We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
This letter was sent to Jewish Christians in Rome during the time of Nero’s persecution, and it has a theme that carries from front to back- ‘Persevere in times of trial! Hold on firmly to what you have in Christ and don’t let go!’ As you might imagine with such a theme, there are several warnings in the letter, and here is the first one.
Like the opening of the first chapter, this one has an opening paragraph that is heavy on content. The content here is a contrast between the Old and New Covenants
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|A message spoken by angels||Announced by Jesus Himself|
|It was binding||It was confirmed by its hearers and by God Himself|
|It contained just punishment for every infraction||It includes no escape for ignoring it or even for just drifting away|
Simply stated, these verses are telling us that we must give our relationship with Jesus Christ (New Covenant) the highest possible priority. In fact, this is the thesis for the entire chapter.
Now, let’s think about this another way. The author has included a contrast between the Old and New Covenants here, as well as throughout this entire letter: Why?
I think the reason is a simple one, but maybe not as obvious to the modern reader as it would have been when it was written. Remember, it is written to Jewish Christians. Of course, they would be interested in this comparison, just on general principle, but there is a deeper reason. Nero persecuted Christians in his day. Remember the story of the great fire in Rome that burned out the center of the city, and resulted in a whole new building program by Nero that seemed to be his way of immortalizing himself as a Roman Emperor? Who did Nero, who probably had quite a bit to do with starting the fire, blame for the fire?
Exactly: Christians! The Christians were the specific target of his persecution, not Jews. Thus, a Jewish Christian might have felt pressure to renounce Christ and just be an innocent Jew again to avoid Nero’s persecution. That, dear reader, is the historical context of this letter. Hold on to what you have in Christ. The author is constantly reminding his readers how much better their lot as Christians is, in spite of Nero… so this theme is oft-repeated.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (2:1)
We need to pay careful attention to what we have in Christ (what we have heard) lest we drift away. Thus “drift away” would mean going back to the old ways to avoid trouble in this life. He goes on in verse 2 to describe their situation under the Law with its system of rules and punishment for infractions, and then verse 3: how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? refers back to “drift away”. If they would be ignoring their great salvation and returning to the old system, they would find themselves in a world of hurt with God. On the one hand, they turned their backs on salvation, and on the other hand, they’d be returning to the condemnation of the Law; a lose – lose situation. Verse 4 underscores the fact that God Himself has confirmed to them the validity of the New Covenant in various ways. As we continue through the rest of the chapter, our author will build this case even more.
We might not have been Jewish, and we might not be living under Nero’s persecution, but are we ever tempted to “drift away?” Are we ever tempted to slack off, get lazy, not care…? What will be running through your mind if this kind of temptation ever comes your way?
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying:
“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews 2:5-9 (NKJV)
When I was a teenager, this passage grabbed my imagination and really locked me in as a follower of Jesus; “you have made him a little lower than the angels…” Wow!
At any rate, our author is moving on, and he is making the case that Jesus is superior to the angels. In verse 5 he mentions that the “world to come” is not in the subjection of the angels, but it is made subject to a man. Then he quotes Psalm 8 which is an amazing journey into God’s purpose. Beginning with the great and wonderful question What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? Obviously, questions such as this have gone through all of our minds, but there is an amazing answer, an answer that blows us away every time we consider it. Yes, God made us “a little lower than the angels” but He also put the world under us in His hierarchy.
Recall that back in the Garden, God gave Man “dominion” over all of the creatures of the earth; that “dominion” was not given to angels, nor was it given to any “fallen angel” for it was given to the Man. Of course, we know that particular man went astray, but there is another Man who would change that. God put all things under Mankind, but we don’t currently see that having entirely come to pass because of what happened later, when the first man rebelled…
But we see Jesus!
Jesus, that second Man, who has changed everything, yes, we see Him. Yes, He was made a little lower than the angels, so that He could suffer death for everyone, yes, this Jesus is now crowned with glory and honor, for He has tasted death for all of us. What a glorious sight that is; it is our deliverance. Jesus, remember who He is? He is the One through whom all things were made, way back in the very beginning. In the fullness of time, when God saw that the right time had come, Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, which is to say that He took on the form of a human body, being entirely human and entirely divine, this amazing Jesus came to earth to take away the problem of sin and shame to restore Mankind to the purpose for which God had created Him to fulfill.
Jesus, who is in every way superior to the angels, allowed Himself to be humbled greatly to accomplish the purpose of God, and soon in God’s time, all will be returned to God’s original design. How is it that God even takes notice of Man? Yes, it still blows my mind, but He does, for He has big plans for us.
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
This is another section of text that is breathtaking if you’ll relax and let its full significance settle in. Check out that first paragraph… Yes, it was quite fitting for God to make Jesus perfect through His suffering, but that isn’t the breathtaking part, at least not for me. It is the part about bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory. Jesus attained glory through His suffering; we attain glory through His suffering. Jesus is in glory- we are headed for glory. Wow!
Note: If you are wondering why I put “sisters” and “daughters” in parentheses, it’s because those words are not in the Greek. It’s “brothers” and “sons”. If you would like to accuse the “new” NIV of being politically correct, I would join with you here, and it is irritating to me too. However, it does capture the full intent of the original, because while they didn’t come out and say it literally, those were inclusive terms in context. Sometimes we forget that in Middle Eastern cultures back then, and even today, it is not polite to refer to women in this fashion; the masculine form represents the whole. By adding those terms, the NIV has captured this and made it clear to modern Western readers that it was intended in the inclusive form. Back to the text…
The one “who makes people holy” is obviously a reference to Jesus. We who are His followers are the ones made holy, and another “wow” moment: Both are in the same family: Welcome to God’s family, we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus! Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Jesus Christ, as He sits on the throne at the right hand of God, ruling heaven and earth is not only King of kings and Lord of lords, but He is also our “big brother”. If you aren’t filled with awe right now, please slow down and read that again.
The Old Testament quotes that follow are placed there to demonstrate that this is something that has been foretold in Scripture, even though people may not have comprehended it at first. Imagine how early Jewish Christians in the circumstances of their time would have reacted to this. Being the brother of the Son of God, a God whose name it was unlawful to even say out loud: Amazing!
I hope that it strikes you the same way. So many of us go through our lives filled with guilt, grief and fear, not ever comprehending how precious we are in God’s sight… Brothers, in the family… relations… Not evil, wretched sinners. Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and your acceptance of His grace, all of that is so far away, and God remembers it no more… Brother! Sister! Son! Daughter!
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Following the last section, in which we saw that we are God’s children, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, our author continues with his theme in verse 14. Since these “children” have flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood too, and then we clearly see why. Jesus was incarnated so that He could die, to break the power of the devil, by setting us free from the fear of death. Interesting concept isn’t it? Being set free from slavery to the fear of death, and from the one who holds power over us by our fear of death…
So, how does the author move from the fear of death to Satan holding power over us because of our fear of death? Here’s a thought: If you are a follower of Jesus who lives in a place where following Jesus is not permitted by law, will you follow Jesus or will you follow the law of that land? If the authorities in power there are seeking to enforce their laws, then they will seek to coerce you into following their laws, right? What is the ultimate means of coercion on this earth? Death. If you fear death, you are likely to follow the law. If you have been set free from the fear of death, you are free to follow Jesus. Consider who this letter was written to: Jewish Christians in Rome during the persecution of Nero. The whole book of Hebrews is a persuasive argument to them to hold onto their faith, even to the point of death, a death they have no reason to fear. We also have no reason to fear death, since we know that because of Jesus, we have eternal life. You can destroy my body, but I live on anyway. Yes, dear reader, this is much more than empty talk or an academic doctrine, it is very real.
He continues: Jesus didn’t do this amazing thing for the angels, He did it for “Abraham’s descendants.” This might trip you up if you don’t keep your covenants straight. “Abraham’s descendants” is a term used in the Old Testament to refer to the Jews, for they were literally the genetic descendants of Abraham, and were sometimes called the “children of Israel.” Of course “Israel” was also one of Abraham’s descendants. In the New Testament, the Gospel changed all of this. Through having been born again, both Jew and Gentile are saved by Christ. There is no more Jew and Gentile, there is only “in Christ.” Thus, this refers to all followers of Jesus, not just Jewish followers, for as Paul says in Galatians 6:16, we are “the Israel of God.” To accomplish all of this, the Son had to become fully human… and so He did become fully human, and in so doing, He became a faithful and merciful high priest in service to God. There will be much about this “high priest” as the letter continues.
His humanity also made Him subject to every temptation that you and I will face in life, and thus, He is able to help us when we are tempted. What a great comfort this is! Jesus had to deal with the same kinds of things that may get to me, and He is able and willing to help in those tough moments. I don’t know about you, but I find that He is much more helpful when I get out of His way, when I ask for His help, and when I am willing to turn to Him. When I force Him out of my mind, I always seem to fall… Maybe there’s a pattern there.