Feb 1, 2004

The Only Redeemer

4 Min Read

The heart of Hebrews chapter 2 is conveyed to us by an unsophisticated, and yet very profound old Gospel hymn: “No angel could his place have taken; High of all the High though he; The Loved One on the cross forsaken, Was One of the Godhead Three!” What powerful, beautiful and majestic creatures are the holy angels! How invisibly and tenderly they help us needy believers to get through life in a dangerous world (cf. Heb. 1:14). C. S. Lewis was probably right when he suggested that if we could see an angel in his full glory (or even the glorified body of a saint in their final splendor), we would be tempted to fall down and worship! Some of the Old and New Testament saints instinctively did so (Judg. 13:20; Rev. 19:10). But none of them, not even the mighty archangels Gabriel or Michael could have done what only the Son of God could do to save lost sinners and restore an entire cosmos.

These splendid angelic beings are awesome, and yet they are not the crown of the created order: mankind is! And thus, the unfallen angels who are above us in holiness and power, are delighted to be servants to us humans, whom God has placed over the works of his hands (as Hebrews 1:7 says, drawing upon Psalm 8). Some of the angels fell and are beyond redemption (having become demons); others were confirmed in holiness, and are bright spirits, ministering to the Lord and his saints with delight. It is of the latter that Hebrews 1 and 2 speak.

While angels were irrevocably confirmed in either sin or holiness, once Satan fell, on the contrary, the human race (the crowning achievement of God’s creative work) was — in the wonderful providence of God — still in a position to be saved. For the very first promise of Gospel salvation was given to our recently fallen mother Eve in Genesis 3:15. This promise indicates that it will not be a holy angel, but the seed of this same, fallen woman, who will do all that is necessary to redeem all the sinful descendants of Adam who are elect.

Hebrews 2:9–18 shows how amazingly this works out. Not an archangel, but co-fellow of the Sovereign Throne, second person of the blessed Trinity, the eternal Son of the Father comes down even lower than the angels with the purpose of “taking part” (or “assuming”) full humanity in order to raise it up from sin and death to holiness and eternal life (Heb. 2:14). “The seed of the woman” must come from another world. Only someone as big as the Creator would be able to restore the creation (Heb. 1:10)! Angels (since they are creatures) could not do so. In other words, it would require God Himself to do it (Heb. 1:8).

Saint Anselm, Archbishop of eleventh-century Canterbury, wonderfully clarified the saving truths of Hebrews chapter 2 in his classic work on the Atonement of Christ: Cur deus homo (Why God Became Man). In brief, he points out that our death is caused as a result of our sin against a holy God. The seriousness of sin is determined, he says, by the greatness of the person against whom one commits that sin. Since God is infinite, then sin against Him is infinite sin.

Although our superficial and frequently silly secular culture does not know it (and would resent being reminded of it if they did know it), this is the greatest — and in that sense — the only eternally weighty problem of the human race: sin against an infinitely holy and good God. For it means that we finite (limited) human personalities are guilty in our own selves of infinite sin! Finite persons (who, in addition to that limitation, are sinful) are in no position to get rid of infinite guilt! That is why hell is endless — for finite suffering could never adequately purge infinite guilt.

As a descendant of Adam and Eve, I need help, and so do you! Anyone who really loves you would tell you to get straight the only thing that finally matters for your never-ending destiny and for the glory of the One who made you!

But see how wonderful are the wisdom and love of our triune God, says Anselm! Since infinite guilt could only be taken away by an infinite person (for his sufferings are worthy enough and vast enough to more than purge the most infinite guilt), the Father in boundless mercy sends His eternal Son (who is an infinite person) to our rescue. Yet not only must the One who purges the guilt be an infinite Person, he must make restitution in the same nature where the sin was committed in order to redeem that very nature. And so God the Son becomes man in order to die as man — the infinite for the finite, the innocent for the guilty, the one for the many (cf. Heb. 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:21). And in so doing, the death of Christ became “the death of death” (to quote the grand Puritan theologian, John Owen). Thus, all that is left for believers in the Lord, is His own resurrection life in place of their death. What happy freedom they now have from the fear of death, which all their lifetime kept them in bondage (Heb. 2:15). Angels and men must praise Him forever for that (Rev. 5:12–14)!