Agonizomai: Heb 2:5-9 - Christ - The Federal Head of the Redeemed

Friday, November 06, 2009

Heb 2:5-9 - Christ - The Federal Head of the Redeemed

Heb 2:5-9 - Christ - The Federal Head of the Redeemed

Heb 2:5-9 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 you made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see 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.

Christians are not engaged in the present world so much as in the world to come. This present life is, for the time being, the means by which the world to come is revealed to us and in us and through us, in the spirit. Our concerns and our hearts are set on things above. This idea probably gives certain liberals palpitations, if not outright heart failure. But we are not speaking of being so heavenly that we are no earthly use. On the contrary we are speaking of being so heavenly that all things are wrought in Christ and, yes - in a sense only Christians understand - that all things are wrought by Christ in us. This is impossible without the heavenly view - without faith as the Bible speaks of faith, which is a belief and trust in God to effect his purposes and promises.

It is by looking to heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of power, having completed all things - and by trusting in this truth - that we live our lives in the here and now. Getting the order reversed - that is living in the here and now in order to see, attain, or just plain hope in the heavenly reality - inevitably produces at best dryness and at worst a false hope in personal attainment to a righteousness that we should understand is already ours.

All the cults and all the heresies are at some place along this false road. Roman Catholicism does this by adding works to grace. They deny the sufficiency of grace while maintaining its necessity. Arminianism does this by making faith (or at least, the will to exercise it) a work rather than a gift. The Pelagian elements in the modern church do this by denying original sin and making man the deciding element in salvation through moral acts of the will. All these look away from heaven and towards man as the source of all, or of some part of the life we now live.

Of course, all Christians fall into error in this regard, but not all dwell in it. Our flesh wars against the spirit and deceit is all around and within us. We need to be continually reminded of this finished work of Christ and look to Him as both the Author and Perfecter of our faith. And we need to eschew all tendencies to look inwards and sideways, except insofar as we are looking to and for Christ above in all things.

So the writer to the Hebrews is focusing on the world to come, and on how he understands the Person of Christ in this regard. He starts with man as a race. Generic man. Man as God originally made him - righteous but mutable. The original imprint of Adam as God’s representative in the world of creation has never been utterly defaced. Man, it is true, is fallen and rebellious and dead in trespasses and sins - but God has not failed in his grace. Even fallen and spiritually dead men retain the imprint of their supremacy over the created order. They misuse that supremacy; they misunderstand it; they use it for their own glory instead of vicariously, for the glory of God who is above all.

But the imprint or the shadow of the image remains. I think of it as being like the shadow of that poor human being in Hiroshima fused into stone steps after the bomb detonated. The shadow is no longer a functional human being as some knew him, but is a reminder of the glory and vitality that once was a living person. The spiritual death of mankind in Adam is an analogous event.

God is faithful even though we are not, and his mercies are over all His works. As a consequence, man still has authority and power over the world that surrounds him. On account of sin this results in much corruption and suffering, but the original gift of God was indeed both a crown and a glory. This was defaced in the fall but not utterly obliterated. But what remains of that glory and its fruit in the world is a testimony to God’s grace and forbearance, and not to man’s virtue and ingenuity. In order to arrive at right conclusions, real theology takes the real fall really seriously {per Vandermeulen}.

And what God purposed originally has not failed. When the Bible speaks of man having everything in subjection under his feet and of being crowned with glory and honour (as Adam once was, and we in him) this is indeed re-established in Christ, the God/man. He is the federal head of redeemed humanity, and all those who are in Him are - on account of Him alone - partake of his glory and honour and rulership. We, the saints, do this once more not as equals of our Creator God (which God Christ also is) but as subject to His headship. His glory and honour and leadership is reflected in and through us. It is not ours and never will be. But it is graced to us in Christ, in order that we cast it all once more at his feet.

Where are angels in all of this? What has this to do with mere messengers? Mankind in Adam was made a little lower than them but, through redemption in Christ, man has been raised way, way above the angels in Him. God has done a wonderful and fearful thing. He has made man more by his grace than man ever could have been apart from it. Those who are in Christ are not being made lower than the angels, for no holy angel was ever graced by being raised by adoption into intimate eternal fellowship with God, as the saints have been. And no fallen angel has even the hope of grace.

The writer is quoting again from the Psalms. {Ps 8:4-6} His apparent vagueness is not carelessness. It is a confidence in the fact that his hearers know the scriptures. The Psalm was originally a paean of praise regarding God’s handiwork and his grace towards men. Until Christ came, it would be hard to imagine this being regarded as a prophetic writing. But with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is revealed in all the writings and in places heretofore unseen. Thus, the writer adds the editorial comment in verse 9 deliberately applying the psalm to Jesus himself.

The reference to man and the son of man is taken to mean both men in Adam and the Christ who came to redeem his Own. Mankind in general is seen in the original reading, and Christ is seen as Son of Man in the enlightened interpretation. Christ perfects where Adam failed. Christ redeems what Adam lost. But he redeems it in a totally overarching and transforming and glorious way.

Man fell and the world groaned. The world of creation became a struggle to him. Thorns and briers sprang up, and the sweat of his brow were needed to eke out a living, whereas, before, the world was subject to him because his will was in perfect harmony with the Creator and Sustainer of these things. So when we read the Psalm and we look at the world there is an apparent non sequitur. We do a double take when we come to the "subjection" part. The world is clearly not in subjection to man. But man believes that it is – or that he can make it so of himself. He believes that by more effort, more science, more technology, more understanding - he will make the world a better place.

But the problem at the root of it all is ignored. The root problem is sin. In sin we develop technologies, sciences, moralities, ethics, causes and movements and they are all flawed in concept or in application by their inventors and purveyors and believers. Man cannot redeem the world. Man himself needs to be redeemed. This is why Christ came. He redeemed mankind (that is to say, humanity - not all human beings, but some members of the race).

So God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He did it through a man - through the man Jesus Christ - so that, as by man alienation came to the world and a curse came upon the whole of creation, so also by a man the race is preserved in a remnant, for which is reserved a new heaven and a new earth.

Note how the heresies are rebutted upon a careful reading of the text. Jesus was not created a little lower than the angels - but was "for a little while" made (to be) lower than the angels. This implies that he was at one time higher, became lower in some sense, and then became higher again. The passage in Philippians {Php 2:5-11} gives an excellent sense of this emptying, this infinite humiliation, this descent, this condescension - like diving into the inky black depths of the ocean, and resurfacing in a blinding blaze of light, carrying denizens of the deep from the sunless abyss.

We see that it was "by the grace of God." It was not on account of anything in his creatures, real or foreseen that He came, but for the demonstration of mercy and grace that had otherwise been forever unseen by creation, but which was now made manifest in Christ. Indeed it was in love that God acted, but it was not that sort of love which looked to its object in order to be moved; it was that eternal love which proceeds from God for his own pleasure and glory, and out of His will alone. Salvation is by grace alone. It is by grace that the wrath of God is appeased for all those who come to him, trusting in him alone.

What can it mean that Christ tasted death for everyone? Learned scholars have differing opinions. The Greek language says that he tasted death
ὑπὲρ παντὸς (uper pantos), which translates literally as "in behalf (or stead) of "all" or "every" or "the whole." But it does not specifically say every what. Is it every believer? Is it for the whole church? Is it, in some sense, for every person who ever lived? These are not insignificant questions, and how they are answered has an effect on how we understand the gospel. Good men have differed over what the meaning is.

Gill, a high (some say hyper) Calvinist, thinks it means simply "all the elect". Poole, a Puritan thinks it means that Christ died in order to "render sin remissible to all persons, and them salvable". Others think that Christ paid the penalty of sin for every single human being at the cross.

As I said, these are not easy matters. But a good hermeneutic must not allow that Christ died for people who are ultimately lost. That would mean that their sin was punished twice - once in Christ, and once in themselves for eternity - and that would defy justice. Of course, it could be claimed that it was only for their unbelief that they were punished - but that leads to a messy and irresolvable theology of what happens to infidels who never hear the gospel at all. Why, we would have to introduce a concept like - O I don’t know - purgatory in order to make room for their "chance" at salvation to be appropriated.

Still again, some believe that Christ’s death secured the general or common grace that God shows to all men, but saving grace only for the elect.

The wisdom of the Reformers summarized what it was believed had been the understanding of the Apostles and the church fathers like Augustine and Anselm. They said that all that believed were indeed saved, but that faith itself was a gift of God’s grace, along with repentance. So their understanding was that there is both a general call of the gospel and an effectual call. Those who believe do so solely because God first regenerates them. Those who reject the gospel do so because of their sinful predisposition to enmity with God. They are as we all would be if God did not effectually call some.

This raises the question of whether the general call is a genuine one. Is there a real offer of salvation to all men - and, if so, on what basis are they offered forgiveness if Christ died only for the elect? And wisdom has answered that Christ’s death is sufficient for all men (if they would but believe), but is efficient only for those to whom God grants repentance and faith. And so it goes.

My own understanding of this passage is governed by the context, which is all about the supremacy and superiority of Christ as the message and messenger of God. It includes the idea of Him saving His church because, in verse 10 it speaks of Him bringing many sons to glory through His sufferings. Verse 16 also speaks of Him "giving aid to the seed of Abraham," which means to all who are in Christ - to spiritual Israel.

Some, supposing it to be necessary, wish to ensure the integrity of the gospel by ensuring that the "offer" is both free and real to all men. Some see the gospel as proclamation which is only meant for, and only heard by, those who have ears to hear. Some try to fit both these views into their theology. In any event these three things are absolutely certain:

1) that whoever hears and believes the gospel will be saved. {John 3:16,Ro 10:17}

2) that all the Father gives to the Son will come to him and those who come to Christ will never be cast out {John 6:37}

3) that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. {Acts 4:12}
We must add to this that the gospel is to be preached to all men without favour or distinction. {Mr 16:15} The results are now, and always were and will be in God’s hands. The rest, as they say, is for the theologians - so long as we understand that all Christians are called to be theologians (the study of God).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder that we Christians need to keep our minds on things above. It is so easy to get priorities mixed up, with bills, sickness, relationships, world events, everything else clamoring for our attention.

When we get even a tiny grasp on God's wondrous grace, we are set aright into the intended place where peace abounds.

I wonder if the angels cringe when people put them on the same level as God.

8:45 am  
Blogger agonizomai said...


I wonder if the angels cringe when people put them on the same level as God.

Maybe. And maybe they're completely perplexed as to how any creature could be so completely wrong-headed.

But then again, they live by sight and not by faith.



2:20 pm  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...


This is so comprehensive, I found myself looking for the kitchen sink. Didn't find that, but I did find a lot of other useful stuff here.

Thanks for giving the "big picture" view.


12:54 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


Well, since you've spent some time here over the months, you already understand that this blog isn't line by line exegesis. It's simply devotional thoughts.

Here, the kitchen sink comes with a gas cooker and free puppy.

Glad you found any of them useful.



2:11 pm  

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