2. Jesus, Who Tastes Death for Everyone (Hebrews 2:5-18)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (26:02)

Detail from Christ in Majesty, apse mosaic, Duomo, Pisa
Detail from Christ in Majesty (c. 1200) apse mosaic, Duomo, Pisa. Larger image.

As Hebrews began, the writer pointed to who Christ is -- Son, heir of all things, co-creator, radiance of the Father's glory, exact representation of his being, sustainer of the universe, and source of salvation from sins, and finally reigning with the Father at his right hand. Then the writer quoted a number of passages from the Psalms to illustrate his superiority to angels.

In this passage, the writer continues his point that Jesus is superior to angels. But instead of focusing on that, I want to explore in this chapter what Hebrews tells us about Christ himself. There are various ways of approaching this passage. But I am struck by the fact that in the scope of a just a few verses, we see laid out before us a vision of Christ as:

  • Son of Man (2:6, quoting Psalm 8:6b)
  • Crowned with glory and honor (2:9a)
  • Tasting death for everyone (2:9b)
  • Author of salvation (2:10a)
  • Coming to perfection by suffering (2:10b)
  • Of the same human family as those he saves (2:11-14a)
  • Destroying the power of the devil (2:14b)
  • Freeing humans from the fear of death (2:15)
  • A merciful and faithful high priest making atonement (2:17)
  • One who is tempted as we are (2:18)

Let's examine each of these briefly.

Jesus the Son of Man (2:6b-8a)

In verses 6b-8a our author quotes from Psalm 8:4-6, using the Greek Septuagint translation:

"'What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7You made him a little
lower than the angels;1
you crowned him with glory and honor
8and put everything under his feet.'" (Hebrews 2:5b-8a)

While the Old Testament passage uses "son of man" in synonymous parallelism with "man" in Psalm 8:4, our author considers the passage in terms of Jesus as the representative Man, something like Paul's Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49; cf. Romans 5:12-19), who tastes death for every man (2:9b). Jesus had largely referred to himself as the Son of Man,2 ultimately pointing to himself as the fulfillment of the heavenly Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 (Matthew 26:64), which influences our author's perspective. Our author looks beyond fallen man to the Perfect Man. As the ultimate Son of Man, in terms of Psalm 8, Jesus was:

  • Made for a little while lower than the angels
  • Crowned with glory and honor
  • Victor over all, with everything subjected under his feet as a military conquering hero.

A Little While Lower than the Angels (2:7a)

Using the Septuagint translation, our author notes that Jesus was "a little" or "for a little while"3 lower than the angels. This refers to his incarnation as a man. As I mentioned above, I'm not pursuing his argument about angels so much as looking at how Christ is revealed to us.

Crowned with Glory and Honor (2:7b)

Jesus is seen as "crowned with glory and honor." The crown here is a wreath made of ornamental foliage given for distinguished service.4 Here it refers to Christ's exaltation to honor and glory at the Father's right hand (2:9). Paul wrote of this: "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place..." (Philippians 2:9a). In Hebrews, Jesus' role as the suffering Redeemer is in clear focus, but set in the context of his final glory on high.

Subjection to the Ascended Christ (2:7b-8)


Stele of pink sandstone commemorating the Victory of Naram-suen/Naramsin "Grandson of Sargon" over the "Lullubi people" (2230 B.C), Louvre, Paris. See how the necks of the enemies are "under his feet." Full stele.

The third role of the Son of Man seen in Psalm 8 is subjection of all things to him: "... put everything under his feet." This phrase "under his feet" reflects the ancient practice of the victor placing his foot on the neck of the vanquished as a sign of his superiority (Joshua 10:24).5 "Subjected" (NIV, NRSV) and "put in subjection" (KJV) in verse 5 and three times in verse 8 is hupotassō, "to cause to be in a submissive relationship, to subject, to subordinate."5 But then the author notes an apparent discrepancy:
"In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him." (2:7b-8)

After his ascension is the point at which God has "put everything under his feet" in subjection (Ephesians 1:22), which will be culminated when Christ returns and destroys Satan forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). The decisive battle was fought and won at Calvary and the Empty Tomb. The rest is just a mop-up operation to secure the victory to every realm and place on this earth. The final battle has yet to play out when Christ returns.

Suffering Death (2:9)

We don't see Christ's victory yet fully manifested in our world, but we do see clearly his suffering for us:

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (2:9)

With eyes of faith we see Jesus' great sacrificial death on the cross followed by his current position at the right hand of God. Here, the writer of Hebrews pauses for a moment to reflect on Jesus' death.

In the phrase "suffered death" he uses a word that is repeated again and again in this book, pathēma, "that which is suffered or endured, suffering, misfortune."7 A related word, "suffer" (paschō) is found in verse 18. The root idea is "to experience something, be treated, of everything that befalls a person, whether good or ill," usually in an unfavorable sense, "suffer, endure."8 This word group appears eight times in Hebrews:

  • "... now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death" (2:9)
  • "... make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering" (2:10).
  • "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted..." (2:18)
  • "He learned obedience from what he suffered..." (5:8)
  • "Then Christ would have had to suffer many times..." (9:26)
  • "... You stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering" (10:32)
  • "Remember ... those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (13:3)
  • "And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood" (13:12)

The obvious message for us is that just as Jesus suffered to complete his mission, so we too may have to suffer temptation and persecution to finish our own race, when we shall receive the reward of eternal life. Christianity is no fair-weather game, but a serious commitment to die for Christ, if need be.

Q1. (Hebrews 2:9) In what ways did Jesus suffer during his life and death? In what ways are we likely to suffer? Does suffering have any value? What happens when we live in such a way to avoid all suffering?
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Tasting Death for Everyone (2:9b)

Let's look at this verse again:

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (2:9)

The latter part of this verse explains two things about his final suffering that ended in death:

  1. By his death he suffered death for everyone.
  2. That this is so is because of the grace of God.

In verse 9b we clearly see what theologians call the "substitutionary atonement," where Christ's death for sin is substituted for our own. This is clear from the word "for" in the phrase "for everyone." The preposition huper is "a marker indicating that an activity or event is in some entity's interest, 'for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone.'"12

This verse echoes the idea that Paul explored of the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49; cf. Romans 5:12-19). The First Adam, as representative of the human race brought us into sin. The Second Adam, as representative also of the human race, "tasted death for all." One of the main points of this chapter is that Jesus became fully human that he might save his brothers (2:11, 14). That God allows Christ's death for sin to substitute for our own is clearly "by the grace10 of God," not due to any merit of our own.

Q2. (Hebrews 2:9) In what way did Christ "taste death for everyone"? Why is this so dependent upon God's grace? If Christ died for your blackest and most stubborn sins, what are the implications for you?
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Perfect Through Suffering (2:10)

Now comes the difficult concept of "perfect through suffering." What does that mean? Wasn't Jesus morally perfect already?

"In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering." (2:10)

First note Jesus' mission: to bring many sons to glory. Wow! "Bringing" is agō, "to lead or guide morally or spiritually, lead, encourage (in the direction of)."11 Jesus is the Leader we follow. And our destination is glory (doxa), "the condition of being bright or shining, brightness, splendor, radiance."12 The state of being in the next life is thus described as participation in the radiance or glory.

As our Leader, Jesus is "author" (NIV), "captain" (KJV), "pioneer" (NRSV) of our salvation. Archēgos can refer to either "one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince," or "one who begins or originates, originator, founder."13 This word is found both here and 12:2. Here it could be the one who went before us as author or pioneer to secure our salvation, or the captain who won a battle and subjected the enemy (2:8). Maybe our author intended both ideas to be suggested by this word.

Now we ask, in what sense was Jesus "made perfect through suffering"? Does this mean he was imperfect. No, I don't think so. "Perfect" is the Aorist infinitive teleioō, "to overcome or supplant an imperfect state of things by one that is free from objection, bring to an end, bring to its goal or accomplishment." The word is used here and in 5:9; and 7:28. The idea here is that the state of perfection and the culmination of God's purpose for Jesus is the heavenly, glorified, conquering Christ. But to achieve this end, he had to go through the suffering of humanity, and especially the suffering of a disgraceful execution on the cross. In 12:2 our author expresses a similar thought:

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter (teoeiōtēs) of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (12:2)

Q3. (Hebrews 2:10) What does it mean, to bring many sons and daughters "to glory"? In what sense did Jesus become "perfect" through suffering? What are the implications for our own lives?
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Not Ashamed to Call Them Brothers (2:11-13)

Now our author stresses Jesus' close identification with us humans, buttressed by quotations from Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17-18.

"Both the one who makes men holy15 and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed16 to call them brothers17...." (2:11)
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil...." (2:14)

The phrase, "share, partakers of," in verse 14 use two synonyms:

  • koinoō, "make a participant in something, share," from koinos, "common."18 We see this idea throughout the Epistles in its noun form, koinōnia, "participation, communion, fellowship."
  • metechō, "to have a part or share in something, share, have a share, participate"19

Though it may be difficult for us to understand, it was necessary for Christ to become human and share in our flesh and blood state. He became our Brother. For only as one of us could he destroy death -- and our enemy the devil -- on our behalf. Adam started it, the Second Adam finished it. Theologically this idea is called "federal headship." The act of Jesus becoming a human being is called "incarnation."

Incidentally, verse 11 introduces the idea of "making holy." We won't discuss that here, but will explore it in greater detail later where our author develops the concept more completely. 

The Devil's Power of Death (2:14)

Now let's examine how Jesus handled the devil20 who had exerted malignant power over the human race. But first we need to understand this verse that says that the devil "holds the power of death" (2:14). In just what sense is that true?

  1. Clearly Satan brought sin to the human race (Genesis 3:1-7), the result of which is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23; Wisdom of Solomon 2:24).
  2. Satan is certainly behind the persecution and martyrdom of Christians (Luke 12:4-5; Revelation 13:7). Jesus called him "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).
  3. God has placed limits on Satan. He wasn't allowed to kill Job, for example, only afflict him (Job 2:6). And not even a sparrow dies "apart from the will of your Father" (Matthew 10:29). Though God now allows evil and death in his world, it by no means has free reign nor does it represent his perfect will.
  4. Satan is a usurper, an interloper, taking what is not his. While as an angel he has power, he is in rebellion. God has not granted him "legal rights" to control death. He has no right except that which is grasped as a result of his might. He victimizes the weak and defenseless. He is a thief who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10a). He is the enemy.

Some have identified the devil here with mentions in the Talmud of the angel of death (malakh haMavet), the divine agent that brings death at the proper time,21 but that doesn't seem to fit. Satan may be an agent of death and exercises power (kratos22) in that regard, but he is not God's agent, but rather a rebel against God's rule.

What we do know is that the myth of Satan being the king of hell is not true. He has no power of eternal punishment, in fact, he is the one who will be punished eternally. Jesus exhorts his disciples to fear God far more than those who can kill only the body.

"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:4-5)

The Destruction of the Devil's Power (2:14-15)

While up to Jesus' time, Satan exercised influence, now his power is broken.

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (2:14-15)

This sentence spells out two purposes of Christ's death: (1) to destroy the devil and (2) to free from fear.

"Destroy" is katargeō. It has the basic meaning, "use up, exhaust, waste." Here it is used in a causative sense, "to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside,"23 from kata, "separation, dissolution" + argeō, "to slack off, become idle." Ellingworth says that it carries the sense of "make ineffective, incapacitate," while falling short of "annihilate."24 John says something quite similar:

"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy (luō25) the devil's work." (1 John 3:8b)

In the context of mentioning Satan and Jesus' ministry of casting out demons, Jesus tells the Parable of Spoiling the Strongman.

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils." (Luke 11:21-22)

Jesus is the Stronger One who has despoiled Satan and taken away his power. Paul writes:

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

Satan is still an adversary and still resists, but his power is broken. His Conqueror is the One who "holds the keys of death and Hades" (Revelation 1:18). He is also the one who forgives our sins (10:18), cleanses our conscience so that we know we are forgiven (9:14; 10:2, 22), and gives us confidence to approach him without fear of condemnation (4:16).

Freed from the Fear of Death (2:15)

The second purpose in these verses is to free from the fear of death. "Free" (NIV, NRSV) or "deliver" (KJV) is the verb apallassō, "to set free from a controlling state or entity, free, release." The word is used in the New Testament in the context of freeing from an evil spirit (Luke 9:40) and being released from diseases (Acts 5:15; 19:12).26

The condition is termed "slavery" (NIV, NRSV) or "bondage" (KJV), douleia, "slavery, servility." The legal technical term used (enochos) means "liable to, subject to."28 The cause is fear of death.

Is the slavery:

  1. To the fear of death? or
  2. To the devil because of the fear of death?

Our writer doesn't exactly say, but later in the letter he carefully develops the ideas of forgiveness, cleansing the conscience, access to God, and our hope of the heavenly City of God. So long as the weight and guilt of a person's sins is present, death is a terror -- not just because it is the unknown, but because of fear of judgment for sin. As the Apostle Paul wrote concluding his great chapter on resurrection:

"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

Christ not only destroyed the devil's power, he also freed the conscience so that we have hope of a glorious life after death, not fear of judgment. Hallelujah!

Q4. (Hebrews 2:14-15) What was the purpose of Christ's death according to verses 14 and 15? In what sense is this mission accomplished? In what sense will it see its final completion in the future? What is the result in our lives from Christ's accomplishment?
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A Merciful and Faithful High Priest (2:16-18)

This chapter concludes with a paragraph on Jesus as "a merciful and faithful high priest" -- the first explicit mention in all the New Testament of his high priestly role:

"16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (2:16-18)

We're going to be considering Christ as High Priest in Hebrews 7, so we won't go into detail here. Jesus' high priestly ministry is a major theme of Hebrews (2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11).

It is important to notice, however, that the writer again makes the point that Jesus was fully human, "made like (homoioō29) his brothers in every way" (2:17). That likeness extended even to temptation.30

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (2:18)

Because he was tempted -- and understands temptation -- though he didn't sin -- he is merciful,31 that is sympathetic and compassionate toward us. (This idea of a sympathetic high priest is developed further in 4:14-16.) His desire now is "to help those who are being tempted." "Help" (NIV, NRSV), "succour" (KJV) is boētheō, "to render assistance to someone in need, furnish aid, help."32

Q5. (Hebrews 2:16-18) Why in God's plan did Jesus have to become human like us? How does his humanity provide encouragement and help to us when we are in trouble?
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Hebrews: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson (paperback and e-book formats)
Lessons are also available in e-book and paperback formats.

In this chapter the author displays Christ in a number of ways: fully human Son of Man, exalted Messiah, Author of salvation, Conqueror of death, Victor over the devil, Emancipator from the fear of death, and merciful High Priest. What an awesome Christ we serve!

Prayer

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to us. It's so easy for us to take him for granted, to misunderstand who he really is. Open our eyes and open our hearts to him afresh. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." (Hebrews 2:9)

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14-15)

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:18)

References

  1. In our English Bibles, verse 5 refers to "the heavenly beings" (NIV), "God" (NRSV), or "angels" (KJV), translating the Hebrew word ’elohim, "God" or "gods." The vast majority of times in the Old Testament, ’elohim, refers to Yahweh. But a few times you see the word's rarer, generic sense of "supernatural beings" (such as in 1 Samuel 28:13; Job 38:7; Psalm 82:1, 6; 138:1; and perhaps 97:7) (Jack B. Scott, ’lh, TWOT #93c. BDB, p. 43. Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-17 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 67-68. Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (Word Biblical Commentary; Word Books, 1983), pp. 108-110). It was translated "angels" by several early translations (Syriac Old Testament, Aramaic Targum, and Latin Vulgate.), including the Greek Septuagint translation used by the writer of Hebrews. Thus he uses this passage as part of his argument that Jesus has now been exalted above the angels.
  2. See my article, "The Son of Man," as part of the JesusWalk Luke Bible study (www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/son-of-man.htm).
  3. "Little" (NIV, KJV) or "little while" (NRSV, NIV margin) in verses 7 and 9 is brachus, here refers to time, "pertaining to being brief in duration, brief, short (of time)." In Psalm 8:6 it refers to rank (BDAG 183). The Hebrew word can also mean either "little" or "little while" (Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 67, citing B.S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel (SBT 37, SCM Press, 1962), p. 34).
  4. "Crowned" is stephanoō, "1. to encircle someone's head with ornamental foliage, wreathe, crown someone, 2. to recognize distinguished service or performance with an award, honor, reward, crown," here at verses 7 and 9. (BDAG 944).
  5. Pous, BDAG 858, 1.b.
  6. Hupotassō, BDAG 1042.
  7. Pathēma, BDAG 747-748.
  8. Paschō, BDAG 785-786.
  9. Huper, "... after expressions of suffering, dying, devoting oneself, etc., "die for someone" (BDAG 1030-1031, A.1.a.ε).
  10. There is a textual variant in verse 9 "by the grace of God" or "apart from God." According to Metzger, kariti theou, "by the grace of God" {B} is strongly supported p46 Alpha A B C D it vg copsa,bo,fa, etc. A large number of the Fathers, both Eastern and Western read chōris, "apart from." The latter reading appears to have arisen either through a scribal lapse or, more probably, a marginal gloss to explain that "everything" in verse 8 does not include God (Metzger, p. 664).
  11. Ago, BDAG 16-17, 3.
  12. Doxa, BDAG 1.c.β.
  13. Archēgos, BDAG 138.
  14. Teleioō, BDAG 996.
  15. "Make holy/made holy" (NIV) and "sanctifies/sanctified" (KJV, NRSV) is hagiazō, the root idea of which is, "to set aside something or make it suitable for ritual purposes, consecrate, dedicate," of things. Then "to include a person in the inner circle of what is holy, in both cultic and moral associations of the word, consecrate, dedicate, sanctify." Found in Hebrews 9:13; 13:12; 2:11; 10:10, 14, 29. (Hagiazō, BDAG 9-10).
  16. "Ashamed" is epaischunomai, "to experience a painful feeling or sense of loss of status because of some particular event or activity, be ashamed." Here, the phrase "he is not ashamed" means "he is not too proud to call them brothers" (epaischunomai, BDAG 357).
  17. "Brothers" is adelphos, "a male from the same womb as the reference person, "brother." Then, figuratively, "a person viewed as a brother in terms of a close affinity, brother, fellow member, member, associate" (adelphos, BDAG 18-19).
  18. Koinoō, BDAG 552, 1.
  19. Metechō is from meta, association, fellowship "with" + echō, "to have" (BDAG 642).
  20. "Devil" is diabolos, "one who engages in slander," then the principal transcendent evil being, "the adversary, the devil" (BDAG 226-227).
  21. Bruce, Hebrews, p. 85; Ellingworth, Hebrews, p. 173.
  22. "Power" is kratos, here "exercise of ruling ability, power, rule, sovereignty" (BDAG 565).
  23. Katargeō, BDAG 525-526.
  24. Ellingworth, Hebrews, p. 173.
  25. "Destroy" in 1 John 3:8b is luō, "loose, untie," here meaning "to do away with, destroy, bring to an end, abolish" (BDAG 606-607, 4.)
  26. Apallassō, BDAG 1.a.
  27. Douleia, BDAG 259, 2.
  28. Enochos, BDAG 338-339, 1; Liddell-Scott, in loc.
  29. "Make like" (NIV, KJV), "become like" (NRSV) is homoioō, "to make like," passive as here, "become like, be like" someone, from homos, "common," homoios, "of the same nature, like, similar," from which we get words such as "homogenize" and "homosexual." (homoioō, BDAG 707).
  30. "Tempted" (NIV, NRSV), "tested" (KJV), twice in verse 18, is peirazō, "to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing, try, make trial of, put to the test" (in a positive sense), not here, "to entice to improper behavior, tempt." (peirazō, BDAG 792-793).
  31. "Merciful" is eleēmōn, "pertaining to being concerned about people in their need, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate," from eleos, "mercy, compassion, pity, clemency" (BDAG 316)
  32. The noun is boētheia which appears in Hebrews 4:16. (boētheō, BDAG 180). The words derive from boē, "a cry" + theō, "to run." (Thayer)

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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