Hebrews 2:5-8 – Jesus Made a Little Lower Than the Angels

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Last time we examined Hebrews 1:14 – 2:4. We saw that after the author had made the case of Jesus’ divinity, he went on to say that we should not disregard the Gospel of salvation in Jesus alone. The writer argued that since the prophecies given by the angels about Jesus had proven to be true, and righteous punishments for sin had been carried out by angels, then we should certainly not disregard the prophets’ and angels’ Gospel preaching, nor that of Jesus Himself during His earthly ministry, nor the Gospel preaching of Jesus’ disciples after Jesus ascended into Heaven, especially since God has confirmed the Truth of the Gospel through many miraculous signs and wonders performed by Jesus and His disciples, and by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit and His manifestations of the gifts of His Spirit among the saints.

Jesus Made a Little Lower Than the Angels

5For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. 6But one testified in a certain place, saying:
What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
7You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
8You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. [Hebrews 2:5-8 – NKJV]
NOTE – At this point, it might be good to remind ourselves that the chapter and verse divisions in our modern language translations are not present in the original language manuscripts. The delineation of Verse 8 which spans over the end of a quotation from Psalm 8, and continues with the Hebrews writer’s exposition of Jesus’ dominion over the universe is particularly strange, especially since Psalm 8 refers to mankind, not Jesus – God the Son. We’ll look at that psalm shortly when we consider this idea of Jesus being made (temporarily) a little lower than the angels, but in the meantime it will be helpful in our study of this passage to simply ignore the verse boundaries, and just consider the text itself.
 
Let’s take a little time to carefully dissect  Hebrews 2:5-8. There are three important concepts intermingled here:
  1. The dominion of Jesus over all things – Verse 5 and the middle of verse 8.
  2. The incarnation of Jesus in the flesh of a man – Verse 6-8a.
  3. Our human inability to fully grasp in this earthly life the fullness of Jesus’ everlasting dominion because our world is currently under the sway of the evil one – the end of Verse 8.

1. The dominion of Jesus over all things – Verse 5 and the middle of Verse 8:

5For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. 8For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.

By saying in Verse 5 that “He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels,” the writer implies without actually saying it that He has put the world to come (along with the world that is and has been since creation) under the dominion of Jesus. In the middle of Verse 8, he states this explicitly – “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.” Note that in this part of verse 8, “him” is not capitalized as we would expect in a Biblical reference to Jesus. Nevertheless, I believe the writer is referring to Jesus in this verse. We’ll delve into my Biblical basis for this belief a little later.

Here is just a small sample of the many scriptures that affirm Jesus’ eternal dominion over all things…

Isaiah’s most well-known messianic prophecy:

6For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah 9:6-7 – NKJV]
Daniel’s night vision of the Ancient of Days:
13“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man [Jesus’ own preferred name for Himself] ,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. [Daniel 7:13-14 – NKJV]
Jesus’ own declaration of His authority before giving His disciples the “Great Commission”:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. [Matthew 28:18 – NKJV]
The heavenly proclamation at the sounding of the final trumpet in Revelation:
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” [Revelation 11:15 – NKJV]
2. The incarnation of Jesus in the flesh of a man – Verse 6-8a:
In this passage, the Hebrews author is setting up his exposition at the end of the chapter in which he discusses the need for Jesus to become a human being Himself in order to provide the needed atoning sacrifice on the cross for mankind’s sins. As we have seen already in our study of Hebrews, the author begins to make his argument on the basis of Old Testament scripture – an appropriate approach for his Jewish readers.
6But one testified in a certain place, saying:
“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
7You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
8You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

The quotation here is from Psalm 8:

To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David.
1O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
 
2Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
 
3When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
 
6You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
 
9O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth! [Psalm 8 – NKJV]
Aside – In Psalm 8:1 and 9, we find the strange phrase O LORD, our Lord. Note that the first occurrence of the word LORD is in all uppercase. In your printed Bible, it is likely in the Small Caps font. In Hebrew, the text reads – יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ Yĕhovah ‘adown. The word in all uppercase is the so-called Tetragrammaton – יְהוָה – usually transliterated into English letters as Jehovah or Yaweh. This is God’s personal name given to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. We don’t actually know how this word should be pronounced, since the diacritical system called vowel pointing used to add the vowel sounds to Hebrew texts wasn’t invented until the early Middle Ages in the town of Tiberias along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, which became the center of Jewish learning after the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The last book of the Old Testament – Malachi – had been given around 400 BC, nearly 1000 years before vowel pointing was invented. By then, the true pronunciation of – יְהוָה – had been lost, because starting somewhere around 200 BC, the Jewish tradition of never pronouncing the Name of God aloud had arisen, and the written texts didn’t include the vowel sounds. Printed English language Bibles traditionally translate this Name as LORD in all uppercase letters. So here in Psalm 8:1 and 9, the phrase O LORD, our Lord might better be rendered – Yaweh our master.
 
But I digress… Again!
The application of this Psalm to the Hebrews writer’s discussion is a little problematic, because Psalm 8 evidently refers to ordinary human beings, not specifically to Jesus – the God man. In order to properly understand the Hebrews writer’s application of Psalm 8, we need to delve a little into the linguistic weeds.
 
The key verse from Psalm 8 that the writer is quoting to make his point in Hebrews 2:7 is Psalm 8:5. Upon close examination of Psalm 8:5 we find that the phrase translated as “For You have made him a little lower than” is two words in Hebrew – חָסֵר ḥāsēr מְעַט mᵊʿaṭ. Together these words mean “being a small bit inferior to.” The implication is that mankind exists permanently in a state slightly lower than the word, translated here as “the angels“. But this aspect of the translation is problematic as well, since the entity(ies) to which mankind is being compared is the Hebrew word אֱלֹהִים ‘elohiym – the same plural noun we saw in Genesis 1:1 translated as “God“. In the KJV Old Testament אֱלֹהִים‘elohiym is translated only once (here in Psalm 8:5) as “the angels” while it is translated over 2,000 times as “God“. Therefore, Psalms 8:5 might easily be translated “For mankind exists in a permanent state just slightly lower than God.” Nevertheless, Hebrew tradition holds to the translation of אֱלֹהִים ‘elohiym – as “the angels” here in this verse.
 
As if the translation of Psalm 8:5 into English weren’t problematic enough though, the Greek text of Hebrews 2:7 where Psalm 8:5 is being quoted adds yet another layer of complexity. In Greek, the phrase translated “You have made him a little lower than” includes two instances of the Greek verb ἐλαττόω elattoō meaning to make less or inferior in dignity, to be made less or inferior in dignity, or to decrease in authority or popularity. Clearly, the implication here is that the subject of the sentence (man) is changing in character from one state to a slightly lesser state. Hence, some of the other English translations cast this verse with an emphasis that this change in status was a temporary thing pertaining not to ordinary men, but to Jesus – the second person of the Holy Trinity – coming to earth and dwelling in human flesh among us…
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor, [Hebrews 2:7 – ESV]
 
You made him lower than the angels for a short time
you crowned him with glory and honor [Hebrews 2:7 – CSB]
 
You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor, [Hebrews 2:7 – NASB]
Note that the entities that man is made slightly lower than here is the Greek word ἄγγελος aggelos which we have seen in a previous lesson, and is almost always translated as “angel” and never translated as “God.”
 
Now before we pull ourselves out of this linguistic rabbit hole and delve into what the Hebrews writer is trying to tell us in this passage, we need to remind ourselves that in the introduction to this study, we discussed the possibility that the letter to the Hebrews was originally written in the Hebrew language by Paul, and later translated into Greek for the larger audience. Although we don’t have an extant Hebrew text to prove that contention, it is clear that the Greek text clearly implies that the making of “him” a little lower than the angels was a change in “his” fundamental nature. Thus even though Psalm 8 was referring to mankind throughout, the Hebrews writer is quoting it as part of his exposition of the incarnation of Jesus – God the Son – in the form of a man.
 
Although the wording is difficult, and the translation problematic, the point the Hebrews writer is driving toward is simple and clear:
Jesus – God the son – had to be brought from His ordinary heavenly glory into the lowly state of humanity – a little lower than the angels – in order to live the perfectly sinless life that ordinary people are incapable of, and then lay down His earthly life on the cross to provide atonement for the sins of all mankind in our place.
 
Given that contention, let’s explore some of the other passages in the Word of God that speak about the incarnation of Jesus.
 
Isaiah’s prophesy of the virgin birth:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. [Isaiah 7:14 – NKJV]
The angel Gabriel’s visit to the virgin Mary:
30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. [ Luke 1:30-35 – NKJV]
 NOTE: The virgin birth is an essential of the Christian faith. In order for Jesus to accomplish His purpose of mankind’s redemption from sin, He could not have been conceived in the ordinary way. Firstly, since He has always been, when the virgin Mary became pregnant with the baby Jesus, He was not a new creature, but rather a new manifestation of the everlasting God. Also, in order to be the perfectly sinless atoning sacrifice for mankind’s sins, it was essential that He be born apart from mankind’s inborn sinful nature. Thus, it was the altogether Holy Spirit of God who placed the baby in Mary’s womb rather than a human father with innate sin.
 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:14 – NKJV]
 
“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” [John 16:28 – NKJV]
 
3For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [Romans 8:3-4 – NKJV]
 
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, [δοῦλος doulos – bondservant or slave] being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 – ESV]
3. Our human inability to fully grasp in this earthly life the fullness of Jesus’ everlasting dominion because our world is currently under the sway of the evil one – the end of Verse 8:
But now we do not yet see all things put under him.
 
One of the classic eschatological positions – preterism – holds that most of the “end times” prophecies we find in Ezekiel, Daniel, Matthew, Revelation, etc. have already taken place in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was overwhelmed and the temple was destroyed by the Roman conquerors. Those prophecies foretell that satan will be bound for a thousand years. Anyone who takes even a cursory look at the news each day sees evil running rampant throughout our world. So if the preterist position were correct, those chains binding Satan must not be very strong or aren’t nearly short enough to prevent him from wreaking havoc in our world day-by-day. Furthermore, we might have expected from reading the prophecies that satan would have been finally defeated and cast into the lake of fire to suffer eternal torment along with his minions and all of those whose names aren’t written in the Lamb’s Book of Life in 1077 AD. God should also have made a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem where He rules and reigns in righteousness forevermore. Well if this is it, I ain’t impressed.
 
But I digress… Yet again!
This single sentence at the end of Hebrews 2:8 speaks volumes. We know and believe that our God is perfectly righteous, just, true, and loving. In fact, John tells us that God is love…
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. [1 John 4:16 – NKJV]
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross proves this point, and Jesus’ own words confirm it…
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. [John 15:13 – NKJV]
How then can our loving God who has sacrificed His own Son’s life so that we might be reconciled to Him allow the rampant evil that we see in the world all around us? Why is there war, murder, pain, disease, hatred, loneliness, and all the other various manifestations of evil throughout our world? This is not what we would expect from a loving creator. As the empathetic character, John Coffey, in Stephen King’s serial novel The Green Mile so pitifully summed it up…
“I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin from or goin to or why. I’m tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all the times I’ve wanted to help and couldn’t. I’m tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.”
Stephen King, The Green Mile
The Bible confirms that God created mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26). Almost all human beings have a common concept of what constitutes good and evil. Like John Coffey, the suffering all around us hurts us deeply. Since we are created in His image, it stands to reason that the evil in the world also gives God pain. So why does He allow it? God created mankind for fellowship. He desires that we love and obey Him. This is summed up in two of Jesus’ most famous teachings…
34But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:34-40 – NKJV]
 
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. [John 14:15 – NKJV]
God’s desire is that we would choose to love and obey Him. God didn’t create us with a compulsion to love and obey Him. He knew that love and obedience must be a choice. One of the great mysteries of creation is that our All Knowing, All Powerful, Universally Present God was somehow able to create us with the ability to choose for ourselves whether or not to love and obey Him as He desires. God also knows that in order for Him to allow us this choice, there would have to be an alternative for us to choose instead – what we collectively call “evil” – which is embodied in the enemy of our souls, satan.
Now having created us with the ability to choose or reject Him, and having allowed Lucifer and his demon angel followers to rebel against Him and be cast out of Heaven to roam the earth seeking to destroy all that is good and lovely in it, God patiently waits until His own good time that was spoken of in Psalm 110, when He will make all of Jesus’ enemies His footstool. In the meantime, He has promised in His Word that one day He will put an end to satan’s dominion on the Earth, and will put all things under the dominion of Jesus forevermore. Our part is to simply trust in that promise and to love and obey God by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. [2 Peter 3:9 – NKJV]
Before we leave this topic, it’s important for us to remind ourselves that our redemption by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross was never God’s “Plan B.” God always knew that mankind would rebel against His commandment, and would eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). That rebellion in the Garden of Eden is what brought death into the Creation, and along with it all the manifestations of evil we see in the world that break our hearts and God’s.
In fact, the Word of God confirms that it was Jesus who created the universe by the “Word of His Power” (John 1). It was Jesus who spoke all Creation into being when He said “Let there be light.” He spoke knowing full well that mankind would rebel, and that consequently He would need to sacrifice Himself on the cross for our redemption. Yet He spoke Creation anyway. If that isn’t enough to draw us to our knees to beg His forgiveness and mercy, I don’t know what is.
 
Looking back at the end of Hebrews 8, the writer tells us “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” As we have just discussed, this is partially because what we do see is evil running rampant in the world, while we do not see the manifestation of Jesus’ dominion over all things. Does that mean that Jesus doesn’t actually have dominion over His Creation as of yet? Certainly not! What it does mean though, is that from our fleshly perspective we are unable to discern Jesus universal dominion. Until the fullness of Jesus dominion is revealed to us, our part is simply to love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and serve others in His Name.
1Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. [1 John 3:1-3 – NKJV]
8Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. [1 Corinthians 13:8-13 – NKJV]

Coming Up

Having discussed the incarnation of Jesus who was made a “little lower than the angels” for a brief time, the author now turns his discussion to Jesus’ glorification after His resurrection, and the salvation He offers to all through His earthly ministry and ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

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