Sermon preached on Hebrews 2:5-9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/15/2018 in Novato, CA.
“A Little Lower Than the Angels”
In a sense, the world is not what it should be, or at least not what it could have been. This world is full of problems, full of sorrows, full of things outside of our control. Mankind has tried many different solutions to the problems of this world. Yet, many problems still exist. As Christians, we know that the root of all these issues is mankind’s fall into sin. We also know the solution is Jesus. So far, our study through Hebrews has certainly be exalting Jesus Christ as our glorious and exalted savior. Yet the skeptic asks, if Jesus is the solution, then why do we still have all these problems? Has the Bible claimed a victory that doesn’t fit with reality? Well the answer is, “No.” Rather, the Bible very much describes all this, our current reality. The Book of Hebrews describes this. Our passage for today describe this, with the help of Psalm 8.
Let’s begin there today, with Psalm 8. This is the passage quoted in verses 6-8. It’s Psalm 8:4-6. This excerpt from Psalm 8 is good snapshot of the whole psalm. The psalm is a psalm of praise, giving God glory for how he created mankind. The psalm begins by considering the glorious heavens, and by extension how great God is who created the heavens. The psalm then expresses awe and appreciation that such a glorious and exalted God would have any regard for man. As we see here in verse 6, the psalm asks, “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him?” The psalmist expresses what every human should express: why would this great God take notice of me?
The psalm goes on to clarify what it specifically has in mind. Look at verse 7 here, “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.” This is talking about mankind and the created order. In terms of created things, God is over all. But then in one sense, angels are next. Then you have humans. Then you have all the other creatures on earth. In terms of the position of angels, the Song of Moses, according to the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls says in Deuteronomy 32:8, that when God first divided up the nations, he did it according to the angels of God. That seems to describe angels in some sort of oversight role over humans. That complements what we see in Daniel 10 when three angels are mentioned as princes over nations; one as a prince of Persia, one as a prince of Greece, and one as a prince of Judah. Similarly, we see both angels and demons described in Ephesians as rulers and principalities. So, at a bare minimum, we can think of angels being over us humans in terms of authority or hierarchy. We could probably consider some ways in which angels are greater than humans as beings, them living as glorious spirits in heaven, we living here on earth both body and spirit, with various bodily limitations. But I digress. The point is we can think of ways in which Psalm 8 is correct in stating the humans were made a little lower than the angels.
Yet, that description was not meant as derogatory. The Psalm goes on to talk of how exalted in fact humans are. We are just below angels, but stand in glory and dominion over all the rest of creation. For this, we must remember back to Genesis. In the beginning, when God made the creatures of this world, he made us humans last. And he made us different and special. He made us in God’s own image, with a knowledge, righteousness, and holiness that the other creatures were not capable to possess. And not only that, he issued that cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, endowing man with the authority and responsibility to exercise dominion over all the creatures. As those in made in God’s image, He made us to be a god to all the other creatures on earth. On a related note, you’ll notice that the mandate in Genesis 1:28 is limited to the earth; that would clearly imply that we were not given authority there over the angels in heaven. And so, as we read this Psalm 8, we can think especially of Adam when it talks of the son of man. But we can also think of all humanity after him. This is how God created the world. This is the created order God established. It should again make us join the psalmist in praising God, saying, “What is man that you are mindful of him!”
And yet, despite being created in such a place of privilege and authority, we know where we are now. Yes, for a time, mankind enjoyed peace in the garden. Adam tended that Garden of Eden and cared for it. In gladness, Adam and Eve enjoyed the fruits of that garden for food. God brought all the living creatures before Adam, and he named them. The cultural mandate was being lived out. But then we come to Genesis 3. There, arguably a failing in dominion was part of that fall into sin. when that devil came up to Adam and Eve. Yes, one the one hand he was a fallen angel. On the other hand, he came in the form of a serpent, a created thing on earth. Why Adam didn’t strike dead that blasphemous snake where he stood, I don’t know. But he didn’t. Eve listened to the serpent, and Adam listened to his wife, and we all fell into sin. From there, the Bible records how he cursed the earth. Yes, we were still to exercise dominion, but that dominion would not come easy. Our daily callings in this world would be full of misery, and we all would ultimately be subject to death. That’s what God said would happen; that death would come to us in this world on the day we ate of it. We’ve been living out the troubles of that ever since.
Notice the trouble as we see in verse 8 in our passage. It references how the psalm says that God put all things under man’s feet. It speaks of how complete of a statement that is; of how wide-reaching authority that is. Everything must mean everything. Obviously, God himself is not included as the one who gave such authority. But then notice the last part of verse 8. “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” The reason for this is clear. It’s the fall into sin and death that we just mentioned. It’s because we now live in a cursed world because of that sin. Think about our attempts at dominion. We try to grow plants for food and we have trouble with things like weeds and famine and crop-destroying insects. We try to control weeds with weed killer and insects with insecticides, but those can create problems of their own. We try to solve famine and drought with irrigation and aqueducts, but we still struggle to get that right, just drive down the 5 Freeway. Wild animals still attack people sometimes and kill them; I fight almost daily with the raccoons on my deck! Viruses and bacteria literally plague us and kill us. I could go on and on. This world is not in subjection to us like it should be.
This brings us then to our second point, to see how Hebrews relates this psalm to Jesus. Psalm 8 relates what God made man to be, but we have royally messed it up. Yet, God has sent his Son, Jesus the Christ, the second Adam, to be the solution. The turn to Jesus comes explicitly in verse 9. We don’t see humans with everything under our feet, but we do see Jesus, who [also] was made a little lower than the angels! See how that immediately puts Jesus into Psalm 8. Yes, from his divinity, he existed before this world and in his divinity sits in the highest place as God the Son. But when verse 9 says that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, that is speaking about the incarnation. (This would be a good Christmas sermon.) Jesus was God of God and Light of Light from all eternity. But at the incarnation, he also became human. I would even say he became the human of all humans. Having not been born by ordinary generation, he wasn’t not born with a sinful nature like us. And so, he became the best human, the human par excellence, the human that we were all meant to be! And yet, in the incarnation, he entered into this lower-than-angels position. Similarly, Jesus was still born into this fallen world with all its problems. And his human body likewise suffered because of that. At times he hungered and thirst. He experienced the miseries of this life. This inherently came along with the Son taking on human flesh.
Yet, it was for good reason that the Son humbled himself to be a little lower than the angels. It was the requirement in order for him to do what it says he did in verse 9. He tasted death for everyone. (I guess this would also be a good Easter or Good Friday sermon too.) Jesus died in the place of sinners; that’s substitutionary atonement. This was a function of God’s grace, that Jesus’ death would atone for the sins of his elect and save them from the power and sting of death. This is not something God the Son could have done in his divinity. So, he had to become man, to become that second Adam, made a little lower than angels, in order to actually die in the place of other humans. On the cross, he bore God’s wrath due for sin.
But that wasn’t the end of the story, nor is that all we “see” now. Verse 9 says that we see not only the crucified Jesus. It also says we see the Jesus who has been crowned with glory and honor. In case you missed it, that is quoting Psalm 8. It’s applying Psalm 8 to him. It’s again sticking Jesus into the psalm. This reference to Jesus being crowned with glory and honor should immediately remind us of everything we’ve already read in Hebrews so far. We’ve repeatedly read of how Christ was exalted after his death. This happened in his resurrection and ascension, where he was given a name more excellent than angels, and seated in the highest place of authority, at the right hand of the Majesty on high. In short, Jesus fulfills Psalm 8 in the grandest and most glorious way. It’s like what Hebrews says here in verse 8 that when the psalm says he put all under his feet, it meant all. The point would include angels. Hebrews sees Psalm 8 pointing to how man made a little lower than the angels would ultimately come to even be over angels. That has happened in Jesus, crowned with glory and honor. This Hebrews declare of Jesus! This is our position and standing as well as those who are in union with Christ; as those who are in Christ by faith.
And yet I point you back to the end of verse 8. Right now, we don’t see mankind having subdued all things. We rightly can apply that to Christ and even say the same thing of him. Yes, Christ reigns on high right now, ascended in highest glory and authority. He already is king over all. But not everything is in willful submission to Christ right now. He’s their Lord, but many yet rebel. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, also quoting this line from Psalm 8, Jesus will reign on high while he puts all his enemies under his feet. And 1 Corinthians 15:24 Paul says that Jesus won’t complete all this until the very end. The end of what? The end of this present age, which of course will then usher in the age to come. So then, this leads us then to our third point. To see that the final realization of salvation looks beyond this age. It looks to the world to come, mentioned in verse 5.
You see, this is the whole point for today. We started our message asking about why there was still problems in this world if Jesus has come as our savior? Man was created to be in dominion over this world, but we don’t yet know this dominion like we will. Jesus came to begin to solve that problem, but this passage shows us that the salvation will not be complete until the world to come. We see that right in verse 5, which is what sparked this whole discussion in Hebrews of Psalm 8. Look at verse 5. “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.” In case you didn’t realize it, what we’ve studied in our first three sermons in Hebrews and what we studied today from Psalm 8, we’ve ultimately been talking about the world to come! Yes, in some sense we’ve certainly spoken of this world. But Hebrews has primarily been thinking about the world to come.
Some of the more obvious references are when you look at verses 1-4, we see the discussion of former times and the last days. Well, what comes after the last days? It’s the world to come. When verse 14 speaks about us who will inherit salvation, what is he talking about? Well, he speaks of us who will be saved from this present evil age and brought into the glorious world to come. In chapter 2:1-4, when he contrasts our great salvation versus God’s coming wrath, that looks to the end and to the age to come. God’s wrath happens at the end of this present age on that final day of judgment. Afterwards, the saved, enter into the glory of their salvation as they are ushered into the world to come.
When he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 8, he has in mind how he brings it to fulfillment in the world to come. In fact, in essence, that’s where Jesus has already entered into. When he rose from the dead, he entered that resurrection life which is properly thought of as belonging to the world to come. When he ascended up into heaven, he entered into that place of dominion which is properly thought as belonging to the age to come. We’ll be seeing this in various ways in the book of Hebrews. For starters, we see it with the word used here and in chapter 1 for “world”. The word for “world” in chapter 1, verse 6, is the same Greek word as in chapter 2, verse 5. It’s not the most specific word for “world” but rather could be translated literally as the “inhabited” place. This world occurs only twice in the book of Hebrews, in these two places. In contrast, the more specific Greek word for world appears five times in Hebrews. And so, arguably this word for “world” used in both chapters 1 and 2 refer to the same thing. In other words, some scholars have concluded that the “world” in chapter 1, verse 6 is also referring to the world to come. The context of chapter 1 is full of references to Christ in his exalted state. It would make most sense to think that 1:6 is referring how when Jesus ascended up into heaven he was entering into that world to come, and then the angels were called to worship him as the exalted Messiah King who had then been given the higher name and rank and seated at God’s right hand. The fact that 1:6 just says world might be for literary reasons; to get you to start pondering about this inhabited place and then clearly declaring it in 2:5. As he says finally there in 2:5, this is the world he’s been talking about; the one that is to come.
Well, whether that point from 1:6 is compelling to you at this point, I believe the larger point will increasingly become clearer as we go through this book. For Jesus the Messiah to ascend into the glory of heaven is for him to enter proleptically into the world to come. It will become clear that the heavenly realm more so belongs to the world to come. Remember, Jesus said he went up into heaven in order to prepare a place for us, so that he can then take us there at the end. Or similarly, in Revelation, the world to come is pictured as a city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, and being established on a new, renewed earth. That is the world to come in its fullness where we will dwell with God forever. Similarly, this is why under the old covenant they would get glimpses of heavenly things and build them on earth, like the tabernacle. But Hebrews will talk later about Jesus offering himself not in an earthly tabernacle but in the real heavenly one. The Old Testament tabernacle was only a type and shadow. The substance is in heaven, and in the world to come we’ll experience it in the full, consummate reality. Similarly, Hebrews will say that the Old Testament saints were hoping and waiting for a heavenly city to come. Again, my point here is that there is a close connection between the heavenly and the world to come. Well, Jesus has now entered into that heavenly arena. And so that means he’s already entered into that world to come, in a sense. From their he reigns on high, even over this current world. But everything in this current world does not yet willingly submit to him. Yet, there is coming a day when they will. When every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So then, this is where we are at right now. We are between the times. We don’t yet see the world to come. Yet, we see Christ ascended on high, crowned in glory and honor. For us who are his disciples by faith, we are now co-heirs with Christ, and seated with him in the heavenly places (Rom 8:17; Eph 2:6). Yet, we are still living here and now in this present world. Still, we do not have full dominion over this world. But there will be a day, when all that will change. When Christ returns and ushers us into the fullness of the world to come, then we will sit with him at his right and his left. Then we will assume with him that highest place, with everything else, save God, under our feet. That means even then angels, when we come into that world to come, will be under our feet — or did you forget that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3 that in glory we will even judge angels! Then we will be crowned in the honor and glory spoken of here in Psalm 8. Revelation 22:5 says that then we will reign forever and ever. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:12, for us who endure in faith, we will reign with Jesus!
So then, we come back to the gospel. Believe in Jesus and be saved. Trust in him by faith and you will have this hope of the glorious world to come. Put your hope in him and you will reign as kings of God Almighty forever in a world that will no longer have the problems that this world has come to have. In Christ, we know and experience what true humanity is all about; what it was always meant to be. For those who have put their faith in Christ, already you have begun to experience this. Already, you have tasted of the powers of the age to come and of the new life that we have in Jesus. And so then come back again to the exhortation that started this chapter. Having heard the gospel, continue in it. Having received this divine revelation in the Bible, we need to hold fast to it. Our passage calls us to persevere in our faith until the end. Until we enter into this coming world.
Today’s passage makes us look forward to this glory. But it also reminds us that we are not there yet. We’ve seen the benefits we receive from Jesus for that world to come. But we can ask, what about now? Are there any benefits, any help from Christ, that we receive now? Surely, don’t we need help now, living in this present world full of temptations and struggles of various sorts? Does Christ help us now? The answer is clear, but its in next week’s passage. (Well, the simple answer is yes, there is help for today even! Come back next week as we dig into that answer more!) For now, let us pray for that help while we hope for the world to come amidst a world full of such troubles. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.