The last subject of the author was the comparison between the Son and the angels. There he used seven Old Testament quotations to give grounds for the superiority of the Son over the angels. This then leads the author to his first exhortation of the readers (2:1-4) – our topic for today.
But before we will further examine this first exhortation (some refer to it as a “warning passage”), let us observe common themes between the first and second chapter of Hebrews in general. There are “direct and indirect references to the threefold offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king” (Kistenmaker, 57).
A. Prophet (1:2) A.’ Prophet (2:3)
B. King (1:3) B.’ King (2:9)
C. Priest (1:3) C.’ Priest (2:17)
We see the Son being portrayed as both king and priest, a topic which is of major significance to the epistle of Hebrews, especially in its treatment of the Melchizedekian priesthood (which we will deal with once we come to chapter 7), as well as prophet. The Son is the final and ideal mediator as seen in our treatment on the first four verse of chapter one (see post http://afoolsthought.blogspot.com/2011/06/god-who-speaks-son-who-reveals-hebrews.html).
Having observed this we are now moving into today’s passage (2:1-4). Now we can see why it was so important for the author to argue for the superiority of the Son over the angels. This again strengthens our analysis of 1:1-4. Since the Son, being in the very nature of God, is the superior and final revelation of God a rejection of him is at least as severe as the transgressions under the old system. Since God “has spoken effectively ‘in the past’ (1:1) and now ‘in the last days…to us’ (1:2)” (O’Brien, 82) the author prepares his strongest argument to pay very close attention to “what we have heard” (2:1-4).
Here we now come to the first “warning passage” or passage of admonition (the other ones are found in 3:12-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10: 26-39; 12:25-29). The “therefore” (dia touto) in the beginning of the passage looks back to the entire argument of the Son’s superiority and him being the better revealer of God’s will. Since the Son is the final revelation the readers are urged to pay close attention “to what we have heard” – the gospel. Note the “we” (first person plural pronoun) which prevails this section and thus shows the strong identification of the author with the readers.
The danger against which the author warns the Christians is that of “drifting away” which suggest a subtle and maybe unnoticed departure from the harbor – the solid rock. This is one of the more passive (sluggish?) dangers the Christians to whom is written are facing (see also e.g. 5:11-14).
In verse 2 as Guthrie notes “[t]he author appeals to his listeners’ understanding of the Torah, reminding them that the older covenant message delivered through angels was ‘binding’” thus for them to neglect the word by the Son would bring even more severe judgment. “Dealing with sin was never taken lightly by God, but ‘every’ violation received a just punishment…the author often associates disobedience with an unwillingness to listen to God’s voice (e.g., 2:1; 3:7 – 19; 12:25)” (NIVAC, 84).
It was commonly accepted that the Law of Moses – he being the greatest of all prophets – was mediated by angels (Acts 7:38-39, 53; Gal. 3:19; and especially in this context Hebr. 2:2). The terms “every transgression and disobedience” are strong and imply a “deliberate rejection of the will of God” (O’Brien, 85). So we move from a seemingly unnoticed “drifting away” to a deliberate disobedience to a God who has spoken to them.
In verse 3-4 the author moves to an “a foriori” argument – a “how much more” argumnent. Again we have the Lord as final revealer as well as the apostolic tradition which attests to Jesus as the Messiah. The Gospel message was attested to the readers by “by signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit”, that is different manifestations of power. “Signs and wonders” are often in reference to the exodus of Israel (Exod 7:3; 11:9-10; Deut 4:34; 6:22) to tell of God’s saving power. The terms were also used to refer to true prophecy (Isa 8:18; 20:3), in the NT to the ministry of Jesus (John 20:29-31; Acts 2:19, 22), and the ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 14:3; 15:12 and here Heb 2:3-4).
So what can we learn from this short passage, this word of exhortation (cf. Guthrie, 88-89)?
The first item we observe is that the author calls the readership to personal responsibility and commitment to that which they have heard and experienced.
Secondly, the author stimulates the Christians by a threat of punishment. As the transgressions under the old covenant were severely punished, so will disobedience to God who speaks now through His Son not go unpunished.
And lastly, the remedy for punishment is to “pay much closer attention” to the salvation offered to them and us (v.1). This message – the Gospel – was “announced by the Lord,” “confirmed to us by those who heard,” and “witnessed” to by God. “Therefore, Christians who hold onto the message of salvation stand in historical continuity of relationship and mission with Jesus, the apostles, and even God himself” (Guthrie, 89).
Guthrie, George H. Hebrews in the NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.