Hebrews 2:5-18

I. Structure

2:5-9 The Last Adam

5 Eschatological subjection

6-8 General nature of Adam

6-7a The humility of Adam

7b-8 The exaltation of Adam

8b-9 Specific nature of Adam

8b-9a The humility of Adam

9b The exaltation of Adam

2:10-18 Union with the Last Adam

10 The divine plan of union

10a Bringing sons to glory

10b Perfecting the captain of salvation

11-13 A prophetic/brotherly union

11 Jesus’ unity with his brothers

12 Jesus’ first confession of unity

13a Jesus’ second confession of unity

13b Jesus’ third confession of unity

14-15 A royal (saving) union

14a Union in flesh and blood

14b-15 Result of a fleshly union

16 Union with the promised seed

16a Not angels

16b Seed of Abraham

17-18 A priestly union

17a A complete union

17b A merciful union

18 A guarding union

II. Exposition

The dominant message of this letter’s second chapter is the solidarity of God with His people through Jesus Christ, the God-man, whose suffering and sacrifice has worked out our salvation. Through conquering sin and death, Christ has become the Champion over Satan and the High Priest of his people to deliver His people from bondage and from fear. He went further than just mere redemption. He established a community of brothers and sisters, relating more closely than even the race of Adam does. His incarnation shows God’s ultimate compassion for men and women. This view emphasizes that God came from high, came down low to lift us up with Him.
Though there is an emphasis on Christ’s coming lower than the angels, his humiliation serves His exaltation. As a conqueror He has taken over death, so that through His power, He can lift us up. It shows His great strength and superiority over man, over angels and over death. Not only does He Himself not fear death, but He delivers those held by the fear of death. Furthermore, Christ’s elevation to the right hand of God shows His exaltation to the position of supreme lordship and authority.
B. The Son for a time lower than the angels (2:5-9).
V. 5-9 Verse 5 starts with a clause that connects this verse to chapter one, περὶ ἧς λαλοῦμεν, “about which we are speaking.” “The function of v 5 is to link two chains of OT citations. The first (1:5–13) develops the superiority of Jesus in his exaltation to the angels. The second (2:6–16) refutes the objections that could be mustered against that superiority on the ground that the Son assumed a condition inferior to that of the angels and submitted to death” (v 9).
In these verses, the author is speaking of the dignity of the Son in comparison to the position of the angels. He mentions this, because through the Son’s humility, Christ appeared to be lower than the angels. However, He was only lower ‘just for a little while.’ Verse 5 makes this clear, saying: ‘Οὐ γὰρ ἀγγέλοις ὑπέταξεν’ (Now it is not to angels that he has subjected).” He became low so that now He could be heir of all things, and bring salvation to His people. An inclusio, like mentioned in chapter one, also appears in verse 5 and 16:
v 5
οὐ γὰρ ἀγγέλοις ὑπέταξεν
“Now it is not to angels that he has subjected”
v 16
οὐ γὰρ δήπου ἀγγέλων ἐπιλαμβάνεται
“For of course it is not angels that he takes hold to help”
The paragraph which quotes Psalm 8 is divided into two parts: first the quotation and then the explanation of it all. The author spoke about the Son’s coming into the world, His superiority over angels, and His power over the world to come when Christ will return.
The author of Hebrews mentions in verse 8 that everything (τὰ πάντα) is within the control of God, nothing is out of His control (οὐδέν ἀνυπότακτον), even though we do not see it yet. ‘Not yet’, is important. There will be a delay, but what has been promised will finally be realized. This realization will come through the new world. The author looks forward to the time when this subjection will be complete, when this new world will have come. Hebrews thus affirms that we live in the overlap of the two ages, the present age and the age to come. In his earlier citation of Psalm 110:1 at 1:13, he recognized that we must wait ‘until’ God places all enemies underfoot. This is the hope for believers, as they see how the Kingdom of God has come into the world and the promises of God are fulfilled, but that the final realization of a world without sin has not yet come.
Verse 9 (see verse 7) is a difficult verse, that has two different translations to it. For the meaning of the Hebrew text of Ps 8:5 (=Ps 8:6 LXX) is ambiguous; the radicals in the Hebrew phrase could signify “little lower than God” (RSV) or “little lower than the angels” (KJV). The Greek translators resolved the ambiguity by referring explicitly to the angels (παρʼ ἀγγέλους), and this interpretation is found in the Targum as well. This element of the text required explanation if the incomparable superiority of the divine Son to the angels was to be maintained. Verse 7 and verse 9 basically say the same thing. It is like the author wants to emphasize the “little while” (βραχύ τι) of Christ’s humanity on earth.
Verse 9 is a climax and a summary. The death of Christ is mentioned here for the first time, for our salvation, to His glorification (Heb. 12:2). He is exalted, put higher than man, higher than the angels. Angels will not be superior over God, and the author mentions how everything is subordinate under the Son’s authority. “God tasted death for everyone” (ὑπὲρ παντός). That means that God has tasted death for all people so that we do not have to taste the death we deserve. The expression “to taste death” is Semitism, not found elsewhere in the Old Testament but only in Rabbinic literature. “The writer uses the Semitism to allude to the harsh reality of the violent death on the cross that Jesus endured for the benefit of others.” The writer speaks of the harshness of His death, the suffering (πάσχειν) of His death. This death resulted in the crowning with glory and splendor (δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ) because salvation had come to the earth.
V. 10 C. The Solidarity of the Son with the Human Family (2:10-18).
Suddenly the chapter turns to beauty. For why was Christ lower than the angels, and why did He suffer? Because our salvation is made perfect in Him. Verse 10 directly follows verse 9 through the connection word “for,” ‘which introduces a statement implying the solidarity between the Son of God and the sons who are being led by God to their heritage’.
The author starts verse 10 with that it was “fitting” or “appropriate” (ἔπρεπεν γὰρ αὐτῷ) for Christ to die through the cross. As one author notes: “The notion of a crucified Lord was a scandal to the first-century world. Crucifixion was a public form of execution, and its cruelty was well known. For Jews, death by crucifixion meant that a person was under the curse of God, while pagans protested that it was sheer madness. To associate God with the world of suffering was therefore utterly inappropriate. But in spite of the offensive nature of Jesus’ suffering and death, that is precisely the way God has worked, and Hebrews gives it a central place. It was fitting110 that God should effect his glorious saving purposes through Christ’s sufferings.” The author of the Hebrews writes about God using a grandiose formula: “for whom all things and through whom all things exist” (διʼ ὃν τὰ πάντα καὶ διʼ οὗ τὰ πάντα). With this he refers back to the quotation of Psalm 8. This “formula” is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
Verse 10 starts to talk about “many sons” in plural form (πολλοὺς υἱοὺς εἰς δόξαν ἀγαγόντα). Through God’s saving work, now the Son (singular) caused many sons (plural) to be brought to glory. ἀγαγόντα brings up some issues for debate, mentioned below this verse. Bringing many sons to glory is very inclusive. Not a few, but many will be saved through Christ’s work. “To enter God’s glory (on the final day) is to enter the sphere where God’s presence is manifest (Isa. 60:19), and this signifies life everlasting with him” (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 1 Cor. 15:42–43; Eph. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:21; 5:10). The Son (singular) is the pioneer of the salvation of the sons (singular). The term “pioneer” (archēgos) only occurs in the New Testament four times, 2 in Hebrews and 2 in Acts, always pointing to Jesus Christ. Christ is the first, He leads, He is the founder, initiator, originator of all things. God’s sacrifice for everyone was unique. In order to achieve this glorious goal God fittingly makes Christ, the pioneer of their salvation, perfect through sufferings. Christ was made perfect (τελειῶσαι) and makes perfect through the suffering. The idea of ‘perfection or completion’ which appears frequently in Hebrews turns up here for the first time and refers to the perfecting of Christ.” The statement that Jesus was “perfected through suffering” (διὰ παθημάτων τελειῶσαι) draws upon a special nuance of the verb τελειοῦν in the LXX. In ceremonial texts of the Pentateuch the verb is used to signify the act of consecrating a priest to his office (Exod 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Lev 4:5; 8:33; 16:32; 21:10; Num 3:3). The normal idiom is “to fill the hands” (τελειοῦν τὰς χείρας), and in Exod 29:33 this expression is elucidated by the verb ἁγιάζειν, “to consecrate, to qualify someone for priestly service.”
Christ was made perfect so He could be consecrated (ἁγιάζειν) to fulfill the office as priest and Champion (ἀρχηγός), Savior (σωτήρ) for His people. Though this verse in the Bible is complicated, the summary is that Christ has been perfected by His cursed sacrifice, suffering and death, so that this Son could lead sons and daughters to perfection in the world to come.
The issue of ἀγαγόντα.
Is it the Father or the Son who brings many sons to glory? In the Greek, which reads, ἔπρεπεν γὰρ αὐτῷ, διʼ ὃν τὰ πάντα καὶ διʼ οὗ τὰ πάντα, πολλοὺς υἱοὺς εἰς δόξαν ἀγαγόντα τὸν ἀρχηγὸν … τελειῶσαι, the participle ἀγαγόντα, (Masculine accusative singular) seems to agree with the contiguous noun τὸν ἀρχηγόν, because it matches in case, gender, and number. That means that the Son leads many to glory. There is also a more “natural way” of reading Greek, and that is to take the participle ἀγαγόντα as descriptive of the work of God the Father, This approach is preferred by many scholars.
As conclusion we know that there is an assurance that many sons (and daughters) are brought to glory, unified with the Son and crowned with glory and honor.
V. 11. Now the Son and the sons are brothers. They have become one through the sacrifice of Christ. In the Pentateuch, God is often seen as the God who sanctifies, bringing people in relationship with Himself. ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ ἁγιάζων ὑμᾶς, (“I am the Lord who consecrates you”) appears several times in the books of Moses and in Ezekiel. With this, verse 11 starts with ὅ τε γὰρ ἁγιάζων καὶ οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι, “for the one who consecrates human beings and those whom he consecrates.” Through this consecration believers become His brothers and sisters and of one origin with Him (ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντες). The term ‘brother’ was used in the Old Testament not only for family members but also for the people of Israel (Exod. 2:11; Deut. 18:15) and friends (2 Sam. 1:26; Ps. 35:14). To speak of someone as a brother implied generosity and a commitment to help (Prov. 17:17).
The word ‘one’ (henos) can be either masculine or neuter in gender. Many who understand it as neuter contend that the phrase means that Christ shares with others a common humanity: they belong to a common bloodline (see Acts 17:26) or are ‘of one stock’ (NJB; NEB; REB).138 Others have taken the ‘one’ as masculine, referring to ‘Adam’ as the ancestor of all humanity, or to ‘Abraham’. But in this context, after the reference to the source of all things (v. 10), the most likely identification of the ‘one’ is God. His action is the source of unity between Christ and his people: all things exist for God and came into being through him.
The word “ashamed” or “not being ashamed” (οὐκ ἐπαισχύνεται) is important as well. The concept of shame was important in the Graeco-Roman society. People were measured by what they were worth. Jewish and philosophical writers encouraged people to speak out for justice even if society would be against them and dishonor them. The writer to the Hebrews does the same. “Those to whom Hebrews was addressed were viewed with contempt by society” (10:32–34; 13:13–14). But the crucified and exalted Christ is not ashamed to call them his brothers. Jesus mentioned in the gospels the shame that He might have for believers when they deny their relationship with Him. Denying relationship to Jesus will find that the exalted Son of Man is ashamed of him (“whoever is ashamed [ἐπαισχυνθῇ] of me and my words … of him will the Son of Man be ashamed [ἐπαισχυνθήσεται] when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26)
Not being ashamed shows the covenant of God with people, a warm family bond. Though we are sinful and deserve to be despised rather than consecrated, thrown out instead of included in His family, through His suffering we are now one with Him. We could not be of one family if the incarnation of the Son had not occurred.
V. 12-13 Christ is not just openly and without shame calling us brothers (ἀδελφούς), but the quotation of Psalm 22:22, which had Messianic significance in the apostolic church. The apostolic church learned to recognize these words from Christ when He died. The second quotation is from Isaiah 18:17-18. Though Psalm 22 is full of pain and suffering, the end is full of praise because the Redeemer is exalted. Therefore, both these quotations show that Christ is glad about His family and the new bond He enjoys with believers. “The statement is taken from that part of the psalm where lament is exchanged for an expression of joyful thanksgiving. It is appropriate to an experience of vindication and exaltation after suffering and affliction. The quotation of Isaiah might also be from the hymn of David recorded in 2 Sam 22 (v 3). This hymn was apparently sung by the early Christians, and therefore as well relevant for the early church of the apostles.
The section is divided by two times “and again” (καὶ πάλιν). In this section Christ says: ἰδοὺ ἐγώ, “Here am I.” This sentence is important. Jesus identifies himself with the believers and presents Himself as one of them. They are one through trust and dependency on Him. As all the three quoted verses are messianic, they all proclaim that Jesus Christ the Son is one with us, calling us brothers and sisters but still showing that He has the sovereign power to make us His children. “Sonship is ‘not a matter determined by nature, but by God’s salvific act and the human response to it.”
V. 14-15 Verse 14-17 form a connection and tell the whole story of salvation in a few words. “Since the children whom God has given to Christ share a common humanity, it was necessary for the Son to assume the same human nature, so that through his death he might be victorious over the great adversary who has the power of death (v. 14), that is, the devil, and liberate his prisoners (v. 15). Only through his incarnation and death could the Son effect God’s ultimate purpose for these members of his family—a purpose that is described in terms of their being glorified (v. 10), sanctified (v. 11), liberated (v. 15), and purified from sins” (v. 17).
Because the previous verses spoke about sons and daughters, verse 14 starts with “the children” (τὰ παιδία) and this can now be understood. The children share the same nature, the same blood and flesh (αἵματος καὶ σαρκός) as Christ, because Christ had taken the same full humanity as them (μετέσχεν τῶν αὐτῶν). The adverb παραπλησίως, “in just the same way,” which signifies total likeness, underscores the extent of the identity of the Son’s involvement in the conditions of human experience common to other persons. It anticipates the inferential statement of v 17, that “obligation was upon him to be made like his brothers in every respect” (κατὰ πάντα).
Now comes the reason why God entered human life, with the purpose clause “in order that he might nullify the power of evil and rescue those who are enslaved” (ἵνα … καταργήσῃ καὶ … ἀπαλλάξῃ). It is important to realize the purpose of Christ coming in the light of evil, because it makes us aware of the fight we are called to fight and the corruption with which we have fought Gods purpose.
Verse 5 speaks of this fear that we are supposed to feel when we consider evil. It is the fear of death (φόβῳ θανάτου) that was awaiting us without Christ. This death is spoken of in the previous verse, a death that is broken by the sacrifice of Christ: “that by his death he might break the power … and liberate.” ἵνα διὰ τοῦ θανάτου καταργήσῃ … καὶ ἀπαλλάξῃ. The depiction of Jesus as the champion (ὁ ἀρχηγός) who crushed the tyrant who possessed the power of death in order to rescue those whom he had enslaved calls to mind the legendary exploits of Hercules. One of the legends tell about Hercules’ wrestling with death. Also other stories of the Old Testament tradition remind the Hebrews of Christ’s work, namely that of the prophets of warriors of God.
Yahweh advances as a champion as a man accustomed to battle he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the cry of battle and will triumph over his enemies (Isa 42:13; cf. 49:24–26; 59:15b–20). It is important for the Hebrews and for all believers to know this, because Satan can hold believers captive in fear even though they are saved. It is important to know that Christ is conqueror over the evil that hurts us even after salvation.
The verses of Christ conquering over death are beautiful, yet very tender. As one author says it: “Jesus’ identification in his incarnation with his brothers and sisters led to his death—not as the consequence of any rebellion on his part but because of his total consecration to do the will of God (10:5–7). And that death was the instrument both in breaking the evil tyrant’s stranglehold and in delivering those who were enslaved.” Christ died because He desired to make us sons and daughters, but in His death He was a victorious conqueror over the great enemy of all that is good. Christ has freed us from death, but also from the fear of death, for fear is a strong bondage that can captivate us and bring us to despair.
V.16. The writer’s intention with this verse is evident in how he starts it with the word γάρ, “for,” and ἐπιλαμβάνεται, “he takes hold to help.” It means that God lays hold firm of us. Like He grasps our hand tightly to take us out of bondage. He enforces this by the participle δήπου, “surely,” “of course.” The hearers of this verse should know that it is clear how God helps.
The verb ἐπιλαμβάνεται is indefinite and it possibly relates to the subject which is “death.” “For death does not take hold of angels, but it takes hold of Abraham’s descendants.” The point made is that angels experience neither death nor the fear of death, but the descendants of Abraham do, and so the incarnate Son died to deliver them from bondage to the fear of death. The Son came to help the community of faith, which are community of faith, which are σπέρματος Ἀβραάμ, Abraham’s descendants. In Isa 41:8–10, the community of faith is the object of God’s comfort: “But you, … Abraham’s descendants, upon whom I took hold … do not fear, for I am with you … and I have helped you” (σπέρμα Ἀβραὰμ … οὗ ἀντελαβόμην … μὴ φοβοῦ μετὰ σοῦ γάρ εἰμι … καὶ ἐβοήθησά σοι).
The people are called not to fear (μὴ φοβοῦ), because God is present. There is no fear of death, as verse 15 mentions. God promises divine help (ἐβοήθησα) and verse 18 is the climax of this promise, that Christ helps (βοηθῆσαι) those who are being tested. ἐπιλαβομένου also refers to the Exodus. God takes as it were His people by the hand to lead them out of slavery and bondage to fear and to set them free.
This verse is so comforting because it proves again that God was fully human. He did not help the angels, but He went so low that He could grasp our hand and lead us out of the fear that we deserve to be in. Calvin writes about this: “This passage is quite enough to confound Marcion, Manichaeus, and other crazed persons of that sort who deny that Christ was truly man begotten of human seed”; and he adds that “it gives no support to Nestorius, who invented a double Christ as if the Son of God had not been truly man, but had only lived in human flesh.”
V. 17 ὅθεν ὤφειλεν κατὰ πάντα τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοιωθῆναι, “this means that it was essential for him to be made like these brothers of his in every respect.” The participle ὅθεν “for this reason” refers to the argument of the verses 10-16. τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς “brothers” was mentioned in the verses before, referring to the communion of saints. The great comfort of this verse is in the words “in every respect.” κατὰ πάντα, (in every respect). God was truly human in Christ except He was sinless.
ὤφειλεν, “it was essential” that Christ became like this so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest (ἀρχιερεύς) in the service of God (ἵνα ἐλεήμων γένηται καὶ πιστὸς ἀρχιερεὺς τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν). Christ could only be a high priest who is merciful and faithful in God’s service if He would take the human nature. τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν is a standard phrase in the Pentateuch meaning “with regard to God.”
There is also a link to 1 Samuel 2:35, where God announces: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall act according to what is in my heart and in my mind; and I will build him a sure house.”
This faithful priest will make propitiation with regard to the sins of the people (εἰς τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ λαοῦ). ὁ λαὸς [τοῦ θεοῦ] was used for Israel as the chosen nation of God through the relationship of the Covenant. To make propitiation isn’t easy, He had also to become merciful and faithful through testing and suffering. “Temptation and torment did not turn him aside from his gracious purpose (Mt. 4:1ff.; 16:21ff.). Faithful to the very end, he drained the bitter cup of suffering to its last dregs for our redemption (Mk. 14:36). In bearing our sins, he even bore our forsakenness and our alienation (Mk. 15:34). Our hell he made his, that his heaven might be ours. Never was there such mercy, never such faithfulness, as this!” God’s love acted by propitiation. “God himself has met the demands of his own holiness. He has, so to speak, propitiated himself in our place, thereby achieving the reconciliation to himself of mankind, who otherwise were hopelessly alienated and under condemnation because of sin.”
V. 18 The last verse strengthens the community in their temptations and conflicts. The faithfulness (πιστός) and compassion (ἐλεήμων) of Jesus as high priest are mentioned. Because of the suffering of Christ, He can now help His people in their suffering. Suffering is a sign of true humanity, and “fellowship in human suffering and testing begets fellow feeling, that true compassion which is the hallmark of his high-priestly identification with our mortal nature.” “He saw the human race laid low,” comments Alcuin, “bound with the chains of sin, subject to the tyranny of death, and he had mercy on us.… Moreover, in that flesh which he took he suffered many cruel things. Therefore, he knows the reality of the tribulation which we suffer. He was tempted, but he was not overthrown.”
Concluding, we can say that Christ came from high to stoop below us, being the ultimate servant so that our fear will be taken away, and that He can take us up to the Father, presenting us as His brothers and sisters. It shows the gospel in a pure, original form and tells us about the Salvation of Christ in a compassionate, merciful way.