“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9)
In Hebrews chapter 1, the author talks about Jesus’ superiority over all the prophets and angels. By doing so, he warned the readers not to go back to Judaism, but to firmly keep their faith in Jesus, who is far superior than all the important beings and things in Judaism and to whom true salvation belongs.
Don’t Drift Away
That’s what the author continues to talk about in chapter 2.
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (Heb 2:1-3)
Hebrews chapter 2 starts with the adverb, ‘therefore.’ It means that what the author has explained in the previous chapter is the basis of what he is saying now.
In this passage, the author urges readers to pay the most careful attention not to Judaism, but to what they have heard, which refers to the good news of salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here, in this passage, the central contrast is between the message spoken through angels, namely the law of Moses, and the message given through Jesus, the good news of salvation.
God’s law was given to the Israelites through angels. But they didn’t obey it. And as a result of their violation and disobedience, they received punishment in accordance with the law.
On the other hand, the good news of salvation was given to us through Jesus Christ. It’s much better than the former one because it wasn’t given through prophets, or angels, but through Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Son of God. Even though the law was also a great thing, it’s still less important compared to the gospel of Jesus.
According to Paul, the law only served as “our guardian until Christ came.”
Paul also said in the book Romans, “Apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” (Rm 3:21)
Here, the righteousness of God also refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul clearly declared, the righteousness of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is based on the law since the law and the prophets testified to it, so it’s much better and more perfect than the law.
Back to Hebrews chapter 2, what the author asks is that, if those who disobeyed the law were punished, then, “what will happen if you refuse to listen to something even more important and powerful than the law?”
The result of ignoring such a great salvation will be much worse. That’s why we must pay the most careful attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ so that we don’t drift away.
Here, Hebrews uses the idea of a dangerous sea to emphasize what would happen if we were to drift away from what we have heard.
Just imagine yourself being in a little motorboat, some distance out from shore. You need to keep the engine running and firmly hold the tiller. If you don’t, you won’t go in the right direction. Instead, you will drift in the wrong direction to a rocky shore or to the wild ocean.
That’s what will happen to us if we fail to pay closer attention to Jesus. If we look away for a moment, we will drift away little by little without realizing it. And, we’ll find ourselves being so far away from the truth we once knew. It will happen so naturally that we won’t even notice it.
But, if we make every effort to continue to stay with Jesus, keeping our eyes fixed on him, his grace will hold us tightly and protect us from drifting away so that we keep remaining in him.
Even though it’s not easy for us to pay careful attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we should know that that’s the fight we are called to fight, and without doing so, we can’t really keep our faith in Jesus.
So, each of us needs to ask ourselves from time to time whether we are drifting away from Jesus, or whether we are going toward him, day by day and year by year, paying closer attention to his great salvation, not assuming we know everything.
Jesus is Truly Human
Hebrews 2:6-9 says,
“It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.”… At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:6-9)
Here, the author is quoting from Psalm 8, written by David, to emphasize the event of the incarnation of Jesus. In the previous chapter, he explained how Jesus is superior to angels as the Creator of the earth, the Son of God and the Lord of all.
But, in this chapter, the author said that Jesus became lower than angels, which refers to Jesus becoming a human. Even though Jesus is God in his very nature, he lowered himself, and humbly came to earth. He was made lower than the angels and became a human like one of us.
So, what the author reveals concerning Jesus is that Jesus is truly God and truly human at the same time. After that he explains 6 reasons why Jesus became a human.
1. To Taste Death For Everyone
The first reason he became a human being was to “taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9)
That’s the most important reason for the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus became a human being in body primarily to shed blood and die since a spirit can’t die.
In the Old Testament, after delivering the Israelites out of Egypt, God led them to Mount Sinai. There, he made a covenant with them and gave them his law including the ten commandments. The book of Leviticus was also given there. And, the first chapter of Leviticus deals with how to atone for people’s sins.
Leviticus 17:11 says,
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev 17:11)
The basic principle God set in regard to atonement for sin is that blood must be shed because that’s where God puts the life of a creature. That’s why only blood makes atonement for one’s sins. So, in the Old Testament, the blood of flawless animals had to be shed to atone for people’s sins.
Leviticus chapter 1 describes the 6 steps of animal sacrifice.
The first step was to select an animal without defect and to bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting.
The second step was to lay a hand on the head of the animal. Before killing it, the person who brought the animal had to lay his hand on its head. This was essential in making atonement because it represented an exchange.
By laying a hand, people’s sins went into the animal, and the purity of animals entered the people. In other words, by laying a hand, people attributed their sins to animals. That’s the reason the animals used as sacrifices had to be pure and without defect.
The third step was to kill the animal. The same person who laid down his hand on the sacrifice had to kill it. Priests didn’t kill the animals on others’ behalf. The animal had to shed blood and be killed because they bore people’s sins. How would someone feel when they saw an animal dying because of their sins?
After that, they were to skin the animal and cut it into pieces. And, the last step was to burn all of it. That was how people made atonement for their sins in the Old Testament. Animals without defect shed their blood and were cruelly killed, skinned, cut into pieces and burnt because people attributed their sins to them by laying their hands on them.
That’s the very image the author is referencing in the book of Hebrews. We’ll talk about this later in more detail in the latter part of the book, but we should know that the most important purpose of Jesus becoming a human being was to be like the animals sacrificed because of people’s sin in the Old Testament.
Jesus became a human to shed his precious blood and taste death for everyone. Before being caught by soldiers, Jesus said to his disciples,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28)
The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus is fully God and also fully human. It is a very unique characteristic only Christianity has that differentiates it from all other religions. And, without this truth of the incarnation of Jesus, there’s no Christianity because the death of Jesus is at the center of it.
And, as Christians, we must understand why he had to become like one of us. He was sinless, pure, and innocent, but he shed his blood on the cross, and was cruelly crucified. That was because he bore all our sins in his body.
By doing so, just as the purity of an animal went into the person who laid a hand on it, Jesus gave his righteousness to all those who come to him and believe in him.
That’s why Jesus is worthy of all glory and praise. Even though God made him lower than angels for a little while, he lifted him up above all things, crowned him with glory and honor, and put everything under his feet. That’s the Jesus whom we believe in and whom we profess as our Savior.
That’s the truth we must hold on to. We must fix our eyes on him and hold fast to his truth so that we won’t drift away but remain in him.