).
2.6. David is quoted from Psalm 8:5-7 to establish this point. God is interested in and mindful of man. He visits him in blessing and judgment. The son of man in this psalm is simply a poetic expression for man.
2:7. Man was made but a little lower than the angels. He was crowned by the Creator with glory and honor. He was set over the works of God’s hands (see Genesis 1:26-28). This was man’s intended exalted position as first created by God for paradise glory.
2:8. God put all things in subjection under man’s feet, according to the psalmist. Our writer reasons as follows. If God really put all things in subjection under him, nothing is excluded from man’s dominion and oversight. Yet if we look about us we do not see all things under man’s control — yet. Man is not master of his environment and world, though he is frequently its corrupter and polluter. Man does not enjoy paradise glory and dominion. To say this is to state the obvious. But does this mean that God’s purpose has been thwarted? Is there anywhere a man who is over all things — in complete control?
2:9. We do not see ourselves in that position — at least not at the present time. But we do see Jesus, and He is crowned with glory and honor! Is the mighty Son of chapter one — that Son so much better than the angels — a man? Yes! For He was made a little lower than the angels, even to the suffering of death, that by the grace of God He could die for every man – then give all who would follow Him their intended glory and dominion.
Jesus became a representative man. In Him, God found a man who gave what He had always wanted from man but which no man had ever given — a human life fully and always dedicated to pleasing God. In Christ, man’s glorified potential was fully realized. This glory was not even planned for angels. It was not intended for other heavenly beings, earthly creatures or occupants of the subterranean depths. It was the Creator’s original intention for man. And now one man is in that position. One man has a foothold in glory! And because He is a representative man, acting on behalf of all mankind, His people will one day enjoy the same position of glory.
The expression a little lower than the angels is used in two senses in this passage. When it is said that man was put a little lower than the angels, the expression indicated his exalted position – it is but a little lower than the angels (and the original psalm had the general word for “God” instead of “angels”). But when it is said of Jesus that He became a little lower than the angels, the direction is reversed. For Jesus is the Son, far greater than the angels. To say that He became lower than angels is to say that He was humiliated, that He emptied Himself, that He condescended (Philippians 2:5ff). It is also to say that He became a man – like ourselves and for our benefit.
2:10. It was becoming, fitting and proper for him for whom are all things and by whom are all things (Revelation 4:11; Romans 11:36; I Corinthians 8:6; II Corinthians 5:18) to bring many sons to glory by making Jesus their perfect forerunner or captain, even through suffering.
In becoming a representative man, Jesus willingly became of the same stuff as mankind in general. He became a brother to man, of the seed of David according to the flesh. In becoming a man, Jesus also took on suffering and death, both inevitable characteristics of mankind. Yet because of His sinless life, His death was able to count as our death. And by suffering death, Christ was able to bring many sons to glory – going ahead of them Himself as Captain, experiencing first the suffering of death but then the glory of resurrection and installment at God’s right hand the same kind of glory they, too, will one day enjoy because of Him.
2:11. He that sanctifieth is Christ and they who sanctified are saints or Christians. Both they and Christ are all of one Father — God. For this reason Christ is not ashamed or embarrassed to call them brethren. Christ did not call us His brethren because He approved of our live or agreed with all our ideas. Brotherhood is not dependent on such things, though endorsement involves them. Christ did not endorse the thoughts and behavior of all his brethren; He simply called them brothers. The basis of brotherhood is a common fatherhood. Those who have the same father should not be embarrassed to call one another brethren.
2:12. The words of Psalm 22:22 are quoted in the mouth of Jesus. The psalmist calls on God for deliverance from enemies. He hopefully affirms that he will yet declare God’s name among his brethren in the congregation of God’s people. The word usually translated church refers numerous times in the Greek Old Testament to the Jews in solemn assembly. Psalm 22 is quite descriptive of Jesus, and the entire psalm was generally understood by Christ and His apostles as predictive of the suffering of the Messiah and the glory which would follow. Jesus suffered personally, was delivered by God, and now lives to declare God’s salvation among His brethren.
2:13. Words similar to I will put my trust in him are found in the Greek Old Testament at II Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2 and Isaiah 8:17. The point of the quotation here is that Jesus, like His human brothers, had to depend on God and trust in Him (see Mark 14:32-36). Luke only of the Evangelists records the dying words of Christ: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (23:46) — and Luke’s Gospel highlights the humanity of Jesus and His identification with mankind throughout. The particular verb form given in Jesus’ statement in the verse just mentioned stresses the extreme personal trust Jesus felt in committing His life to the Father’s care (see also I Peter 2:23; 4:19).The next quotation is certainly from Isaiah 8:18 (which argues for Isaiah 8:17 in the previous citation). The meaning here is that Jesus is one with His human brethren in obedience to God as Father. The words of this quotation should not be pressed too far. Jesus is brother to the saints, not their father.
2:14. Since God’s other children are necessarily partakers of flesh and blood, with all that is implied in that statement, Christ also took part of the same. He died, as they do, but through His death he destroyed or nullified the strength of the devil who had the power of death over man because of sin. Since Jesus had no sin of His own, the devil had no power over Him. When Christ entered the grave, therefore, He was not bound. Rather He walked in free-handed, picked up the keys and came out again in triumph! (See Revelation 1:17-18.)
2:15. Because Jesus rose from the dead, death can no longer hold its former terror for the man who trusts in Jesus. By His resurrection, Christ was able to deliver mankind from the bondage in which he is bound all his lifetime; that is, the bondage of the fear of death. Because one man has conquered death, Satan is immobilized and all men are potentially free of death’s rule.
The same power which brought Jesus out of Hades will also bring out His saints (see Romans 8:11; II Corinthians 4:14; I Thessalonians 4:14). It is interesting that the ancient Greeks called their burial-ground a “necropolis” city of the dead, but that since Christ we call it a “cemetery” — sleeping place. One man has been to the city of the dead and returned! Because He did, we will.
2:16. The word translated took on may mean either “to take hold of for oneself” — the idea represented in the King James Version, or “to take hold of someone to help him” — as probably is the case here. From this second meaning the word may mean simply “to have an interest in, show concern for, or help” someone. It is true that Jesus took on Himself the nature of man and not angel, and verses 5-15 have been given to that theme. This verse seems to speak, however, of Jesus taking hold of man to help him. Angels did not need redemption and apparently fallen angels cannot be redeemed — but man both needed it and would receive it. Jesus became a man to accomplish man’s needed redemption (1:3; 2:9; notes on 10:1-14).
Jesus was born to save His Jewish people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) and to fulfill the promises made to the fathers (Acts 13:32-33; Romans 15:8). To that end He became one of the seed of Abraham. But by the grace of God He also tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9), so that gentiles as well as Jews may praise God for His mercy (Romans 15:9).
2:17. Wherefore, because Jesus took on the responsibility of saving man, in all things it was necessary for Him to be made like unto his brethren. God’s design for man’s salvation consisted of sending a representative man who could do for man what man had been unable to do for himself — live an acceptable life before God. Because Jesus was this chosen and well-beloved Servant of the Father, and in order to carry out this divine mission, He became in every respect like His human brethren, though without sin.
He was divine, God in the flesh, and we must never forget that. But we should not forget either that He was fully human. Jesus was a man, with every human temptation, desire and sorrow. If His deity had precluded any of these He could not have been a truly representative man and could have become neither Savior not even a fair example.
Because He did fully identify with His human brethren, yet remained faithful to God in all His life, He became a perfect high priest, both merciful to man and faithful or reliable in His relationship to God. As high priest He first made reconciliation for the sins of all His people, then became Mediator on their behalf before God.
2:18. Because he himself hath suffered, being tempted through every possible allurement and enticement of Satan including an undeserved death, he has the power and is able to succor or render aid and comfort to His people when they are tempted. He became a son of man that we might become sons of God. He took our place, died our death — that we might enjoy His life and the blessings it made possible.
But He not only died for us — He first lived for us. While this point is frequently overlooked, it is this which made the first possible and meaningful. It is only by His perfect life — lived on our behalf and in our stead, then offered to the Father and accepted by Him — that we can be made accepted, for our own imperfect lives are never perfectly acceptable to the Father. Salvation is by the grace of God from beginning to end, and it was by the grace of God that Jesus tasted death for every man.
Moses could give a law but only Jesus could live that law. Unless we see Him in this light He will mean little more to us than Moses did to the Jew. And great as Moses was, he was not in the same category with the Son who became man. This point our author develops in the next chapter.
Next: Chapter Three