We talk a lot about maximizing our potential, but what is our potential as humans? In this passage we see that we were created for a kind of glory, and Jesus is the way to it.


Hebrews 2:5-18

Hebrews 1-8 (WBC)William Lane

Hebrews: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary, Thomas Schreiner

Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, Cyril of Alexandria

Sermon Transcript

Theologian J.I. Packer once described the 20th century pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones as the greatest man he ever knew. That’s high praise: The greatest man he ever knew. I wonder who you might name to that position. We’d probably all be flattered if anyone named us that way, but most of us aren’t living for that. Only one person can be the greatest, after all. It would be more common today to talk merely of reaching our own highest potential. Not all of us can be the greatest human who ever lived, but we can all be the greatest version of ourselves, the thinking goes, and there is no doubt some wisdom in that. But how do you know what’s a better version of you, and what’s a worse version? Such a notion assumes a certain ideal, a certain destiny even, that defines your potential, and to which you can get closer or further away. In the passage on which we are focusing today in the book of Hebrews, we do find that we as humans all were created with a certain destiny in view, and, good news: It is a glorious one, perhaps not glorious in the ways we might assume, but truly glorious. We were destined for true glory. Yet, this passage also shows us that we haven’t reached it, and goes even further to show us that the way to reach it is not via our efforts at self-improvement. Instead, Jesus is the way to true glory, because he’s already entered it, and because he is able to take you with him.


He’s already entered it


Our text begins in verse 5 with the word “for”, connecting it to what came before. By way of review, then: In the second half of chapter 1, the author labored to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus to the angels. Jesus is the Son, while God commanded angels to worship the Son. Angels are creatures, while Jesus is the creator. Jesus rules with God, while angels are servants of God. Then in chapter 2, the inference the author draws from that is that we must therefore pay much closer attention to the message we have heard from Jesus than the fathers of the Jewish nation did to the message they heard from angels, which was the law of Moses, contained in the early pages of our Bibles, because if they were justly punished for refusing that message, how much more will we be justly punished if we neglect the message of salvation delivered by Jesus, who is greater than the angels?


That gets us up through verse 4 of chapter 2, and then verse 5 begins with “for”, meaning what follows is another support for this basic idea that we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard from Jesus than the fathers did to what they heard from angels, and the reason now is because it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which he is speaking. Scripture everywhere speaks of a world that now is, the one in which you and I live, which we saw at the beginning of Hebrews we are in the last days of, and the world that is to come. Think about how you use your money, your time, your energy, what gets you excited, and what makes you anxious: Are you living as though this world is ultimate? It isn’t. There is a world to come, and in that world to come, angels will not be the highest beings. Rather, almost surprisingly, humans will be.


So in verse 6, the author quotes from Psalm 8, a Psalm in which the Psalmist reflects on the grandeur of God and his creation, and asks, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Reflecting on the creation of humanity, male and female, the Psalmist says that God made him for a little while lower than the angels. When God created the first humans and put them on earth, they were lower than the angels in a very literal sense: They lived on earth, while the angels lived in the heavenly realm, in the immediate presence of God. Yet their position was still a glorious one, because God put everything in subjection under man’s feet. In Genesis 1:28, after God made man in his image, male and female, he said: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Under his loving rule, God gave humanity rule over all that he made, and God therefore commissioned them to exercise that rule.


Our author here, then, after quoting Psalm 8, explains it to us: Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. But then he makes an observation: At present, in this world, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. The author recognizes that the original mandate God gave humanity to “have dominion” over all that he made is incomplete in the present world. Though God gave humanity that dominion mandate in Genesis 1, in Genesis 3, when we had an opportunity to exercise it, we failed to do so. In Genesis 3, one of the beings God made, a serpent, came and tempted our first parents to eat from the tree of which God had commanded them not to eat, and instead of exercising dominion over the serpent, they let the serpent exercise dominion over them and obeyed its voice over God’s voice. Since then, we have all joined them in worshiping and serving things God made, rather than exercising dominion over them. Instead of exercising dominion over our money and using it for the glory of God and the good of others, we love and serve it, and live simply to accumulate more of it. Instead of exercising dominion over food and receiving it with thanksgiving to enjoy and use for the glory of God, our appetite for it controls us. Instead of exercising dominion over similar appetites for sex, rest, and entertainment, these things tend to control us.


We see here, then, both the glorious potential of humanity, and the sad reality of humanity in this present world. Our world often tells some humans, whether explicitly or implicitly, that they are without worth, dignity, or value. We find all sorts of reasons to do so: one’s wealth, one’s education level, one’s abilities, one’s skin color, one’s body composition, and many more. But if you are a human being, you have been crowned with glory and honor by God himself as one of his very images, and you were destined to rule with your fellow humans, under his loving rule, over all that he made. God created you with that capacity; do you believe that? The world tells many they are worthless, but on the other hand, many in our world have now recognized the problems with that, and so there is also a strong narrative of total affirmation for humans in this present world. The Bible doesn’t do that either, though. It notes the glorious destiny of humans, but also the sad reality of humanity in this present world. You and I do have a real sin problem. We do not yet see everything in subjection to us, and no amount of discipline, positive self-talk, or technology will change that.


Most Christians struggle with doubts of varying degrees of strength, but one thing that God has used to keep me believing amid those doubts is how much better the Bible explains humanity than anything else out there. We all seem to sense that we exist for more than what we presently are, that we have a glorious destiny, but also a sad reality that falls short of it, and the Bible explains that through its doctrines of creation (our original honor and glory), fall (our sad reality), and consummation (our glorious destiny). If you compare that to a typical Darwinian, materialistic account of humanity, which is the major alternative on offer in America at least, where we are merely the product of natural selection operating on random genetic variation, the possibility certainly exists that we will evolve into something else, but there is no real coherent way to speak of our evolving into something more or less glorious, because there is no ultimate value system by which one stage of evolution can be declared more glorious than the other, and there is no destiny for which we were made, because there is no maker. Yet who of us lives as though there is no true “better” for humanity, no greater glory, to which we can attain? The Bible explains that better: We were created glorious, for the glorious end of ruling over all that God made under God’s loving rule, but the sad reality is that because of sin, we do not now see everything in subjection to us. Is there any hope, then, for us?


There is, because what we do see, according to verse 9, is one man: Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In Jesus, our humanity has reached its glorious destiny, its maximum potential. He is the fulfillment of Psalm 8, the new man, and the head of the new humanity to whom God subjected the world to come. Look at how he fulfills Psalm 8 according to verse 9: First, he was for a little while made lower than the angels. Though we saw in chapter 1 that he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, in becoming man, he became lower than the angels. In fact, he went even lower than the created state of humanity, in which we were created lower than the angels. He entered into the fallen state of humanity, not in that he became a sinner, but by becoming a human under the curse of sin: Death, in order that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. When we die as sinners, that’s by the justice of God: Death is the penalty for sin. But when Jesus, the sinless one dies, that’s by the grace of God: For everyone as verse 9 says, rather than for himself.


And then, because he willingly went that low, God raised him from the dead and crowned him with the glory and honor for which we were destined, seating him at his right hand, high above even the angels. He is the fulfillment of Psalm 8. He has entered the glory for which we were created. Angels have not; it was not even to them that God subjected the world to come. We have not; we do not yet see everything in subjection to us. And, therefore, we must pay much closer attention to the message of salvation we have heard from Jesus than to any other message, even the law God gave through Moses, that was delivered by angels.


There is a way of reading that law as though it were the path to glory. In it, various blessings such as fruitful crops, many children, victory over enemies, and long life in this present world are promised to those who obey. So, there you have it: Do what God tells you to do, and you’ll attain glory in this present world. However, that wasn’t God’s intention in giving the law. Instead, God’s intention was that through it we’d realize we don’t keep his commandments, and therefore in this life there isn’t a path free of suffering and death. God’s intention was that through it we’d learn to look for a world beyond this present world, a world to come, in which we reach our glorious destiny. Even the messages you hear from other humans today promise little more than glory in this present world. Most of them won’t work at all; you’ll spend your life climbing a ladder to nowhere if you give yourself to them. But even if hypothetically they did work, and you climbed to highest possible glory in this present world, even if it lasted for another two thousand years, one day it would still end when this present world ends. That’s not the true glory for which you were destined. You were made to rule over the world to come. That’s the glory into which Jesus has entered, and because he first tasted death for everyone by the grace of God, he is able to take you with him.


He is able to take you with him


Verse 9 leaves us with a question. Why did Jesus have to die? Verse 9 clearly tells us that he was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. It clearly tells us that he died for others, not for himself. But why did he have to die at all? Let’s look at how the author begins to build to that answer in verse 10. Why did Jesus have to die? First, he says, because “it was fitting” that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, that’s God, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. So here’s the first basic reason Jesus had to die: Because God wanted not only to bring him to glory, but to bring many sons to glory. And that makes sense doesn’t it? The Son was already glorious, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. So the fact that God sent the Son at all, the fact that he became lower than the angels for a little while at all, already implies that God didn’t send him for his own sake, but so that other sons would be brought to glory with him. And no, sons there doesn’t just mean men; the image is rather of the royal sonship, the heir, so only the word son is used, although women too are co-heirs with Christ, the ultimate Son.


God willed to bring many sons to glory, and so it was fitting that he make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Perfect there doesn’t mean morally perfect, as though he were born sinful and had to become perfect. It refers more to bringing him into the perfected state of humanity, that glorious destiny about which we’ve been speaking. The word translated “founder” in “founder of our salvation” is notoriously difficult to translate: champion or pioneer are other possibilities, but the simplest one may actually be “leader”. And if Jesus is the one who leads us to salvation, it is fitting, that he would first walk the path of our salvation before us. For, verse 11, he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. We’ve got a new word there, so I better define it briefly. To sanctify something in the Bible it to make it holy, which means to set it aside for God’s exclusive glory. Throughout the Bible God is the one who makes something holy, but then it was the job of priests to set it aside as holy. So, for example, in the tabernacle God said they were to keep a lampstand, but it was the job of the priest then to take a common lampstand and declare it holy, set it apart, sanctify it, for use in the tabernacle. Or more to the point of Hebrews, it was the job of a priest, when the people became unclean, to offer a sacrifice of a bull or a goat on behalf of the people, which God ordained to restore their purity, to sanctify them once again. But the reason the priests could do that on behalf of the people is because they themselves were people. The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified must have the same source.


Therefore, it was fitting that God, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of our salvation like us in every way except sin. Think of it like this: To serve as a senator from Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, you must yourself reside in Pennsylvania. The idea of that is that you aren’t qualified to represent us in the senate if you aren’t one of us. Sometimes candidates try to fudge that; Mehmet Oz spent most of his life elsewhere, but in 2020 he moved to Pennsylvania in preparation for his senate run. Many Pennsylvania residents didn’t like that, because how can you represent us if you haven’t actually gone through what it’s like to live in Pennsylvania winters, to drive on Pennsylvania roads, to pay Pennsylvania taxes, to make Pennsylvania wages, to send your kids to Pennsylvania schools, to deal with Pennsylvania crime, and so on? But if someone wasn’t born here, and nonetheless lived 30 years of his or her life here, we’d all probably recognize them as capable of representing us. We sense intuitively that you must truly become one of us, and even suffer with us, to represent us. It was fitting, then, if Jesus was going to represent us who can only reach glory now through the suffering of death, that he too would only reach it through the suffering of death.


In fact, he’s not only moved to our state and called us neighbors; he’s called us brothers, and in verses 12-13 the author provides three proofs, again from the Old Testament scriptures, which he again sees Jesus fulfilling: In the first, he identifies with the congregation, and joins us in singing God’s praises. Think about how crazy that is, how incredibly humble that is, that the one who is himself the radiance of the glory of God would become so low as to assume the position with us of singing God’s praises. And again, verse 13, “I will put my trust in him.” The one worthy of all trust became a human who needed to trust. And again, to finish off the quotations, he speaks of us as the children God has given him. In saying this, he anticipates being in glory, not alone, but with all the children God has given him.


Think about how often we long to be associated with the most glorious of this present world. I remember when LeSean McCoy was in his prime as a star running back for the Eagles, and my 20-something self just couldn’t resist the urge to tell people that I played against him in basketball in high school, so, you know, we were basically best friends. I’ve matured a bit sense then, but doesn’t that urge seem to come naturally to us? Similarly, doesn’t the urge to distance ourselves from those who are more shameful in the present world also come naturally to us? So here’s the crazy thing this is saying about Jesus: He’s the truly glorious one, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, but instead of being ashamed of us, he so humbled himself and become one of us as to say of us, with all our sin, with all our mess: “Hey! That’s my brother!” Isn’t that a taste of true glory, if Jesus himself isn’t ashamed to call you his brother?


And because we share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things. If he was going to be our brother, he had to share our flesh and blood. If we he was going to be our representative who sanctifies us, he had to share our source. So he had to partake of flesh and blood, in order, continuing in verse 14, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. Make no mistake about it: Jesus became human in order to die. He did not most fundamentally become human to give us an example of how to live fully human lives. He did not most fundamentally become human to teach and speak to us as a fellow human, so we could understand it. He most fundamentally became human to die. That’s the clear teaching of verse 14, and Jesus himself said he came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).


And, verse 14 adds to the answer to the question verse 9 posed: Why did Jesus have to die? We already saw one part of the answer: It was fitting that if God wanted to bring many sinful humans to glory, that he would bring the leader of their salvation, their representative, to glory through the suffering and death by which they would now have to enter it because of their sin. Now the reason is further fleshed out: that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. The devil is a real spiritual being, himself a fallen angel, who had the power of death. That doesn’t mean he has the power to kill whomever he wants whenever he wants. Only God has that power (Deut 32:29), and in the book of Job even, we see the devil having to ask God’s permission to take life, God forbids it, and the devil then cannot do it (Job 2:1-8).


The devil has the power of death, rather, in that he is in charge of hell, and it is by death that condemned sinners enter into hell. Where scripture tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, the devil very much does. Death is his friend, his instrument, to get more souls under his dominion forever. But Jesus destroyed this power of the devil by his own death. Since Jesus has died, the power of sin to condemn those for whom he died has been broken. When they die, they won’t be going to hell anymore. And therefore, the effect on them is that they no longer need to fear death. So verse 15 goes on to say that in his death, Jesus intended to deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. All of us have feared death to some extent. If you have never consciously feared it, it can only be because you are actually so afraid of it that you have not truly faced it. That’s the common approach, isn’t it, especially among younger people? Just try not to think about it. Because if you do, it’s naturally scary. We were not created to die, but we know deep down that we will, that after that comes judgment, and that none of us has the righteousness that God requires to be justified in his sight on that day in ourselves. That’s scary. Even if you are here today and you are not a Christian, you must realize that you will die one day. What do you think happens after that? The materialist account that is again so common in America is that since consciousness is merely a product of our materiality, once we die, our consciousness dies too. We simply cease to exist, just as we did not exist before we were born. If you really think about that, that too is a scary thought. I understand, of course, that books are being written and therapists are doing their best to find a way to make that less scary, but has it really freed you from the fear of death?


The fear of death is a real slavery. That’s what our text tells us here. It says it is a lifelong slavery, or at least that it was before Christ came. As long as you fear death, you will always feel bound. There will always be certain things you cannot do, even if they are the right things, because they carry with them the threat of death. Even when the threat is small, we are so afraid of death that we magnify it. That’s what it is like to be under a lifelong slavery. There were certain things the Hebrews might not do because of the threat of death. Perhaps they would not continue publicly professing their faith in Christ, because it might cost them their lives. We have brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world for whom that is a present reality. There is a real way out of that slavery, though, that is not merely the product of wishful thinking or positive spin! There is really one who has died, who has destroyed the power of the devil over death, and who can now deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery, and verse 17 explains to us how his death accomplishes that.


There we come across this description of Jesus as a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, which was alluded to earlier in verse 11 with the language of the one who sanctifies us. And here’s what he does to sanctify us, according to verse 17: He makes propitiation for the sins of the people. Made like us in every way, he is able to represent us, and as our representative, he makes propitiation for us. That is not a common word for you I imagine. It comes from the word propitious, which is an older English word that refers to being favorably inclined toward someone. If I am favorably disposed toward you, I am propitious toward you. To make propitiation, then, in a priestly context, is to offer a sacrifice that renders a god propitious toward you. It appeared in pagan religion: You make a god angry, you have to offer him a sacrifice to make him propitious once again, and in so doing, you make propitiation.


Now, the God of the Bible is nothing like the gods of paganism. He is a pure spirit, without body or passions, and certainly without the kind of petty jealousy that often invokes the anger of the false gods in pagan legend. Rather, he is a just God, and as a just God, he is righteously angry with our sin. That’s why the curse of death was first pronounced. That’s why the devil has the power of death: He knows that sinners will be condemned in it. That’s why we rightly fear death apart from Christ’s death on our behalf. And yet God, in his grace, rather than requiring us to make propitiation for our sins, has sent forth his Son, to be made like us in every way, in order that he might make propitiation for our sins by the offering of himself to death on our behalf. That’s why death no longer means condemnation for those who believe; that’s why they need no longer fear death. Though they will die, they know now that they will live, for the wrath of God against them has been satisfied in the death of Christ, and will never be poured out on them.


And so, in summary, verse 18: Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Imagine the suffering he went through when he was tempted. Part of us likes being tempted, because we still have sinful desires that enjoy it. But he was entirely pure. We are attacked by a force that part of us likes, but he was constantly under the attack of a force he hated. Not only that, but resisting the temptation exposed him to further suffering! Resisting the temptation meant for him obeying all the way to the cross, on which he died no ordinary death, nor even a merely physically painful death, but the hellish torments of suffering under the wrath of God, when he was the one human who did not deserve it. Are you weary in the battle against sin today? Does the suffering of such a struggle sometimes feel like too much to bear? Do you ever wonder how someone like you could possibly make it to heavenly glory? It’s a fair question to ask, but don’t assume that because your temptations are intense, and perhaps you’ve even given in, that therefore you must keep your distance from Jesus. Don’t let a low sense of your ability to resist temptation diminish your sense of Jesus’ ability to help those who are being tempted. Draw near to him instead. He suffered when tempted specifically so that he could help people like you. He is able to represent us before God as the propitiation for our sins, and therefore he is able to take us who are tempted and suffer here on earth with him to glory.


And the obvious implication here is that the angels are not, nor is anyone else. Sometimes Christians are accused of being exclusive because we claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven, as though we say that because we think we’re better than everyone else and just long to exclude others who don’t happen to agree with us. But can you see now why that’s not the case? Can you see now why it must truly be the case that Jesus is the only way to true glory? All humans were created for a glorious destiny, to rule with their fellow humans under God’s loving rule over all that God made. Yet all humans share in a sad reality: We have sinned, and worship and serve God’s creation, rather than ruling over it. Therefore, all of us, by nature, are under God’s wrath, under the sentence of death he pronounced on human sin, and therefore under the power of the devil, destined to spend eternity with him, unless someone makes propitiation for our sins, enters into our destined glory, and then takes us to be with him there. We don’t say there is no other way because we don’t like non-Christians; we say there is no other way because only Jesus has done this! Only Jesus has become human, made propitiation for our sins, and risen from the dead to the glory for which we were destined, and therefore Jesus is the only way to true glory.


Do you see the humility of Jesus, that he would leave the glories of heaven to be made a little lower than the angels? Do you see the love of Jesus, that he would call us brothers while we were yet sinners? Do you see the mercy of Jesus, that he would offer himself, his own very life, as the propitiation for our sins, to take upon himself the wrath of God that we deserved but he did not? And do you see the faithfulness of Jesus in his ongoing willingness and ability to help those who are being tempted? Let today be the day you think about the reality of death. Let today be the day you really weigh the reality of standing before the judgment seat of a holy God, and go to Jesus, by faith, for salvation from the wrath to come. You may be weighed down with temptation and sin, but because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. In fact, he is the only one who can truly provide the help you truly need. And when you consider that, alongside his infinite humility, love, mercy, and faithfulness, why ever look for another way?