His Humanity and Priesthood

The priesthood of the Son is valid and trustworthy because he was a genuine human being who died the same death as all men and women - Hebrews 2:5-18

Cross - Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash
The second literary unit of 
Hebrews consists of three paragraphs that highlight the solidarity of the “Son” with his people, his victory over the Devil, and his qualifications for the priesthood. Jesus was fully human, just like his people except “apart from sin,” therefore, he died a genuine human death on their behalf. Because he suffered as they do, now, the “Son” is fully qualified to intercede for them as their high priest - (Hebrews 2:5-18) - [Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash].

In chapter 2, the subject changes 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. “Habitable earth” translates the noun oikoumené, a term that means the “habitable earth” - The civilized world in distinction from its more barbaric regions.
  • (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 one, he might taste of death.”
By citing the Psalm, the epistle introduces its next argument. In the previous section, Psalm 110:1 was cited. Both passages refer to things that were being subjected “beneath your 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 a “little lower than God,” having been made in His image and placed to “take dominion” over the creation. The original context of the Psalm 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 citation in Hebrews follows the latter text.

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 in general.

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 here, it is used collectively for all humanity. It is the direct object of the verb “lessen.”  There is no sense of “make” or “create” in the Greek verb; rather, the idea is to “decrease; to 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 this section’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 that mission - (“But now, not yet do we see all things subjected to him”). The “not yet” indicates the promised subjection will be achieved by Jesus - (“Whom God has appointed heir of everything”).

For now, Christians see Jesus exalted to God’s right hand and 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” 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 divine grace for men and women. Having purposed to bring His children into glory, it became “fitting” to “complete” their champion through suffering, because he and men 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 may mean “leader,” “author,” “originator,” “captain,” “champion,” or “pioneer.” In this context, Jesus achieves victory and “liberates” his brethren from the dominion of death, making “champion” the most likely sense.

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

Graveyard - Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash
Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash

The “Son” is the one who “sanctifies” believers (“They that are being sanctified”). Because he and they are all of 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” - (
Hebrews 10:10).

Three citations from the Old Testament are placed on the lips of Jesus to stress his kinship with his “brethren”:
  • (2 Samuel 22:3) – “My God was my rock, I sought refuge in him, my shield and my horn of salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, My Savior! From violence you saveed me.
  • (Psalm 22:22) – “I will declare your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly will I praise you.
  • (Isaiah 8:17-18) – “I will long for Yahweh, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob and will wait for him. Behold, I and the children whom Yahweh has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel, from Yahweh of hosts, who is making his habitation in Mount Zion.”
This paragraph presents Jesus as the faithful high priest, the ground for this having been laid in the previous claim that Jesus “achieved purification of sin.” To accomplish this, he participated fully in the nature and sufferings of humanity. The phrase “flesh and blood” is a Semitic idiom for human mortality – Man in his mortal state. Since believers are such, Jesus “partook” of the same nature and fate to identify completely with humanity.
  • (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, he 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 ongoing effort to “lay hold of” his brethren as their priestly mediator. Because he endured the same tests, he is well equipped to help men and women when they are “tested”. Under discussion is not humanity in general, but followers of Jesus in particular. This explains the use of “seed of Abraham.” The words are meant to comfort the recipients of the letter.
Jesus 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 be just like his brethren. The phrase anticipates two 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 and women before God by mediating and offering “gifts” on their behalf. To do so, he must be one with them. Under the Levitical system, faithfulness was vital to the proper performance of one’s 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 hilaskesthai - What he “expiated” were the sins that separated men from God. The idea of appeasing or “propitiating” God’s wrath is not present in the text.

Under the Levitical system, 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 a sacrificial animal was only a first step in the process. The high priest then entered the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood and applied it to the Sanctuary and altar to remove the stain of sin.  Rather than appeasing divine wrath, the blood removed the cause of the broken fellowship between God and His people - (Leviticus 16:16-19, 30-33).

The passage presents four key reasons why it was necessary for Jesus to be a genuine human being, and to receive the sentence of death that has been legislated against humanity - (Hebrews 2:5-18):
  1. To experience death on behalf of others.
  2. To bring God’s “many sons to glory.”
  3. To achieve victory over the Devil, and to liberate believers from the tyranny of death.
  4. To qualify him as a faithful and compassionate high priest.
The presentation of Jesus as a faithful high priest prepares the reader for the full exposition of his priesthood and sacrifice later in the epistle.




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