After the first exhortation passage (2:1-4), the author of Hebrew now shifts from creation and enthronement Christology to the incarnation and earthly ministry of the Son (starting in v. 5).
In verses 6-8a the author cites Psalm 8. Here in the original context (as well as in the citation) the terms “man” and “son of man” refer to humankind in general which are then applied by the author to Jesus (vv. 8b-9). We do see the enthronement of Christ, yet the world to come is not yet fully subjected to him or at least the final stage is not here yet. Thus we see the author of Hebrews affirming the overlap of the present age and the age to come. In 1:13 (quoting Psalm 110) this was already anticipated.
(Note: this is the first time the name “Jesus” appears in this epistle. Further, his death is also mentioned for the first time explicitly though it was already implied in 1:3).
The subjects of v. 8b and 9 are different. The world is subjected to man in general. This was the original idea in the creation account (cf. Gen. 1-2). Yet through Adam’s sin even nature fell into subjection of decay (Gen. 3:17-18 and Rom. 8:21). Through Christ – the second Adam (cf. Rom. 5) – this dominion is gained back. Christ himself is now the subject of the author’s argument (v. 9).
Referring to v. 9 Ellingworth writes: “In the wider context also, the suffering and death of Christ are present as the ‘path to glory,’ first for Jesus himself, and then in consequence for believers” (Ellingworth, 153). That Christ is now crowned is because of his humiliation on the cross (see Phil. 2:8-9).
In verse 10 the author states that “it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering”. The phrase “it was fitting” in conjunction with “perfection through suffering is very interesting in light of first-century Greco-Roman society where the death on the cross was a matter of shame and humiliation; or as Paul puts it in 1 Cor 1:23 “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (emphasis mine).
Jesus’ death on the cross was “fitting” (eprepen). “Writers and speakers of the ancient world utilized this word to communicate that which was ‘appropriate’ or ‘suitable’ (e.g., Eph. 5:3; 1 Tim. 2:10; Titus 2:1). In 2:10 the author proclaims that what God has done in the suffering of Jesus is in line with what we know of his character and purposes” (Guthrie, NIVAC, 107). Here His love and holiness accomplishes His redemption of people. “The Son’s affliction was ordered by the One ‘for whom and through whom everything exists,’ God thus being both the great Cause and the Director who brings the salvation of his new covenant people to reality” (idem.).
Also, in light of Psalm 8 (just quoted in 2:6-8a) we see that mankind was created for glory and thus it was “fitting” for God to provide a means and a way for humanity to reach this end (cf. O’Brien, 105).
Jesus was “made perfect through suffering”. That is, Christ was made complete or fully equipped for the “job” of redeeming humanity (the term “perfecting” often has vocational overtones).
In verses 11-13 the author then portrays Jesus solidarity with humanity. Here the author mentions sanctification which will be further developed in 9:13-14. The language of “shame” is also significant in light of Greco-Roman culture where one only associates with people of similar social status. The readers were despised and treated with contempt by society (10:32-34; 13:13-14), but the Son (who is now seated at God’s right hand!) is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
In verse 12 he quotes from Psalm 22:22 (first century believers would see Christ as the speaker here; so O’Brien, 110). This is the same Psalm Jesus was uttering on the cross (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). In verses 22-31 of Psalm 22 the lament of the psalmist turns into praise and thankfulness for God’s vindication (His publicly making right) of His righteous one.
Verse 13 quotes Isa 8:17 “as a pointer to Jesus’ faithful reliance on the Father in the carrying out of his earthly ministry (13). Is. 8:18 is then used to identify the church as the children given to Jesus by God. His persistence in faith, even to the point of death, makes it possible for them to have faith. Faith binds the family of Christ together (Peterson, in loc.).
Then the author gives us the purpose of Christ’s incarnation. The purpose of the incarnation has two-fold aspect (vv. 14-16). The first one is to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” and the second one, is to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
We see Christ destroying Satan who holds people in bondage because of their fear of death. Though knowing that God is the ultimate authority and sovereign ruler of life and death, Satan seems to have some dominion in this present age. The devil, however, “did not possess control over death inherently but gained his power when he seduced humankind to rebel against God” (Lane 1:61). Humankind who supposed to rule over the creation (seen in the quotation of Psalm 8) are now slaves and paralyzed by fear of death (cf. Obrien, 115).
Verse 17 answers the question of why the second person of the Trinity had to become human…“so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (introduction of the High Priest theme). He did not only become “like” or “similar” to us, but “in every way” he partook of our human nature.
He is “merciful”, an attribute of YHWH (see e.g. Exod 34:6 “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’”), and he is “faithful”; i.e., he remained faithful to God in all that he was going through – despite all the temptations and sufferings: he remained faithful to the end. And he also made “atonement” for his people. That is, he restored the relationship intended from the very beginning, by getting rid of the sin-problem as well as averting the divine wrath (cf. O’Brien, 122).
Christ was one of us. He was tempted, just as we are (v. 18), but without committing any sin (cf. 4:15). He overcome the world and is now able to help us to overcome it too.
Since Christ is the mediator of a better message – and he himself being God – we do well in paying close attention to what he has to say. He is not a harsh ruler, but a merciful and faithful high priest who knows what it means to be rejected, tempted, hated, and even murdered like a criminal.
We need to be reminded who is on our side and what he is like. We can come to him and seek help since he himself knows by his very experience the struggles and temptations of being human.
Ellingworth, P. The Epistle to the Hebrews : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids; Carlisle England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993.
Guthrie, George H. Hebrews in the NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.
Peterson, David. “Hebrews.” New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. Ed. D.A. Carson, et al. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.