Hebrews Chapter Two Study Guide

The second chapter of Hebrews continues the comparison of Jesus and the angels –in regard to their messages –and to the functions they perform.

Just mentioning angels brings to mind childhood Sunday School stories of those majestic winged creatures living in heaven and occasionally visiting earth –demonstrating their supernatural powers. God sent two of them to guard the tree of life in the Garden after the fall. Two warned Lot to flee with his family and avoid Sodom’s destruction. The Death Angel killed all the firstborn in Egypt who didn’t have the lamb’s blood on their doorposts. An angel warned Gideon to be reliant upon God –not on the strength of his army. And angels announced the births of God’s appointed leaders –like Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus.

The Coming Change

Actually, angel means messenger. Although some references to angels in the book of Hebrews are about those majestic creatures, the title belongs to all of God’s messengers. Most notably, it’s the prophets. (Even the word evangelist –a messenger of the gospel– has its roots in angel.)

Let’s digress a bit. The prophets relayed messages from God. He spoke to Moses and Moses told the people what God said –he was a prophet. The same is true for Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Malachi, David and many others –including John the Baptist and Jesus.

Moses is distinguished from the other prophets in that he was given the set of traditions for the Hebrews to live by as priests (ambassadors). Those traditions form a set of pictures. There were the priesthood, the tabernacle, the ark, the feasts –and the Law. The latter –the Law– told how the various pictures were to be presented using the Hebrews’ life-experiences to form a visual collage. From start to end, their lives illustrated that trusting God resulted in life.

The prophets after Moses carried God’s warnings to the people –to bring them back on course in their role as His priests.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels [messengers] proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3)

Jesus told the parable in Matthew 21:33-46 about a man who owned a vineyard. He rented it to some farmers who were to care for it –and be fruitful with it. Over the years the owner sent messengers to collect a portion of the produce as payment. The farmers killed some of them and wounded the others. Frustrated, the owner made one last appeal for them to honor their rental agreement. It was through his son –and they killed him too.

As God’s priests to the world, the Hebrews were to be productive –intentionally leading people to Him. The parable was a smacking reminder of what their ancestors did to the prophets. But there was another aspect of the parable –one that hinted about Jesus’ future. He –the Son of God, God in human form– would remind them of their agreement (the Old Covenant) one last time. He asked the listeners “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” Their response was acutely prophetic. “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, they replied, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Although the prophets were mere people, disregarding their messages brought about hardships, captivity by foreign nations and sometimes physical death. But disregarding the Son’s message was the final insult. The parable warned them that they were about to lose their prominence –other tenants (those who believed Jesus and put their trust in Him) were about to become God’s primary priests. Soon the temple would be destroyed by the Romans and the Levitical Priesthood halted.

His Father Testified

God’s method for ensuring truthful, binding testimony required two or more witnesses to present the same account. In this case, Jesus and His Father gave a unified testimony.

After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-4)

The Hebrews who lived during and after Jesus’ lifetime knew that He preached that faith was the path to righteousness –that He was the way into the kingdom of Heaven –that only He could take them to God, His Father. Those who heard Him repeated His message.

The Father testified –adding clout to His Son’s authority. Every element of His testimony –the signs, the wonders, the miracles and the gifts– was intended to stress the accuracy and urgency of Jesus’ message.

Jesus - The Ultimate Messenger

God the Father, personified by the parable’s vineyard owner, cared so much that He sent His Son –not merely human messengers– to reestablish mankind’s righteous relationship with Him. It was to be like a bride with her husband. He knew exactly what He was doing. To Him, it was worth the excruciating price.

For He did not subject to angels  [messengers] the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him? You have made him for a little while lower than the angels  [messengers]; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands; You have put all things in subjection under his feet.

For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels  [messengers], namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5-9)

The quote in this passage is from the Psalm 8. Its phrase You have made him for a little while lower than the angels. . . was a prophecy that the Father would send His Son, the Son of Man, on a mission. It was a mission beneath Jesus’ position and the respect He was due. During that time, He would endure dishonor and be viewed by His creation as less important than the messengers sent before Him. But there would be a reward at the end –a crown of glory and honor, and the entire creation’s submission to Him.

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:10-11)

This says that Jesus is the author of their salvation. The word that’s translated as author also means leader of a line of followers or founder. Until He came, the understanding of salvation was shrouded. But there were clues about what it would entail.

  • When Abraham’s knife was ready to plunge, a substitute miraculously appeared just in time to take Isaac’s place on the altar.
  • The Passover lamb took the place of the Hebrews’ firstborn when death passed through Egypt.
  • There was the Law with its sacrifices –disclosing that one life had to be sacrificially given so that another life could be saved.

The shroud was lifted when Jesus came. He told His disciples that He was the One who had to die so others could live. Then, with His resurrection, He proved that life continues on after physical death. In His teaching, He told everyone who listened that He leads those who believe Him into that life –He is the cornerstone (the rock) that salvation is established upon.

The phrase to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings begs the question Since Jesus was God, how could He not have been perfect? Well, making something perfect is another way of saying making it complete. There were two aspects of Jesus’ life and both had to meet certain standards to qualify as the sacrifice. Sure, His life had to precisely line up with the Law –that was the first. But He also had to be like those He came to die for. The passage starts out saying that God the Father required His Son to share in mankind’s experiences. Jesus became perfect –or complete– by going through the same kinds of troubles in life –the same sufferings– as those He came to save. And that continued right up to the instant of His death.

The passage goes on to say that Jesus is the One who sanctifies –meaning that He now sets believers apart in this world for the specific purpose of being priests of salvation.

Furthermore, God the Father adopts everyone who puts their trust in His Son. “For both He who sanctifies [that’s Jesus] and those who are sanctified [that’s believers] are all from one Father.” Since He, and now they, have the same Father, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”

Looking Down From the Cross

At first glance, these three short excerpts seem to say that Jesus showed His followers that He was faithful even to His death.

I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise. And again, I will put My trust in Him And again, Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me. (Hebrews 2:12-13)

In fact, this triplet points to a fuller description of His experience on the cross.

The Congregation

The first quote talks about Jesus proclaiming His Father’s name and singing His praise while He’s in the midst of the congregation. It isn’t a picture of the glorified church in heaven after the rapture. It’s not the believers who followed Him while He was living on the earth. Nor is it the listeners in the synagogue. Rather, it comes from Psalm 22 which describes the group of evil men that would gather at His cross –taunting and jeering and casting lots.

The first part, Psalm 22:1-11, contains a haunting picture of the tormenting crowd (“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’”). Psalm 22:12-21 predicted the false attempt to quench His thirst (my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth); His piercing (“a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet”) and the dividing of His clothing (“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing”). Although Psalm 22:22-31 only hints at His resurrection, it plainly declares that He lives and governs for all eternity.

I Trust My Father

The remaining two quotes are from Isaiah 8. I will put My trust in Him foretold how He was going to cope with the certainty of His crucifixion –by trusting His Father to raise Him to new life.

The Children God Has Given Me

Then there’s I and the children whom God has given me. This last one is a reference to an allegory that God gave Isaiah for the people –it was his first task as a prophet (recorded in chapters six through eight of Isaiah). As it is with bookmarked passages, there’s more to the sentence in Isaiah than what’s quoted in here in Hebrews –take notice of the additional wording. Behold, I and the children whom God has given meare for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion (Isaiah 8:18).

The prophecy began with a diagnosis of the people’s hearts. They were far from Him and so dire circumstances were on the way. It concluded by telling them to be mindful that their Lord was coming. He would be the holy place, a sanctuary for those who submitted to Him. And He would be the downfall, a stumbling stone, a trap, a snare to those who didn’t. There would be a sign that this was about to take place. A son would be born to a virgin and he would be called Immanuel –meaning God is here with us.

The prophecy even said that its message would fall on deaf ears. It was partially realized during Isaiah’s lifetime with the devastating Assyrian takeover and captivity of the northern kingdom –and later with the Babylonian takeover of the southern kingdom. The interim fulfillment (for believers) came when Jesus (born of a virgin) died on the cross and Israel was dispersed into the nations. The final fulfillment will take place at the very end –at the Great Tribulation when Jesus comes and the whole world experiences the greatest battle ever.

Woven into that warning was an introduction to Isaiah’s two children. The meanings of their names tell the familiar story.

  • Isaiah was the messenger. His name means what he was a messenger of: the salvation of Jehovah.
  • Shear-jashub was his first son. It means there shall be a remnant. It refers to believers who remain in the world as His priests.
  • Maher-shalal-hash-baz means judgment is coming quickly. At Jesus’ death, the temple veil was torn –a few years later the Romans destroyed the temple, killed many and expelled the Hebrews from their land. That’s when the Levitical Priesthood came to a halt.

Putting It Together

Verses 12 and 13 of this Hebrews chapter steer readers toward Scriptures that foretold His death (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 6-8). There He was, hanging on the cross in agony. His antagonists, “the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders,” were at His feet. They mockingly said “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, If He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:39-43). But that’s just what Jesus was doing –He was trusting His Father with His eternity. And the outcome of this ordeal would bring punishment for those leaders and for the nation. As the vineyard parable said, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.”

Freed From Satan’s Power

The devil uses the fear of the unseeable hereafter to keep people’s minds enslaved to the here-and-now of their problems, possessions, creations, successes and failures –rather than on their Creator.

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

By experiencing death like everyone else, Jesus showed that it’s only a stepping stone in eternal life with His Father –a life that begins at salvation. He fully paid (propitiated) the penalty for all sin so there is no reason to be afraid of God inflicting punishment on believers.

Jesus came back as a witness that life now reigns over death –He obliterated Satan’s power over mankind. As such, He has been given the extraordinary title of merciful and faithful High Priest.