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10 September 2019

Humanity and Priesthood of Jesus

SYNOPSIS - 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

Cross Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash
The second literary unit of the book 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 like his people, “apart from sin,” therefore, he was able to die a real death on their behalf. Because he suffered as they do, the “Son” is fully qualified to intercede for them as their high priest - (Hebrews 2:5-18). - [Photo by Hugo Fergusson 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 meaning the “habitable earth” - The civilized world in distinction from its more barbaric and less inhabited regions.
  • (Hebrews 2:5-9) – “For not unto messengers hath he subjected the coming habitable earth of which we are speaking; But one somewhere hath borne witness, saying—What is man, that thou shouldst make mention of him? Or the son of man, that thou shouldst put him in charge? Thou hast made him less, some little, than messengers, With glory and honour hast thou crowned him — [And hast set him over the works of thy hands]; All things hast thou subjected beneath his feet. For in subjecting [to him] the all things, nothing left he to him unsubjected; But now, not yet, do we see to him the all things subjected. But Jesus, made some little less than messengers, we do behold: by reason of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, to the end that, by favour of God, in behalf of every one, he might taste of death” – (The Emphasized Bible).
By citing the eighth Psalm, the Author introduces his argument. In the previous section, he quoted Psalm 110:1 - Both Old Testament verses refer to things that are being subjected “beneath your feet.”
  • (Psalm 8:3-6) – “When I view thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, moon and stars which thou hast established, What was weak man that thou shouldst make mention of him? or the son of the earthborn that thou shouldst set him in charge? That thou shouldst make him little less than messengers of God, with glory and honour shouldst crown him? Shouldst give him dominion over the works of thy hands — All things shouldst have put under his feet?
  • (Psalm 110:1,4) – “Yahweh saith unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Until I make thine 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 over the creation so as to “take dominion over it.” 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 is from the Greek Septuagint.

By repeating the word oikoumené - (The “coming habitable earth” from Hebrews 1:6), the passage changes the perspective 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 in the verse but 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 but then lost it, or God intended man to become endued with glory, but the plan was derailed by his 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 for man 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 who has been exalted to God’s right hand and made “heir of all things.” Just as Adam, Jesus 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 for us was “fitting” – And the very reason that he was “crowned with glory.” His suffering “completed” or “perfected” him. The exaltation of the “Son” came because of his faithfulness in death.

The book of Hebrews portrays the superiority of the “Son” as something achieved through his human life. He became superior to the angels, having gone beyond them to inherit a more distinguished name. Because of his faithful 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 means 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 the all things, and by means of whom are the all things, — when many sons unto glory he would lead, The Princely Leader of their salvation, through sufferings, to make perfect. For both he that maketh 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 thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of an assembly, will I sing praise unto thee; and again — I will be confident upon him; and again — Lo! I and the children which unto me God, hath given” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Champion” or archégos refers to anyone who leads.  It may mean “leader,” “author,” “originator,” “captain,” “champion,” or “pioneer.” In this context, Jesus achieves victory over the Devil and “liberates” his brethren from the dominion of death, making “champion” the most probable sense.

The Greek verb rendered “perfected” means “to complete, accomplish, finish; to bring to an end.” The idea is not to achieve moral perfection but to bring something to a state of 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”).

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

Through his sufferings and death, God “perfected” or qualified Jesus to become a high priest (verse 17). “Sufferings” has his death in view, as borne out by the declaration in verse 9 that God determined that Jesus “should taste of death for every man.”

The “Son” is the one who “sanctifies” believers - (“They that are being sanctified”). Because he and Christians are all of one nature, he calls them “brethren.” This stresses his solidarity with his people and anticipates the later statements 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 us:
  • (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 Saviour! from violence thou didst save me.
  • (Psalm 22:22) – “I will declare thy Name unto my brethren, — In the midst of the convocation, will I praise thee.
  • (Isaiah 8:17-18) – “I will therefore long for Yahweh, Who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, — And will wait, for him. Lo! I and the children whom Yahweh hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel, — from Yahweh of hosts, who is making his habitation in Mount Zion.”
The third paragraph of this section presents Jesus as the faithful high priest. The ground for this was laid in the opening claim of Hebrews that Jesus “achieved purification of sin.” To accomplish this, he participated fully in the nature and suffering of humanity. The phrase “flesh and blood” is a Semitic idiom for human mortality. Since believers are mortal, 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 also, in like manner, took partnership in the same, — in order that, through death, — he might paralyse him that held the dominion of death, that is, the Adversary, — And might release these — as many as, by fear of death, were all their lifetime liable to bondage. For not surely of messengers is he laying hold, but of Abraham’s seed he is laying hold. Whence he was obliged in every way, unto the brethren, to be made like, that he might become a merciful and faithful high-priest in the things pertaining unto God, — for the making of propitiation for the sins of the people. For, in that he suffered when tested, he is able unto them who are being tested, to give succor” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Devil had the “dominion” of death or kratos, a strong Greek word that denotes “hold, power, force, dominion.” The English term “tyranny” captures the sense. Paradoxically, through his own death, he invalidated the tyranny of Satan.

Jesus is “laying hold of” the “seed of Abraham.” This 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 unto you, You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast thee away.”
This refers to his ongoing effort to “lay hold of” his brethren as their priestly mediator (verse 18). Because he endured the same temptations, he is well equipped to help men and women when they are “tempted”. Under discussion is not humanity in general but followers of Jesus. 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 the high priest - He represents men and women before God by mediating and offering “gifts” on their behalf. To do so faithfully, 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, the high priest presided over the sacrifices offered on the annual Day of Atonement to expiate the sins of Israel and cleanse 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 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).

This passage presents four key reasons why it was necessary for Jesus to be a full and genuine human being, and to participate in death - (Hebrews 2:5-18):
  • To experience death on behalf of others.
  • To bring God’s “many sons to glory.”
  • To achieve victory over the Devil and liberate believers from the tyranny of death.
  • 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 in the later chapters of the letter to the Hebrews.




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