The author of Hebrews ends the first chapter of this letter by describing angels as “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (1:14). His point, of course, being that the Son is superior to angels because whereas he is the God-man who reigns and rules over all, angels are simply ministering spirits sent out by God to serve his people. But I wonder if we’ve ever allowed that description of who we are as believers to captivate our imaginations? If our faith is in the crucified and resurrected Christ this morning, Hebrews 1:14 describes us as those who are to “inherit salvation.”
That’s typically not language we use when we speak of our salvation. We don’t often think in terms of an inheritance. But it’s consistently found in the storyline of Scripture. It’s hard to read the OT without seeing the theme of inheritance as salvation. But my guess is that this isn’t the first reference that comes into our minds when we think of salvation. We most likely think of forgiveness of sins or eternal life. And those things are glorious, good, and true. But that’s not all salvation means. There awaits for us a physical inheritance of salvation that was pictured for us all the way back at creation when God placed the man and woman in a garden of paradise, telling them to fill the earth and subdue it. This is why Paul tells us in Romans 4:13 that the promise to those who have the faith of Abraham is that they are heirs of the world. Our promised salvation includes a new glorious creation to come, even better than we see in Genesis 1-2.
This is why the author of Hebrews speaks of us as “those who will inherit salvation” and then (immediately after the warning against drifting) speaks of the “world to come.” By that phrase,--world to come—he means a new creation, untouched by sin and death, and more glorious than anything we see around us. That thing that is hard for us even to imagine is our inheritance, a blessing of salvation in Christ.
But while bringing up this topic, is he still showing that Jesus is greater than the angels? Indeed he is. He’s actually showing us that not only is Jesus superior to angels in that he alone redeems mankind and provides for us our inheritance of salvation, but he is also reminding us that no angel gets to experience this redemption but mankind alone, through the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. So, what I want to do is trace this argument in a few sermon points and then conclude by bringing us back to the exhortation we saw at the beginning of chapter 2.
The first step we see in the argument of our text is that the world to come (i.e. new creation—a world like the one around us but perfected) will not be subject to angels but to humans.
The world to come will not be subject to angels but to humans
This is the first thing written in our text as the author notes in v. 5, “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” But what in the world is he actually talking about? Well, let me see if I can walk us through the idea here.
Immediately after speaking of this “world to come” and it not being subjected to angels, he quotes from Psalm 8:4-6. He writes, ‘It has been testified somewhere, ‘What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet’” (2:6-8a).
Now, Psalm 8 (which we looked at a few months ago) is a psalm in which David is writing while reflecting in some measure on Genesis 1:26-28. You’ll remember from that text that as God made humanity, he did not make the man and the woman simply as one of the animals. He made them to rule over everything. He put everything in subjection to them. Humanity was made as a ruler over the earth. Adam and Eve were created as a king and queen over creation.
David writes Psalm 8, reflecting on that glorious truth. But he first begins by asking God why he even pays attention to humanity when we are so tiny and seemingly insignificant in the universe. But then, instead of piling on to our seeming insignificance, he says, “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:5-6). Again, though we seem so insignificant in creation, we were created to rule over the earth—to be kings and queens of creation.
Therefore, when the author of Hebrews (now back here in chapter 2) is reminding us that God didn’t make the world to be ruled over by angels, he naturally quotes from Psalm 8 in which David reminds us about man’s glorious design and purpose to rule over creation.
But there’s a problem with the argument I just made, isn’t there? The author of Hebrews isn’t simply talking about what God did in the beginning, when he made the world and put mankind over it. He’s talking about the world to come—the new creation—which he says explicitly is his topic in verse 5. So, why look back at what God did when he first made the earth? Why look back with the reference to Psalm 8 when he tells us that he’s telling us about what’s to come?
I think I can explain why. You see, after God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to rule over the earth, fill it with God’s glory, and subdue it, things didn’t go so well. In Genesis 3, the man and the woman did the one thing that God had forbidden, and they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At that moment, they brought sin, condemnation, and death into the world. And instead of continuing to rule over everything, the man and the woman and everything else became subject to death. Indeed, Paul can speak of death as this tyrannical ruler that “reigns” over everything.
And this is the earth as we know it. It is a world full of decay, death, and sin. Instead of ruling over the earth as its kings and queens, the earth eventually houses our dead bodies. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, sweeping away hundreds and thousands of lives are not just tragedies for us to witness but are a tragic reminder of what our sin in Genesis 3 accomplished. We live in a world where David had to fight off and kill lions and bears while guarding his sheep. Merely speaking to them as their king, telling them to go away, I assure you, was no option. The paradise of Genesis 1-2 has been lost.
But, as we noted when we looked at Psalm 8 in details a few months back, David wrote Psalm 8 on this side of Genesis 3. And that hardly makes sense. Why celebrate what has clearly been lost? It would be like a family standing around their son whose body has been riddled with cancer that is destroying him, cell by cell, and celebrating the great health he had prior to his cancer diagnosis. I mean, something would have to be wrong with those people. The only reason you would do that is if you thought somehow that health you’re remembering and celebrating could be restored. And I think that’s exactly what David is doing in Psalm 8. David wrote his reflection on the rule of man that he read about in Genesis 1:26-28 but had never known in his life because he knew it would be restored. Paradise would be regained. Therefore, Psalm 8 looks back to Genesis 1 in order to get a glimpse of what awaits God’s people in the future. It looks back so that we might get a clearer picture of the inheritance of a perfected world that awaits us.
After Genesis 3, when God subjected even the earth itself to a curse and death reigned over everything, God never let go of his original design of humans as his image-bearers reigning over his good creation. According to Romans 8, when Christ returns and we receive our resurrection bodies, finally free of the death and decay we’ve known and fought against our whole lives, the creation itself will be set free from its curse and bondage to death and decay and will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). And on that day, raised with Christ, we will rule over a world without sin, without death, without Satan.
Psalm 8 is, therefore, a prophetic psalm that points us back to the glory with which God made man in order to point us forward to the glory that will one day be ours as we are raised with Christ, given glorified bodies, and allowed to rule over a new and glorious creation. In other words, we get one of the best views of the glory we will know in eternity by looking back to Genesis 1-2. Sure, the new creation will be even better, but those early chapters of Genesis give us a taste.
This prophetic function of the Psalm may be why the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) translated one phrase a bit differently than you and I read in Psalm 8 of our ESV Bibles. Whereas if you and I looked at Psalm 8, we would read that mankind was made “a little lower” than the angels, the Septuagint translated those same words indicating that mankind was made “for a little while” lower than the angels. And it is fair that the Hebrew wording for “a little” could refer to degree (i.e. a little lower) or time (i.e. for a little while lower).i
And I think the reason that the author of Hebrews utilizes that Greek translation of Psalm 8 is because he rightly understands that Psalm 8 is prophetic and points us forward to the glory we will attain at the resurrection. And he’s wanting to show that what we lack now in glory is only temporary. It is for a little while. He knows that Psalm 8 (at its place in the canon) is pointing us ahead to the day when mankind will rule over this “world to come,” this new creation. That’s why he mentions that for a little while we’re lower than the angels, but we will one day be crowned with a glory, a glory that the suffering of this world can’t compare to.
But that brings us to the second point he wants us to see. It’s one which hardly needs stating, but, it is that right now we do not live in this glorious state.
Right now we do not live in this glorious world to come
At the end of verse 8 the author of Hebrews writes, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” In other words, right now, we don’t see everything in subjection to man. You and I don’t speak and control the seas. Rather, there are times when the seas crash onto the shores in such massive waves—as we see in tsunamis, for instance—that the sea sweeps away human life. We don’t command the animal world but can read story upon story of humans mauled and killed by wild animals. We don’t even have our own bodies in subjection. Sometimes our systems go crazy with allergies or cancer tells, and our own bodies are turning against us, leading to our deaths. We do not right now see everything in subjection to mankind. This is an easily believed observation, isn’t it?
But this raises a question. If God’s design and goal for his people is that we will one day reign over a new and glorious creation, then how does he take us from what life is like now to what it will be then? Or, let me ask this differently. If death is corrupting everything so that we are subject to it and the creation is subject to it and it’s shown in everything—whether it be disease and death in our bodies or upheaval in the created order itself—then how does God deal with death so that this glorious vision of a humanity and new creation without death can be possible?
This brings us to our last point: this glorious vision is only possible because of Jesus
This glorious world to come will be ours because of what Jesus has done
Right after saying that we do not see everything in subjection to man (again, which we easily acknowledge), the author of Hebrews writes in verse 9, “But we see him who was for a little while made lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Now, this is glorious and full, so let’s take it piece by piece. First, he references the incarnation, that is God becoming man. He says, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus.” By speaking of Jesus being made lower than the angels for a little while, he’s speaking of God the Son becoming human. God the Son actually took on a fully human nature—everything it means to be human—as conceived in the womb of a virgin, and they named him Jesus. He was completely God but completely human as well. That’s why we refer to Jesus as the God-man.
But this becoming human wasn’t simply a miraculous thing that happened; it was a necessary thing if we were going to be saved. We’ll see this more in the text next week, but he became one of us so that he might represent us. Just as Adam represented us as the first man in the garden, plunging us into sin and condemnation through his own sin and condemnation, Jesus comes as the second (and last) man, representing us, and leading us to righteousness, justification, and life through his obedience, death, and resurrection. So, he comes as another Adam to represent us. This is why we’re able to remember and celebrate each week that we get to be counted righteous before God simply because of what Jesus has done. He is my representative just as Adam was. But, unlike Adam, he lived a life of perfect obedience, and that gets credited to you and me as we place our faith in Christ.
But that’s not all, Jesus comes to deal with sin and death as well. He comes into this world and experiences it under this reign of death. That is, he comes into a world that is full of disease, famine, earthquakes, tornadoes, and death. In fact, he subjects himself to it. Knowing that death was what prevented mankind from fulfilling God’s purpose for us to reign over the creation, he took on death. But he took it on, surprisingly, by becoming subject to it. He died. When we say he died on the cross, we mean he really died. When the author of Hebrews says that Jesus tasted death for everyone, he doesn’t mean anything less than that he actually died. Everything we experience in dying, we can know that our Savior has experienced it first. This is going to be a big point later in this letter as the author of Hebrews wants us to see that Jesus is completely able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. As a full human being, he was so sorrowful in the garden, prior to going to the cross, that he felt like his sorrow was going to kill him. And then, hanging on the cross and suffering, he died, just like you and I will one day die (unless the Lord returns, of course).
But Jesus’ death wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t the end. No one took Jesus’ life from him. He could have prevented them at any moment. He laid his life down. It was no accident. Nor was it the end. On Easter Sunday morning, Jesus, the God-man, walked out of the tomb in his resurrected body—the same kind of body that you and I will get at our resurrection. And in that moment, his Father bestowed on Jesus, as the God-man, all authority to reign over everything as a human being, just as God purposed and shown at creation. He was exalted to God’s right hand, crowned with glory and honor, and reigns over all, awaiting the day when his Father has appointed for him to come and conquer all of his enemies, fully and finally, including death itself.
So, right now, the author of Hebrews is right; we don’t see everything in subjection to man. But we do see a man, namely Jesus, reigning at God’s right hand, having done everything necessary to bring God’s purposes and promises to full reality. He has done everything necessary for us to have a glorious inheritance of a new creation that awaits us. That’s why when we describe the storyline of the Bible in four climactic plotlines, we say there was creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. New creation is a certain reality to come because of Jesus, and it is our inheritance.
And here’s the point, I think, for these early Jewish Christians who were tempted to go back and put themselves under the law of Moses, as delivered by angels, the author of Hebrews wants them to see that not only are angles inferior to Jesus, and not only has God purposed for mankind, not angels, to reign over the world to come, but it is in Jesus, not angels, that lies our hope for experiencing that glorious inheritance of salvation to come. In other words, if you turn from Jesus, you turn away from the only means that God has provided for us to inherit the promised salvation that he purposed for us even in the beginning. Only if you trust in Jesus are you united with the one who can restore us to that ruling glory we saw pictured in the garden.
What I then want to ask us to do is the same thing that we were exhorted to do in 2:1, as there the author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard.” Allow Jesus and what he has done for us to be an all-consuming reality in your life. Think about him. Praise him. Obey him. Love him. Seek to honor him. And do all things for his sake. Anything less than that is to miss the glory of the God-man, who is right now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death and is reigning at God’s right hand. May we be found living our lives as a living sacrifice unto him on that day when he comes to raise us and fulfill in us the glorious purpose for which God made us. Let us give him thanks now as we come to the table. Amen.
i Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 98.