You may perhaps recall the late 1980s when George Bush, Sr. made a statement at the United Nations about the “new world order” that had arrived. Conspiracy theorists had a field day, and the word “illuminati” was bandied about. Of course, many evangelical prophecy pundits also jumped on the statement. Eschatological charts came out and we were told to prepare for the antichrist; apparently the beast had just been released! It is now nearly 25 years later and apparently they were wrong. The proclaimed “new world order” has not arrived. Or has it?
Actually, according to Hebrews 2:5-9 it has. But it did not arrive in the 1990s with the proclamation of then President Bush; rather it arrived over 1,900 years ago with the death burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what the writer of this epistle said, and what he expounded concerning this still speaks today. Yes, we live in a new world order. Do you find that hard to believe? Well, I trust that our study will convince you. But further, I trust that, as you are convinced, you will find hope and confidence in the power of the gospel because of the glory and honour of the subject of the gospel: the Lord Jesus Christ, who became better than the angels and who has by inheritance received a more excellent name (1:4).
We will conduct our study under the following five major headings:
- Man’s Intended Destiny (vv. 5-8a)
- Man’s Inevitable Disappointment. (v. 8b)
- Man’s Incomparable Deliverer (v. 9a)
- Jesus’ Intentional Death (v. 9b)
- Your Inescapable Decision
Man’s Intended Destiny
The writer begins this section of his letter by pointing to man’s intended destiny.
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying:
“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
The key to understanding this passage hinges on a couple of things.
First, we must understand the context. In chapter 1, the supremacy of Christ is revealed as being far above that of the angels. It would seem that the Jews by the first century AD were a bit obsessed with angels. In fact, if they had TV back then, no doubt Touched by an Angel would have been a hit, and esoteric bookstores would have experienced a boon in the sale of angelology material.
Of course, as we have seen, angels were involved significantly in mediating the old covenant (Deuteronomy 33:1-2; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). But that covenant was merely a shadow of the new covenant sealed by the death of God’s Son. The writer was urgent to help his readers to see that Christ is so much better than the angels and therefore they needed to pay much closer attention to Him than they ever did to angels. But after this exhortation in 2:1-4, the writer returns to the thought laid down in the opening verses of chapter 1 and develops it further.
He is concerned to give another proof that the Son is far superior to angels. If his readers see this they will be equipped to pay attention to Christ and His gospel, thus being guarded from drifting.
As an important aside, I think that it can be well-substantiated that everything written in the book of Hebrews is an exposition of the revelation found in the opening four verses of chapter 1. Like a symphony, which continues to return to its motif, the book of Hebrews comes back to the opening notes of Hebrews 1, and then beautifully expands on them. One can say that 1:5—13:25 is an exposition of 1:1-4, interspersed with pastoral exhortations along the way.
So the context helps us to come to an understanding of what might appear to be an obscurity in 2:5-9.
Second, and very much related to the context of 1:1-4, the phrase in 2:5—“the world to come of which we speak”—is absolutely key to understanding the author’s argument. It is absolutely vital if we will see the glory and honour of Christ as far above angels, and far above ordinary man for that matter. Once we understand what he is saying here then everything else falls into place.
The phrase “the world to come” must not be merely glossed over, for in fact it is the theme of these five verses. And it is not the first time that the concept it carries has been revealed. It is found in 1:2, where the same concept is translated as “these last days.”
We are informed in 1:2 that the last days—that is, as we have seen, the age of the ending of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant—have arrived. According to Jones,
We must think of how the Old Testament divided history, from the point of view of God’s plan, into two ages. There was “this age (or world)” which stood for the present and “the world” or “age to come” which was the age of the expected Messiah. The transition from the one to the other is referred to as “the end of the ages” (see 9:26). “The world to come” is therefore the final era of God’s redemptive purpose. It corresponds to the “last days.”1
This great and glorious age in which we live is under the sovereign rule of the Son. It is served by angels but ruled by the Son.
Perhaps we should pause here to consider that, in the original creation, angels were indeed emissaries who, though not in control of that world order, were nonetheless heavily involved. That is why, for examples, angels are connected in Daniel’s prophecy to world governments.
And as we will see, that was a fallen world order. But we live in a new creation, a new world order, which is far more glorious. And the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is in charge of it. The Father did not turn this over to angels but rather gave it to His Son, who serves as its King (see 1:5-13).
To summarise, the writer in this passage picks up from where he left off in 1:14 (before making his parenthetical exhortation in 2:1-4).
He now returns to his exposition of why Jesus is so much better than the angels (1:4). And the reason given here is because Jesus is the one who is the sovereign Head of “the world to come.” Though the angels were clearly involved in the original creation, yet now they are servants of those who inherit this new world, while Jesus is the leader of it.
It might be helpful to recognise that the writer makes it clear that this is the issue he has been speaking of all along. He says (literally), “the world to come of which we are speaking.” Robertson consequently writes that the phrase “the world to come” speaks of “the new order, the salvation just described” (1:5-14) and that what the writer is saying is that “God did not put this order in charge of angels.”2
The new world order of worldwide salvation (1:14) is the realm over which angels were not given dominion. In the words of the writer, God did not “subject” this new world order to angels. Strangely, while we would be inclined to think that the writer will immediately tell us just whom God did subject this world order to, he does not. Instead, he quotes Psalm 8 and gives a bit of a history lesson; a lesson that recounts God’s original intention for man in what would become the old world order.
Some would see Psalm 8 as a Messianic Psalm but the Jews never treated it this way. Though it is true that Psalm 8 shows us the ideal man—and, of course, Christ is the ideal man—nevertheless the Psalm is about man as originally created. It reveals God’s intended destiny for Adam and his sons. It reveals what man, and the world, would have been like apart from sin, which actually would have made the new world order redundant. This is the message conveyed by the “one” who “testified in a certain place.” The vagueness of the reference “is consistent with the strong emphasis throughout Hebrews on the oracular character of Scripture. Precisely because it is God who speaks in the OT, the identity of the person through whom he uttered his word is relatively unimportant.”3
And what God spoke through this “one” was that man was created as an object of God’s attention and affection in a way that even angels were not.
When God created man (Adam and Eve) He created them “for a little while lower than the angel” (ESV). And, by the way, as this passage hints, this will one day change; the “little while” will change to glorified man ruling over angels (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:3).
Humans, like the angels, were created beings but were not as exalted a spiritual being as the angels. They were on earth, while angels had access to the heavenlies. Nevertheless, the Lord “remembered” and “visited” them to care for them. As you read Genesis 1—2, it is clear that the Lord provided for all of their needs—abundantly so. Man was God’s crowning achievement; the crown of creation, as it is sometimes called.
God set man over all His earthly creation and told him to have dominion over all. This is spelled out clearly in Genesis 1:26-30 and 2:8-17. Perfectly created man’s intended destiny was to be sovereign over creation under God. The writer of Hebrews then adds the note of emphasis: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.” The crown of creation was to be honoured by the creation over which he was to rule.
But, of course, it must be kept in mind that man’s sovereign rule over his fellow creation was an earthly sovereignty exercised under the sovereignty of God. Hence the proviso in Genesis 2:17 of not eating of the tree in the midst of the garden. Adam and Eve were sovereign over creation, but they were not autonomous.
Now, what can we conclude so far from this? The writer has informed us that angels have not been put in charge of the new world order and for that matter were not even in charge of the old order. They were servants in that order but not the sovereigns.
Man’s Inevitable Disappointment
But the writer goes on to show man’s inevitable disappointment: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (v. 8).
Before revealing for the first time the specific identity of the one who is greater than angels, the author adds a very important and poignant point that creates anticipation for the revelation of this one who is superior. He writes, “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.”
Some erroneously attribute this to Christ in the sense that He is King and yet at the same time not everyone has yet bowed the knee to Him. Though that indeed is true, it is not the writer’s point here. And as I said, Psalm 8 was not a Messianic Psalm under the old covenant usage.
No, the writer is saying is that man’s intended or original destiny has obviously fallen short. Rather than mankind being sovereign over creation, nature is “red in tooth and claw,” and though man claims to be free, in reality he is in chains everywhere.
Anticipation is Making Me Wait
The intention of this passage is thus to set up the anticipation for the revelation of the one to whom the creation will be in subjection. The word “yet” is a word of hope. Ideal man one day will rule over all, but until then there will be disappointment.
The writer uses a word for “see” here that carries the idea of observation: to note things as they are. He is saying that, as we look around, we clearly see that Psalm 8 has not come to pass. And in our case, we simply need to read the daily news to discover this sad reality. The world is a mess and seems to move from trauma to trauma. So-called natural disasters and the perverse and relentless crime that abounds reveal a creation that is in rebellion rather than submission. In spite of all attempts to reform society, world leader after world leader prove to have feet of clay. Every political party, if you scratch deep enough, stinks like every other, and every promising revolutionary proves a disappointment.
Right in their Own Eyes and a Failed State
Someone recently ask me to explain how the horrifically debased and grotesque events of Judges 19 could have happened. The answer is, we have a record there that proves that, until God is our King, everyone will continue to do that which is right in his own eyes. Chaos and corruption will thus continue.
The history of Israel is one of a failed state in spite of even some good kings. I have been reading a biography of George Washington, the first president of the United States (in fact, the first man to hold the office of “President” in the history of the world). I found it somewhat perversely humorous that his biggest frustration for eight years was with Congress, who could not agree on a budget, and the nation therefore faced financial calamity. Does that sound familiar?
Man’s Failure to Rule because of His Failure to Submit
God created man to rule, but man forfeited this dominion when he sinned. God gave Adam and Eve one restriction: They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17). They were to show their submission to God by obeying this rule. But we know that they failed (Genesis 3:1-7). They chose autonomy over submission, and ever since, God’s creation has never been in perfect submission.
My point is—or, rather, the point of the writer is—that man failed to exercise his God-assigned role because he sinned. And he continued to sin throughout history. He sins today. Neither seraphic angel nor sinful man is qualified to rule the world; neither is fit to rule a new order in these last days. But all is not lost, for the word “yet” gives us hope.
Man’s Incomparable Deliverer
Jesus Christ must now enter the scene. For the first time in the letter, Jesus is named: “But we see Jesus” (v. 9). This must surely be one of the most comforting and relieving declarations in all of Scripture! After observing the reality of man’s failure throughout history what wonderful sigh of relief: “But we see Jesus.”
Two words are used for “see” in vv. 8-9. I agree with Westcott, who said that this must have been deliberate and significant. The word used here in v. 9, in distinction to the one used in v. 8, means “to look upon” in the sense of gazing or dwelling upon. Yes, we observe the failure of man, but we must gaze on the triumph of Jesus.
What’s in a Name?
For the first time in this letter, we have a proper name of “the Son” who has been exalted in these verses. And the name given is the very human name “Jesus,” the one who will save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21).
This verse celebrates that, although created man failed to live out the ideal, there was one who did not fail. In fact, He triumphed. The implication, obviously, is that we should not therefore gaze on sinful (because fallen) man, nor should we ever gaze upon angels as the source of our hope. For this Jesus became “so much better than the angels” (1:4).
Jesus was the perfect man. He was the God man. Where the first Adam failed, the Last Adam succeeded. Therefore, all hope is not lost. Paradise lost through Adam has through Christ Jesus our Lord become paradise reclaimed. In fact, more than that, it is paradise recreated (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
Let me ask you: When you see the failure of man, do you gaze on that or do you gaze on Jesus? This question, and how we respond to it, has profound implications.
Again, the point of this passage is that Jesus is the supreme Head of the new world order, of the new creation. Because He succeeded where Adam failed, we are assured that His kingdom has come already, and that one day it will come in fullness. After all, He has been “crowned with glory and honour” (v. 5), a crown that He will wear, and an honour that is His eternally.
And though it is true that even with Jesus as the perfect fulfilment of Psalm 8 we still do not yet see all things put under Him, nevertheless the word “yet” in v. 8 needs to inform our understanding of v. 9. The new world order—the new creation secured under the new covenant—is already, though it is not yet in the sense of completion. One day, however, that will change.
This should increasingly be a concept that guides our thinking when it comes to God’s ultimate plan for His people and for His world. As we have seen, the kingdom has been inaugurated under the new covenant, which the Lord Jesus established so long ago. The new world order is here already. But at the same time it is not yet. That is, it is not here completely; it is not yet here in its fullness. In fact, it is not here even nearly completely. In terms used in the book of Revelation, the “new heavens and the new earth” (chapter 21) have already been ushered in, but they have not yet become all that they one day will be. Let me illustrate this.
I was recently praying for the children who, over the years, we have been blessed to either foster or to have in our home as a place of safety. I try to pray for these children as frequently as I do for my own children—with a specific reference to their coming to experience so great a salvation.
As I did so, at one point when I was praying for a little girl who has subsequently been adopted by a family that I personally know. When she was adopted, her family changed her birth name to Molly. 4 I tried to remember, as I prayed, the name by which we knew her before her adoption. And as hard as I tried, I could not do so. Molly just fits and is how I now know her. In fact, it was not until the next morning, while praying through my prayer book, that I saw her name written down as Anna/Molly. I had added Molly alongside Anna once it looked as if all was solidly on track for her adoption.
Though for several months I called her Anna, that name no longer fits. It just does not feel right if I call her Anna. In fact, once we knew for sure that she was going to be adopted we began to call her Molly. It was, after all, to be her name. At first it seemed awkward, but eventually we became accustomed to it.
In those weeks leading up to her official adoption, though she was already, in one sense, Molly, she was not yet Molly. But on the day of her legal adoption, the adopted name became the norm—so much so that it would be really strange if I called her Anna today.
This is a helpful illustration, I trust, of what “already/not yet” looks like in the Bible. Though we may feel awkward saying that the new heaven and the new earth have come, and though people may look at you as though you have lost your marbles when you tell them that we are living in the millennium, nevertheless it is already true, though not yet. But as with the little girl above, one day the complete new creation will so fill our attention that we probably will no longer be able even to remember the old order. This is the hope offered in this passage. While we tend to see the old order, we need to adjust our attention to gaze on the new creation. That is, we need to see Jesus and the new creation that He has already instituted, but that He will yet one day bring in its fullness.
The Hope of Glory
F. F. Bruce helpfully observes, “The new world-order . . . has been inaugurated by Christ’s enthronement, although it is not yet present in its fullness.”5 This is not merely an eschatological fine point, but rather such a perspective is essential if we will live both productively and hopefully in this life. If we lose this perspective, then we will live in the shadows of the sorrow all around us and will be blinded to what God has promised and to what He is doing. We will lose hope and confidence in the gospel. In fact, as we lose hope in the gospel, we will pretty much lose all hope, for you cannot truly have the one without the other.
In the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo writes a factual account of slum dwellers in Annawadi, a place that she designates an “undercity,” near the airport. Those who have been to Mumbai will perhaps recognise the area. You drive through it both to and from the international airport (though it is slowly being relocated by the local government).
In her book, she writes a factual account from eyewitnesses who live there of the abject poverty, prejudice, corruption and brutal misery that characterises a huge number of Indians who live well outside the comfort of the middle class and far away from the opulence of the wealthy.
As I read the book—not an enjoyable, and yet a helpful experience—I often found myself wondering if there was hope. But constantly I found solace in the recollection of many Indians that I have met over the years who indeed have been saved out such darkness. I once met a man, saved under the ministry of missionaries, who lives in a slum area. The Lord who saved Him is now using him to proclaim the gospel in that same area.
I know another man whose family experienced some of the brutality recounted in the book and, as I read, I remembered how God’s saving grace changed his life. I thought too of another brother and his children who are undergoing the sufferings caused by the sinful behaviour of his wife, behaviour which is all too common in India, and how he is experiencing God’s grace through it all.
Yes, life in so much of the world is like that depicted in the book. Poverty and sinful misery abound and things can appear hopeless. The (unbelieving) author is hopeful that, through economic development in such places, alongside the political and moral will of the Western World, change can occur. I seriously doubt it. However, through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and His rule and reign, wonderful changes can take place. And one day, after human history has run its course under the sovereign hand of God, a glorifying change will definitely take place. The “already” may seem barely visible in places like Annawadi, but the very visible “not yet” will one day give way to a glorious, “Yes! It is here!”
Jesus’ Intentional Death
The second part of v. 9 speaks of “the suffering of death” of Jesus, who was thereby “crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
The Crowning Achievement
“For a little while,” Jesus was made lower than the angels. In His incarnation Jesus laid aside the robes of glory and was even dependant at some point in His life on angels (see Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43). He lived His life perfectly, never once violating the terms of the covenant. And yet He died. How can this be explained? And further, according to the writer, His death in some way was the key to the ultimate fulfilment of Psalm 8. What is the explanation?
Follow the argument. Though it is true that sinful man experiences “the suffering of death,” it is this very death, and the sin that caused it, that disqualifies us from bringing all of creation under our subjection. Yet the author argues that, in the case of Jesus, it was by His death that He arrived at His crowning achievement.
It can indeed be argued that “the main thought of the passage is that man’s promised supremacy, owing to the fall, could only be gained by sacrifice”6—specifically by the sacrifice of this Jesus who was for a little while lower than the angels and yet was crowned with glory and honour.
In other words, not only was Jesus vindicated by the Father by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4), but even as Jesus was on the cross He was “crowned with glory and honour,” for He was sinless. He was the perfect Adam. As Bruce well said, “When one man fails in the accomplishment of the divine purpose, God raises up another to take his place. But who could take the place of Adam? Only one who was capable of undoing the effects of Adam’s fall and thus ushering in a new world order.”7
It has been observed that, in one very definite sense, “Jesus did not come to try to make this world a better place but to make a new world, a new heaven and a new earth, and this he did by dying.”8 In other words, Jesus did not come to reform the world but to recreate it, to completely remake it, and this is why we can say that “His suffering and triumph constitute the pledge of His eternal kingdom.”9
But we must flesh out this last phrase: “that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
The somewhat strange use of the phrase “taste death” translates a verb meaning “to taste with the mouth, from which the metaphorical sense “come to know” develops. It means here that Jesus died, with all that that entails,”10 and as Moffatt translates, it means that it was “a bitter experience, not a rapid sip.”11 The sinless Man suffering death for sinful man; that is grace indeed!
We must remember that the passage is not merely highlighting the deliverance from the penalty of sin, as gracious a thing as that is. (In fact, it is amazingly gracious!) In the context, the writer is speaking of a new creation and the glory of man being restored to what he was created to be. It is speaking of the “glory and honour” that those who have been saved by the grace of God inherit (1:14). Hence, when we read here of the grace of God the author “has in view the gracious disposition of God who addresses man’s failure to achieve his destiny by the provision of a redeemer through whose death many will be led to the experience of sonship and glory.”12
But We See Jesus, and thus Our Future
This glory and honour of Christ, as we have seen, is what God will remake us to be. This is the glorious gospel hope of this passage. I cannot say it any better than Lane: “His coronation and investiture with priestly glory and splendour provide assurance that the power of sin and death has been nullified and that humanity will yet be led to the full realization of their intended glory.”
Indeed, “Man is certainly not as he should be. But, says our author, in Christ’s person we see him as he can be and through Christ’s work we see him as he will be.”13
How are we to interpret the phrase “for everyone”? Does this verse teach universalism (the idea that everyone will be saved)? Hardly—and we know this for at least two reasons.
First, the verses that follow make reference to a particular people who are in view: “many sons”; “brethren”; “seed of Abraham”; etc. Hence “everyone” who is in Christ will be “crowned with honour and glory.”
Second, those envisioned in the context are those who will, by the grace of God, achieve God’s intended dignity for them. And that, quite obviously, is not everyone, as other passages in Scripture make clear.
Yet we must not miss the point that God graciously recreates sinners. If you are one who lives in fear of death and eternal judgement (v. 15), then you qualify as one whom God sent His Son to die for. So repent and believe the gospel—now!
Your Inescapable Decision
You are either in the old Adam or in the Last Adam. That is, you are either represented before the holy and just God in the person of the fallen, failed and flawed Adam of the first old order, or you are in the faultless, successful (because flawless) Last Adam of the new order. And who you are in is how you will be judged by God on that day.
Location, Location, Location
The apostle Paul speaks of being “in Christ” or similar language some 168 times in his writings. You have heard the marketing motto that, when it comes to success, the key is “location, location, location.” Well, most importantly, when it comes to standing before God on Judgement Day, your location is of eternal consequence.
In one sense, the psalmist’s question, “What is man that you are mindful of Him?” receives the expected rhetorical answer, “Actually he is undeserving of God’s ‘memory’ and ‘care.’” But when we ask the question, “What is Jesus that you are mindful of Him?” the answer resounds, “He is worthy of all honour and glory and praise.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is the one we need to represent us. Does He represent you? I trust so, for “man is God’s special creation, designed to serve him and enjoy an eternal destiny of glory. This destiny is fulfilled in Christ.”14 Apart from him life is futile. Turn from your sin and turn to Christ. Begin to fulfil your destiny today. Be a part of God’s new world order. It is here already—though not quite yet.
- Hywel R. Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 22. ↩
- A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 5:344. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 1:46. ↩
- The names in the following account have been changed to protect the individuals and family involved. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 33. ↩
- B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 45. ↩
- Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 35. ↩
- Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews, 25. ↩
- Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 37. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:25. ↩
- A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 5:346. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 1:49. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 56. ↩
- Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 80. ↩