STUDIES IN HEBREWS

© Rosemary Bardsley, 2002

STUDY FOUR: THE HUMAN NATURE OF JESUS

A. Hebrews 2:5-8

In Hebrews 2:5-8 it is difficult to work out how much of what is said refers to man, and how much refers to Jesus Christ. It may well be that the writer, under the inspiration of God, speaks of both, each at a different level, in the same words. Indeed it may be simpler to understand these verses that way, rather than try to say these ones speak of man and those ones speak of Christ. This is the approach this study will take.

'It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come ... '

[1] Looking at the human: 1 Corinthians 6:3 indicates that in the new heaven and the new earth men will judge angels. It is also stated that believers will reign with Christ .

Study 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-28; 3:21; 5:10; 20:6. Also Luke 22:24-30.

[2] Looking at Christ: This phrase refers to 'the new world-order inaugurated by the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God, the world-order over which He reigns from that place of exaltation, the world of reality which replaces the preceding world of shadows. It has been inaugurated by Christ's enthronement, although it is not yet present in its fullness ... ' (F.F. Bruce: The Epistle to the Hebrews, p.33).

This 'world to come' - the kingdom of Christ - his church, is not under the authority of angels, but under the authority, in the charge of, Jesus Christ.

Study Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18.

But not only is the church under the rule of Christ, he also is the Lord of lords and King of kings, to whom every knee must bow, and whom every tongue must acknowledge as Lord. He is the one to whom all powers are answerable, outside of whose control nothing can happen. This authority is on a far different level than the authority given to man. Man's authority is a given or granted authority, subject to the authority of Christ, and given by grace, not merit. Christ's authority is an authority by right.

Study: Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 2:9-10; Revelation 1;5,17-18; 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14; 5:11-14; 19:11-16.

'What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?' (Quoting Psalm 8)

[1] Looking at the human: In relation to humans this question is easily understood. It reminds us of both the insignificance of man and the sinfulness of man. What reason is there that God should give any significance or importance to man? That he should care for man? None. None at all.

[2] Looking at Christ: Because of the reference to 'the son of man' some teachers believe this question also relates to Jesus Christ, (whose preferred title for himself was 'the Son of Man'). This question seems a strange one to put to God about his respect for the Son of Man, because the Son of Man is exalted in the presence of God, and by God.

Study: Daniel 7:13-14; Ezekiel 1:25-28; Mark 2:10, 28; 14:62; Matthew 24:30-31; 25:31ff; 26:64.

On the other hand, the Son of Man is also the one of whom it was said: 'we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted' (Isaiah 53:4). He is the suffering servant who came to suffer and be rejected, giving his life a ransom for many. He is the one who cried: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'

Study: Matthew 20:18,19,28; 26:24; Mark 9:12,31; 10:33-34,45; Matthew 27:46.

Something of the deep mystery of the answer to this question 'what is man ... the son of man ... ?' unfolds as we read on through this chapter of Hebrews.

'You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet. ' (Quoting Psalm 8)

[1] Looking at the human: In speaking of man, both David and the writer to the Hebrews remind us that God created man in his own image, and gave him dominion over all other created things (Genesis 1:28). The second part of verse 8 indicates that God actually put everything on earth under man's dominion, even though we do not at present see everything subject to man.

The phrase 'you made him a little lower than the angels' in the Hebrew text of Psalm 8 is most naturally translated 'you made him but little lower than God'. The Greet text reads 'you made him a little (or for a little while) lower than the angels.' The intention of the writer is to draw our attention to the exalted role and nature of man in God's world. We recall that God created man 'in his own image' and 'after his own likeness' and gave him dominion over everything in the world (Gen 1:26ff).

[2] Looking at Christ: In reference to Jesus Christ this sentence speaks firstly of the incarnation (becoming flesh) of Jesus Christ, in which he who was God from eternity became man, walking incognito, clothed in human flesh, limited in time and space. The second part of the sentence speaks of his exaltation which we have already looked at in verse 5. (See particularly Philippians 2).

But while everything is 'under him' not everything is willingly subject to him. He is on the throne, he is seated at the right hand of God the Father, but not everyone submits to his authority. The day when that will happen is yet to come. This rebellion against Jesus Christ, this rejection of his authority, is part and parcel of the abnormal world we live in, which began in Genesis 3 and which will come to its final end in God's good time. In the meantime, we live in what we might call an over-lap of the ages, in which, since the coming of Christ we live in 'these last days' and also in 'the age to come'. We live in a state which is already the kingdom of Christ, but not yet the ultimate realisation of that kingdom. We are even now, in his kingdom (Colossians 1:13) yet we pray for his kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).

B. Hebrews 2:9

Here the writer leaves aside his two levels of speaking and speaks only of Jesus Christ and the significance of his humanity.

'But we see Jesus...'

In these words the writer immediately draws to our attention the difference between Jesus, the one true man, and the rest of us. We do not see man exercising the role for which God created him, but we see Jesus... We do not see man enjoying the favour and acceptance of God, but we see Jesus ...

We see Jesus ... the one who was made, as a man, 'a little lower than the angels', the one who put aside his visible, eternal glory and became one of us ... this real human Jesus we now see:

'Crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death ...'

Here we again are told of the exalted position of Jesus Christ, but the writer is not here thinking of the honour that is due to Christ because of his deity, because he is God, but of the honour that is due to him because of what he did as man. Paul also makes this point in Phil 2:9 when he says 'therefore, God highly exalted him...' Here the writer tells the Hebrews that Jesus is 'crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.' Here Jesus, the last or second Adam, the one true man, the man who lived as God ordained, so obeyed the will of God, so submitted to the authority of God, even to the point of dying to fulfil God's plan of salvation for mankind, that because of that God has exalted him. That honour and glory which as the divine Son is his by right, is now also as man, his by merit.

Study: Psalm 40:8; Matthew 26:39, 42; John 17:1-5; Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49.

'... so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.'

Here is the reason, purpose and result of Christ's suffering death:

[1] God's grace: God, in an act of incredible grace, sent his Son to die as a man, for man. We must never forget this reason for our salvation: God did not send Jesus to die for us because we deserved it; he did not send Jesus to die for us because he owed it to us. It is a totally gratuitous act. And it is totally an act and an initiative of God. God thought of it, God willed it, God desired it, God implemented it - totally apart from any thinking, willing, desiring, or action on our part. Our writer tells us that Jesus' dying was 'by the grace of God'. Because of God's grace, Jesus does this incredible thing: he dies for us.

[2] The purpose of this action of Christ is this: that he might taste death for everyone. Some limit the meaning of these words to mean that Christ needed to experience everything that we experience, so that he can understand us and our suffering. He did indeed do that, as we will see later. But such a limitation of the meaning of this phrase ignores the teaching of Jesus himself, and the apostles, on the significance of the death of Christ:

  • Matthew 20:28: 'the Son of Man came ... to give his life as a ransom for many.'
  • Romans 3:24,25: ' ... through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood ... '
  • Galatians 2:20: 'the Son of God ... gave himself for me.'
  • 1 Timothy 2:5,6: 'the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men..'
  • 1 Peter 2:24: 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree ... '

Jesus 'tastes' death - not just in its physical aspect, but in its punitive aspect as the penalty for sin - as the substitute for 'everyone'.

Study also: Romans 5 & 6; Galatians 3:10-14.

[3] The result of this action of Christ is that those who receive him do not have to taste death, spiritual death: eternal separation from God the source of life. This result is referred to in the next verse as 'bringing many sons to glory'.

C. Hebrews 2:10

'... bringing many sons to glory'

Romans 3:23 tells us that 'all ... fall short of the glory of God'. Colossians 1:27 tells us that 'Christ in you' is 'the hope of glory'. Isaiah 43:7 indicates that we were created for God's glory. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 teaches us that when we stand face to face with the Lord, his Spirit transforms us from one degree of glory to another.

What does all of this mean? It means that in ourselves, in our rebellion against God and our rejection of him we have forfeited and rendered impossible, our role as God's image-bearers. As long as our back is towards God, as long as the sin-barrier is between us and God, we cannot see his glory, we cannot enjoy his glory, we cannot live in the presence of his glory (Isaiah 6) and we cannot reflect his glory. When God reveals himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, and when we, through God-given faith, receive Jesus Christ, in other words, when God rips away our blindness and we see his glory in his Son (2 Cor 4:4-6), and when he, at the moment of our believing, credits to us all the work of Christ on the cross, in which the sin-barrier is ripped away, then he brings us to glory. We see his glory, we rejoice in his glory, we can live in the presence of his glory, and we begin to reflect his glory. We begin again to fill and to enjoy that role for which we were created.

' ... God, for whom and through whom everything exists ...'

The writer is here speaking of the Father. Notice that a similar description is spoken in other places of the Son: Hebrews 1:2; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16. The fact that God the Father is described in this way provides further testimony to the deity of the Son.

... it was fitting that God ... should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

'It was fitting' = it was proper - it was the right and necessary thing to do in keeping with his strict justice.

'the author of their salvation' - (KJV = 'captain'). The Greek word is 'archegon' which is made of 'arche' (beginning, authority, prince, first place) and 'ago' (I lead or go). Thus, Jesus Christ is the one who leads us into the presence of God.

'He is the Saviour who blazed the trail of salvation along which alone God's 'many sons' could be brought to glory. Man, created by God for His glory, was prevented by sin from attaining that glory until the Son of Man came and opened up by His death a new way by which man might reach the goal for which he was made. As His people's representative and forerunner He has now entered into the presence of God to secure their entry there.' (FF Bruce, p43).

'It was fitting that God ... should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.' The writer does not mean to say that Jesus was not perfect until he was made 'perfect through suffering'. We know that he was without sin, that there was no wrong with which the Jews could accuse him. What the writer is saying here is, that in order to be a high priest for us, in order to stand in our place in the presence of God, in order to be a perfect representative or substitute for us, it was right and proper for him to experience the sufferings that we experience: to be perfect as our representative or substitute he had to share our lot. So FF Bruce writes:

'In order to be a perfect high priest, a man must sympathize with those on whose behalf he acts, and he cannot sympathize with them unless he can enter into their experiences and share them for himself. Jesus did just this.' (p44).

D. Hebrews 2:11-18

'Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family...'

Jesus is here referred to as 'the one who makes men holy'; we Christian humans are 'those who are made holy'. This passage speaks repeatedly of the real and necessary humanity of Jesus Christ:

  1. 'of the same family'
  2. 'not ashamed to call them brothers'
  3. 'I will declare your name to my brothers ...'
  4. 'in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.'
  5. 'I will put my trust in him'
  6. 'he too shared their humanity (flesh and blood)'
  7. 'he had to be made like his brothers in every way'

Jesus here identifies with us: his family is our family; we are his brothers; he joins the human congregation of those praising God; he puts his trust in God; he fully shares our flesh and blood; he is like us in every way.

These verses also speak of our salvation, (which is the result of his obedience) in a number of ways:

[1] Christ makes us holy (11). This incredible concept is also stated in:

Hebrews 10:10: 'and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.'

Ephesians 1:4: 'He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.'

Colossians 1:22: 'he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.'

'Holy' means set apart by God for God, not for common use. When referred to God it encompasses his utter uniqueness and otherness. He is totally separate and distinct from all else that is. He is one of a kind. In reference to the tabernacle or temple and all their furnishings 'holy' meant for sacred use - that of the worship described by God - only. In reference to us, to those who are made 'holy' by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, it means that we are set apart by him, for him, his own special treasure, distinct, separated. Part of that distinction and separation consists of spotless purity. Here, in anticipation of what he will say later, the writer describes the Christian believer as 'made holy'. That this is not a state of actual sinlessness is clear from the rest of the Scripture; what it is will become evident later.

[2] God gives us to Christ (13). Putting the words of Isaiah 8:18 into Jesus' mouth, those who follow Christ are called 'the children God has given me'. This ties in with Jesus' prayer in John 17:

  • 'For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him' (17:2);
  • 'I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world' (17:6).
  • It is also expressed by Jesus in:
  • 'All that the Father gives me will come to me ... ' (John 6:37);
  • 'My Father, who has given them to me ... ' (John 10:29);
  • 'I have not lost one of those you gave me' (John 18:9).

However our writer's point is not to expand on this truth, but to emphasize the true and necessary humanity of Jesus; his point is that Jesus shared the same humanity - flesh and blood - as the 'children' God gave to him.

[3] Christ destroys him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil (14). Because he is truly human, true flesh and blood Jesus is able to experience death. For this very purpose he came: 'so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death.' Here the writer focuses on the effect the death of Jesus had on the devil. This victory over the devil and his cohorts is described in Colossians 2:15:

' ... having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross'.

In these words Paul uses the terminology which was used to describe the utter defeat of a city by a conquering general: the invading victor would march the leaders of the conquered city through the city, strung together with fishhooks through their noses, demonstrating to the population their utter defeat. Such is the victory of Christ over Satan and demonic powers by the cross.

[4] Christ frees those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (15). Here the focus is on the effect of Jesus' death on us. By destroying the devil, who held the power of death, Jesus Christ liberates us from the fear and the slavery/bondage of death. Compare the following verses:

  • Romans 5:17: 'For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.'
  • Romans 5:21: 'so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord'.
  • Romans 8:2: 'because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.'
  • 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: '"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But, thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'.

The real human death of the real human Jesus sets people free from the tyrannical reign of death.

[5] Christ helps Abraham's descendants (16). Abraham's descendants are, firstly, human: it was humans, not angels, whom Jesus came to rescue. But, secondly, Abraham's descendants are not limited to his physical descendants, nor are all of the physical descendants of Abraham defined by the Bible as the true, spiritual descendants of Abraham.

Study Romans 4 and Galatians 3 & 4. There you will find that all people of genuine Biblical faith are understood to be children of Abraham and inherit the spiritual blessing of Abraham - that of a righteousness from God. These are 'Abraham's descendants' who are helped or rescued by Jesus. It is the death of Jesus that makes this blessing of Abraham available both to Abraham and to his 'descendants'.

[6] Christ became a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God (17). Again the writer introduces a concept which he will expand in detail later. Here his point is that in order to represent us and mediate for us in the presence of God as our high priest, it was essential that Jesus be one of us - just like us. Note in passing that he is a 'merciful' and 'faithful' high priest.

[7] Christ made atonement for the sins of the people (17). Not only was real humanness essential for Jesus to qualify as our merciful and faithful high priest, it was also essential to qualify him make atonement for us, that is, to turn God's wrath away from us. How he made that atonement, how he turns God's wrath away from us is also fully explained later.

[8] Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (18). In the context of this letter, indeed in the whole of Scripture, 'tempted' has a much deeper significance than temptation to commit a moral sin. Only a small handful of Biblical references to temptation are to moral temptations, the large majority are to being pressured to give in, being pressured to give up on one's faith and deny the Lord. Here in the letter to the Hebrews the writer's whole purpose is to prevent his readers doing just that. Pressured by the Jews to return to adherence to and trust in Jewish ritual laws, pressured by physical persecution at the hands of the Romans to deny their faith in Jesus Christ, these Hebrew Christians, are at the point of giving up. The writer tells them: Jesus suffered that kind of pressure too. He knows. He survived and triumphed over it. He, the 'merciful and faithful high priest', not only made atonement for their sins, but also understands, supports, aids and intercedes. We will see more of this later.

E. Hebrews 3:1-6

Having told his readers that Jesus is the eternal divine Son (1:1-3), having told them that this Son is far greater than the angels (1:4-14), having warned them on that basis not to turn aside from the salvation mediated by this Son (2:1-4), having then described the real humanity of Jesus (2:5-18) and his consequent qualification as high priest to represent and intercede for man in the presence of God (2:14-18), the writer now warns them again of the utter necessity of keeping their faith focused on Jesus Christ.

  1. He addresses them as those who have genuinely trusted in Christ: they are 'holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling' and they 'confess' Jesus Christ (3:1).
  2. He urges them to 'fix your thoughts on Jesus' (3:1). That is, not to even contemplate returning to the ritual salvation from which they have been liberated by Christ.
  3. He calls Jesus 'the apostle and high priest' (3:1) drawing their attention again to the two roles of Christ as God's messenger to us (identified in 1:1-3) and our representative in the presence of God (2:14-18).
  4. He then refers to the faithfulness of Moses and the superior faithfulness of Christ (3:2-6). Both were faithful to the one who appointed them (3:2) but Christ is worthy of greater honour than Moses on two counts:
    • Moses was part of the 'house': Christ was the builder of the 'house' (3:3).
    • Moses was a servant in God's 'house': Christ is a Son over God's 'house' (3:5,6).
  5. He then includes himself and his readers as God's house (3:6). Here we learn that this 'house' of God, of which God (and Jesus Christ) is the builder, includes all genuine believers from both the pre-Christ and post-Christ eras.
  6. He states a condition (3:6): 'we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast' bringing us right back to his warning in verse one to 'fix your thoughts on Jesus'. Like the other warnings in Hebrews this condition is not intended to teach us that salvation can be lost, that those once brought from death to life by Jesus Christ can return to a state of spiritual death and separation from God. Rather its intent is to encourage those who believe in Jesus to hold on to the truth, because that is what faith does. Failure to hold on to the truth indicates that there was no genuine faith there in the first place. Only those whose apparent faith is not genuine will let go of it. This will be expanded in a later study.