June 22, 2017

Christ Is Supreme Because He Is Man (Hebrews 2:5–9)

Layton Talbert

Have you ever been stumped by a child’s theological question? It is a humbling reminder that sometimes children see things we have not noticed. A query from my daughter prompted a closer examination of the nuanced Christological argument of Hebrews 1–2. In that argument, the quotation of Psalm 8 in 2:6–8 raises the same question my daughter raised: Who is the referent, man or Christ?

The writer of Hebrews asserts the superiority of Christ to prophets and angels (1–2), to Moses and Joshua (3–4), and to Levitical priests and sacrifices (5–7) because He mediates a better covenant with better promises and provisions (8–10). The writer’s argument in chapters 1–2 incorporates an intriguing twist. Notice the shift in focus. (Frequencies include nominal and pronominal references.)

Subject

1:12:4

2:618

Christ

29x

16x

Angels

10x

3x

Mankind

0x

22x

Christ is the dominant subject throughout the passage. The first segment of the argument compares Christ exclusively to angels; the second segment underscores Christ’s solidarity with humanity in order to confirm His superiority to angels. The writer argues in 1:1–2:4 that Christ is superior to angels because of His deity, and in 2:6–18 that Christ is superior to angels because of His humanity. The argument transitions in 2:5 as the writer swings into a citation of Psalm 8 to make his point (2:6– 8): Christ’s superiority to angels is not diminished by His humanity but reinforced by it (2:9). Why? Because of the principle established in 2:5—God granted dominion over all creation not to angels, but to man. Christ is superior to angels not only by right of position (as God) but by right of inheritance (as Man).

Man’s dominion and inheritance of creation was marred by the Fall; it must be reclaimed by—and can be reclaimed only by—a man. The writer’s citation of Psalm 8 confirms this point. That means that 2:6–8 does not refer to Christ initially. The writer is making a point about man in contrast to angels in connection with the future kingdom, “the world to come” (2:5). By design, 2:6–8 first makes a point about man; then, by extension (2:9), it proceeds to make a point about Christ as Man and because He is Man.

Here is the larger contextual Christological argument in a nutshell: Christ is superior to angels because (1) He is not merely a servant (like them) but a Son, and (2) He is not only God but Man, which in itself entitles Him to a position over them.

We are accustomed to thinking of the angels as superior to us, not only now but eternally. Clearly, they are stronger, smarter, and holier than we are. It seems strange to think that man is in any sense or at any time conceived as superior to angels. But remember, the statement of 2:7a is first a statement not about Christ but about man—man has been made lower than the angels, but only for a little while! Mankind, not angels, is the only creature made in God’s image. And as Paul reminded the Corinthians, we will one day judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Our ultimate and eternal destiny is far higher than we have ever dared to think. Angels are Christ’s servants, but we are His friends (John 15:15) and His brethren (Heb. 2:11, 12).

The Father’s giving of the nations of the earth to the Son (Ps. 2:8) is contingent on His incarnation (cf. Rev. 12:5) of which the resurrection was the culmination (Ps. 2:7). The Son receives the right to inherit and rule the kingdoms of the world not only because He is (Son of) God but also because He is (Son of) Man. It is not accidental that Christ’s title of exaltation in connection with His inheritance of universal dominion—in ultimate reclamation and fulfillment of Psalm 8—is Son of Man.

This dominion and rule of Christ—and its connection to His humanity—is anticipated in Daniel. Daniel 7:9–14 describes the granting of universal dominion to “one like a son of man.” Daniel 7:15–25 relates the challenge of rebellious human kingdoms to His universal dominion, led by the “horn” in 7:20, 21, identified in the NT as Antichrist (Anti-Anointed, cf. Ps. 2:2). In Daniel 7:26, 27 the final granting of the dominion and kingdom is realized. Throughout it all, the determination of the Ancient of Days stands—this universal dominion and kingdom that was granted to this Son of Man (7:14, it is His dominion and His kingdom) will be shared by “the saints of the Most High” (7:18, 22, 26, 27). This sharing in the dominion and rule of Christ, as “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2), explains why we are called “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), and why the solution to our unrealized dominion (Heb. 2:8) is wrapped up in Christ (Heb. 2:9).

It is not only the deity of Christ but His humanity— His identification with us as Son of Man and partaker of human nature (Heb. 2:14), not angelic nature (Heb. 2:16)—that qualifies Him to reclaim and fulfill for us and with us the dominion we marred and lost through the Fall. That privileged position is one more dimension in which the writer of Hebrews highlights Christ’s superiority to angels.


Dr. Layton Talbert teaches Theology and Exposition at Bob Jones Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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