An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Christ Superior to Angels
The scope, the order of thought, and the logical bearings of our present passage are not so easily discerned as those we have already gone over. That it, the first part at least, picks up the thread dropped in Hebrews 1:14 and continues to exhibit the superiority of Christ over angels, is clear from verse 5; but when we reach verse 9 we read of Jesus being "made a little lower than the angels." At first glance this seems to present a real difficulty, but, as is generally the case with such passages, in reality verse 9, taken as a whole, supplies the key to our present portion.
In Hebrews 1:4-14 the Holy Spirit, through the apostle, has furnished a sevenfold proof of the superiority of Israel’s Messiah over the angels. This proof, taken from their own Scriptures, was clear and incontrovertible. In Hebrews 2:1-4 a parenthesis was made, opportunity being taken to give a solemn and searching application to the consciences and hearts of the Hebrews of what had just been brought before them: the authority of the Gospel was commensurate with its grace, and God would avenge the slightings of that which was first proclaimed by His Son, as surely as He had the refractions of that law which he had given by the mediation of angels. Now here in Hebrews 2:5 and onwards an objection is anticipated and removed.
The objection may be framed thus: How could supremacy be predicated of One who became Man, and died? As we have shown in a previous article, the Jews actually regarded the angels with a higher veneration than the greatest of the "fathers"—Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David. And rightly so; their own Scriptures declared that they "excel in strength." Thus a real difficulty was presented to them, in the fact that He whom the apostle affirmed had, by inheritance, obtained "a more excellent name" than angels, was known to them as "the Son of man," for man was a creature inferior to angels. Moreover, angels do not die, Christ had; how, then, could He be their superior?
The method followed by the Holy Spirit in meeting this objection and removing the difficulty is as follows: He shows (in verse 9) that so far from the humiliation and suffering endured by Christ tarnishing His glory, they were the meritorious cause of His exaltation. In support of this a remarkable quotation is made from the 8th Psalm to prove that God has placed man, and not angels, at the head of the future economy—the "world to come." The design of God in that economy is to raise "man" to the highest place of all among His creatures, and that design has been secured by Christ’s becoming Man and dying, and thus obtaining for Himself and His people that state of transcendent dignity and honor which the Psalmist prophesied should be possessed by man in the Age to come.
Thus, those commentators are mistaken who suppose that in Hebrews 2:5 the apostle begins to advance further proof of Christ’s superiority over angels. Complete demonstration of this had been made in chapter 1, as the seven Old Testament passages there cited go to show. True it is that what the apostle says in verse 5 makes manifest the exaltation of the Savior above the celestial hierarchies, yet his purpose in so doing was to meet an objector. What we have in our present section is brought in to show that the evidence supplied in chapter 1 could not be shaken, and that the very objection which a Jew might make against it had been duly provided for and fully met in his own Scriptures. Thus may we admire the wisdom of Him who knoweth the end from the beginning, and maketh even the wrath of man to praise Him.
"For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak" (verse 5). In taking up this verse three questions need to be duly pondered: What is here referred to in "the world to come?" What is meant by its being "put in subjection?" What bearing has this statement upon the apostle’s argument? Let us endeavor to deal with them in this order.
Commentators are by no means agreed on the signification of this term "the world to come." Many of the older ones, who were post-millennarians, understood by it a reference to the present Gospel dispensation, in contrast from the Mosaic economy. Others suppose that it refers to the Church, of which Christ, and not angels, is the Head. Others look upon it as synonymous with the Eternal State, comparing it with the Lord’s words in Matthew 12:32, "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." The objection against this last view is that the Greek word for "world" is quite different in Hebrews 2:5 from that which is used in Matthew 12:32.
We believe the first key to the right understanding of this expression is to be found in the particular term used here by the Holy Spirit, translated "world." It is neither "kosmos," the common one for "world," as in John 3:16, etc.; nor "aion," meaning "age," in Matthew 13:35, Hebrews 9:26, etc. Instead, it is "oikoumene," which, etymologically, signifies "habitable place"; but this helps us nothing. The word is found fifteen times in the New Testament. In thirteen of them it appears to be used as a synonym for "earth." But in the remaining passage, namely, Hebrews 1:6, light is cast upon our present verse. As we sought to show in our exposition of that verse, the words "when again He brings in the Firstborn into the world" (oikoumene) refer to the second advent of Christ to this earth, and point to His millennial kingdom. This, we are satisfied, is also the reference in Hebrews 2:5.
The "world to come" was a subject of absorbing interest and a topic of frequent conversation among all godly Jews. Unlike us, the object of hope set before them was not Heaven, but a glorious kingdom on earth, ruled over in righteousness by their Messiah. This would be the time when Jerusalem should be no more "trodden doom by the Gentiles," but become "a praise in all the earth"; when heathen idolatry should give place to "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord," filling the earth as the waters do the sea. In other words, it would be the time when the kingdom-predictions of their prophets should be fulfilled. Nor had there been anything in the teachings of Christ to show these expectations were unwarranted. Instead, He had said, "Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration (Millennium) when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold," etc. (Matthew 19:28-30). Those who had believed in Him as the Savior from sin, eagerly awaited the establishing of His kingdom on earth: see Acts 1:6.
The "world to come" is the renovated earth under the reign of the Messiah. In the spiritual arithmetic of Scripture the number of the earth is four, a number plainly stamped upon it: note the four seasons of the year, the four points to its compass. How striking is it to note, then, that the Word speaks of exactly four earths, namely, the pre-Adamic, the present, the Millennial (delivered from the curse), the new earth. The "world to come" is the time when Israel shall dwell in their own land in peace and blessing, when wars shall be made to cease, when oppression and injustice shall end, when all the outward creation shall manifest the presence of the Prince of peace.
Not unto the angels hath God "put in subjection" this world to come. "Put in subjection" is the translation of a single compound Greek word, meaning "to put under." In its simple form it signifies to appoint or ordain; in its compound, to appoint over. Note the relative "He": God places in subjection whom He will and to whom He will. Because God hath not put the world to come in subjection to angels, therefore angels have no authority over it. "It is the good pleasure of God to use an angel where it is a question of providence, or law, or power; but where it comes to the manifestation of His glory in Christ, He must have other instruments more suited for His nature, and according to His affections" (W. Kelly). To whom, then, hath God subjected the world to come? Instead of supplying a categorical answer, the apostle leaves his readers to draw their answer from what an Old Testament oracle had said.
Ere taking up the point last raised, let us now consider the bearing which the contents of this 5th verse has upon the apostle’s argument. It opens with the word "for," which intimates that there is a glance backwards to and now a continuation of something said previously. This casual particle connects not with the first four verses of our chapter, for, as we have shown, they are of the nature of a parenthesis. The backward glance is to what was said in Hebrews 1:14, where we are told, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" The Inheritance will not be governed by angels; they are but ministers to its "heirs." "For He (God) hath not put in subjection to angels the world to come" (the earthly inheritance) whereof we speak. Thus the connection is clear. The "whereof we speak" takes us back to Hebrews 1:14, and is amplified in Hebrews 2:6-9.
Before turning to that which follows, let us summarize that which has been before us in verse 5. In Hebrews 1:14, the apostle had affirmed that the angels are in a position of subjection to the redeemed of Christ; now he declares that, in the Millennial era also, not angels, but the "heirs of salvation," shall occupy the place of governmental dominion. The "world to come" is mentioned here because it is in the next Age that the Inheritance of salvation will be entered into and enjoyed. In view of what follows from Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2:5, may possibly set forth a designed contrast from the pre-Adamic earth, which, most probably, was placed under the dominion of unfallen Satan and his angels. The practical bearings of this verse on the Hebrews was: Continue to hold fast your allegiance to Christ, for the time is coming when those who do so shall enter into a glory surpassing that of the angels.
"But one in a certain place testified, saying, ‘What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?’" (verse 6). In seeking to discover the relevancy of this quotation and its bearing upon the apostle’s argument, the scope and details of this remarkable and little-understood Psalm from which it is taken, need to be carefully studied. But observe, first, how the quotation is introduced, "But one in a certain place testified, saying." It suggests that the Hebrews were so familiar with the Holy Scriptures that it was not necessary to give the reference! The "But" intimates that the apostle is about to point a contrast from the angels: not "and," but "but!"
Before proceeding further, let us ponder the doctrinal teaching of Psalm 8. Upon this we cannot do better than reproduce the summary of it given by Dr. Gouge: "The main scope of the Psalm is, to magnify the glory of God: this is evident by the first and last verses thereof. That main point is proved by the works of God, which in general He declares to be so conspicuous, as very babes can magnify God in them to the astonishment of His enemies, verse 2. In particular He first produceth those visible glorious works that are above; which manifest God’s eternal power and Godhead, verse 3. Then He amplifieth God’s goodness to man (who had made himself a mortal miserable creature, verse 4), by setting forth the high advancement of man above all other creatures, not the angels excepted, verses 5-7. This evidence of God’s greatness to man so ravished the prophet’s spirit, as with an high admiration he thus expresseth it, ‘What is man?’ etc. Hereupon he concludeth that Psalm as he began it with extolling the glorious excellency of the Lord."
The force of the 4th verse of Psalm 8, the first here quoted in Hebrews 2, may be gathered from the words which immediately precede: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained—What is man, that Thou are mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" In view of the magnitude of God’s creation, in contrast from the heavenly bodies, What is man? This is confirmed by the particular word which the Holy Spirit has here employed. In the Old Testament. He has used four different words, all rendered "man" in our English version. The one used here is "enosh," which signifies "frail and fallen man." It is the word used in Psalm 9:20! What is man, fallen man, that the great God should be mindful of him? Still less that He should crown him with "glory and honor?" Ah, it is this which should move our hearts to deepest wonderment, as it will fill us with ever-increasing amazement and praise in the ages yet to come.
"What is man that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that Thou visitest him?" (verse 6). The latter clause seems to be added in order to emphasize the preceding thought. "Son of man" is added as a diminution for "man": compare Job 25:6 for a parallel. Another reason why this second clause may be added to verse 6 is to show that it is not Adam who is here spoken of. From the contents of verses 5-7 many have thought that Psalm 8 was referring to the father of the human family (see Genesis 1:26); but this second part of its fourth verse seems to have been brought in designedly to correct us. Certainly Adam was not a "son of man!"
"Thou madest him a little lower than the angels" (verse 7). This supplies additional proof that it is not Adam who is here in view. Both the Hebrew word used in Psalm 8:5 and the Greek word in Hebrews 2:7 signify the failing or falling of a thing from that which it was before. "The word ‘made lower’ does not signify to be created originally in a lower condition, but it signifies to be brought down from a higher station to a lower" (Dr. J. Brown). The Hebrew word is used to denote the failing of the waters when Noah’s flood decreased (Genesis 8:4); and, negatively, of the widow’s oil that did not fail (1 Kings 17:14, 16). The Greek word is used of the Baptist when he said, "I must decrease" (John 3:30).
But to what is the Holy Spirit here referring in our 7th verse? First, it should be pointed out that both the Hebrew and Greek word here for "little" has a double force, being applied both to time and degree. In 1 Peter 5:10 it is rendered "a while," that is, a short space of time; so also in Luke 22:58 and Acts 5:34. Such, we believe, is in force here, as it certainly is in the 9th verse. Now in what particular sense has God made frail and fallen man a "little while" lower than the angels? With Dr. J. Brown we must answer, "We cannot doubt that man, even in his best estate, was in some respects inferior to the angels; but in some points he was on a level with them. One of these was immortality; and it deserves consideration, that this is the very point referred to when it is said of the raised saints, the children of the resurrection, ‘Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels’" (Luke 20:36). Thus, for a season, man, through being subject to death, has been made "lower than the angels."
"Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands" (verse 7). Just as in the first part of this verse reference is made to the humiliation of man, so the second part of it speaks of God’s exaltation of man.
"The verbs being expressed, not in the Future, but in the past tense, will not be felt as an objection to its being considered as a prediction, this being quite common in the prophetic style. Most of the predictions, for example, in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah are expressed in the past tense" (Dr. J. Brown). To this we may add, all prophecy speaks from the standpoint of God’s eternal purpose, and so certain is this of accomplishment, the past tense is used to show it is as sure as if it were already wrought out in time: compare "glorified" in Romans 8:30, and see Romans 4:17. Thus we understand the second part of this 7th verse as referring to the coming glorification of Christ’s redeemed.
"Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands." This is applied by the Spirit to the redeemed, the "heirs" of Hebrews 1:14, "whereof we speak" (Heb. 2:5). That the redeemed are to be "crowned" is clearly taught in the New Testament. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:7, 8 the apostle says, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give be at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." So also James declares, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him" (James 1:12).
They are to be crowned with "glory and honor." In Scripture "glory" is put for the excellency of a thing: hence, what is here predicted is, that the dignity which God will place upon His saints will be the most excellent they could be advanced unto. The Hebrew word means that which is real and substantial, in contrast from that which is light and vain. The word for "honor" implies that which is bright: and in Psalm 110:3 is rendered "beauty." Its distinctive thought is that of being esteemed by others. Thus we have here a striking word upon the glorification of the redeemed. First, they are to be "crowned," that is, they are to be elevated to a position of the highest rank. Second, they are to be crowned with "glory," that is, they will be made supremely excellent in their persons. Third, they are to be crowned with "honor," that is, they will be looked up to by those below them.
"And didst set him over the works of Thy hands." This has reference to the rule and reign of God’s saints in the Day to come. In Daniel 7:18, 27 we read, "But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever . . . And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him." So also in Revelation 2:26 we are told, "And he that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations."
"Thou hast put all things under his feet" (verse 8). The language here employed shows plainly the connection between this quotation from the 8th Psalm and what the apostle had declared in verse 5. There he had said, "For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak." Here we learn that unto "man" will the world to come be placed in subjection. Here we learn that "man," frail and fallen, but redeemed and exalted by the Lord, will have, in the world to come, "all things" put under his feet. It is the blessed sequel to Genesis 1:26—the earthly Paradise regained. The absoluteness of this "subjection" of the world to come unto redeemed man, is intimated by the figure which is here used, "under his feet"; lower a thing cannot be put. It is not simply "at his feet," but "under." The scope of the subjection is seen by the "all things." This goes beyond the terms of Psalm 8:7,8, for the last Adam has secured for His people more than the first Adam lost. All creation, even angels, will then be "in subjection" to man.
"For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him" (verse 8). This is the apostle’s comment on his quotation from Psalm 8. "Thou hast bestowed on man such honors as Thou hast bestowed on none of Thy creatures. Thou hast set him at the head of the created universe. From this passage it appears that, with the single exception of Him who is to put all things under him, i.e., God, all things are to be put under man. In the world to come even angels are subordinate to them. Man is next to God in that world" (Dr. J. Brown). In Revelation 21:7 we read, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son." Our joint-heirship with Christ (Rom. 8:17) will be manifested in the world to come. What a prospect! O for faith to lay hold of it and enjoy it, even now. Were it more real to us, the trifling baubles of this world would fail to attract us. Were it more real to us, the trials and troubles of this life would be unable to sadden or move us. May the Lord enable each of His own to look away from the things seen to the things unseen.
"But now we see not yet all things put under him" (verse 8). This is the language of an hypothetical objector, which confirms and establishes what was said in the opening paragraphs of this article. The "him" here is the "man" of verse 6. Anticipating the objection that Jesus of Nazareth could not be superior to the angels, seeing that He was Man, the apostle met it by showing that one of God’s ancient oracles declared that he who, for a short season, was made lower than the angels, has been crowned with glory and honor and set over the works of His hands; yea, that all things, and therefore angels, have been "put in subjection under him." But how can this be? says the objector: "Now we see not yet all things put under him." What you have said is belied by the testimony of our senses; that which is spread before our eyes refutes it. Why, so far from "all things" being in subjection to man, even the wild beasts will not perform his bidding! Unanswerable as this difficulty might appear, solution, satisfactory and complete, is promptly furnished. This is given in our next verse.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels . . . crowned with glory and honor" (verse 9). It is most blessed to observe how the apostle meets the objector: he does so by pointing at once and directly to Him who is the Center of all our hopes and in whose Person all our interests and blessings are bound up. "The following appears to me to be the track of the apostle’s thoughts: ‘In the world to come, men, not angels, are to occupy the first place. An ancient oracle, which refers to the world to come, clearly proves this. The place to be occupied by man in that world is not only a high place, but is the first place among creatures. The words of the oracle are unlimited. With the exception of Him who puts all things under man, everything is to be subjected to him. This oracle must be fulfilled. In the exaltation of Christ, after and in consequence of His humiliation, we have the begun fulfillment of the prediction, and what, according to the wise and righteous counsels of heaven, were necessary, and will be the effectual means of the complete accomplishment of it in reference to the whole body of the redeemed from among men" (Dr. J. Brown).
"But we see Jesus." What is meant by this? To what was the apostle referring? How do we "see Jesus?" Not by means of mysterious dreams or ecstatic visions, not by the exercise of our imagination, nor by a process of visualization; but by faith. Just as Christ declared, in John 8:56, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad." Faith is the eye of the spirit, which views and enjoys what the Word of God presents to its vision. In the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Revelation, God has told us about the exaltation of His Son; those who receive by faith what He has there declared, "see Jesus crowned with glory and honor," as truly and vividly as His enemies once saw Him here on earth "crowned with thorns."
It is this which distinguishes the true people of God from mere professors. Every real Christian has reason to say with Job, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee" (Job 42:5). He has "seen" Him leaving Heaven and coming to earth, in order to "seek and to save that which was lost." He has "seen" Him as a sacrificial Substitute on the cross, there bearing "our sins in His own body on the tree." He has "seen" Him rising again in triumph from the grave, so that because He lives, we live also. He has "seen" Him highly exalted, "crowned with glory and honor." He has "seen Him thus as presented to the eye of faith in the sure Word of God. To Him the testimony of Holy Scripture is infinitely more reliable and valuable than the testimony of his senses.
The name by which God’s Son is here called is that of His humiliation. "Jesus" is not a title; "Savior" is an entirely different word in the Greek. "Jesus" was His human name, as Man, here on earth. It was as "Jesus of Nazareth" that His enemies ever referred to Him. But not so His own people: to the apostles He said, "Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am" (John 13:13). Only once in the four Gospels do we ever find any of His own speaking of Him as "Jesus of Nazareth" (Luke 24:19). and that was when their faith had completely given way. It was the language of unbelief! That He is referred to in the narratival form in the Gospels as "Jesus" is to emphasize His humiliation.
When we come to the Acts, which treats of His exaltation, we read there, "God hath made this same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). So in the Epistles: God has "given Him a name which is above every name," and that name is "Lord" (Phil. 2:9, 10). Thus, it is either as "Christ" which is a title, or as the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is commonly referred to in the Epistles: read carefully 1 Corinthians 1:3-10 for example. It is thus that His people should delight to own Him. To address the Lord of glory in prayer simply as "Jesus," or to speak of Him to others thus, breathes an unholy familiarity, a vulgar cheapness, an irreverence which is highly reprehensible.
After the four Gospels the Lord Christ is never referred to in the New Testament simply as "Jesus" save for the purpose of historical identification (Acts 1:11, e.g.), or to stress the humiliation through which He passed, or when His enemies are speaking of Him. Here in Hebrews 2:9, "Jesus" rather than "the Lord Jesus" is used to emphasize His humiliation: it was the One who had passed through such unparalleled shame and ignominy that had been "crowned with glory and honor." May Divine grace enable both writer and reader to entertain such exalted views of this same Jesus that we may ever heed the exhortation of 1 Peter 3:15: "But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord" (Revised Version).
Now that which it is of first importance for us to observe is the use which the apostle here makes of the Savior’s glorification. The exaltation of Jesus is both the proof and pledge of the coming exaltation of His redeemed. The prophecy of Psalm 8 has already begun to receive its fulfillment. The crowning of Jesus with glory and honor is the ground and guarantee of the ultimate glorification of all His people. Christ has entered Heaven as the "First-fruits," the earnest of the coming harvest. He passed within the veil as the "Forerunner" (Heb. 6:20), so that there must be others to follow.
Here, then is, we believe, the true interpretation and application of Psalm 8. The verses quoted from it in Hebrews 2 refer not to Adam, not to mankind as a whole, nor to Christ Himself considered alone, but to His redeemed. The Holy Spirit, through the Psalmist, was looking forward to a new order of man, of which the Lord Jesus is the Head. In the Man Christ Jesus, God has brought to light a new order of Man, One in whom is found not merely innocence, but perfection. It is of this "man" that Ephesians 2:15 speaks: "To make in Himself of twain (redeemed from among the Jews and from the Gentiles) one new man"; and also Ephesians 4:13: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." As God looks at His incarnate Son He sees, for the first time, a perfect Man, and us in Him. And as we, by faith, "see Jesus crowned with glory and honor," we discover both the proof and pledge of ourselves yet being "crowned with glory and honor."
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels . . . crowned with glory and honor," as the ground and guarantee of our approaching exaltation. Here then is the Divine answer to the question asked by the Psalmist long ago: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast made—What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" Ah, brethren in Christ, when you go out at night and view the wondrous heavens, and then think of your own utter insignificance; when you meditate upon the glory of God’s majesty and holiness. and then think of your own exceeding sinfulness, and are bowed into the dust; remember that up there is a Man in the glory, and that that Man is the measure of God’s thoughts concerning you. Remember, that by wondrous and sovereign grace, you have been not only predestined to be conformed to His image, but that you should, as a joint-heir with Him, share His inheritance. May the Lord grant each Christian reader that faith which will enable him to grasp that wonderful and blissful prospect which the Word of God sets before him.