Our Great High Priest in Hebrews: The Son Greater than the Angels (pt. 3)
In this our last installment in our series on our great high priest in Hebrews, we come to 2.1-18, where the author of Hebrews finishes what he started in 1:5-14.
As we contemplate the Son in the new state He has entered and with the new honor He has received, the author of Hebrews warns us: how can we ever turn a deaf ear to God’s speech in one as glorious as the Son (2.1-4)? Punishment was inescapable for neglecting God’s previous communication through inferior angels at Sinai (1.1; 2.2): it will be even more so if we neglect God’s final communication through the superior of those angels, the Lord who is the Son (2.3). To impress upon us further the seriousness of this warning, our teacher continues to contrast the Son with the angels.
Heb 2.5-18. Remarkably, our teacher puts the accent on the Son’s historical glorification with His eternal deity in 1.5-14, but in 2.5-18 he shifts the accent to the Son’s humanity and humiliation. Surprisingly, our preacher argues for the Son’s superiority to the angels by saying that the Son, both as man and as God, is much better than the angels. In 1.4-14, he introduced the general theme of the Son’s supremacy, citing Ps 110.1 in 1.3 as well as in 1.13. In 2.5-18 our author resumes his theme of the Son’s superiority, only now he focuses on His supremacy by conquest as promised in Ps 110. Strikingly, in both the world that now is and the world to come, the Son effects a change for the better in the relationship between man and angels.
Quoting Ps 8.4-6 to focus our reflections, our teacher makes it clear in 2.8b-18 that the glory of the conquest promised in Ps 110.1 will belong not to the angels, but to man. More than that, the man qualified to receive this victory will not be just any man. No, Ps 8.2 tells us that God’s design is for the weak to conquer the strong. In truth, God ordained the ironic character of the conquest before the fall, and He then reasserted it after the fall.
The character of conquest before and after the fall. Before the fall, man was blessed to rule the created order (Gen 1.28) and was commissioned to keep Eden’s garden sanctuary secure and pure according to God’s commandments (Gen 2.15-17): conquest would thus belong to man even in his creaturely weakness and humility as long as he remained upright. According to Genesis 3, however, man was overcome by God’s enemy - a former cherub angel, no less - and was delivered with his seed over to death and defeat. When He announced His coming victory over the serpent and his seed in Gen 3.15, God reasserted His design to conquer the strong through the weak. Even in death, the weak would conquer the strong, for God had appointed the death of one upright Man as the way to new life for many among the fallen seed of the one fallen man.
Fallen man made subject to the angels. Still awaiting the victory to come, God rose up to reveal His holy wrath against sin by cleansing Eden’s sanctuary. He effectively took away from man the priestly task of keeping the garden secure and pure and transferred it to the cherubim angels (Gen 3.24). Man was thus subjected to the angels (Heb 2.7a) until the arrival of that one Seed who would qualify to return to God’s presence by passing through the flaming sword of judgment with which those angels were armed.
The Man of Gen 3.15 and Psalm 8. The arrival of that qualified Man moves our teacher to recall Psalm 8: the Son, the Creator God, has condescended and become the Man of Gen 3.15 and Psalm 8! In His state of incarnation (2.14), the Son overcame the temptations to sin in that which He suffered (2.18). While contending with the indignities of this world, the temptations of the devil, and the infirmities in His flesh, He put His trust in God (2.13a), even unto death, and was thereby perfected as the champion of salvation for the children whom the Father had given Him (2.13b). For the children’s sake He defeated the one who had the power of death, inflicting mortal suffering on the devil as He Himself endured mortal suffering (2.9, 14). For the children’s sake He faced down the terrors of death, releasing them from the fear of death into the hope of resurrection (12.2; 6.18-19; 11.35). Though feeling the weight of God’s wrath, He laid down His life as a propitiation for the sins of the people (2.17). All this He did, bearing the reproach of man’s exile from Eden in being made lower than the angels for a time, so that by grace (2.9) and mercy (2.17) He might qualify man again for the glory (2.10) of life with God.
At the beginning of the ages, the Lord drove man from the earthly sanctuary (Gen 3:23), and the cherubim resisted his return (Gen 3:24). Now, at the end of the ages (Heb 1.1), the Lord has restored man, through the incarnate Son, to the heavenly sanctuary, and the angelic hosts now assist Him to maintain its security and purity for those who will inherit salvation.
How, then, is it that the saints persevere in the faith? As we have seen in this three-part series, the grace of perseverance becomes ours as we receive and rest upon Christ alone as He is presented to us in the Word. Let us be careful, therefore, never to deemphasize or conceal, much less reject and deny so great a high priest as Jesus, for He is the Son, incarnate God, greater than the prophets and the angels.