Faithful High Priest

His priesthood is valid and trustworthy because Jesus was a genuine human being who died the same death as all men - Hebrews 2:5-18

Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash
The next literary unit consists of three paragraphs that highlight the solidarity of the “
Son” with his people, his victory over Satan, and his qualifications for the priesthood. He was fully human, just like his people, but “apart from sin,” and therefore, he died a human death for them. Because he suffered as they do, Jesus is fully qualified to intercede as their high priest - [Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash].

In the second chapter of Hebrews, the subject moves from the superiority of the “Son” over the angels to his solidarity with humanity.  It was not to angels that God subjected the “coming habitable earth,” but man.
  • (Hebrews 2:5-9) – “For not to angels has he subjected the coming habitable earth of which we are speaking; but one somewhere has borne witness, saying: What is man, that you should make mention of him? Or the son of man, that you should put him in charge? You made him less, some little, than angels; with glory and honor have you crowned him and set him over the works of your hands. All things you subjected beneath his feet. For in subjecting to him all things, nothing left he to him un-subjected; But now, not yet, do we see to him all things subjected. But Jesus, made some little less than angels do we behold; by reason of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, to the end that, by grace of God, on behalf of every man, he might taste of death.”
The epistle introduces its next argument by citing a passage from the Psalms. The previous section of the letter paved the way for introducing this passage with its use of Psalm 110. Both passages refer to things being subjected “beneath his feet.”
  • (Psalm 8:3-6) – “When I view your heavens, the work of your fingers, moon and stars which you established; what was weak man that you should make mention of him? Or the son of the earthborn that you should set him in charge? That you should make him little less than angels of God, with glory and honor should crown him? Should give him dominion over the works of your hands, all things should have put under his feet?
  • (Psalm 110:1,4) – “Yahweh saith to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool…Yahweh has sworn and will not repent: You are a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek.
Man was “little lower than God,” having been made in His image and tasked with “taking dominion” over the earth. The Psalm’s original context must be borne in mind. The Hebrew text reads, “little lower than God.” The later translators of the Greek Septuagint version changed “God” to “angels,” the form of the text used in Hebrews.

By repeating the word oikoumené, the “coming habitable earth,” the passage changes the perspective of the Psalm from the original creation to the coming New Creation.  God intended man to take dominion, but Adam forfeited that right through disobedience, therefore, we “do not yet see all things subjected to him,” that is, to humanity.

Made him some little less than angels.” The clause translates a verb that means to “make less, to lower” - Man became less or lower in status than angels. “Him” is singular but used collectively for all men and is the direct object of the verb “lessen.”

The Psalm celebrates the “crowning of man with glory and honor” – Either Adam was crowned originally with glory then lost it, or God intended man to become endued with glory, but the plan was derailed by sin. Originally, the Psalm was not about the Messiah but the intended rule of humanity over the creation. The rest of the paragraph’s argument hinges on this understanding.

The role of man in the “coming habitable earth” is to fulfill the original mandate to “take dominion over the earth.” Prior to the work of Christ, humanity failed to fulfill this. “But now, not yet do we see all things subjected to him.” The “not yet” in the clause indicates that the promised subjection is to be achieved by the Son (“Whom God has appointed heir of everything”).

For now, Christians see Jesus exalted to God’s right hand, the designated “heir of all things.” Just as Adam, he was “made a little lower than angels.” Unlike Adam, he was “crowned with glory and honor,” all because he endured the “suffering of death” on our behalf.

The passage does NOT equate the “suffering” and “death” of Jesus with humiliation. Instead, his death was “fitting,” the very reason that he was “crowned with glory.” His suffering “completed” or “perfected” him. The exaltation of the “Son” was because of his faithfulness in death.

The epistle portrays the superiority of the “Son” as something achieved in his human life. He became superior to the angels, having gone beyond them, to inherit a more distinguished name. Because of his obedience, God exalted him (“You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness, for this cause has God anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners”).

The next paragraph presents the reason why his death meant mercy for men and women. Having purposed to bring His children into glory, it became “fitting” to “complete” their champion through suffering, because he and mankind are “all from one.”
  • (Hebrews 2:10-13) – “For it was becoming in him, For the sake of whom are all things, and by means of whom are all things, when many sons he would lead to glory, through sufferings, to perfect the Princely Leader of their salvation. For both he that makes holy and they who are being made holy are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to be calling them brethren, saying, I will declare your name to my brethren, in the midst of an assembly will I sing praise to you. And again, I will be confident upon him; and again, Lo! I and the children which unto me God hath given.”
Champion” or archégos refers to someone who leads.  It can mean “leader,” “author,” “originator,” “captain,” “champion,” or “pioneer.” In this context, Jesus achieves victory and “liberates” his brethren from the dominion of death, which makes “champion” the likely intended sense.

The Greek verb rendered “perfected” or “completed” means to “complete, accomplish, finish; to bring to an end.” The idea is not moral perfection but bringing something to completion. This sense is confirmed by the later application of the same verb to Jesus:
  • (Hebrews 5:9) - And being completed, he became the author of everlasting salvation for all them who obey him.”
Through his death, God qualified Jesus to become high priest. “Suffering” has his death in view, for God determined that he “should taste of death for every man.”

The “Son” is the one who “sanctifies” believers (“They that are being sanctified”). Because he and they are all of the one nature, he calls them “brethren.” This stresses his solidarity with them and anticipates the later statement that we are sanctified “through the offering of the body of Jesus.” Three citations from the Old Testament are placed on the lips of Jesus to stress his kinship with his “brethren” - (2 Samuel 22:3, Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:17-18, Hebrews 10:10).

Next, Jesus is presented as the faithful high priest. This expands on the statement from the opening paragraph of the letter that he “achieved purification of sin.” To accomplish that, he participated in the nature and sufferings of all men. The phrase “flesh and blood” is a Semitic idiom for human mortality, man in his mortal state. Since believers are subject to death, he “partook” of the same nature and fate.
  • (Hebrews 2:14-18) – “Seeing, therefore, the children have received a fellowship of blood and flesh, he in like manner, took partnership in the same, in order that through death he might paralyze him that held the dominion of death, the Adversary, and might release these, as many as by fear of death were all their lifetime liable to bondage. For not surely of angels is he laying hold, but of Abraham’s seed he is laying hold. Whence he was obliged in every way to be made like the brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things of God, to expiate the sins of the people. For in that he suffered when tested, he is able to give succor to them who are being tested.
The Devil had the “dominion” of death, or kratos, a strong word that denotes “hold, power, force, dominion.” The English term “tyranny” best captures the sense. Paradoxically, through his own death, the Son invalidated the tyranny of Satan.

Jesus is “laying hold of” the “seed of Abraham.” The clause alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 41:8-9) – “But you, Israel, my servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend, you whom I have laid hold of from the ends of the earth, and called from the corners thereof, and said to you, You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you away.”
This refers to his efforts to “lay hold of” his brethren as their priestly mediator. Because he endured the same tests, he is well equipped to help men when they are “tested.” Under discussion is not humanity in general, but the followers of Jesus, which explains the term “seed of Abraham.”
The Son was obliged to be made like his brethren “in every way.” For him to become “a merciful and faithful high priest,” it was necessary for him to have the same nature and experiences as his brethren. The phrase anticipates the later sections of the letter that highlight his faithfulness and priestly character - (Hebrews 4:15-5:10).

Solidarity with humanity is mandatory for the office of high priest. He represents men before God by mediating and offering “gifts” on their behalf; therefore, he must be one with them. Under the Levitical system, faithfulness was vital to the proper performance of priestly service - (1 Samuel 2:35, Hebrews 8:3).

As their high-priest, Jesus expiates the sins of his people (hilaskesthai). “Sins” is in the accusative case and is the direct object of the verb hilaskesthai. What he “expiated” were the sins that separated men from God.

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest presided over the sacrifices that expiated the sins of Israel and cleansed the sanctuary from ritual impurity. The death of the sacrificial animal was only the first step. The high priest then entered the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood and applied it to the sanctuary and altar. This was done to remove the stain of the nation’s sins from the sanctuary and its furnishings. The blood removed the cause of the broken fellowship between God and His people - (Leviticus 16:16-19, 30-33).

The passage presents four reasons why it was necessary for Jesus to receive the same sentence of death that had been legislated against all humanity. First, to experience death on behalf of others. Second, to bring God’s “many sons to glory.” Third, to achieve victory over the Devil and liberate believers from the tyranny of death. And fourth, to qualify him as the exemplary faithful and compassionate high priest.

In this section, the presentation of Jesus as the faithful high priest of the people of God prepares us for the fuller exposition of his priesthood and sacrifice in the later chapters of the epistle. Like his “word,” the priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice of the Son are vastly superior to the many priests and repeated animal sacrifices of the Levitical legislation.


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