Man’s Destiny Recovered by Christ
But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:9)
That brings us to the third point. Man’s revealed destiny, restricted by sin, has been recovered by Christ.
The ultimate curse of man’s lost destiny is death. Warning Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said, “For in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). The cross conquered the curse. The kingdom will be restored and man will be given the crown again.
But how can it happen? If we are all sinners, how can we become sinless? The only payment for sin is death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The only way man can ever be a king again is to have the curse removed. The only way the curse can be removed is for the penalty to be paid. If man is to be restored to reign as a king, he must die—and be resurrected a new man with sovereign qualities.
But we still ask, “How?” We know, even without God’s revelation, that we could not do this ourselves. Paul explains. Speaking of Christ, he writes:
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:5–11)
I died years ago. I am perfectly healthy now, but I died a long time ago. I died the death that Paul describes in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ” (2:20). The moment that I put my faith in Jesus Christ, at that moment I was identified with Christ. I died with Him on the cross. For John MacArthur the curse is removed. I am now a king. I have not inherited my dominion yet, but the crown has been restored. And for every one of you who knows and loves Jesus Christ, the moment you received Him, you were identified with Him. You were crucified with Him and were buried with Him, and He has raised you up to a new life. It is life with the curse removed.
In Christ we are kings. We do not have our kingdom yet, but it is certain to be ours. To the saints of the Most High belongs the kingdom. Our old bodies are going to fall off someday, but we are not going to die. Our bodies will die, but even they will one day be resurrected in a new and eternal form. We will be immediately liberated to go into the presence of Jesus. Or, if He comes again before that happens to us, He will take us with Him into the kingdom.
To accomplish this great work on our behalf, Jesus had to become a man. He Himself had to be made for a little while lower than the angels. To regain man’s dominion He had to taste death for man. If a man dies for his own sin, he is doomed forever to hell. But Christ came to die for us, because in His dying He could conquer death.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou has made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9–10)
As you and I identify ourselves with Jesus Christ in His death, as we receive Him as Savior, the curse is removed, and we become joint heirs with Him in the eternal kingdom.
Obviously, if we are going to reign on earth as kings, there will have to be a kingdom.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4)
Who will be on those thrones? We who are the kings. We will be kings with our great King, the King of kings. The Redeemer King will rule with His redeemed saints over the redeemed earth.
Man will be changed:
Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war. (Isa. 2:2–4)
The animals will be changed:
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.… And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 2:2–4; 11:6, 8–9)
Even the plants will be changed:
The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. (Isa. 35:1–2)
Christ tasted death for you and for me. He did it to recover our lost destiny. If you have been groping around, trying to figure out why you exist, I hope you know the reason now. There is no reason for us to be slaves. There is no reason for us to be paupers. There is only reason for us to be kings.
Men today still ask, “What is man?” The idolator and the animist says, “Man is inferior to birds and animals, even to creeping things, stones, and sticks.” And he bows down and worships the snake. The materialist says, “Man is obviously higher than any of the other animals, but he is still only the product of chance, the result of evolutionary natural selection.” Most people believe such ideas or ones equally as foolish. But God says, “Man was created to be king of the earth. Only for a little time he has been made lower than the angels.” Someday he will sit on the throne of Jesus Christ and reign with Him in His kingdom.
I trust that you will be there reigning with Christ.
9. But we see Jesus, &c. As the meaning of the words, βραχύ τι, a little, is ambiguous, he looks to the thing itself, as exhibited in the person of Christ, rather than to the exact meaning of the words, as I have already said; and he presents to our meditation the glory after the resurrection, which David extends to all the gifts by which man is adorned by God’s bounty; but in this embellishment, which leaves the literal sense entire, there is nothing unsuitable or improper.
For the suffering of death, &c. It is the same as though it was said that Christ, having passed through death, was exalted into the glory which he has obtained, according to what Paul teaches us in Phil. 2:8–10; not that Christ obtained anything for himself individually, as sophists say, who have devised the notion that he first earned eternal life for himself and then for us; for the way or means, so to speak, of obtaining glory, is only indicated here. Besides, Christ is crowned with glory for this end, that every knee should bow to him. (Phil. 2:10.) We may therefore reason from the final cause that all things are delivered into his hand.
That he by the grace of God, &c. He refers to the cause and the fruit of Christ’s death, lest he should be thought to detract anything from his dignity. For when we hear that so much good has been obtained for us, there is no place left for contempt, for admiration of the divine goodness fills the whole mind. By saying for every man, he means not only that he might be an example to others, as Chrysostom says, who brings the example of a physician tasting first a bitter draught, that the patient might not refuse to drink it; but he means that Christ died for us, and that by taking upon him what was due to us, he redeemed us from the curse of death. And it is added, that this was done through the grace of God, for the cause of redemption was the infinite love of God towards us, through which it was that he spared not even his own Son. What Chrysostom says of tasting of death, as though he touched it with his lips, because Christ emerged from death a conqueror, I will not refute nor condemn, though I know not whether the Apostle meant to speak in a manner so refined.
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. 2:9)
Several years ago I had the privilege of addressing a group of college students, many of whom were not believers, during Easter week. I set before them the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only true answer to the problems of the world. Going through various solutions mankind pursued in the last century, things like education and social reengineering and income redistribution, I showed how each of these has failed and must fail because of the unresolved problem of sin in the human heart. At the end, one young man stood up and asked me, “If the death and resurrection of Jesus is the solution to the problems of this world, and if he has already died and been raised again, then why are the problems all still here?”
That is an excellent question, dealing with the relationship of the present world to the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is to this question that the writer of Hebrews turns as he continues to exhort his first-century readers. He has been talking about Christ’s superiority to the angels. In demonstrating that point he has made much of the risen Lord Jesus’ present reign at God’s right hand, with all authority and dominion. Now he anticipates an objection to his line of argument. His readers, after all, were facing the prospect of violent persecution; how could this be happening, people might wonder, if Christ is now enthroned in power? Our present passage offers a remarkable solution to this problem, providing a sweeping view of all of history as it is centered on the death and resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
The Problem of History: Dominion Lost
Chapter 1 left off with Christ exalted in heaven, about to overthrow all his enemies. In verse 13 the writer asks, “To which of the angels has [God] ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” Now he picks up that theme again, looking forward to the time when Christ’s reign is consummated. He writes, “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking” (Heb. 2:5).
“The world to come” is the time when Christ’s lordship will be consummated over all, when all the promises and prophecies of blessing are fulfilled in his final reign. In one sense that consummation has already been secured, as Christ now reigns at God’s right hand. This is what Jesus emphasized prior to his ascension, as the basis for the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). He is in control of his spiritual kingdom and reigns now over the world, and especially in the lives of those who call him Lord.
Here, then, is the situation: Christ is presently reigning over his new kingdom and new humanity, yet at the same time the readers of this epistle, like us, find themselves still subject to the conditions of the old reality. This is the apparent problem, and, as he has done before, the writer of Hebrews approaches it by means of a citation from the Psalms. His use of the Old Testament demonstrates that what is happening now is part of God’s predetermined and prerevealed plan for history. In this case he quotes Psalm 8, which he sees fulfilled in the life and achievement of Jesus Christ: “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’ ” (Heb. 2:6–8).
The author introduces this passage by saying, “It has been testified somewhere.” The point is not that he is uncertain of its location; rather, it is enough for him that God has said it in Holy Scripture.
Psalm 8 gives praise to God for his majesty as revealed in creation. “O Lord, our Lord,” David begins, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 1). In comparison, he then reflects upon man’s insignificance and marvels at God’s care for his creature. “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4). J. J. Stewart Perowne describes the psalmist’s sentiment: “As the poet gazes on into the liquid depths of that starry sky there comes upon him with overwhelming force the sense of his own insignificance. In sight of all that vastness, before all that evidence of creative power, how insignificant is man!”
Nonetheless, God’s goodness to humanity is another cause for wonder. Psalm 8 continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:5–6). This is a poetic reflection on what God did in the creation of men and women in his image. His image is manifested in us in part through the dominion God granted man over the garden paradise. We see this in Genesis 1:26, which reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ ”
In verse 8 of Hebrews 2, the author points out how thorough mankind’s dominion was: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.” Such was the lordship man was given over all the creation. Yet, the writer points out, this is not the situation we currently enjoy: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Here is a statement of the problem of our race—the problem of dominion lost. What God intended for man in creation is not what we see at present.
What an understatement! As we look around, the Bible says, it certainly doesn’t appear as if man has everything under control! If God placed everything under man’s feet, then something has gone awry. If we begin making a list of those things in this world very evidently not under man’s control, it quickly becomes quite large. Man is at the mercy of weather; his food supply even today is greatly influenced by forces outside his control. Mankind is starving, bleeding, crying, and suffering all over the globe. Hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, and floods beat against man with unmastered fury. Man may enjoy a large degree of influence over nature and the animal creation, but he does not rule them. Indeed, man is not able to control his own self—his own passions or even his own thoughts. A quick look at the newspaper will display this in terms of international, civic, and individual crises that abound on every side. “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” That is an announcement of the problem that is extremely well backed up by the evidence.
The second and third chapters of Genesis tell us how things went wrong. God had given Adam, the representative of our race, the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was not to seek autonomy from God; though lord of the garden, he was to acknowledge his own subjection to the Creator. God then attached a threat of punishment: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
Genesis 3 tells the horrible tale of what happened. The serpent deceived the woman, telling her that God gave the command to Adam only to keep them from their rightful destiny. It is always the devil’s aim to persuade us that God really is not good, despite the abundant evidence of his generosity. So it was in the garden. Speaking of God’s command against eating the forbidden fruit, Satan said to her, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4–5). Aided by Eve, Adam ate the forbidden fruit. He did come to know good and evil: he knew the good he had forfeited and the evil he had gained by rebelling against God. Adam did not become like God, but like the devil whom he had obeyed. Matthew Henry observes:
Now, when it was too late, they saw the folly of eating forbidden fruit. They saw the happiness they had fallen from, and the misery they had fallen into. They saw a loving God provoked, his grace and favor forfeited, his likeness and image lost, dominion over the creatures gone. They saw their natures corrupted and depraved.… They saw themselves disrobed of all their ornaments and ensigns of honor, degraded from their dignity and disgraced in the highest degree, laid open to the contempt and reproach of heaven and earth, and their own consciences.
Thus man—created by God as his image-bearer, crowned with glory and honor and dominion—became subject to God’s curse even to the point of death. That curse marks mankind even now, with all its frustration and futility. Far from reigning over the creation, each and every one of us instead will return to the dust from which we came.
This is the problem of mankind: Paradise lost, and with it the dominion and blessing offered by God. This is the problem of history—the basic problem set forth at the beginning of the Bible—the answer to which is unfolded in all the rest of Scripture. God’s creation of mankind, recorded in Genesis 1:26 and poetically celebrated in Psalm 8, has been spoiled by Adam’s sin and the resulting curse of death. “At present,” the writer says, “we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.”
The Solution of History: Jesus Crowned
When we see that man’s fall into sin and death is the great problem of history, it is easier to see the focus of God’s redemptive work in the achievement of Jesus Christ. How we define a problem always determines the nature of its solution, and so it is with the solution that Jesus Christ brought for the problem of this world.
So how do people identify the problem of this world, and what solutions do they envision? Is the problem that people are ignorant? Is it that people who are basically good are simply not enlightened with the right philosophy and culture needed to form a successful society? If that is the problem, then education is the logical solution. Or is the problem that people have had bad childhood experiences, that dysfunctional environments have warped otherwise healthy creatures? If that is the problem, then social reengineering is the most appropriate solution. Or, again, is poverty the problem? Is it true that people’s basic needs are not being met, so they never get the chance to develop high-order skills that will make them model citizens? If so, then surely income redistribution is a good remedy.
But what if man’s problem runs deeper? What if the problem of this world is that man is in bondage to sin and under the curse of death? What if man’s problem is that since Adam’s fall we are sinners by nature, condemned by God and unable to walk in righteousness and peace? In that case, a more radical solution is called for, a solution far beyond the reach of man himself. God must send a Savior to take away the curse of sin and to break forever the power of sin.
This is the Bible’s assessment of man’s problem, in Hebrews as well as in Genesis 3. Man was created in glory and honor and dominion, but has fallen from that estate. The resources needed for the recovery of Paradise are now beyond the reach of his guilty and cursed hands. According to the Bible, there is only one solution to this problem, the remedy that comes not from man but from God, not from the earth but from heaven. The apostle Paul writes: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6–8).
This is also what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. “At present,” he says of man, “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” (vv. 8–9). On one hand there is man, captured in the darkness of his Paradise lost. Then onto the stage God sends his own Son, the New Man and Second Adam. He is the answer both to man’s problem and to the problem of history. He is the great, the last, the only hope of a dying race; in him is the fulfillment not only of man’s promised destiny but of God’s plan as set forth in Psalm 8. History has become his story. Jesus is the new Adam of the new creation; what Adam lost he has regained. All who are found in him through faith will partake of the new humanity’s reclaimed glory and honor and dominion. “We see Jesus.” This is the aim of the book of Hebrews from start to finish, to show us Jesus as the Answer, the One who reclaims what mankind was created to be and to do.
His Story: Humiliation, Glorification, Triumph
From the perspective of the Bible, history is about man’s fall from blessing and dominion through sin, and about Jesus Christ as the answer from God, the redeemer of those lost in sin, and the forerunner of the new creation in which God’s original purpose is brought to glorious fulfillment. At the center of history is the story of Jesus Christ, and the writer of Hebrews sees that story outlined in the words of Psalm 8, as he records them in verse 9: “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.”
Jesus’ life and story can be organized into three distinct phases, the first two of which are set forth here: his humiliation and exaltation to the right hand of God.
First is Jesus’ humiliation, which appears here with the words “who … was made lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). We should remember that Jesus was the second person of the Godhead before his birth at Bethlehem. He is eternally God the Son. His existence before the incarnation was one of perfect glory, yet he took up mortal flesh for the sake of his redeeming work, humbling himself beneath the angels as a man. The nadir of his humiliation came at the cross, where our Lord died a death that was shameful before men and cursed before God. Bearing the guilt of our sins, he was afflicted with the whole of God’s wrath.
Hebrews 2:9 speaks of Jesus’ “suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus’ death was not like the death of any other man, for he was not merely man but also God. He was not a sinner, but the spotless Lamb of God. By his death Jesus took God’s curse against sin upon himself—the very curse that had ruined mankind. In the fall, man suffered death; but Christ came into the world as God and man that he might take that death upon himself and thus deliver us out of death and into life. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and thus be reconciled to our Maker. That is the significance of the humiliation of Jesus Christ.
In response to Christ’s obedience unto death, God raised him from the dead and exalted him to his right hand. This is the second phase of Christ’s history. He is, verse 9 says, “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.” In raising Christ from the dead, God the Father honored Jesus’ perfect obedience, vindicated his cause, accepted his sacrifice, and established his reign over the new humanity of which he is both Lord and forerunner, the firstfruits of God’s harvest. Death was not the victor over Jesus Christ, but rather the victim. Even now the Lord Jesus reigns in this second and present phase of his great and saving history, bestowing eternal life through the gospel on all who come to faith in him. Thus Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:10 that Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Lord of the Age to Come
That is what is going on in this world right now, and it sets up the answer to the question with which I began: “Why is this world still such a mess?” If Christ’s death and resurrection is the solution to this world’s ultimate problem, and if he has died and has been raised again, then why do we still see these problems? The answer is that there is a third act to Jesus’ saving ministry that remains yet to come. His story is not yet complete, and in its culmination the history of this world comes to its glorious climax.
Jesus suffered humiliation for us and then God exalted him on high. But there is a third stage yet to come. The writer of Hebrews had it in mind at the beginning of this passage when he wrote, “It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come” (Heb. 2:5).
Does Christ reign now? Yes, but not visibly so. In this sense, the words applied to mankind also apply to him now: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (v. 8). Not every knee is now bowed before Jesus; not every tongue confesses him Lord of all. Yet Christ does reign spiritually over this age. He is advancing against his enemies with the sword of the gospel in his mighty hand. He is leading his own out of this present evil age, a people set apart to himself, who inherit eternal life even in the midst of a realm of death, who belong not to this world but to the world that is yet to come.
Let me put this another way. Christ the answer has come and achieved salvation. But the problem of this world still remains most evident. Here, then, is the final answer and it is coming soon—Christ is coming again with glory to consummate his reign, to triumph over all his enemies—sin and death and the devil and this present evil world—all of which will be placed under his feet and destroyed, making way for the new creation in holiness and light. Already this coming triumph is working in the lives of his people as they turn away from sin, in the life of the church as it receives more and more new believers, and even in the secular culture as Christians live as salt and light to extend Christ’s reign.
This raises a vital question: To which age do you belong? In which age have you placed your hopes and dreams, your treasure and your salvation? If your trust is in this world, in this age, then you will suffer its fate when Christ comes in glory to separate his own from those lost in the guilt of their sin.
The old world, in which we now live, is the one that is tangible to our senses, to our sight and our touch and to our whole mortal existence. But when Jesus Christ was crowned on high, this present age lost its claim on all who trust in him, even though it grinds forward toward its pre-appointed end. The age to come, the age of the glory of Christ, is appointed to take the place of this passing world, and through faith in Christ we are made citizens of that new creation.
To the eyes of the world it is indeed true: “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” But the eyes of our faith see Jesus crowned with glory and honor, reigning over the history which points to him and leads to his soon return, when every eye will see him. This is the “already/not yet” of the Christian life. Everything is already ours in Christ, though not yet realized in our experience. But by faith we see Jesus and spiritually partake of all the blessings of his coming reign.
Let us, then, ensure that we do not belong to this judged and passing world, that we escape the guilt of Adam’s failure and our own sin through faith in Christ. Let us not look back upon this present evil age with longing, but back only to the cross with gratitude, where Christ suffered death for us and broke the teeth of this present evil age. And let us look forward to the day of triumph, when Christ will come again in glory, the King coming to reign in righteousness, peace, and joy forevermore. His history has become our hope. So we say, with the writer of Hebrews, “Yes, we see the world as it is, we see and feel and lament this reign of sin and death. Yes, we see it—but that is not all we see. We see Jesus, now crowned with glory and honor, because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for all who trust in him.”
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
9 The NIV has changed the order of the clauses by putting “because he suffered death” (lit., “through the suffering of death”) after “crowned with glory and honor,” thus separating the “crowning” from the following purpose clause and avoiding the apparent implication that the crowning was prior to his death. Lane, 42–43, avoids this implication by transferring the final clause to before both “through the suffering of death” and “crowned with glory and honor” in his translation (so also the GNB). The final purpose clause probably relates not specifically to the immediately preceding clause about crowning but rather to the whole complex of events just mentioned, namely, incarnation, death, and subsequent glory.
There is strong patristic evidence for an early alternative reading χωρίς Θεοῦ, chōris theou, “apart from God,” in place of χάριτι Θεοῦ, chariti theou, “by the grace of God,” even though the latter is found in most surviving MSS. The reading with χωρίς, chōris (GK 6006), possibly an allusion to Jesus’ abandonment by God on the cross (Mk 15:34), appears so starkly and without explanation here that it might have been changed into χάριτι Θεοῦ, chariti theou (GK 5921) to avoid embarrassment. But it is also possible it was a marginal comment on v. 8 (“nothing not subject to him—except God”; the exception is made explicit in 1 Co 15:27) that then found its way into the text by mistake.
The biblical idiom “taste death” means a full experience of death, not, as our idiom might suggest, a tentative “taste” without going through with it; see Mk 9:1 par.; Jn 8:52 (and cf. Ps 34:8; 1 Pe 2:3). Cf. the parallel phrase, “the suffering of death,” earlier in the verse. For “taste” see further on 6:4–5. Chrysostom’s argument that the author uses “taste” because the resurrection cut short Jesus’ experience of death is too subtle and does not fit the wider usage of the verb.
2:8b–9 / In these verses we encounter the first instance of our author’s midrashic treatment of an ot passage—that is, where he presents an interpretation of the quotation, utilizing specific words drawn from the quotation itself. (See the same phenomenon in 3:7–4:11; 10:5–14; 12:5–11.) The result may fairly be described as a Christian commentary (i.e., seen from the perspective of the fulfillment brought by Christ) on the passage that enables the author to drive home his point and thereby also to demonstrate the continuity he finds between old and new.
The three occurrences of the pronoun him in v. 8b can be understood as referring to humanity, in keeping with the original meaning of the portion of Psalm 8 that has just been quoted. But if, as we have argued, the latter is meant, especially through the reference to “the son of man,” to allude to Jesus (cf. v. 9), then the pronouns here may also have a deliberate ambiguity. Almost certainly the author intends here, as in the quotation, to refer not merely to humanity but also to Christ.
It is clear that the author understands the quotation from Psalm 8 to refer to Christ as well as to humanity by his application of specific words from the quotation to Jesus in verse 9: who was made a little lower (or better, “for a little while lower”; see comment on v. 7) than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor. Jesus, already so crowned, has in principle “everything under his feet” (v. 8a). We do not, however, yet see that reign in the present world. Indeed, the delay is already alluded to in a key text previously quoted (1:13): “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Ps. 110:1). In fact, now we see neither man nor Christ ruling over all things; but Christ’s rule will in the future be fully consummated, and when that occurs, mankind will experience the full realization of the rule spoken of in Psalm 8 (cf. Phil. 3:21). God left nothing that is not subject to him. Our author does not specify the obvious exception noted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:27: “It is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.”
But we see Jesus. This is the first mention of the personal name Jesus, which is used deliberately here to focus attention upon his humanity. It is the incarnation that makes Jesus temporarily lower than the angels, and the purpose of the incarnation is to make possible his death on behalf of all, for everyone. Taste death means simply to suffer death, as the preceding clause makes clear, and not merely a partial experience of death (cf. Mark 9:1). The incarnation and its goal, the cross, are the glorious expression of the grace of God, God’s free mercy and favor. The exaltation of Jesus, his being now crowned with glory and honor, is because he suffered death. Since it was from an exalted position that Jesus was temporarily made lower than the angels, we should not press the causal aspect too far (cf. 12:2). What is primarily in view is the sequence exalted status—humiliation—exaltation (as, e.g., explicitly in Phil. 2:6–11). At the same time, the exaltation that follows the humiliation does have a new dimension of joy and triumph, standing as it does at the end of the accomplishment of God’s plan of salvation.
The full humanity of the Son, therefore, involves the greatest of advantages, including the superiority of the Son to angels as the one who makes salvation possible by fulfilling the will of God in suffering and death. Further benefits of the humanity of Jesus are explored by our author in the remainder of this chapter.
2:8b–9. The subjection of all things to Jesus was still in the future, but it was certain to occur. The certainty that Jesus will experience future glory gives hope to us. This assurance leads to the introduction of Jesus by name in verse 9.
We find three statements about Jesus in verse 9. First, Jesus became a human being. He was made a little lower than the angels. Second, as a man he experienced suffering and death. The death of Jesus provided a marvelous display of divine grace. God permitted his Son to endure suffering, and the Son willingly offered himself. He tasted death for everyone. Third, the outcome of the suffering of Christ was that he was crowned with glory and honor.
9. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
- Jesus fulfilled the message of Psalm 8: “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death” (Phil. 2:8). Because of his humiliation, especially his death and burial, he was made lower than the angels for a little while. Jesus, then, is portrayed as man, who in effect has accomplished what the first Adam because of sin failed to do. Jesus became man, suffered, died, and was buried. After his humiliation was completed, he was no longer “lower than the angels.” His state of exaltation came to full realization when he was crowned with glory and honor; that is, when he ascended to heaven to take his seat at the right side of the Majesty in heaven (Heb. 1:3). Jesus rules supreme as king of the universe!
Because of man’s disobedience in Paradise and the curse God placed upon him (Gen. 3:17–19), sinful man could never fully experience the state that is described in Psalm 8. But, says the author of the epistle, we see Jesus. He suffered death and gained the victory. He wears the crown of glory and honor, and rules the universe. In fact, even though the author does not explicitly state it, all things are subject to Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22). Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).
- Christ is introduced as Son in the first chapter; here he is called Jesus. By using the personal name Jesus, the author of the epistle draws attention to the historical setting of Jesus’ suffering and death. We assume that the name was vivid in the minds of the first readers of the epistle because of the steady preaching of the gospel. These readers were acquainted with the details of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
- The name Jesus calls to mind the concept salvation. Jesus, the Savior, gained glory and honor for himself and life eternal for his people. The death of Jesus was purposeful in that it provided benefits, as the author writes, “for everyone.” This expression does not imply universal salvation, for the writer in the broader context mentions that “many sons” (not all the sons) are brought to glory (2:10) and that they are called Jesus’ brothers (2:11–12).
Jesus accomplished the redemption of his people by tasting death, so that his people may live and rule with him. The text does not say that Jesus died, but that he tasted death for everyone. This phrase is not just a Hebraic idiom for the verb to die, which also occurs in Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; and John 8:52. The words to taste death are “a graphic expression of the hard and painful reality of dying which is experienced by man and which was suffered also by Jesus.”
Jesus experienced death in the greatest degree of bitterness, not as a noble martyr aspiring to a state of holiness, but as the sinless Savior who died to set sinners free from the curse of spiritual death.
- The phrase by the grace of God has been replaced in some manuscripts by the words apart from God. The evidence for this latter reading, although not strong, indicates that the phrase may be a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). The reading apart from God gains support when we see that twelve of the thirty-eight New Testament uses of the Greek word for “apart” occur in the Epistle to the Hebrews. On the other hand, the phrase by the grace of God—with slight variations—is common in the Gospels and in the Epistles.
On the basis of the author’s intent, if that can be ascertained, we could defend the reading apart from God. And we could argue that it is easier to explain how in the original the word grace was substituted for the term apart than to explain the converse. But the fact that the earliest manuscript, dating back to a.d. 200, has the reading grace is significant. A solution to this rather difficult problem is often sought in conjecture. One theory is that a scribe reading Hebrews 2:8 (“God left nothing that is not subject to him”) added a note in the margin that said, “nothing apart from God.” He did so because of Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:27 (“For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ”). According to this theory, then, the note eventually became part of the text when the word grace was substituted for the term apart. Perhaps the conjecture ought to be taken seriously; yet the phrase by the grace of God needs interpretation.
- What is meant by the phrase “tasting death for everyone by the grace of God”? The grace of God is equivalent to the love of God (by analogy to Rom. 5:15; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 2:20–21; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; Titus 2:11; 3:7). In the words of John Calvin, “The cause of redemption was the infinite love of God towards us, through which it was that he spared not even his own son.”
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 58–60). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 60–61). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Phillips, R. D. (2006). Hebrews. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 56–64). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 52–53). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 46–47). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 27). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 66–68). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.