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The Necessity of the Incarnation: Why the Son Drew Near to Man – Part II (Hebrews 2:10-18)

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13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me.” 14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.1

Introduction

I only wish that it was late December so that this lesson could be a Christmas message. Christmas is the time when we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. If we were to select one chapter from the epistles that dealt with the subject of our Lord’s incarnation, I would venture to say that Philippians 2 would probably be the immediate choice of most. That’s a great text, but it is given to us as an example of our Lord’s humility, which we are to follow. It is not an exposition of what the incarnation of our Lord achieved. I do not know of a text that does a better job of this than Hebrews 2. Here, the implications of the incarnation are spelled out in detail, informing us of what God accomplished for us when our Lord added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity. Let us listen well to what our Lord is saying to us in this text, keeping in mind the words that introduce this chapter.

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

The Propriety of the Incarnation
Hebrews 2:10

10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10, emphasis mine).

“For” connects verses 10-18 with what has come before. Specifically, the “For” takes up the argument from verses 5-9:

5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere: “What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him? 7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while. You crowned him with glory and honor. 8 You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

The argument goes something like this:

1. No angel has ever heard these words, which were spoken by the Father to the Son: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet (1:13). No, for they are all servant spirits, whose service is directed toward those who will inherit salvation (1:14).

2. Exhortation: “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (from the Son), for His Word has divine confirmation, and neglecting it has dire consequences (2:1-4).

3. The Father did not subject “the world to come” (about which the author has been speaking in 1:13-14) to angels, but to men (as can be seen in Psalm 8:4-6).

4. Granted, we do not presently see the inhabited world under man’s control. What we do see, however, is the Son (who was made for a little while “lower than the angels”) crowned with glory and honor because (during His time on earth) He suffered death for everyone (2:9).

5. Now, to explain this brief time of being “lower than the angels” (the incarnation and our Lord’s earthly ministry) in more detail, it was completely right and proper for the Father to make the Son – the “pioneer” of man’s salvation – perfect through various sufferings (2:10).

6. Verses 10-18 now detail the various results of our Lord’s incarnation and sufferings, which prove that the time of our Lord’s suffering and humiliation2 was absolutely fitting and proper.

The “him” of verse 10 refers to God the Father, who sent the Son to the earth to be the “pioneer” of salvation. The term rendered “pioneer” has been variously translated as “author” (NASB, NIV), “pioneer” (NET Bible), “source” (CSB), “founder” (ESV), and “captain” (KJV, NKJV). It seems obvious that no one English word fully captures the essence of the Greek word. Having read his article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS),3 I came to appreciate this somewhat expanded definition of the term by Julius Scott, Jr.

“Given its full range of meaning, the word designates an individual who opened the way into a new area for others to follow, founded the city in which they dwelt, gave his name to the community, fought its battles and secured the victory, and then remained as the leader-ruler-hero of his people.”4

“Bringing many sons to glory” might well be an expanded expression meaning “salvation,” but in the light of verses 5-9, it would seem that this expression might refer to salvation as the solution to man’s dilemma of lost authority and glory, as a result of the fall. If this is so, then “bringing many sons to glory” is “restoring many sons to their former, but lost, glory.”

So at this point, the question in everyone’s mind should be this: “How is it that it can be fitting for the Father to ‘perfect’ or ‘make perfect’ the Son by His incarnation and resulting sufferings?” Part of the answer can be seen as soon as one understands the meaning of “make perfect.” Friberg’s5 Greek Lexicon specifically indicates that in Hebrews 2:10, the meaning of the term is “to completely prepare.” After having watched some of the Summer Olympics at Beijing, one might even say, “to qualify.” In order to compete in the Olympics and win a medal, hopeful contestants must first show themselves to be worthy athletes. Thus, they go through a number of “trials,” and having endured these successfully, they are then qualified to compete. In this sense, our Lord’s incarnation and sufferings qualified Him for the work He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary.

But how is it that the incarnation and our Lord’s sufferings (note the plural) were a “fitting” thing for the Father to purpose for the Son? I believe the answer to this question will be found in verses 11-18 of Hebrews 2. Here, the author spells out several of the results of our Lord’s incarnation – results which could not have occurred apart from the incarnation.

We Have Gained a Family
Hebrews 2:11-13

11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:11-13, emphasis mine).

In our text, the one “who makes holy” is the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those “being made holy” are those who have come to faith in Jesus – Christians. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ and Christians “all have the same origin” (verse 11). Literally, the text reads “all are of one.” We find the same expression in Exodus and the Book of Acts:

Their buds and their branches will be one piece, all of it one hammered piece of pure gold (Exodus 25:36, emphasis mine).

From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live (Acts 17:26, emphasis mine).

Exodus 25:36 contains part of the instructions given to Moses pertaining to the making of the lampstand. Moses was told that the buds and branches were to be one piece (literally, of one). In Acts 17:26, Paul is speaking to Gentile pagans in the market place in Athens, and there he says that God created all mankind from one (translated from one man). The sense is clear: all of mankind came into existence through one man, Adam. So, too, while Adam was “the first man,” our Lord Jesus Christ was the “last Adam.”6 While the first Adam’s sin made all men sinners, subject to death, the “last Adam’s” incarnation and sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection was the beginning of a whole new race – the “seed of Abraham.”

For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine).

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, 15 when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed (Ephesians 2:13-16, emphasis mine).

The author’s point in our text in Hebrews is simply this: All who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation have been united with Christ, and we have also become one with all other believers. We are all “of one” and thus we are one family. Christ is “the Son,” a unique identity and role, while we who believe in Him are all “sons of God.”7

To buttress his point, the author now turns the readers’ attention to two Old Testament texts which are presented as three separate citations. The first of these is Psalm 22:22:

    I will tell of Your name to my brethren;

    In the midst of the assembly I will praise You (Psalm 22:22, NASB95).

We should all remember this Psalm by the way it begins:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Psalm 22:1a)

Our Lord cried out these very words from the cross,8 thereby identifying Himself as the fulfillment of Psalm 22, because He is Israel’s Messiah. Thus, the church has always regarded this Psalm to be messianic. It contains elements that were the outgrowth of David’s personal experience, but it goes beyond that to the events related to the cross of our Lord. In verses 1-11, David, the psalmist, agonizes over God’s apparent silence to his cries for help. Verses 12-18 contain details that go beyond David’s experiences to those of the Lord Jesus on the cross:

12 Many bulls surround me;

powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.

13 They open their mouths to devour me

like a roaring lion that rips its prey.

14 My strength drains away like water;

all my bones are dislocated;

my heart is like wax;

it melts away inside me.

15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;

my tongue sticks to my gums.

You set me in the dust of death.

16 Yes, wild dogs surround me –

a gang of evil men crowd around me;

like a lion they pin my hands and feet.

17 I can count all my bones;

my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.

18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;

they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:12-18).

After a passionate plea for help (Psalm 22:19-21), the psalmist now seems assured of God’s help. From here on to the end of the psalm, we find praise, not petition. And this praise begins with the words cited by the author of Hebrews:

I will declare your name to my countrymen!9

In the middle of the assembly I will praise you! (Psalm 22:22)

In ancient Israel, men cried out to God for help in times of distress. And when God delivered them from their difficulties, they would come to the temple and give praise to Him.10 Even Jonah vowed to offer praise and thanksgiving to God in the temple if He would save him from drowning:

9 But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you

with a public declaration of praise;

I will surely do what I have promised.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

10 Then the Lord commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land (Jonah 2:9-10).

In Psalm 22, David cries out for help, vowing to praise God in the midst of His brethren. But when viewed Christologically (as our author does), then we see that our Lord cried out to the Father and was (ultimately) delivered from death by His resurrection. Having been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, the Lord Jesus now declares praise to the Father in the midst of His spiritual family – His brothers and sisters, who have been saved through His ordeal. So, our Lord was saved from death by His resurrection, and thus He praises the Father in the presence of His family. We are saved by His death, and we praise God because we are now a part of His family.

Let us be very clear on this matter. It was because of His incarnation that our Lord could identify with David and thus fulfill Psalm 22. It was only because of His incarnation that our Lord Jesus could call us brothers and sisters. It was because we are all “of one.”

The second set of texts, both from Isaiah 8, are now cited (separately) by our author.

11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am,withthe children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:11-13, emphasis mine).

These citations come from Isaiah 8, so it is not difficult to believe that they are understood by our author to be messianic. After all, Isaiah 8 is surrounded by two of the great messianic prophecies of Isaiah:

14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NASB95).

6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6, NASB95).

Let’s remember the context. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, have joined forces to attack Ahaz, king of Judah. They have laid siege to Jerusalem but have not been able to capture it.11 Ahaz and his people were terrified, but God sent Isaiah to assure them that these two nations would not succeed. In just a few years, they will be neutralized. To confirm this prophecy, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he declined, so God gave him a sign anyway.

13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate. 17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah 7:13-17)

God assured Ahaz that the king of Assyria would come and subdue these two nations which were currently threatening Judah. All of the schemes of Judah’s enemies will come to naught because “God is with them” (this is what “Immanuel” means).

The people of Judah are not to fear men; they are to fear God. But the One they should fear – the Messiah (“God with Us”Immanuel) will be a stumbling stone, rather than their refuge for both Israel and Judah.

13 You must recognize the authority of the Lord who commands armies. He is the one you must respect; he is the one you must fear. 14 He will become a sanctuary, but a stone that makes a person trip, and a rock that makes one stumble – to the two houses of Israel. He will become a trap and a snare to the residents of Jerusalem. 15 Many will stumble over the stone and the rock, and will fall and be seriously injured, and will be ensnared and captured.” 16 Tie up the scroll as legal evidence, seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers. 17 I will wait patiently for the Lord, who has rejected the family of Jacob; I will wait for him. 18 Look, I and the sons whom the Lord has given me are reminders and object lessons in Israel, sent from the Lord who commands armies, who lives on Mount Zion (Isaiah 8:13-18, emphasis mine).

So, both nations – Israel and Judah – will stumble over the Messiah who comes. But there will be a small remnant to whom and through whom God’s covenant promises will be fulfilled. Isaiah will have a small group of followers (or disciples) who will be this remnant. Thus Isaiah can say, “I will wait patiently for the LORD,” or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM.” Isaiah will patiently endure the days of rejection, casting himself upon God until the day when His promises are fulfilled.

We know that the prophecy of Isaiah 7 is to be understood on two levels – the literal level, which will be fulfilled in Isaiah’s days or soon thereafter, and the spiritual (Christological) level, which will be fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. Assuming the Christological interpretation of Isaiah, the author of Hebrews can apply the words of Isaiah to the Lord Jesus. As Isaiah could say, “I will put my trust in Him,” so the Messiah – as He becomes God incarnate, suffers and dies on the cross of Calvary – can say, “I will put My trust in Him.” Thus our Lord utters from the cross,

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And after he said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).

To what extent did the Son of God identify with men and become like them? To the extent that He, like men, put His trust in the Father when facing suffering and death. He trusted in the Father to rescue Him out of death, not to keep Him from death.

Now the writer to the Hebrews moves to the very next verse in Isaiah 8 with these words, “Look, I and the sons whom the Lord has given me.” Just as Isaiah could include his sons among those who were “with him” in trusting God, so our Lord Jesus could include His spiritual children among those who, with Him, trust in God even in the midst of trials and tribulations.

And so we see that our Lord’s incarnation resulted in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of Messiah. And thus it set the stage for His saving work on the cross of Calvary that produced brothers and sisters – a new family.

We Have Lost the Fear of Death through the Defeat of Satan
Hebrews 2:14-15


14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The author of Hebrews is still seeking to show his readers how the incarnation affects them. He has just shown that the incarnation paved the way for our Lord to create a family. Now he will show how the incarnation made it possible for the Son of God to defeat Satan and thus to remove the “fear of death,” by which Satan dominates men.

We need to go back to the beginning to see that the incarnation was necessary for Satan’s defeat. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we read these words:

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:14-15, NASB95).

For the moment, let us note that the One who would destroy Satan is of the “seed of the woman.” Thus, the Son had to take on humanity before He could defeat the devil. The incarnation was necessary for the defeat of Satan.

In order to save mankind (who are “flesh and blood”), the Son must first take on “flesh and blood.” In other words, he must share our humanity so that he could die for man, thereby defeating the one who holds the power of death – the devil. As the appointed time for our Lord’s death drew near, our Lord Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The Apostle Paul speaks of this victory in even broader terms:

11In him you also were circumcised – not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. 12Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. 13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. 14He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. 15Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:11-15, emphasis mine).

The death (and resurrection) of our Lord was the “death of death” for all who trust in Him. And the “fear of death” is Satan’s “foothold” (if I can use the term) on all men. And rightly so, for as the writer to the Hebrews will say, “And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Unbelievers should dread death, for judgment will follow. But those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus are delivered from death unto life. Death becomes the doorway to heaven:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory?Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:21-23).

I should add a few comments on the “fear of death” mentioned in our text. One of the men in our church asked if I would elaborate further on just what the nature of the “bondage” is for man who has “the fear of death.” I consulted the commentaries more carefully, but did not find a very good explanation in any of them. Then, as I reflected on the statement, it occurred to me that the construction can be understood in two different ways:12

“the fear of death” = man’s fear of dying/death

or

“the fear of death” = man’s fear which death produces.

It is true that there is in man a fear of death, a fear of dying and what lies thereafter. But Satan has done an excellent job of blinding the eyes of men, so that many think that death is just the end of it all, with no heaven or hell to follow. In fact, in our culture it seems that some get their thrills from coming as close to death as they can.

But I’m inclined to think that there is a somewhat different kind of “fear of death” than being a fear that death produces. I’m thinking specifically of the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said that in the day they ate of it, they would die. We know that Adam and Eve died physically, but that was many years later – 930 years for Adam!13 There was also a spiritual death that occurred the very day that Adam and Eve sinned. That death is sometimes called “separation from God.” After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves from God. Why? Adam tells us:

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:8-10).

Their spiritual death separated them from God. Now, rather than desiring to enjoy fellowship with Him, they feared God and sought to hide from Him. Is this not true of all unbelievers? While unbelievers may have their false gods, they do not want anything to do with the One True God. They resist God and flee from Him:

10 just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, 11 there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God (Romans 3:10-11).

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? (Romans 5:10)

Is this not a bondage which Satan uses to his advantage? Is this not a fear that keeps men from seeking God? If it were not for a God who sought out sinners while they were His enemies, we would never come to faith. The death of Jesus removes this fear, freeing us to fellowship with God.

We Become Abraham’s Descendants and Heirs to His Covenant Blessings
Hebrews 2:16

For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants (Hebrews 2:16).

Let us remember that God’s covenant was with Abraham and his seed (descendants):

2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:2-3).

4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. 7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:4-7, emphasis mine).

This may not sound that encouraging for those of us who are Gentiles, but the fact is that the gospel is good news for Gentiles as well as Jews. The Scriptures are clear that Abraham’s “seed” includes all those who have trusted in Jesus by faith:

9 Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:9-16, emphasis mine).

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29, emphasis mine).

Thus, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are for all those who trust in Jesus Christ by faith. But how do those blessings come to us? They come through the seed of Abraham. God’s blessings to Abraham and his seed come through Abraham’s “seed.” But who is the seed of Abraham that fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham? The answer is given to us in Galatians 3:

15 Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ (Galatians 3:15-16).

The “seed” through whom the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant come is Jesus Christ. Thus, in order for God to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham, God the Son had to take on humanity. The incarnation was necessary for us to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Because God the Son took on human flesh, we can enjoy His covenant blessings. And now as Abraham’s seed, we become the special objects of God’s affection and attention. He cares a great deal about us because He has purposed and promised to bless us. God’s affection is directed to us14 in a very unique way, a way that is not experienced by the angels. In this sense, man is now “higher than the angels,” through Christ.

We Gain a Merciful and Faithful High Priest
Hebrews 2:17-18

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18, emphasis mine).

In the first verse of our text for this lesson (verse 10) we read,

For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10, emphasis mine).

At the time we were considering this verse, we said that we must wait until later in this chapter for the answer to the question, “Why was it fitting for God to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings?” Now I believe the answer has become obvious. Our Lord had to take on humanity and the sufferings which come with it15 in order to accomplish God’s purposes and promises for man. And here in verses 17 and 18, we see how our Lord’s sufferings perfectly suited Him for the task of being our High Priest. Our Lord underwent various kinds of suffering, and this is why the author speaks of sufferings (plural) and not just suffering (on the cross).

What kind of sufferings would these be? We would first think of our Lord’s sufferings related to His crucifixion and death. Surely it was the ultimate agony to bear the sins of the world and to have the Father (with whom He had enjoyed perfect fellowship) turn His back on Him on the cross. But there was also the suffering of putting up with the unbelief of men:

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him here to me” (Matthew 17:14-17, emphasis mine).

Think, too, of the suffering of having His closest disciples abandon Him and having Peter deny Him. Think about leaving heaven to live in a fallen, broken, world where there is suffering and groaning because of sin and its consequences (Romans 8:18-22).

And yet enduring all of these sufferings served to qualify our Lord for the task of being our High Priest. His sufferings were essential to His atoning work at Calvary, where He bore our sins and endured our punishment so that we could have eternal life. And being made like us in every respect, so that He endured every kind of temptation to the ultimate degree, made Him a High Priest who could identify with us in our weaknesses, trials, and temptations. Not only has He experienced our temptations, He has faithfully endured them all without failure. And He has experienced these tests to a far higher level, to a much greater degree, than any of us. Thus, He can serve as a merciful and faithful High Priest.

Incidentally, our author will soon deal with these two themes, the mercy and faithfulness of our Lord as our High Priest in reverse order. He will first show us how our Lord is our faithful High Priest in 3:1—4:13. Then he will take up His mercy as our High Priest in 4:14—5:10. Thus, the incarnation of the Son, followed by His sufferings, equipped Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest. No wonder it was fitting for the Father to make the Son perfect through sufferings.

Conclusion
What Should the Incarnation Mean to Us?

This conclusion will not be as action oriented as you might expect. Most of us have become accustomed to “what you need to do” conclusions. But while our author does have applications, at this point in time he wants us to focus on who we are and what we have in Christ. He wants us to more fully appreciate the implications of the incarnation. He wants us to realize all that our Lord’s incarnation accomplished for us.

Chapter 1 focused on our Lord as the Son who is infinitely higher than the angels. Chapter 2 has turned our attention to our Lord’s incarnation, when the Son took on human flesh and became, for a little while, “lower than the angels.” But in chapter 2, I do not find any statements like I find in one of the closing verses of chapter 1:

13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? (Hebrews 1:13)

Here, the Son is shown to be vastly higher than the angels in position, power, and prestige. And just as the first chapter closes, we see man elevated above the angels:

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

In this verse, the author tells us that the angels are not only subordinate (inferior) to the Son, he goes on to say that angels are subordinate to man. Angels are ministering spirits, spirits whose mission it is to serve the saints – all those who will inherit salvation. This same emphasis on man’s superiority to the angels follows throughout chapter two. In verse 5 we read:

For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels (Hebrews 2:5).

Thus, it is not angels who will be in charge in the “world to come,” but man, restored to his original place of authority and honor (Hebrews 2:6-8). And then we find this statement in verse 16:

For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants (Hebrews 2:16).

Thus, while man is temporarily “lower than the angels,” he will be “higher than the angels” in the age to come. The author’s point, which we are meant to grasp, is this: The only reason that man will be “higher than the angels” in the age to come – when we inherit salvation and thus fully enter into the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant – is because our Lord has brought it about through His incarnation.

At His incarnation, our Lord left the glories of heaven behind to take on humanity, and to dwell among men, ultimately to die as a man (the unique God-man) for men, so that their sins can be forgiven, and they can be restored to the glory they lost at the fall. After making atonement for our sins, our Lord was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven, and was seated at the Father’s right hand. Because of this, our Lord was exalted above the angels (see 1:13), until the day when He will return to reign over the earth, along with His saints. Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus on their behalf will not only have their sins forgiven, they will be exalted to a position of glory and power as well as our Lord. So our Lord chose to share His glorification and rise to power with His saints, with His “brothers and sisters.” He is exalted and glorified as lost sinners are saved and raised to positions of power and glory.

The Son set aside His glory to restore fallen men to fellowship with God and to positions of power and responsibility in His kingdom. He chose to manifest His greatness through us as we seek to manifest His greatness and glory to others.

And so here are the benefits of our Lord’s incarnation, according to the author of Hebrews:

1. Fallen man is restored to his former glory and authority through the incarnation of our Lord (2:5-18).

2. As a result of our Lord’s incarnation, all believers have become a family (2:11-13).

3. Because of the incarnation, Jesus defeated Satan and his colleagues, so that we are no longer paralyzed with the fear of death (2:14-15).

4. Because of the incarnation of our Lord, we have become Abraham’s seed, and thus are assured that we will enjoy the blessings God promised to Abraham (2:16).

5. Because of the incarnation, we now have a merciful and faithful High Priest (2:17-18).

If, my friend, you have never trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation, these are the things you will miss. How foolish and sad it is for people to reject the person and work of Jesus because they will be left to their own devices, rather than to these divine provisions.

And for those who may be drifting by neglect, these benefits of our Lord’s inclination are the benefits from which we drift. Drifting diminishes our enjoyment of the fruits of our Lord’s greatness and power, manifested in His incarnation.

Let us not drift, but draw near.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 6 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 17, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 I need to be perfectly clear about something here when I speak of the incarnation as something temporary. The Son’s time on earth is referred to as a brief time when He became “lower than the angels” because His humbled state was temporary. But His taking on of human flesh is permanent. At the incarnation, our Lord added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity forever.

3 J. Julius Scott, Jr., JETS, vol. 29, pp. 47-54.

4 J. Julius Scott, Jr., p. 52.

5Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Copyright © 1994, 2000 Timothy and Barbara Friberg. All rights reserved.

6 1 Corinthians 15:45.

7 See Romans 8:14, 19; 9:26; Galatians 3:26; 4:4-6.

8 Matthew 27:46.

9 A translator’s note in the NET Bible reads:

Or “brothers,” but here the term does not carry a literal familial sense. It refers to the psalmist's fellow members of the Israelite covenant community (see v. 23).

I am not certain that “countrymen” conveys the ‘covenant community’ any better than “brethren.” I am certain that the writer to the Hebrews sees it differently – in a literal familial sense.

10 See, for example, Psalm 9:1-2; 13:1-6; 26; 27:4-6; 30:8-12; 35:18.

11 Isaiah 7:1.

12 In the Greek text, a word in the genitive case can be understood as either objective or subjective.

13 Genesis 5:5.

14 Those who have become the seed of Abraham through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

15 See Romans 8:18-25.

Related Topics: Incarnation