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.
The next section consists of three paragraphs that present the priestly qualifications of Jesus by highlighting his solidarity with his people and his victory over Satan achieved by his death. Like his “brethren,” he was a genuine human being, only “apart from sin.” And because he suffered as they do, he is fully qualified to intercede as their high priest.
In this section, the subject transitions 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, a reality confirmed by Scripture – “What is man, that you should make mention of him? Or the son of man, that you should put him in charge?” – (Hebrews 2:5-9).
The letter’s preceding section paved the way for introducing the passage from the eighth Psalm by applying the messianic promise from Psalm 110 to Jesus. Both passages are linked by their references to the things that are 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 forever After the order of Melchizedek.”
Man became a “little lower than God,” having been made in His image and tasked with “taking dominion” over the earth. The eighth 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 the epistle. By repeating the word oikoumené, the “coming habitable earth,” Hebrews changes the perspective from the original creation to the coming New Creation. God intended man to take dominion, but Adam forfeited that right through his disobedience. And that is why we “do not yet see all things subjected to him,” that is, to humanity.
He “made him some little less than angels.” The clause translates the Greek verb that means to “make less, lessen; to lower.” Man became less or lower in status than the angels. In the clause, “him” is singular but used collectively for all men and is the direct object of the verb “lessen.”
The eighth 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 Adam’s sin. Originally, the Psalm was not about the Messiah but the intended rule of humanity over the creation. The arguments of the rest of the paragraph hinge on this understanding.
In the “coming habitable earth,” the role of man is to implement 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” indicates that the promised subjection is to be achieved by the Son (“Whom God has appointed heir of everything”).
For now, believers see Jesus, the “heir,” exalted to God’s right hand. 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 their behalf.
The passage does NOT equate his “suffering” and “death” with humiliation. Instead, his death was the “fitting,” the reason why he was “crowned with glory.” His suffering “completed” or “perfected” him, and he was exalted because of his faithfulness in death.
The epistle portrays his superiority as something achieved in his human life. Hebecame 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 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. That sense is confirmed by the later application of the same verb to Jesus – “And being completed, he became the author of everlasting salvation.” Through death, God qualified Jesus to become our high priest. And “suffering” has his death in view since God determined that he “should taste death for every man.”
The “Son” is the one who “sanctifies” believers – “They that are being sanctified.” Because Jesus and believers are of the same nature, he calls them “brethren.” Three citations from the Old Testament are placed on his lips to stress his kinship and solidarity with his “brethren” – (2 Samuel 22:3, Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:17-18, Hebrews 10:10).
In the third paragraph, Jesus is presented as the faithful high priest, which expands on the statement from the opening paragraph of the letter – he “achieved purification of sin.” To accomplish this, 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, Jesus “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.”
The clause refers to his efforts to “lay hold of” his brethren as their priestly mediator. Because he endured the same tests as they, he is well equipped to help them when they are “tested.” Under discussion is not humanity in general, but the followers of Jesus, which explains the term “seed of Abraham.”
For him to become “a merciful and faithful high priest,” it was necessary for him to have the same nature as his “brethren.” The clause anticipates the later sections of the letter that highlight his faithfulness and priesthood – (Hebrews 4:15-5:10).
Solidarity with humanity is mandatory for the office of the 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. What he “expiated” were the sins that separated men from God.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priest presided over the sacrifices that dealt with 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 entered the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood and applied it to the sanctuary and the altar. This was done to remove the stain of the nation’s sins from the sanctuary and its furnishings. The blood removed the thing that caused 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 as 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 their faithful and compassionate high priest.
In this section, the presentation of the Son as the faithful high priest of his people prepares the reader for the fuller exposition of his priesthood and sacrifice in the later chapters of the epistle. Like his “word,” his priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice are vastly superior to the many priests and repeated animal sacrifices of the Levitical legislation.