Three themes that recur throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews are found in this important passage:
Humiliation – Jesus emptied Himself
Exaltation – Jesus raised to have dominion over Satan and all evil powers
Redemption – salvation
The recurrence of these themes makes one think of a great symphony, like Beethoven’s 9th. You can hear the themes repeated as you listen to the music; and you can hear these themes of Hebrews as you continue to read and study.
The Meaning of Salvation
I am filled with joy and hope as I read this explanation of our salvation. Hebrews 2:1 warns us that we must not neglect “so great a salvation!” This passage describes the greatness of our salvation. Salvation in Jesus Christ is the center of all Christian theology. This one theme holds the New Testament together; each of the 27 books speaks about it.
Dr. Gordon Fee, professor emeritus of New Testament studies and biblical theology at Regent University in Vancouver, Canada, describes the problem that stands in the way of our salvation. It is the sinfulness of all humans. He uses three key words to describe the solution to sin:
- Propitiation (속량) – to satisfy God’s wrath because of sin, and to give us access to God.
- Expiation (속죄) – to wash away, wipe out, cover over, our sin.
- Atonement (화해) – to reconcile us to God by removing the consequences of our sin. We now have access to God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1-2)
These are difficult words, but knowing them helps us understand the completeness of our salvation. Jesus Christ, through His perfect sacrifice on the cross, satisfied God’s wrath against sin (propitiation). By His blood, Jesus washed away our sins; He covered over our sins and removed them (expiation). We now are reconciled, made one with God, through Jesus’ atoning blood, which we receive by faith. We are free! “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death!” (Romans 8:1-2 NASB)
This passage, Hebrews 2:10-18, describes how all this happened.
Humiliation of Christ
Jesus Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death on the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8) The great tool God used to bring salvation was suffering. Jesus chose suffering, it was not forced upon Him. He who is the “captain” (author, provider) of our salvation was “made perfect through suffering.” This does not mean Jesus was made morally perfect; He already was perfect in every way. His suffering was the necessary sacrifice for our sins; He was made ready by the Spirit of God; He was equipped to save the world.
“Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and on the earth?” (Psalm 113:5-6) NASB) God entered into our suffering—He shared our suffering—and in so doing He enabled us to find meaning and purpose in our own suffering. Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) It would be helpful for you to read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the last of the four suffering servant songs of Isaiah) to understand what God did in Jesus Christ, to save the world. He became for a “little while” lower than the angels.
By His humiliation, Jesus became one with all suffering people on earth. He “sanctified” us, purified us through suffering. God identified with humanity. Jesus says, “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me!” (Hebrews 2:13) “He who sanctifies (He who makes holy) and those who are being sanctified (those who are made holy) are one.” (Hebrews 2:11)
Exaltation of Christ
Paul describes the exaltation of Christ, in Philippians 2:9: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name!” Exaltation follows humiliation. This may be a good time to remind ourselves that the same principle of humiliation and exaltation applies to all Christians. The apostle Peter says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV) At this time of world crisis, remember that we are not in the hands of the enemy of our souls; we are not helpless in the face of the devil’s attacks on the world. This is a good time to read and meditate on Psalm 33. Remember also the confidence of the psalmist when he prayed and confessed to the Lord, “My times are in Your hands, O Lord.” The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) expresses it well: “Every moment of my life is in Your hands, rescue me from the clutches of my foes who pursue me.” (Psalm 33:15)
All things—the world and all that is in it, and all powers of evil—are made subject to Jesus Christ, Lord of the world.
Through death, Jesus “destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
The Beginning of Christian Community
How do we experience this great salvation? How do we know with confidence that we are freed from sin, that we no longer need to be afraid of suffering or death, nor afraid of the devil? We know by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and by committing in faith to follow Him for the rest of our lives. Responding to God in faith means that we trust God and obey His call on our lives. His faithfulness makes it possible for us to trust and obey Him.
But the Christian life cannot be lived alone. We experience the freedom and power of our salvation more fully through community. The apostle John tells us that “truly our fellowship (community life) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3 NKJV) This is the power of community! It is supernatural! We have intimacy with our brothers and sisters because we have been made one in Christ. Christian community means that the Holy Spirit takes people who were in no way previously related, and supernaturally transforms us into brothers and sisters, so that we live together in Christ.
In the early 1970’s, when I was doing graduate study at Emory University in Atlanta, an African American friend and I presented a joint paper on the history of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. As we prepared together he told me, “There is no color in the bloodline of Jesus.” How true that is, especially when we live in a nation where racial prejudice is becoming stronger. Every Christian, regardless of his or her denomination, nationality, race, political persuasion or social status, is my brother or my sister. When we become willing to go beyond our prejudices and begin to walk together in this supernatural communion, we will experience the depth and height, the beauty and power, of our salvation.
We share this fellowship with one another and invite the whole world to share it with us. (1 John 1:1-4) Our life in community enables us to experience the joy and freedom of our salvation in Christ.
The great purpose of God in history, continuing to this day, is to create a people with whom He can dwell forever. He is searching for a people who will receive this great salvation and become like Him, loving one another as Christ has loved us and loving the world enough to sacrifice our lives for those who are lost and suffering. (see 2 Chronicles 16:9a) When God finds such people, He makes us His family, living with us in community. God Himself is the main member, the Father, of our community. This community is called, in the Greek language, koinonia.
When did Christian community begin? It began when Christ came into the world. Hebrews 2:14— “Since then the children have shared in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same.” “Sharing in flesh and blood” includes suffering in a sinful, fallen world. Most importantly, the Greek word for “partook” is meteschen, which is similar to the word koinoneo, which means “community.”
Jesus did not simply try to identify with us only as God; He became an actual man and assumed our nature. He became exactly like us in every way except in sin. The first step towards community is “identification,” realizing that I am identical to each of my brothers and sisters, and understanding that we have a living, organic relationship with one another. Jesus identified with us by laying aside His power to act as God. He was tempted in every way that we are tempted, yet without sin. He experienced hunger and thirst, and had to depend completely on the Holy Spirit to complete His ministry. He was crucified in weakness, bearing the sins of the whole world. He died as Man, and He died as God.
Because Jesus identified completely with us, He was able to do two great things:
- Jesus freed us from the power of the devil.
Through death He destroyed the works of him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. He then “released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (2:14-15) (1 John 3:8— “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” NASB) Because Jesus overcame, we also overcome. Satan continues to attack Christians who know that they have been delivered from fear and death. The devil uses panic attacks even on the strongest Christian. But Jesus is continually by our side to strengthen us and enable us to overcome. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 NASB)
- Jesus became the Great High Priest.
Jesus had to be born as a full human being. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation (substitution) for the sins of the people.” (2:17 NASB) As completely human, Jesus could make an offering on behalf of people to God. As completely God, He could offer forgiveness and new life. He understands us. He understands you when you are tempted, because He Himself was tempted as a man. And He is able to help us overcome all temptations.
Questions to consider:
- Think again about the great themes of our salvation, as described in this passage. How has your life changed because of this work of God?
- How do you respond to the apostle Peter’s command to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God that we might be exalted? What is your experience of this?
- Are you participating in a Christian community these days? In what ways are you strengthened by community?