A Sober Warning
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (vv. 1–3).- Hebrews 2:1–4
Good theology is always practical theology, and one of the clearest demonstrations of this can be found in the book of Hebrews. It is important to know that Jesus is superior to the angels, but not simply because we should have a head knowledge of the truth (Heb. 1:1–14). To be sure, God wants us to have our minds filled with sound doctrine (Rom. 12:2), but doctrine must inspire action. Biblical theology inspires us to ask the question, “So what?” and answer it with the right course of living.
Today’s passage gives us the answer to the “So what?” question when it comes to Jesus’ superiority to the angels. Because Jesus is superior to the angels, we must pay much closer attention to the gospel than anything else, even the old covenant law. We cannot neglect our great salvation in Christ by abandoning Him (Heb. 2:1–4).
To help us understand the great danger of rejecting the gospel, Hebrews 2:1–3 returns again to the angels, explaining that transgressions against the message declared by these beings deserved punishment. The author of Hebrews refers here to the Mosaic law, which the Lord revealed on Sinai through the mediation of angels (Ps. 68:17; Gal. 3:19). Of course, the Mosaic law is well known for its many lists of laws, each with a corresponding punishment for transgressing. Some of the transgressions of this law, this message of the angels, were so heinous that they deserved death (e.g., Ex. 21:12–17). Hebrews 2:1–3 uses this state of affairs to argue from the lesser to the greater. If one deserved punishment for disobeying a lesser law revealed through the mediation of lesser beings, how much more does one deserve punishment for disobeying the gospel by rejecting Christ? The guilt and severity of punishment for disobeying the gospel is much worse than that of breaking the Mosaic law because Christ is so much greater than the law. John Calvin comments, “In proportion to the greatness of Christ will be the severity of God’s vengeance on all the despisers of his Gospel.”
The author of Hebrews does not mean to denigrate the Mosaic law or the angels, but he is speaking in relative terms. The law and the angels are good, but Christ is better, and leaving Him brings the greatest penalty of all: eternal suffering in hell (Rev. 20:11–15). And there is no excuse for abandoning the gospel, for not only is Christ greater than all else, but His gospel is proven by the great miracles that He and the Apostles did to confirm it (Heb. 2:1–4).
We want people to choose Christ, but we must be careful never to let them think that choosing Christ is as inconsequential as choosing to wear a blue shirt rather than a red one or selecting chocolate ice cream over vanilla. Eternal condemnation awaits all those who turn away from Christ. Let us take care that we do not neglect so great a salvation.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 17:7–23
1 Timothy 1:18–20