The Epistle To The Hebrews, Part 2
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Hebrews Chapter 2:4-18
In our last study, we saw the anonymous author give proof that Jesus is as superior to the angels as His name (the Son of God) is to theirs (sons of God). The Son of God is the exact representation of His being, His prophet for the Last Days, the sole provider of our purification. And when He had finished His work, He sat down at the right hand of majesty. Now we’ll see that in the process He descended lower than the angels for a little while to become human in order to save mankind. Let’s begin.
Jesus Made Like His Brothers
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” [Psalm 8:4-6]
“In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 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.” (Hebr. 2:5-9)
Both here and in Psalm 8 the phrase a little is also translated for a little while. Jesus, who as the Son of God is superior to the angels and in fact created them, temporarily descended down the hierarchy of creation to a place lower than theirs to become the Son of Man.
“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 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. He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” [Psalm 22:22] and again, “I will put my trust in him.” [Isaiah 8:17] And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” [Isaiah 8:18] (Hebr. 2:10-13)
We, the Father’s children, have been given to the Son to be his brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29 tells us that in God’s view we’ve been conformed into the likeness of His Son so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And Paul also wrote:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)
In the Greek and Roman cultures, sons were not automatically heirs to their father’s estate. When they reached a point of maturity where they could understand what it meant, usually between 14 and 18, they went through a formal adoption process where they received “the full rights of sons”, qualifying them to inherit their father’s estate. Until then even though they were biologically related to their fathers, they had no more legal standing than the household slaves. Through the Lord’s atoning sacrifice, we’ve been given “the full rights of sons” in our Father’s family. No longer slaves to sin, and not just forgiven, we’ve been made heirs with Christ of all eternity.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
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. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebr. 2:14-18)
God didn’t make His son an angel to save angels, but a man to save mankind, to be our High Priest, our atoning sacrifice, and our mediator before God. When Adam sinned, he lost his immortality and his inheritance, and all his children were made slaves to Satan. Without a redeemer man was hopelessly lost, being unable to save himself. God had the price of redemption and the desire to pay it, but according to His own law only a man, Adam’s next of kin, could save us. (Leviticus 25:25,47-48) But being enslaved themselves, no one of the family of man could do it. And so God became a man in the form of His own Son and paid the price of our redemption with His own life. But He didn’t just save us. As He ascended back up the hierarchy to His rightful position on the throne of creation, He took us with Him, past the angels, to be sons and daughters of God and joint heirs with Him, seating us beside Him in the Heavenly realms (Ephes. 2:6).
Jesus Greater Than Moses
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (Hebr. 3:1-6)
Here the recipients of the letter are described as born again believers and are told that their most revered ancestor Moses has been surpassed by Jesus. As the apostle John would write, the Law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus. (John 1:17) The superiority of the Son over the servant demonstrates the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. Those who had been trained from birth to rely on the Old Covenant now had to have the courage and hope to cling to the New.
Warning Against Unbelief
“So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” [Psalm 95:7-11] See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”(Hebr. 3:7-19)
Another warning not to go back into the Levitical system. Having been freed from slavery in Egypt with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment (Exodus 6:6) the Israelites rebelled when God asked them to walk by faith into the Promised Land and achieve victory over its inhabitants. “There are giants in the land,” they said, “and we looked like grasshoppers in their sight, and in ours.” (Numbers 13:33)
Because of their unbelief, God withdrew His power and when they tried to take the land in their own strength, they were soundly defeated (Numbers 14:41-45) and consigned to life in the wilderness.
The Israelite who accepted deliverance from the bondage of slavery in Egypt but refused to cross over into the Promised Land is a model of the believer who has accepted deliverance from the bondage of sin yet refuses to walk in victory. Both are redeemed from bondage and both receive God’s provision, but both are deprived of His power and doomed to spend their lives in the wilderness.
Sacrifices For Sin
A central element of the Levitical system was the daily sacrifice for sin. Every evening a lamb was placed on the altar and allowed to burn all night to cover the sins they committed during the night. At sunrise, it was replaced with a new one that burned all day to cover the sins they committed during the day. In addition, Israelites had to make a personal sin offering for their own sins. Failure to do these things deprived them of God’s blessing and brought His anger upon them.
John introduced Jesus to Israel as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) He was referring to the daily sacrifice for sin. The difference is that this Lamb would only be sacrificed once for all time. With the establishment of the New Covenant, we only have to believe that He died for us to be saved for Eternity. (John 3:16) But that doesn’t stop us from sinning, and every time we do we have to confess to remain in fellowship with God in the here and now. (1 John 1:9) We never again have to worry about God’s anger (Colossians 1:20) but failure to confess when we sin will still deprive us of His power, His protection, and His blessing. It’s the New Covenant replacement for the daily sacrifice.
In effect, the writer admonished the Hebrew believers that turning back from the New Covenant would leave them just as weak and powerless over spiritual enemies as their ancestors had been over physical ones after turning back from the Promised Land. It would demonstrate their unbelief in the sufficiency of the Lord’s death to cover all their sins. It would not endanger their salvation, but it would put them out of fellowship with Him. While still on the right side of pardon they’d be on the wrong side of power, stuck in a spiritual wilderness just as their ancestors had been stuck in a physical one. Confession and forgiveness were God’s only acceptable remedies for their sins.
It’s the same today. How many believers live powerless lives because of their unconfessed sins? Oh, they’re still saved, but where is their victory on Earth and what will be their reward in Heaven? They have a life without health, trial without triumph, service without success. They’re on the right side of Easter but the wrong side of Pentecost. How about you? Selah.