Thursday, April 16, 2015

Missing the Point in Hebrews 2—for many years

I don't know how many times I’ve read the first two chapters of Hebrews, but recently I saw something that I somehow missed for years. Chapter 1 begins without much of a preamble:
In the past God spoke to our fathers at various times and in various ways through the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature…
from Hebrews 1:1–3
The author then shows how Jesus is greater than the angels, and ends the chapter with this: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). And then chapter 2 begins with this:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the word spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great 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 gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.

Hebrews 2:1-5
I find these verses fascinating. First, we must pay careful attention “to what we have heard”—what’s that? In 1:2 we read that God has spoken by his Son, but for all these years when I read those verses I was focused on the Son and forgot to notice that when God spoke, he had something to say!

Fortunately the author tells us that what God has spoken was “a great salvation” (2:3). What salvation is this about? Well, it was something announced by the Lord (Jesus I think; God and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the same sentence). What did the Lord announce? A few things come to mind:

  • The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe this good news! (Mark 1:15)
  • God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, as you probably already knew.)
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (and more: Matthew 5:3-10)
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, she who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and is not condemned; she has passed out of death into life (John 5:24)
  • And I give eternal life to them, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the father's hand (John 10:something)
  • I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will never die (John 11: something)
The author of Hebrews does answer one question for us definitively: if we wonder about this salvation—is it about this world, this life only, or [also] about the world to come?

I actually have wondered about this, because I had the impression that first-century Jews and Christians thought of “salvation” as mostly being about life here on earth. Didn't people want to make Jesus king by force? When Jesus healed people, didn't he say “your faith has saved you” (emphasis added)?

But the author of Hebrews is talking about the world to come, as we read in verse 5. And he gets even more explicit after that:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory an honor, because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

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.

Hebrews 2:9–11
Ah—another clue! Jesus suffered death, and by God’s grace he tasted death “for everyone.” Which reminds me of the Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—particularly this part:
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
And here's another: God brings many persons to glory, and that too has something to do with salvation and with what Jesus suffered.

That salvation, wherein God brings us to glory and makes us holy, also has to do with becoming a sibling of our Lord Jesus. Come to think of it, that reminds me of Psalm 68:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalm 68:5–6
Indeed, being rescued from loneliness, being adopted into a family where Jesus is my brother—not only for this world, but also for the world to come—that’s sounding pretty good.

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