THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS.
From Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978 through 1998.
With many thanks to James Burton Coffman for his "Commentary on Hebrews" from which these notes have borrowed liberally.
CHAPTERS 1 AND 2 - IN THESE LAST DAYS GOD HAS SPOKEN IN HIS SON.
Heb. 1: 1-2 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son."
After opening the book with that important fact, that God now speaks to mankind through His Son, the author of Hebrews goes on to say of the Son of God (v. 4), He has "become as much better than angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
The rest of chapter one is then devoted to an examination of Old Testament Scriptures explaining the many ways in which Christ is better than angels. (Notice the almost exclusive use of Old Testament Scriptures in this letter to Jewish Christians who are in danger of leaving the faith in Jesus Christ.) We might first ask why Christ is compared to angels?
In chapter 2:1-3 the reason is given why Christ is compared to angels. "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation."
The point is that when God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, the word was spoken through angels. Angels had their part in bringing the word of God to the fathers in the long ago. Now, however, God has spoken to us in His Son rather than through angels. The Son of God is better than angels. For this reason we must pay closer attention to the word which is spoken to us in His Son.
In the long ago when God spoke through angels, it was truly God's unalterable word, and every transgression against that word, and every disobedience received a just recompense. That was a problem! Every person who had lived in the "long ago" had transgressed God's word and had become disobedient in some way. God's word presented a just law and a just recompense. The only answer of law to "transgression" is "recompense", or the acceptance of the consequences. This is what the law (contained in God's Old Testament word) had been designed to teach the Hebrews. Transgressors had no way of escape under the justice of the law. Impressing that fact on the Hebrews, God's word then offered the hope of salvation from this "just recompense" through a coming Messiah.
The Hebrew Christians to whom this letter was written had learned this lesson and had been looking for the Messiah. They had recognized Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. They had accepted the word of salvation spoken in Him, and had become Christians. The rhetorical question (so characteristic of Paul's writings) asked of the Hebrew Christians in chapter 2:3 is: How shall we escape the just recompense of our transgressions and disobedience if we neglect the salvation which God has spoken in His Son?
The word of God spoken "in His Son" is here termed "so great a salvation." The obvious answer to the question is that we cannot escape if we neglect the one way of escape that is made available.
In these verses here at the beginning of chapter 2, we see the first great reason why the new covenant is better than the old covenant, or why Christianity is "in these last days" better than Judaism. Now that the hope of Judaism is fulfilled in Christ, all that can come to those still clinging to Judaism (as if it were not fulfilled) is a "just recompense" for their transgressions. But in Christ (in Christianity) there is salvation. If a Hebrew Christian goes back to Judaism, he will reap only a loss of salvation and will nullify the one hope that Judaism ever held out, the hope of its fulfillment in the Messiah. If a Jew rejects salvation in Christ which was the hope of God's word spoken long ago in Judaism, he is left with only a "just recompense" for his disobedience. If a Jew rejects the fulfillment of Judaism, then he rejects the hope of Judaism which was only to come through that fulfillment, and he is left with no salvation and no hope.
The Hebrew letter makes that point over and over in various ways. In the first two chapters the point is made by showing that Christ, who spoke God's word directly to the Hebrews while He lived as a man on earth, that Christ who was God's own special Apostle to the Hebrew people, is superior to angels through whom God spoke in the long ago under Judaism.
We still might ask, why is so much attention given to angels in the Hebrew letter? As far as we know, we do not see angels today. We understand that angels exist and render service to God's people through some kind of invisible providence. However, angels apparently have no visible ministry at this time. (Heb. 1:14). But this has not always been true. Angels had a visible as well as an invisible ministry to the Jews, and the Jews were well aware that God had spoken through angels. The Jews were aware that an "angel of the Lord" had appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2). And an angel of the Lord had appeared to the wife of Manoah to foretell the birth of Samson. Psalms 37:7 tells how the angel of the Lord had assisted David in battle. And Psalms 103:20 tells how the angels did the commandments of the Lord and harkened to the voice of His word. In Luke 1:11 an angel appeared to Zacharias. You will remember numerous accounts of the appearance of angels and the messages they brought to the Jewish people.
However, it is quite likely that the Jews in the time of Christ had come to place too much importance on angels and had developed some false doctrines concerning them. A commentator, Cargill, wrote that by the time of Christ: "The Jews had developed an elaborate system of angelology ... They came to think of Angels as intermediaries between God and man, and they believed that there were millions and millions of angels. They were thought to have many duties. They delivered messages, presided over the destiny of Israel, controlled the movement of stars, manipulated history. There were angels over the sea, the frost, the dew, the rain, the snow, the hail, the thunder and the lightening. They thought that there were angels who were wardens of hell and torturers of the damned. There were destroying angels and angels of punishment. Many of the Jews had strong beliefs in these kind of works of angels."
The belief the Jewish Christians had in angels might have been one of the Devil's influences in enticing them back to Judaism. Christianity does not depend on being delivered by angels but rather on the "word spoken to us in His Son." To Jews with such strong beliefs in angels, it was necessary to show that the Son of God was, and is, superior to angels. In chapter one there are mentioned seven points of superiority of Christ over angels.
In chapter 2:5 we are told that God "did not subject to angels the world to come." This "world to come" seems to be a reference to the reign of Christ during the Christian Age which was to come upon the fulfillment of Judaism. The world had been subjected to angels after the fall of Adam up to the time of Christ's resurrection and exaltation. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, created in the image of God, were at first superior to angels. And the earth was subjected to Adam and Eve. (Gen. 1:27-28). "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowls of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Thus, God originally subjected the living things of the world to mankind.
But mankind, in the persons of Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God and to obey the Devil which action then immediately separated them from God and destroyed their ability in God to have dominion over the world. Thus the world was no longer subjected to mankind, but mankind was then subjected to the world. And mankind, then separated from God, was no longer superior to angels! The implication seems to be that God then made the world subject to angels, and mankind, originally created superior to angels, has now become, because of sin, lower than the angels.
But God "did not subject to angels "the world to come." (Heb. 2:5). God's plan for mankind to be superior to angels and for men to have dominion over the world seems to have been thwarted by the Devil, but it could not be thwarted for all time of all men. Heb. 2:6-8 points out that the Psalms (8:4-6) had long ago prophesied that God had made mankind lower than the angels only for "a little while." Mankind's real possibility through God is still to be "crowned with glory and honor" and to be appointed over "the works of God's hands," and to have all things put "in subjection under his feet," which is a position superior ot\par that of angels.
But we are reminded in Heb. 2:8 that "now we do not yet see all things subjected to him." That is, all things are not yet subjected to men although Psalms prophesied that it would come about. But, Heb. 2:9 says, "we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor." We don't see the world subjected to men yet, but we do see the world subjected to Christ. We don't see all men raised yet to superiority over angels, but we do see Jesus the man raised to be superior to angels.
God's plan unfolds in action for all to see if they will. Men and women, originally created superior to angels, were made by God for a little while lower than the angels because they sinned. God then sent His Son to live in the flesh as a man and, although he knew no sin, God nonetheless made Him also to be for a little while lower than the angels and allowed the Devil to take His life, something the Devil could not take from an angel. But God only did this so that He could raise His Son from the dead and again make Him superior to angels. And now we can see how God carries out His plan to raise men and women to again be superior to angels. He does it through Christ. In Christ we are made superior to angels and we are no longer subjected to the Devil's world but the world is subjected to us.
Now we see why it is important to know that Christ is superior to angels. Because through Christ we all, Hebrew Christians included, can become superior to angels as God intended us to be.
God had to withdraw His trust from men when Adam and Eve sinned. But, we are reminded in Heb. 2:12-13, that God had always planned "to send His Son to earth and put His trust in Him, and then to again put His trust in those of mankind who become the brethren of His Son, or those of mankind who\par become children of God through His Son.
Adam and Eve rejected God and lost their first estate which was superior to angels. But, through His Son, God has given help to regain the original estate. God, through Christ, has taken hold of men and raised them to again be superior to angels. Heb. 2:16 says, "For assuredly He (God) does not take hold of angels, but He takes hold of the seed of Abraham." We remember that the seed of Abraham in these last days are those who are Christians. God takes hold of Christians and raises them to a state superior to that of angels. And Christians then are no longer subject to the world but, indeed, the world is subject to them, for they are sanctified, and there is laid up for them the glory and honor that is in Christ.
"(1) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." Hebrews 1:1-2. NASV.
The book of Hebrews starts with the fact that God exists, that He made all things including "us" to whom the book is addressed; and that He speaks to "us," His creatures. No supporting documentation is presented here in Hebrews for these facts. They are presented as though they are self-evident to "us". The book simply starts with the fact, "God ... has spoken to us." These facts are the basis for everything to follow in this book.
And, indeed, if any person in the world will but honestly and thoughtfully consider the possible alternatives to God, and the evidence before him in the universe, he will have to conclude that God exists, that God created us, and that God speaks to us. There is no reasonable answer to the basic questions of our existence, of the origin of our sense of right and wrong, or of the origin of our ability to know things, except the answer that an infinite personal God exists, that He created us in His image, and that He speaks to us.
Let us consider some basic questions of our existence. First consider just the mechanical aspects of the human body. It is inconceivable that it exists and operates except as the creation of a supreme intelligence and supreme power. Then consider how we got the moral sense that operates inherently in each human being. It can only be explained as being imparted to us by our Creator who establishes moral law. Then consider the basic question of how we know things, how our minds can accept facts, process them, and come up with knowledge. We note the evident fact that we have the ability to investigate creation and to learn and know things about it. This can only be explained by the answer that God actually made something for us to learn and know, and made us able to know.
God obviously created us as verbalizers. That is, God created us to communicate ideas by means of language. Even our thinking must be by means of mental manipulation of the symbols of language. Seeing how we are made, if our Creator wants to speak to us He obviously would present His ideas to us by means of language. And it is inconceivable that our Creator would make us as such verbalizing creatures, obviously to serve His purposes, and then not speak to us.
Honest intelligence should bring us to a recognition of the facts that the book of Hebrews assumes in the very first verse that God exists, that He created us, and that He speaks to us. Indeed, the Roman letter tells us that we are guilty of sin and will receive God's wrath if we do not acknowledge these self evident facts. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." (Romans 1:18-20). And later in the Hebrew letter we are told that "he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him". (Heb. 11:6).
We will see as we get into Hebrews that it is a book about faith. The Holy Spirit directed the writing to encourage the readers to "have faith to the preserving of the soul." (Heb 10: 3.9). And the first belief we must have to make up our "faith" is the "belief" that "He is" and "He is a rewarder of those who seek Him". And that is the ground and foundation on which the Hebrew message starts - "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son." There is inherent in this statement the assumption that we, the readers, are seeking God, and that when God speaks we will definitely want to hear, and that in our seeking and hearing there is a reward from God.
There is here also the premise that the same personal God who gave the Old Testament Scriptures, Judaism and its institutions, has also given the New Testament, Christianity and its system. And the same God who spoke of old through the prophets, utilizing angels to do so (as we see in chapter 2), has spoken in a much better way in setting up the new covenant. In these last days He has spoken to us in His Son. In the long ago, revelation from God came piecemeal, "line on line, little here, a little there," (Isaiah 28:16) through many prophets, but in these last days God has spoken it all through the Son alone. A proper understanding of that will dispel any notions anyone might have that any man might get another message from God during this Christian dispensation. For God to speak to mankind now through any other man would be a reversion to the old system when He spoke through prophets. God "has spoken" (past tense) to us in His Son in these last days. Jude 3 calls God's word spoken in His Son "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." God had it put in the Book which continues to speak throughout these last days. There are no new revelations given to new prophets now, for God has spoken through His Son.
"(2) In these last days (God) has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the world. (3) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high; (4) having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they." Hebrews 1:2-4. NASV.
The superiority of the new institution, Christianity, is actually the subject matter of the entire book of Hebrews. That superiority derives totally from he Son who in this first chapter of Hebrews is presented as none other than God Himself, humbled when He became a fleshly man, of course, but only for a little while and for a definite purpose. In verses 3 and 4 are presented seven (7) credentials of the authority of the Son.
1. The first credential is given in the phrase: "Whom he appointed heir of all things." This first credential makes the Son the King by right of inheritance.
2. The second credential is stated in the phrase: "Through Whom also He made the world." Christ is King by right of creation. What Christ made is His and we belong to Christ because Be made us. Christ is clearly presented here in Hebrews as a member of the Godhead, present and active in the creation, and therefore, with the right to be King over all Be has made.
3. The third credential of our Lord is stated in the phrase: "And He is the radiance of His glory." This credential refers to the personal excellence of Christ, making Him entitled to be King by the qualities of His life and character, even when He lived in the flesh on earth.
4. The fourth credential of our Lord is stated in this phrase: "The exact representation of His nature." Some versions say, "The very image of His substance." The meaning seems to be: He is the counterpart or facsimile of the Father, the same essence as the Father, the image or exact representation of the very being of God. This places Christ in the same category with God the Almighty and entitles Him by right to receive the worship, the adoration, and obedience of men.
5. The fifth credential is stated in the phrase: "And upholds all things by the word of His power." This makes Christ the sustaining force of the entire universe, entitled to be King by right of maintenance. Christ operates all things. So, we not only see the love of Christ in the spiritual salvation that He has made possible, but also we see the love of Christ in the sunshine, and the rain, and the seasons and years, and in the growing things of the earth, and all the material things that come from the abundance of the earth which He made and continues to operate.
6. The sixth credential of our Lord is stated in the phrase: "When He had made purification of sins." This makes Christ King by right of purchase. Christ paid the supreme price for His human creation buying them back when they had fallen into sin and were thereby forfeit to the Devil. Christ "purchased with His own blood the church of God." (Acts 20:28).
7. The seventh credential is stated in the phrase: "He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." This makes Christ the King by right of His having already taken possession of the Kingdom. He is not a candidate to be King. He is King now and will continue to reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. (2 Cor. 15:25).
Heb. 2:14 tells us, that He "through death" has rendered "powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil," and now "He has sat down (on the throne) at the right hand of the Majesty on high." The fact that Christ has "sat down" is a testimonial to the completed nature of His work.
Thus, we note the sevenfold credentials of our Lord - He is entitled to the kingly authority by (1) inheritance, (2) creation, (3) person excellence, (4) divine right, (5) right of maintenance, (6) right of purchase, and (7) right of accomplished fact. Jesus Christ our Lord is the lawful sovereign of all things.
James Burton Coffman in his "Commentary on Hebrews" remarks, "Throughout the farthest reaches of the universe the natural creations (the stars, the satellites, and the galaxies) all do His will. What an incredibly strange thing it is that, in all the universe, man alone refuses to give full obedience, choosing to cast his lot with the Devil and his angels, already doomed and sentenced."
Heb. 1:4. testifies still concerning Christ, "Having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."
The rest of chapter 1 shows Christ's supremacy in comparison with angels. As we have already said, the reason that Christ is compared with angels is because God spoke His Old Testament to mankind through angels but now in these last days He has spoken His New Testament to mankind through His Son. This is the opening argument to show the New Covenant (or New Testament) to be better than the 0ld Covenant (or Old Testament). And also, perhaps, this section of Hebrews is needed because the Jews of the first century considered angels to be of utmost importance to God's scheme of things. They did not realize how much greater Jesus was than angels. So Jewish Christians who were tempted to slip back into Judaism because of pressure from their kindred needed to be strengthened with a full knowledge of who this Jesus\par really was.
"(5) For to which of the angels did He ever say, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee'? And again, 'I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me.'? (6) And when He again brings the first-born into the world He says, 'And let all the angels of God worship Him.' (7) And of the angels He says, 'Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.' (8) But of the Son He says, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever, and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. (9) 'Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy companions.' (10) And, 'Thou, Lord, in the beginning, didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands; (11) they will perish, but Thou remainest; and they all will become old as a garment, (12) and as a mantle Thou wilt roll them up; as a garment they will also be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end.' (13) But to which of the angels has He ever said, 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet'? (14) Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:5-14. NASV.
The author of Hebrews proceeds to prove that Christ is greater than angels by referring to seven passages from the Old Testament Scriptures.
1. The first point of superiority is given right here in the 4th verse of Hebrews one. "He (Christ) has inherited a more excellent name than they (angels)." What is that "more excellent name" that Christ has inherited? Verse 5 tells us. "For to which of the angels did He (God) ever say, ''Thou are My Son, today I have begotten Thee?' And again, 'I (God) will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to me?'" What is the more excellent name given to Christ? It is the name of "the Son of God." (Ps. 2:7; and 2 Sam. 7:14).
Verse 5 is formed as a question. Again it is a rhetorical question. Which of the angels did God ever call "My Son"? The answer is that no one of the angels was ever called "Son." But Jesus was called "Son." You may recall that angels are referred to as "sons of God" in Job 1: 6 and in Job 38: 7. (Job 1:6 says, "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord.") And right here in the Hebrew letter Christians are referred to as "sons." (Hebrews 2: 10 speaks of the "many sons that Christ has brought to glory.) But these are called "sons" from the standpoint that God, the almighty Father, has created them. They are inferior to God as the creature is inferior to the Creator. But this Son through whom God speaks now is not inferior to the Father, but One who existed in the beginning as a part of the Godhead, and who agreed to play the part of the Son in order to be sacrificed for the sins of God's creatures. This is the Son risen and united again with the Godhead, supremely exalted and, of course, no angel has ever been raised to be a part of the Godhead.
2. In verse 6 is the second point of superiority of Christ over angels. "And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, 'And let all the angels of God worship Him.'" The angels are commanded to worship Christ. Christ is superior to angels to the extent that angels owe worship to Him and are to worship Him even as we humans are also to worship Him.
We note that verse 6 sets a time when God makes the statement that all the angels of God are to worship Him. That time is, "When He again brings the firstborn into the world." Let's not jump to conclusion about when that time is until we have examined some other Scriptures that speak of Christ as the "firstborn." In Romans 8: 29 Christ is called the "firstborn among many brethren." In Col. 1:15 Christ is called the "firstborn of all creation." And in Col. 1:18 Christ is called the "firstborn from the dead." Keeping these Scriptures in mind, Christ was the first one to be raised from the dead. He was the firstborn from the dead when He was raised from the tomb. He was first among His brethren, the human children of God, to be raised from the dead. He was the first of all creation to be raised from the dead. (Someone may object and say that Christ was not one of God's creations. He was a part of the Godhead; He existed in the beginning with God, and, as John says, He was God. So how could He be the firstborn of all creation, as it says in Col. 1:15, if He was not a created one? The sense that Christ was a part of creation lies in the fact that Christ agreed to step down from the Godhead and become a fleshly man through the same process of birth through which every human being is created.)
So, what is the meaning of the passage here in Hebrews 1:6 that says, "And when He (God the Father) again brings the firstborn (Christ) into the world"? This is the time when the angels are commanded to worship Christ. Does the word "again" refer to the second coming of Christ which we still look forward to? If yes, then it will only be when Christ "comes again" in the future that the angels will worship Him! But certainly, angels worship Him even now. There is something contradictory in trying to make this phrase refer to Christ"s "second coming."
The Scriptures have already established that Christ became the "firstborn" when He was raised from the dead. And after Be was raised from the dead, He was "again" brought into the world for a period of 40 days. His disciples saw Him, spoke with Him, and walked and dined with Him. He had first come into the world when He was born as the baby Jesus from His earthly mother, Mary. He was not referred to as the "firstborn" in that birth. Many babies had been born in the flesh before Him. But after the baby Jesus grew up, He died as a result of the crucifixion. And then, after His body was buried for three days as His soul had rested in Paradise, He was raised and "again" came into the world. It was then that Christ was established as the "firstborn." And it was then in His resurrection that He was "again" exalted and crowned with glory and honor to be "again" superior to angels. For He had been made for a little while lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9) while He suffered death. And then all the angels of God were "again" commanded to worship Him - and so they do, even now.
3. In verse 7 we find the third point of superiority of Christ over angels. "And of the angels He says, 'Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire"'? This passage is quoted from Psalm 104:4. The main point of superiority here is that Christ was the creator of the angels. In the passage in Psalms, from which the Hebrew writer quotes, the subject is the creation of the Lord. The Lord created all things, including angels whom He made to serve His purposes. The angels were made as the Lord's ministers or servants and served as "winds" at times, or as "flames of fire" at times, to do the will of God and to serve His purpose. The Godhead accomplished the creation of all things through this One who is referred to as "the Son." The creation of the Lord, even the angels, is the creation of the Son. Christ is superior to angels because he created them.
4. Verses 8 and 9 contain the 4th point of superiority of Christ over angels. "But of the Son He says, 'Thy throne, 0 God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy companions."' The quotations are from Psalms and Isaiah. The main point of superiority here is that Christ was endowed with greater gifts than the angels, even while He lived as a man on earth.
First in verse 8, quoted from Psalm 45:6, Christ is referred to as God. Christ is clearly a member of the Godhead. He is obviously greater than angels for He is called God, who sits on the throne, and has the righteous scepter, and has the Kingdom.
In verse 9, His perfect existence is alluded to, especially the fact that He lived as a man and became subject to God's law for men, and lived under that law perfectly. He is the only one who can br spoken of as perfectly living a life that proved His love of righteousness and His hate for lawlessness. So He was anointed by God with the "oil of gladness" above anyone else who ever lived on earth. In this we can see the source of the joys of the Christian life. Christ lived a completely joyful life - always filled with gladness - because He truly loved righteousness. In Christ, we can experience something of the "oil of gladness" in our lives. So even when Christ lived on earth, because of His perfection He was endowed\par with greater gifts than angels.
5. In verses 10 through 12 is the fifth point of superiority of Christ over the angels. "And, 'Thou Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands; they will perish, but Thou remainest; and they all will become old as a garment, and as a mantle Thou wilt roll them up; as a garment they will a1so be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end."' That is, the angels were created at a point in eternity by Christ who had always existed before that. And the angels, along with all other creation will be changed. Christ will not be changed. It doesn't say that angels will cease to exist but seems to say that they are not changeless like Christ is. Perhaps there is a lesson here in the prediction that the world and the universe will age and change and perish.
6. In verse 11 is the 6th point of superiority of Christ over angels. "But to which of the angels has He ever said, 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet?'" (From Psalm 110:1). The main point here is that Christ is more highly exalted than angels. No angel has been exalted to sit on God's throne.
A point of great interest here is that the Lord has enemies. And knowing this, we can understand that there are opposing powers in existence - the power of the Lord, and the power of His enemies. If we belong to Christ, His enemies become our enemies. The only alternative to being in Christ and to have His enemies, is to allow ourselves to serve His enemies. We can't be neutral, nor can we be friendly with both the Lord and His enemies.
7. The seventh point of superiority of Christ over angels is made clear in verse 14. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" This is another rhetorical question. Obviously angels are the servants of God and Christ. Christ gives salvation to men who will turn to Him in obedience. Then He sends out angels to render service to them. The angel serve Christ and even serve Christians who live in Christ.
As we start the 2nd chapter, let us first go back and read the first part of the 1st chapter again. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son."
"(1) For this reason (because God has spoken to us now in His Son) we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." Hebrews 2:1, NASV.
\par How is "what we have heard" connected with what "God has spoken in His Son"? We might "hear" most anything in this world. How do we know whether it is what God has spoken? Verses 3 and 4 of chapter 2 tell us how we recognize God's word. "After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according "to His own will."
Those Jewish Christians of the first century knew from whom they had heard the gospel and they had seen the signs and wonders and miracles accompanying the preaching of the gospel, bearing witness with the preachers that it was the word God has spoken in His Son.
This same process, of delivering the word God has spoken in His Son to mankind, is discussed in Romans 10:13-15. "'Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.' How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!'" The word of God comes to us by those who were sent. Some of those with the "beautiful feet," who were "sent," are mentioned in Hebrews. They were those who heard, and were then sent by God with accompanying signs and wonders to prove the origin of the word spoken.
The writer of the Hebrew letter identifies himself with his readers ("it was confirmed to us") who heard the gospel from man, rather than with those men who were sent by God with the accompanying signs and wonders. Yet it is obvious that the writer of Hebrews was also one who was sent to preach and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this letter to the Hebrews. We have speculated that if it was Paul who wrote the Hebrew letter, he most likely purposely refrained from referring to himself as an Apostle or one of those from whom the Hebrew Christians had first heard the gospel, because (1) they had first heard the gospel from others such as the original Apostles, Peter, James, John, etc. and (2) Paul considered himself one "born out of due season" to be an Apostle to the Gentiles rather than the Jews; and (3) Paul knew he was not fully trusted by some of the Jews. Therefore, he might not have identified himself as the writer if he, in truth, had written it. In any case, even if the Hebrew writer was an apostle, it is no disadvantage to us that he has editorially included himself with his readers who are admonished to pay much closer attention to what they have heard because it is God's word which has been spoken in His Son.
And this is the way that we today "hear" what God has spoken. The same preachers who were "sent" in the early days of Christianity with God's attesting signs and wonders, speak to us today through the pages of the Bible.
We must also note that it is possible for us to drift away from the teachings of Christ even after we come into Christ. We may drift away because we are not fully "anchored" in Christ and powerful "tides and currents" of the outside world are surging and tugging against us. We may drift away if we fail to exercise due diligence in the development of our eternal faith, but instead get too pre-occupied with temporary things of this world. Men seldom turn abruptly away from the Lord, but the process is usually a gradual drifting and we may get far away from the Savior before we realize we are drifting. The problem of the Jewish Christians of the first century being susceptible to "drifting" is an ever present problem with us as well.
"(2) For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, ..." Hebrews 2:2. NASV.
The use of angels in God's giving of the
Law of Moses was not clearly stated in Old Testament Scriptures except
in Deut. 33:2. "He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand
went a fiery law for them." We might take this reference to "ten
thousands of saints" to mean ten thousands of sanctified ones who were
angels. And it is made perfectly clear when we come to the New Testament
Scriptures, Paul stated in Gal. 3:19, "It (the Law) was ... having
been ordained through angels ..." And Stephen said in Acts 7:53, "You
who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."
The "just recompense" for those law breakers who did not repent and look to God for mercy was much worse than just physical punishment or death from this life. It is clear in Paul's Roman letter (Romans 1:18-20) that those who did not repent received the eternal wrath of God because they were 'without excuse" for their transgressions.
Hebrews 2, verse 3 goes on to say: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation." The question has an obvious answer. No escape is possible for us in these last days where neglect of the salvation offered by Christ is involved. The inevitability of sin receiving its "just recompense" is founded in the holiness and perfection of God, coupled with the utter abhorrence by God for evil. This attribute of God, His utter abhorrence of evil, is overlooked by many people today. But everything revealed in the Bible concerning God shows that sin will be punished if we neglect the salvation offered by Christ.
"(3) ... how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, (4) God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."
The confirming word of Christ mentioned here was not for the purpose of adding to the truth or dependability of God's word. Nothing could do that. But the confirmation appears to have been necessary because the enemies of Christ had not yet been taken out of the way. Enemies were at work in the 1st century trying to thwart God's plan of salvation and the enemies are active even now. The enemies of Christ even preach a different so-called "gospel of salvation." But the so-called gospels preached by the enemies are not confirmed in the way God's word is confirmed. And the confirmation also appears to be necessary in order to satisfy the Scriptures own admonition to establish every truth in the mouth of two or three witnesses. The three confirming witnesses of Christ's revelation during the 1st century might be considered:
1. the miraculous deeds that
accompanied the revelation,
3. the various gifts of the Holy Spirit given to individuals.
Now we today have an exact record of God's word spoken in His Son in the new Testament. We have the confirmation of the miracles that accompanied the word in the 1st century in the New Testament record. We have the personal witness of the Apostles in the New Testament record. We have the witness of the various special gifts of the Holy Spirit which were given to certain individual Christians in the 1st century also in the New Testament record.
Since the 1st century period God has not spoken further to mankind. (Jude 3). Can we not clearly understand, then, why there have been no more miracles, no more Apostles, no more special gifts from the Holy Spirit since that 1st century period. God "has spoken" (past tense) and we have the record of it in the Bible clearly and firmly preserved for us and accessible to us. And through the Bible record we have the testimony of the same signs, wonders, miracles, the same Apostles, and the same gifts of the Holy Spirit as the people of the 1st century. Apparently there is no need for God to speak further, and He has not spoken any further. Thus there has been no further need for additional witnesses. As we allow the Bible to pass God's word along to us today, we have the same miraculous witnesses in the record and there is not need for additional miraculous witnesses.
God has used miracles for His purposes at several times in mankind's history. Always, however they were used only temporarily in history. For instance, when Israel entered Canaan, the manna ceased; the pillar of cloud and fire no longer guarded the Israelites; and the Israelite nation entered a new era. (Josh. 5:12). The Old Covenant was ushered in with miracles but the miracles did not continue throughout all the time of that covenant. This history of Israel teaches us to expect that the miracles that accompanied the opening of the New Covenant (of which the Old Covenant was a type) would cease after a few years also. And Paul said, "If there are tongues they will cease." (1 Cor. 13:8). The word of God having been delivered by Christ and sufficiently confirmed by the miracles during the time of the Apostles, there was no further\par need of miracles.
Now we today do receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38) which is the Holy Spirit Himself who comes to dwell within us and be united with our personal spirit. (1 Cor. 6:17, 19). Knowing this, many people today claim that this Holy Spirit indwelling them, must enable them to do miraculous things. But we notice right here in Hebrews 2:4 that it is perfectly reasonable and possible for the Holy Spirit to indwell us without giving us the power to work miracles. Hebrews 2:4 tells us that God was bearing witness with His preachers of the 1st century by gifts of the Holy Spirit "according to His own will."
Notice that last phrase, "according to His own will." No miraculous gift was ever given except it was at the will of the Holy Spirit to give it. The Holy Spirit saw fit to bestow one gift on one individual, another gift on another individual, and no miraculous gift at all on others. Yet all were Christians having the Holy Spirit indwelling them. The Holy Spirit not only bestowed miraculous gifts on some, He withheld miraculous gifts from others. The Holy Spirit could bestow or withhold gifts "according to His own will." So there is no contradiction in our understanding that the Holy Spirit indwells us who are Christians, yet does not give us the power to do miraculous things. The Holy Spirit simply does not will that we have miraculous gifts today for the reason that He knows what is best for us. We must conclude that it is best for us that we do not have them.
Are we at some disadvantage because the Holy Spirit does not will that we have miraculous gifts today? The Bible teaches us that we are not at any disadvantage but just the opposite: "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28). There simply is no disadvantage to those who love God.
But, of course, the Holy Spirit does grant all necessary gifts to us today; they simply are not gifts that we term miraculous (from a scientific point of view), although they are marvelous and awe inspiring. Consider this: "If there are gifts of prophecy they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away ... But now abide faith, hope, love, these three ..." (1 Cor. 13:8,\par 13). Also consider: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control ... If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Gal. 5:22,23,25).
We can live by the Spirit without having certain miraculous gifts fromthe Spirit. And the non-miraculous gifts we are promised, if we will live by the Spirit, will testify to the world and even convince the world that the gospel of salvation which God has spoken in His Son must not be neglected. These gifts which will testify from within us are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. These are the gifts which are according to the "will of the Holy Spirit" in our day.
"(5) For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. (6) But one has testified somewhere, saying, 'What is man, that Thou rememberest him? Or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about him? (7) Thou hast made him for a little while lower than the angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor and hast appointed him over the works of Thy hands;'" Hebrews 2:5-7. NASV.
We made the point when we first started this chapter that the "world to come" here in verse 5 certainly refers to the Christian age that is upon us and has been since the first century, the age in which "God has spoken in His Son". The Hebrew writer goes on to say that the "world to come" is that "concerning which we are speaking", which is, of course, the Christian age.
What is said here about man in these verses is laying the groundwork for what the writer is going to say about Christ in verse 9. Someone has said that the writer of Hebrews begins at verse 5 to write about the humiliation of Christ, His sufferings as a fleshly man. And in the context of the comparison of Christ with the angels, the point is that even the humiliation of Christ supports the conclusion that Christ is superior to angels, because, as Adam was created in the Garden of Eden, even man was superior to angels. Thus Christ, the second Adam, took up in his human nature where the first Adam left off but without his sin; therefore, Christ, on the lowest level of His being, that of a fleshly human being, possessed in His human nature the superiority over angels that Adam had before the fall.
Quoting from Psalm 8:4ff, Hebrews shows that men, not angels, are destined to be placed over all the works of God's hands. The human nature of Christ, which He consented to put on, is now risen and glorified and has already begun to enjoy royal dignity like that foretold in Psalm 8 concerning man.
Man became "for a little while" lower than the angels because he sinned and removed himself from the company of God. But it is God's plan that man be superior to angels and the world be subjected to men, not angels. God, carries out this plan through Christ, as we will see as we go on in this chapter.
"(8) 'Thou has put all things in subjection under his feet.' For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him." Hebrews 2:8. NASV.
Hebrews 2, verses 6, 7, and 8, has quoted from Psalm 8:4-6. It has spoken about the potential of mankind. It is God's intention to put all things "in subjection under the feet" of man. Yet, it is clear, says the writer of Hebrews, that we do not yet see this prophecy fully carried out. "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him." Men are not yet placed over all the works of God's hands. Instead of all things being in subjection to men, man finds that he cannot even control himself. And there are countless things on the earth that man cannot subdue or make subject to himself, so much so that unaided humanity must despair of ever re-gaining the royal dominion of man intended from the beginning.
"(9) But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste of death for every one." Hebrews 2:9. NASV.
A commentator, G. Campbell Morgan, said: "The Son was made lower than the angels, descending to the level of human nature in order that He might die. From death, angels are exempt; therefore, He passed them by (as He descended), coming not merely to the level of ideal humanity, but even to the level of failing humanity; made lower than the angels that He might taste of death."
Verse 9 says Christ was crowned with
glory and honor in order that He might taste of death for every man.
Christ did not come into this world merely to deliver noble teaching, or
to establish some kind of ideal, but primarily to die on the cross for
the sins of the whole world. And this primary purpose of Christ's
coming (to die for the sins of the world) is a major stumbling block
to proud human beings. A large portion of so-called "Christianity"
merely looks upon Christ as a human teacher who gave us an ideal; not as
a member of the Godhead who gave Himself to rescue mankind. So many
humans consider themselves to have an inherent right to life and to
need no rescue at all. And so, when fleshly death overtakes a loved
one, especially if it be a child or a young person, many of us curse God
(or try to deny that there is a God) for we illogically reason that a
just God would never allow an innocent one to suffer and die. In that
conclusion is a denial of God's entire plan of salvation. The only
perfectly innocent being who ever lived on earth was Jesus Christ. He
was not only allowed to be tortured and killed, He willingly submitted to
it. And He was not just a human being, but God Himself consenting to
be a human being for our sake. And in truth God conferred upon His Son
a crown of glory when He gave Him to die for the ransom of
We may not fully understand the reason for sickness and accident and death. However, in the midst of this frustrating human situation Hebrews gives us the most wonderful message we could possibly imagine - God exists; He loves us; He has spoken to us in His Son and has offered to us eternal salvation. And He will crown us with glory and honor also and appoint us over the works of His hands. Finally death, however painful at the time, is but a passing into the promised land for those who love God and have seized upon the salvation He offers. As we come to a more full realization of this we will not fear death and we will not resent the passing of our loved ones.
"(10) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." Hebrews 2:10. NASV.
The world says that Jesus could not have been the Son of God because God allowed him to suffer and die. But Hebrews tells us that Jesus absolutely was the Son of God and that it was not unbelievable and unfit that He should suffer, but that it was "fitting." Why was it fitting? Because God planned to save men by bringing them into fellowship with His Son by making men to be sons also. We are saved through fellowship with His Son and this fellowship could only be brought about by God's Son descending to mankind's level. Mankind cannot ascend on his own to sonship with God. When we understand this, the death and suffering of our Lord ceases to be a stumbling block but becomes God's greatest gift to be accepted and cherished. The cross, dark and terrible as it looms in past history, is clothed with glory and beauty that surpasses the imagination. Did not Jesus say, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32).
Some have objected to the language of verse 10 which says that the author (or captain) of our salvation had to be perfected through sufferings. They point out that Christ was always perfect and did not just then become perfect. It is certainly true that Christ has never been less than perfect. But, despite that fact, He trod the same pathway that we humans have to tread and showed the way to perfection for us. Perfect as He was, He came down to the level of us who are much less than perfect and led us upward on a path to the perfect level. That level is not a point of our achievement but is the point at which we enter Christ. When we enter Christ, we become perfect for Christ contains nothing that is not perfect. But it is not our doing that makes us perfect, but Christ's doing.
"(11) For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, ..." Hebrews 2:11. NASV.
This verse shows further how it was fitting for Christ to suffer and die and how we through him become perfect also. Since the Son has taken upon Himself the form of men, and in that sense is one of them, He is not ashamed to call them brethren, even to partaking of death for them. And as Christ in His human nature drew men to Him, the Father sanctified them - that is, set them apart from the world as holy - perfected them far beyond their lowly human natural state - so that they could have fellowship as brethren with Christ. Nothing un-sanctified, nothing less than holy, or less than perfect can ever have fellowship with Christ. To make it possible for men to have fellowship, then, it took action by God and Christ. Men could never achieve that state by themselves. It required, and it was fitting, for the Son of God to descend to the level of men; and then, it required that God sanctify men so that they would not be out of place in Him. Men can never sanctify themselves. Only God can sanctify men. Men can seek or prevent this sanctification, but men cannot sanctify themselves. We must come to realize this and allow God to sanctify us, for our proud efforts to sanctify ourse1ves can only hinder us from becoming sanctified.
How great Christ's love must be for us! Although we have become futile in our speculations and our foolish hearts have been darkened to that we are without excuse, if we turn to Him, "He is not ashamed to call us brethren." Verse 12 and 13 follow now with quotations from Psalms and Isaiah which give Old Testament proof of Christ being unashamed of His brethren.
"(12) Saying, 'I will proclaim Thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise.' (13) And again, 'I will put My trust in Him.' And again, 'Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.'" Hebrews 2:12-13. NASV.
The author of Hebrews does a very significant thing here as he translates the Hebrew Old Testament into New Testament Greek. He uses for this word "congregation" the same Greek word that is used throughout the New Testament for the church that belongs to Christ. (Ekklesia in Greek - Gahal in Hebrew). The significance of the Old Testament prophecy then becomes, clearly, that those of whom the Son of God is not ashamed to call brethren are the members of His church. Also, these Old Testament prophecies show that Christ shall not be glorified alone, but in conjunction with the spiritual "children" whom God has given Him, synonymous with His "brethren."
The language of this last quotation reminds us of the words of Jesus in John 17:9-10, "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine; and all things that are Mine are Thine and Thine are Mine; and I have been glorified in them."
"(14) Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil." Hebrews\par 2:14. NASV.
Note that the verse does not say "the children (Christians) are flesh and blood only, but simply says that they share in flesh and blood. This indicates that the whole essence of "the children" is not "flesh and blood", but "flesh and blood" is simply that in which they now live. 1st Cor. 5:1 makes this thought clear: "For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This "earthly tent which is our house" is our body of flesh and blood. But our real essence is eternal soul and spirit, and we merely share in flesh and blood while we are on earth with God's other flesh and blood creatures. Christ likewise also shared in that flesh and blood body. The reason for Christ's partaking of flesh and blood is given here, "that through death (in that flesh and blood body) He might render powerless" the Devil, the very one who thought that he had the power of death. Note this powerful paradox: Death was the weapon Christ used to bring to naught the one who had the power of death. No human could ever have imagined such a thing happening. Not even the disciples of Christ understood what was taking place when Christ died. In fact, one of His disciples on the road to Emmaus three days after Christ's death said, "But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel." The followers of Christ were dejected and disillusioned just after Christ's death. Yet within 50 days there was a sudden change in them all. They suddenly realized that Christ had triumphed because He had risen from the dead and imparted to them the power of His risen life.
The Devil's weapon, death, was therefore wrested from him and used as the instrument of the Devil's own destruction. James Burton Coffman said, "Just as David took Goliath's own sword and cut off the giant's own head with it, David's greater Son took the Devil's weapon of death and destroyed him with it."
"(15) And might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." Hebrews 2:15. NASV.
Satan's power to cause death has given him a weapon with which he enslaves men in this life. He entices men to do his evil will by convincing them that there is nothing beyond this life. We can and should live for the here and now, Satan says. When we yield to the temptation to conduct our lives merely for the here and now, we have succumbed to Satan's desire for us and we are enslaved by him as Adam and Eve were when they succumbed to him. And Satan would like to hide from us the fact that there is a second death reserved for him and his followers. When men come to realize that they have immortal souls and that there is a second death awaiting them, then the fear of this greater unknown second death becomes paramount. Satan doesn't want us to learn that fear, for it exposes his lie and we then might flee from him.
In first Corinthians 15:54 we are told that "the sting of death is sin." When Christ provided the remedy for sin He removed the sting of death which was the second death, the punishment for sin. So now, fleshly death, followed by the resurrection to eternal life, is not death in the former sense. The sure and certain resurrection to follow robs fleshly death of much of its terror and all of its deadly sting. Jesus said (John 11:25), "I am the resurrection, and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies."
"(16) For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham." Hebrews 2:16. NASV.
Some commentators hold that the best translation of this verse is: "For assuredly He does not take hold of angels, but He takes hold of the seed of Abraham."
One likely meaning of this verse is that Christ took upon himself the flesh and blood of the seed of Abraham, but He did not take upon himself to become like angels. The fact that Christ took hold of a fleshly life indicates, of course, that He had an existence before He became flesh, and that it was at His own vo1ition that He was born as a fleshly man. He took a fleshly birth in the fleshly image of Abraham.
Perhaps there is here also the thought that Christ gives help to the seed of Abraham in the sense of providing salvation to the spiritual descendants of Abraham; that is, He provided salvation to those who have faith in God as Abraham did. This salvation is not for angels and in that sense He does not take hold of or give help to angels. (Those angels who serve God presumably don't need salvation. And it is not for the fallen angels like Satan, but for human beings who are the seed of Abraham in a spiritual sense.)
The mention of the "seed of Abraham" in this verse is dramatic reference to the fact that the Jews themselves needed the help of that promised "seed" which was Christ, in order to get forgiveness and salvation. This was a truth that perhaps the wavering Jewish Christian might have overlooked.
"(17) Therefore, He had to be made like his brethren, in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For since He Himself "was tempted in that which He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." Hebrews 2:17-18. NASV.
The first part of verse 17 indicates that there was only one way Christ could help men. It was to become like them in all things. Obviously, "in all things" means that He took on a nature which was in every respect like that of a human being. It surely does not mean that He made the same mistakes in His choices and decisions that every human being has made. He did not sin and become of a sinful nature in need of salvation. But, of necessity, it does mean that He took on the possibility of succumbing to the temptation to make a wrong choice. He was not truly tempted if there was no possibility of Him yielding to the temptation. He simply defeated every temptation and, in that respect He became vastly different from any human being who ever lived. And because of that difference He became eligible to offer Himself as a sacrifice in behalf of mankind.
It was necessary that He subject Himself to the nature of human beings and subject Himself to real temptation in order to "become a merciful and faithful high priest." As a high priest He serves mankind in that He is merciful. He serves God in that He is faithful.
The word "high priest" occurs here for the first time in Hebrews. It refers, of course, to the fulfillment in the highest and most complete sense of the typical high priest under the Law of Moses. Under the Law of Moses the high priest, on the day of atonement each year, entered into the Most Holy Place of the Temple and offered blood for the sins of the people. Christ, as the anti-type or reality of that type, entered heaven and offered His own blood for the sins of all men. Just as the Mosaic high priest slew the sacrificial lamb prior to offering the blood of that lamb, Christ offered Himself upon the cross, thus combining in Himself the functions of both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest offering the blood of the lamb. This High Priesthood of Christ is discussed to such great extent in the following chapters of Hebrews that some consider this to be the theme of the entire book of Hebrews.
In considering the fact that Christ made "propitiation for the sins of the people," we should understand the meaning of this word "propitiation." In a worldly sense, propitiation is often used to signify sacrifices to pagan gods or to men, and the propitiation seeks to appease anger or to obtain favor. It pictures the one being propitiated as being selfish like human beings are selfish. The Almighty God cannot be propitiated or appeased in that sense. It is not God who needs to change His mind, but men who need to change their minds. The sacrifice of Christ, therefore, was not to reconcile God to man, but to reconcile men to God; as Paul said in Second Corinthians 5:19, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." And, as Paul explained in Romans 3:24ff, God's righteousness and justice demanded death as the penalty for sin. The great love and mercy of God for mankind moved Him to pay the penalty Himself, in the person of His Son upon the cross, thus justifying men who could never have been justified in any other way. This is the meaning of "propitiation" here. Only God Himself, in the person of His Son, was qualified to be the propitiation so that God could be both "just and the Justifier" at the same time.
Is it not clear, then, how we set at naught God's great sacrifice if we do not turn in faith and obedience to His Son? God has taken the great, otherwise impossible action and has become both the one who propitiates and the one propitiated at the same time. The way is open for our reconciliation. But we have an action also, because we must be reconciled to God rather than God being reconciled to us. The simple and quite possible action for us to take is to turn in faith and obedience to His Son. "For this reason, let us not neglect so great a salvation."