5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You did make him for a little while lower than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet (Ps. 8:4-6).” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
It is hard to know how much to take on of this passage in one go. I am stopping rather arbitrarily at v. 10 in order to keep this from being too long. The thought that the author begins in v. 5 is actually not finished until the end of chapter 2. But I think this will make sense on its own, even though it will be more filled out in continuing through the next study which will cover the rest of this chapter.
The Jewish people in Jesus’ day had a deep rooted identity in their past relationship with God: their laws—both written and oral, their worship system, and their festivals and traditions. When the Jewish readers of this letter first heard of Jesus, they embraced Him as the Messiah, as the One anointed by God. They believed that He was worthy of their trust and they endured persecution joyfully because they believe something better was theirs because of Christ. Now the author is warning them to give abundant heed to this message they heard and first welcomed “lest we drift away from it (2:1)”. He wants them to remember that God has given them a new reality, a great salvation, and there is nowhere to turn if they neglect it.
Clearly, something has happened to these Jewish believers that has led the author to write and to issue this warning (and those that will follow). They were adding to their faith in Christ. Maybe they were listening to the latest theories and wondered if one of these might be “the key” to a happy, healthy life on earth. Or they were still struggling with persecution and were considering going back to all that they had had as Jews. We don’t know for sure what the temptations were for these Christians, but I think that we can say that underneath it all, they weren’t exactly sure where Christ fit into their lives. They were not clear on just exactly who He was and what He had done for them. Was He another model of faith? How were they to understand Him in light of their long history as God’s people?
So, the author frames this whole letter in terms of God’s speaking to or addressing them, and he drives an ultimate wedge between all that God has done to communicate with them in the past and the word He has now spoken in His Son. He wants them to see, in the following pages, all the ways that the Son is unique and superior as God’s self-revelation. Now God has come Himself and given Himself to us in His Son. But what does that mean? Why has He come Himself? Why weren’t the earlier words sufficient?
These are the questions the author seeks to answer in his letter. He carefully, wonderfully, points to this Son, helps his readers to gain the fullest picture of Him as possible, so that their trust in Him might grow.
One of the reasons that there may have been some question about Christ’s standing in comparison to the angels was the prevalent belief that creation, and humanity, all things that are earthly are inferior to heavenly things. How could Christ be superior to the pure spiritual angels when He had a human body? Surely human beings are lower than the angels! Well, in order to answer this objection, the author reminds his readers of God’s original purpose in creating humanity. And in doing this, he brilliantly moves his readers into a much deeper look at the character and work of the Son, the Word of God.
In a way, the warning in 2:1-4 is a parenthesis. In v. 5, the author continues his thought from 1:14. There he tells his readers that the angels are sent to serve those about to inherit salvation. In other words, it could be said that the angels are not higher than human beings because they were sent by God to serve us, to serve us who are to inherit this wonderful work that God has done in and through His Son.
Now, in v. 5, the author says “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking (1:2).” The “world to come”—what does this phrase mean? The author says that he has already been speaking of it. Well, at the very beginning of the letter, the author describes the Son as the One “whom God has appointed the heir of all things,” and then later he quotes Psalm 110:1 where God says “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies a stool for your feet (1:13).” It looks like the world to come is the Son’s inheritance, when God has subjected all of His enemies under His feet.
This leads to the next question—who is the author speaking of? Well, if the world to come is spoken of earlier as pertaining to the Son, then the “who” must be Christ. But there are two other points to consider—both connecting this verse to 1:14. First, in the Greek, the word translated “to come” is actually “about” and is the same as in 1:14 “those about to inherit salvation”. So, is he connecting the salvation they are about to receive with the world that is about to come? Secondly verse14 is speaking of angels’ position relative to humanity. When the author says here that is was not to angels that God subjected the world, isn’t the most natural inference, then, to human beings since that was the comparison in verse14? Human beings were those to whom the world was subjected by God.
The author now quotes from Ps. 8:4-6. It is a psalm of praise and wonder that the God who made the heavens and the earth should put us in such a place of honor. Here the author uses the quotation to show that God’s intention for humanity, while created lower than the angels, is only lower for a short while. God’s plan for his “image-bearers” is that they will be crowned with glory and honor and they will have everything put in subjection under them. This is truly amazing! God’s plan is that He will raise up His lowly human creation to be higher than the angels.
Where do we look to see this purpose for humanity being worked out? The author tells them in his next sentences—we see this not by looking at ourselves or our circumstances. Instead we see that God is indeed faithful to His word when we see Jesus. Now notice, this is the first time that the author has referred to the Son by the name Jesus. Jesus is the name that the Son of God receives when He takes on our flesh. It is Jesus that we see made for a little while lower than the angels by now crowed with glory and honor having endured the suffering of death. The Son of God was always superior to the angels, but now as the incarnate Son He has become superior.
Well, what is the connection between God’s purposes for humanity and seeing this psalm fulfilled in Jesus? Jesus is crowned with glory and honor only through death, but His passing through death ends up affecting everyone, “that he might taste death for every one.” Somehow, by God’s grace, Jesus is connected with all of humanity in such a way that His death is related to ours.
“For it was fitting that God … in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.” This is an astonishing statement! First, let’s consider the phrase “sons to glory”. We have seen from the quote of Psalm 8, that God’s intention for humanity was always glorious. Here the author elaborates more. God is bringing many sons to glory. Jesus tasted death for everyone so that we might share in His glory and in His sonship! That is why he uses the word “sons”—not because this is only for the male gender, but to press home the point that it is Jesus’ own sonship. The Son that the author has been speaking of since the beginning of this letter is giving us a share in what is His. The glory and honor that God crowns us with is Jesus’ glory.
To bring many sons to glory the Son, Jesus, becomes the pioneer of our salvation. This word, “pioneer” is a very interesting one. In Greek, the word means author, founder or trailblazer, the one who cuts a way through for others to come along. Jesus is our trailblazer—He cuts a way through our death, by making His death connect with everyone’s, to bring us through death so that we becomes sons of glory. This is why we look to Jesus to see God’s purposes for us—because it is in and through Him as our trailblazer that God makes us His children.
Our understanding of this great salvation we are inheriting has also been expanded. Jesus, God’s self-speaking into our actual time and space, has made purification for our sins, has freed us from our uncleanness (this will get further developed also later) so that we can be taken up into sonship and glory with Him! Jesus has been appointed heir of all things and in Him, our pioneer as one of us, we can now share in His dominion over all things, his inheritance.
Jesus is made perfect as our trailblazer through suffering. The author tells his readers that it is fitting, that is, it makes sense, it is proper and right, that Jesus’ perfection is through suffering. The word “perfect” is from the Greek word telos, which means fulfillment or completion. Jesus is made our perfect, complete pioneer through suffering. The word now spoken in the Son is brought to its fulfillment in Jesus suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father. And this is right, good, fitting. The author will develop more why it is right in the rest of this chapter. But for now I want us to consider this—by saying that it was fitting, the author is telling his readers that Jesus’ suffering was not arbitrary. The purpose of His suffering was not essentially to be punished on our behalf, but was intrinsic to the triune God’s intention to bring us up to share in His life and glory, as children. Jesus’ suffering and death was not a sign that He failed, that He wasn’t as great as the angels, or that He had no glory. On the contrary, His suffering is part of His glory, because He willingly endures it to give us a real share in that glory.
So, in seeing Jesus, we see God’s giving of Himself to us, and enabling us to truly be His children. We could not find our way to God, we could not raise ourselves to Him. Caught and hemmed in by the brokenness of sin, we cannot save ourselves, give ourselves freedom, space, well-being. But God, in Jesus, who is one with us in our humanity has wrought this for us! He who is the Son of God eternally by nature has provided us a way to be the sons and daughters of God, by his grace.