JESUS, THE SON OF MAN, MADE LOWER THAN THE
ANGELS, FOR THE SUFFERING OF DEATH.
HEB. 2: 5-10.
THE apostle now enters into the holy of holies. He approaches the great subject of the epistle—Jesus Christ exalted through sufferings, by death, even by His own blood, entering as a great High Priest into the heavenly sanctuary. He has reminded us already that Jesus as the Son of God hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than the angels. He now wishes to show us what humiliation and sufferings He endured upon earth, and that these did not merely not interfere with His glory, but are the meritorious cause of his exaltation.
"Unto whom hath God put in subjection the world to come of which we speak?" The world to come was a topic of instruction and conversation among all God-fearing Jews; and when they came to believe in Jesus, their attention was still more directed to the fulfillment of prophecy, and their affections more deeply interested in that future of which all the prophets had testified. Jesus Himself had spoken of the re-generation of the world, when the twelve apostles should "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The world to come evidently does not mean heaven, because heaven is a present kingdom, in which the glory of God is manifested, and in which the worship of the angelic and the beatified hosts continually ascends to the throne of God. It is evident from Psalm viii., in which the world to come is described, that it has reference to earth and to the future dominion of Messiah, the Son of man. The world to come does not mean the gospel dispensation; for that began with the preaching of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. But this world to come is something future, to which all the apostles were looking; for Peter testifies, "We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness ;" and again, that the heavens must receive Jesus "until the times of the restitution of all things." The world to come, according to the opinion of the ancient synagogue, means the renovated earth under the reign of the Messiah; it means the time predicted in the prophets, when the kingdom shall be given to the Son of David, and Israel shall dwell in their own land in peace and righteousness, and all the heathen nations shall walk before Him and worship the God of Jacob; when abundance of food and raiment shall be for all the poor and needy; when oppression shall cease on the earth, and the voice of cruelty shall no longer be heard ; when even the outward creation shall manifest the presence of the peace of God and of the blessing of the Most High; when from the river even unto the great sea the King shall reign; when war shall be learnt no more by the nations; when the will of God shall be done upon earth as it is done in heaven.
This world to come, which is so fully described in the prophets, must be under subjection, under the government, and under the rule of some one. It has not been put in subjection unto the angels; but, as the word of God teaches us continually, it has been put in subjection under the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. He it is who is to be the beloved of God, to reign upon earth, fulfilling the whole counsel of God; in whom all the promises given unto the fathers were to be "yea and Amen."
Now the testimony of one concerning this reign upon earth in the world to come is given in Psalm viii., and in speaking of it the apostle does not say "David said;" for, as we have already noticed, all his quotations in this epistle are given in this impersonal way, and reference is immediately made to the source of all Scripture, even the Lord God Himself. Although it is very instructive for us to know what David saw, and what Isaiah thought and felt, and in what peculiar circumstances they were placed historically when the predictions were given to them, yet it is important for us to see the higher truth, that these men were the medium and channel of a higher revelation which they themselves did not fully under-stand.
The apostle Paul reminds us that these things happened and were written for our instruction. The apostle Peter reminds us that the prophets enquired diligently into the things they were enabled to write, and that they described them not for themselves, but for us, to whom the gospel is now preached in clear fullness. Scripture is thus 'Spirit-breathed and eternal; and it is for us to en-ter in faith and reverence, and meditate on the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the counsel of God. How marvelous, when we re-member that David and Isaiah did not under-stand fully what through their inspired lips was uttered! How wonderful when we think of it, that all the great periods of the church, from the first to the second coming of Jesus, were to a very large extent hidden from them, so that they saw the first coming in suffering and the second in glory, as if they were two continuous events scarcely separated by any interval, and that they beheld at Messiah's coming, Israel on the restored earth in peace and blessedness. And the Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation, fill up that great and wonderful interval, during which Christ gathers from Jews and Gen-tiles a body for Himself. And, notwithstanding this great distinction between the prophetic and apostolic writings, there is such a harmony of truth and of sentiment, such a oneness of spirit, such an inter-penetration of the two portions of Scripture, that, wherever we go in this grand and spacious temple of God's word, we see the one central idea and the one pervading thought; we feel that the Builder is the Lord of ages, who was, and is, and is to come. What is it that we see? The glory of God Himself. In the morning of the world's history, in the early dawn all was mysterious, dark, and dim. The truth was only given in a fragmentary manner, yet the manifestation of the glory was continually assuming more distinct features. Glimpses are given unto us of a wonderful human countenance, like the son of Abraham, Isaac, suffering in meekness; like Joseph, entering through humiliation unto glory; like David, ruling in lowliness, beloved, though persecuted. We behold a heavenly, divine One, appearing as the Messenger of the covenant; the Angel, in whom is the Name, the Rock that followed them in the wilderness; the Captain of the host of Israel ; the Son of David ; until in the gospel of Matthew we see the glory of God "in the face of Jesus Christ"—the same countenance and the same character; all these various luminous streaks breaking through the darkness; all these various and occasional approximative manifestations; all these beams of light, if I may so speak, condensing themselves at His appearing, and showing themselves at last in perfect distinctness and brightness; so that what many prophets and kings desired to see and to look into is, in God's great condescension, come unto us. We behold unveiled, what they beheld afar off.
If such is the unity of Scripture, it is a very important subject to dwell upon. We can easily understand the difficulties which outsiders find in perceiving how thoroughly convinced we are of the truth of Scripture; how no shadow ever crosses our minds about the divine authority of the word of God; how the objections and discrepancies which science and criticism bring for-ward, and the difficulties in the interpretation of the word of God do not affect our faith; how we have an inward perception and conviction of the inspiration by beholding the perfect unity of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. "One"—whether David, or Zechariah, or King Solomon—one in a certain place "testifies." He is a witness to what God has revealed.
Now, what is the testimony of Psalm 8? Look at the psalm. What does it mean? David praises the goodness of God, and the condescension of God to man. The name of God is known all over the earth; the glory of God is high above the heavens. He who has made the heavens, and the moon, and the stars, condescends to frail and feeble man, and to the son of man. He is mindful of him, only placed a little below the angels, but crowned with glory and honor. He has given him power over all things in the world, over the beasts, and over the cattle, and over the fowls of the air. This psalm is evidently responsive to the original investiture, of man with power when first created by God. God created him in His image, and appointed him to be the ruler upon earth. But does this explain the psalm? Let us look candidly, and say if this key is sufficient to open it. God's name is not now known over the whole earth; and this man, of whom the psalmist speaks as ruler, is it Adam? It cannot be Adam, because he does not speak of man, but the "son of man." He speaks evidently of the descendants of Adam. "Out of the mouth of babes and suckling’s thou hast perfected praise." Is it fallen man? True, he is lower than the angels, inasmuch as he inhabits a mortal body, and is limited and finite in many ways. But where is his power over creation? As it says in the epistle to the Hebrews, "We do not see all things yet put under him." But the apostle gives to us the key, that the psalmist speaks of the world to come, and of Jesus the Son of man; and when we think that this psalm is written by the Holy Ghost, and when we take in connection all the passages referring to it in the word of God, we shall understand that this is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching predictions that the word of God contains. *[I]
God created man to be the ruler of the earth; he was to be the representative of God and king here below. All things were to be subject to him. This is the very idea of a king, as we find in the book of Daniel. "Thou, 0 king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and bath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold." (Dan. 2:37,38.) The idea of kingship is that it is not an authority entrusted to man by man. It does not come from below. It is a power and sovereignty given by the supreme Lord of heaven and earth Himself. And the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar, as it comes from God direct, so it involves everything upon earth. Not merely are all peoples and nations and languages to render allegiance to him, but the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, which move on and over his territory, are also subject to him. He is invested with power by God Himself, and over all things is his dominion. Now this kingship which Adam lost by his sin is to be given unto one who is called the "Son of man." Jesus our Lord evidently referred to this passage also, when He called Himself the Son of man. It is in this expression that the passages in Daniel are rooted. "From henceforth ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven." He is called the Son of man because He is the sum and substance of the human race, the representative and restorer of humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He is the second Adam; in Him there is a new commencement of humanity given unto us. He is the Son of man not merely in that He is a partaker of flesh and blood, and that, born of a woman and appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh, He has become one with our race; but because it is given to Him to be the head of the new humanity: He is to be Lord and Ruler, the King of the earth. This Son of man, made a little lower than the angels, is to be the King; and through Him the knowledge, love and life of God shall be brought to the ends of the earth. All people that on earth do dwell, all people to the furthest islands of the sea, shall know and worship the God of Israel. God's name shall be excel-lent on the earth while He has exalted His glory above the heavens; that is, the whole earth shall see the manifestation of grace in the church which is to the praise and glory of His name; the manifestation of salvation-glory, which is above all angels and all things belonging to the first creation.
"Out of the mouth of babes and suckling’s thou hast perfected praise." This was fulfilled at the time when the children sang "Hosanna" to the Lord; it is a symbol and it is fulfilled now continually when out of the mouth of babes are declared the mysteries the Father reveals to them (Matt. 11); and it shall be fulfilled when it shall be found that by the foolishness, and weakness, and nothingness of believers, God brings to naught the wisdom of the wise, and the power and glory of the world.
But this Son of man whom God chose for Himself was made a little lower than the angels that He might taste death; for through this death was He to enter into the glory and honor with which the Father decreed to crown Him for His obedience and humiliation.
Let us consider what it is that the Son of man, humbling Himself for us, has endured. There are two expressions used—to suffer death, and to taste death. Let us remember that between Jesus, as He was in Himself, and death there subsisted no connection. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary. He was without sin, without spot and blemish. He had never transgressed the law. In Him Satan could find nothing. Death had no personal or direct relation to Him. Do we look upon death as being the punishment of the transgression of the law? Christ fulfilled all righteousness. The Lord Jesus Christ, as far as His humanity was concerned, was free from the power of death. No power could kill the Lord Jesus Christ. "No man taketh my life from me; but I lay it down of myself." The Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life, of His own power and will, laid down His life. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ in this respect is different from the death of any human being; it was the free, voluntary, spontaneous act and energy of His will. When the Lord Jesus Christ died He put forth a great energy. He willed to die. And so in one sense we may say that His death was a great manifestation of His power.
Let us consider that the Lord tasted death. A man may die in a moment, and then he does not taste death. John the Baptist was beheaded; it was in the twinkling of an eye that the severance took place between body and spirit. Men may die in a moment of excitement, and, as extremes meet, almost in unconsciousness, or with calmness and intrepidity, with lion-like courage, as many a warrior; but that is not tasting death. The death of our Lord Jesus Christ was a slow and painful death; He was "roasted with fire," as was prefigured by the Paschal Lamb. But it was not merely that it lasted a considerable time that it was attended with agony of mind as well as pain of body; but that He came, as no other finite creature can come, into contact with death. He tasted death; all that was in death was concentrated in that cup which the Lord Jesus Christ emptied on the cross. During His lifetime He felt a burden, sorrow, grief ; He saw the sins and sorrows of the people; He had compassion, and wept. In the garden of Gethsemane He realized what was the cup which He would have to drink upon Golgotha. He was in great agony, not in-stead of us, but because He shrank from that impending substitution on the accursed tree. There is no substitution and expiation in the garden—the anticipation of the substitution was the cause of His agony; but on the cross He paid the penalty for the sins of men in His own death. But what was it that He tasted in death? Death is the curse which sin brings, the penalty of the broken law, the manifestation of the power of the devil, the expression of the wrath of God; and in all these aspects the Lord Jesus Christ came into contact with death, and tasted it to the very last. He tasted it as the consequence of sin, though He knew no sin in Himself personally; but He, as the perfect, pure, and spotless Son of God, and Son of man, had an infinite appreciation of the evil of sin in its loathsomeness, in its cruelty, in its apostasy from God, in its contrariety to the will of the Holy One. He saw the true nature of sin Godwards and manwards; upwards to the throne of holiness, and downwards to the bottom-less abyss; in its depths, and in its everlasting consequences, did He perceive it. We do not see the real consequences of sin, not knowing the exceeding sinfulness of sin. We find it difficult to realize that such awful infinite results should come from it; but He saw sin in all its mystery, in all its reality.
Death is the penalty of the transgression of God's law. He had magnified the law and fulfilled the law all the time that He was upon earth. In His heart the law was written as upon the tables in the ark of the covenant. He delighted in the will of God, not as something external to Him, but as something that lived within Him, the music and rhythm of His soul. He saw death as the result of the transgression of the law, and the curse and punishment of the law. He was made under the law, and now He was made a curse for us.
Satan has the power of death. Jesus says, "This is your hour and the power of darkness;" and it was Satan, the prince and the power of darkness, whom Jesus vanquished upon the cross. He came into contact with the prince and the power of darkness, whose right it was to insist upon the hand-writing of ordinances, which is against the transgressors, and who can fix the sting of death by applying it with the strength of law. (1Cor. 15:56.)
And last of all, and most fearful of all, it was the expression of the wrath of God. The just displeasure and indignation of God against sin makes itself felt in death. Death is being forsaken of God; it is the expression of the withdrawal of God's favor and strength. Death is to be left without God. The Lord Jesus Christ came into contact with death as the wrath of God. He tasted death with full and perfect consciousness. Therefore He said, at the end of the three mysterious hours during which the Sun lost his light,*[II] "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" With fullness of faith He continued clinging to God; for in all this He acknowledged the truth, the righteousness, and the faithfulness of God, and called Him "my God." Thus did He taste death. Thus did He who was life itself come into contact with death; thus did He who was holiness itself come into contact with sin; and thus His love to God and to man was sublimated, as it were, to the highest perfection. Thus He satisfied the holiness, justice, truth, and faithfulness of God; and thus He took away the sting of death as the penalty of sin and the strength of Satan.
Christ was made a curse for us; He was forsaken of God, and left alone with the power of darkness. But though He emptied the cup of wrath, though all the billows and waves of death went over Him, He continued to live, to trust, to love, to pray : He gained the victory in the lowest depth of His agony. His love was stronger than death, and in His death He brought life to all those whose sins He bore. He tasted death by the grace of God. It was the grace of God that gave Him up unto death. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him." The ultimate reason of Christ's death is the love of God to Jesus and the children given to Him; its ultimate purpose, the manifestation of God to angels and to men. "That He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every one." Scripture throughout refers to the sacrifice of Jesus as the consequence of the love of God; and as the manifestation of divine love "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." It is only the enemy, the unbeliever, who represents the Scripture doctrine to be that the anger and the wrath of God the. Father had to be appeased by Jesus, in whom there is greater clemency and mercy than in the Father. This is a false witness. It is the love of God that Jesus revealed; nay, it is God's love that Jesus died for the guilty. Christ did not die in order that God might love the world; but it was because God loved the world that Jesus died. Through Christ crucified we behold God as Father.
But what love would it be if Christ's death was only an example? What if there had been no necessity for that unspeakable gift—for that stupendous sacrifice? What if sin could be for-given without the character of God being vindicated? without the manifestation of His justice, truth, and holiness? if the law could have been set aside, and its penalty and condemnation passed over? if the favor of God could rest immediately on the sinner who recognizes the love of God, and the real obstacles between God and the transgressor remain as they were, untouched, unremoved? And these objective obstacles are the hatred of God against sin, the wrath of God against evil—wrath as a necessary and essential manifestation of love, which is in perfect holiness and justice—the condemnation of God's law, which is holy, just, and good, the power of death, and Satan, the prince of darkness. The subjective obstacles (in man) are not less real—his hardness, hatred against God, and death in trespasses and sins. If Jesus died only as a martyr and example, or as manifesting the love of God, who was willing to receive repentant sinners, we can-not understand the reason of agony and sacrifice so awful and of miracle so transcendent as the incarnation. Nor would such a death bring us nigh unto God. There would still be the in-finite distance between God and the conscience; and the mountains of our guilt, the condemnation and curse of the law, and the righteous displeasure of God, would still separate between Him and us. Christ would be no mediator; for He would, on this supposition, never have entered into our real position, difficulty, and death. The lost sheep would still be in the wilderness, and the Good Shepherd would have only shown His willingness to rescue it, His compassion, self denial, love, but would not actually have found and saved it. Only when we believe the Scripture testimony, that He laid down His life for and instead of us—that He became sin and a curse in our stead—that His blood was shed as a ransom for the remission of our sins—only then do we see that in Jesus we have the love, favor, and blessing of God, that in Him we have redemption, and are brought nigh to the Father.
And notice, He tasted death by the grace of God for every one. We speak about the pardon of sins. We are pardoned; but all our sins have been punished. God forgives us, but our sins He never forgives, never pardons, in the sense of remitting their punishment. All our sins were laid upon Jesus, every one was punished. "God condemned sin in the flesh." He executed judgment upon all our sins, for every one of us, for all the children of God. For each of them Jesus tasted death. Here there is not merely the forgiveness of sin, but there is the actual putting away of all our sins; and the apostle explains to us that this great and marvelous mystery of the death of Jesus as our Substitute, bearing our sins, bearing our curse, enduring the penalty of our sins, and overcoming all our enemies (that is the law, and Satan, and death), that this is in order to manifest unto us the fullness of the perfection of God.
"For it became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings." What a marvelous declaration! "It became Him." It is in accordance with the divine perfections. All divine attributes are harmonized here—His wisdom and His mercy, His justice and His holiness, His power and His truth. "It became Him because of His love, it became His justice, it became His wisdom that thus, it should be. There was in it no triumph of one attribute over an other, no prodigality which infinite wisdom could reprove, no facility which infinite holiness could challenge; there was a common rejoicing of all God's attributes in their common and harmonious exercise." God's attributes (we speak humanly and with great imperfection) are all simultaneous. They all move together, because they are all-perfect and all-glorious. In His mercy He must be righteous, in His justice merciful; in His wisdom there is strength, in His power patience.
Everything that is in God is beautiful and perfect. "Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things;" and that in which He has concentrated the revelation of Himself must become Him. The more we look upon Jesus as our Redeemer, and contemplate the atonement upon the cross, the more do our thoughts expand, and the more do we see the image and glory of the Most High; the more do we dread sin, the more do we enter into the knowledge of God and into fellowship with Him. Who brings out the perfection of God but the Lamb slain? Well then may it be said, "It became Him to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings."
If I may so say, God is never so Godlike as when He reveals Himself in Jesus crucified for sins. Oh, how did the Jews shrink from the mystery of the Crucified One! How did every thought in them rebel against the idea of their King being hanged upon the tree! How hard it is for them to believe that the Messiah was the Crucified One! They turn away from the cross of Jesus and rest, in what they believe a spiritual faith, in the one incomprehensible, invisible, glorious God. They forget that throughout the Old Testament times God revealed His glory, and that the promise is the appearing of the glory, the manifestation of Jehovah. They do not under-stand the mystery—God revealed and glorified in the death of His Son. It became Him, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. He brings many children to glory. We use the word glory often in a superficial and thoughtless way. What is glory? What glory do we possess? Are our bodies glorious? Soon they will be in the grave, the food of worms. Are our minds glorious? We may, in a moment, lose the light of reason, and forget all the information we have acquired, and be unable to think connectedly. Are our hearts glorious? They are polluted with sin. Are our souls glorious? We have no strength or life in ourselves. Then what is the glory? What glory is ours? What do you expect when you are laid in the grave? You remember that Jesus said to Martha at the grave of Lazarus, when the signs of corruption were so evident and repulsive, "Only believe, and thou shalt see the glory of God." Ah! God's glory. Not the glory of Lazarus. Not our glory, but His own glory. "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Now see how easy it is to believe that there is no other righteousness but God's righteousness. A mortal, sinful, and weak creature, I expect glory, though my body is laid in the grave, and mind and heart fail me. The glory I hope for is Christ's—to be glorified together with Him. It is divine glory. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. What righteousness have I? I have no righteousness but Christ's righteousness. Just as God will give me His glory, so He hath given me His righteousness; not the righteousness which is by the works of the law, the fruit of my own endeavors, not partly mine, and partly the result of looking to the Lord Jesus Christ. The sinner is guilty, lost, and imperfect; but, clothed in the righteousness which is from above—God's righteousness—he is perfect, glorious, beautiful. Then I understand what the apostle Paul says—"Whom He justified, them He also glorified." If He has given me Jesus as my righteousness, then He has also given me Jesus as my glory. It is His purpose to bring many children unto glory, and it was necessary to make the Captain of their salvation perfect though sufferings. The apostle touches here only briefly on what forms one of the chief themes of the epistle to the Hebrews—the connection between Christ's sufferings and glory.
Without entering now on this truth, I conclude with this remark: Most of us last Lord's-day commemorated the dying love of Jesus. The Lord's Supper is the connecting link between the first and second coming of Christ. Looking back we see the finished work of Jesus, the sacrifice which He has made; by which one sacrifice, once for all, He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. By faith we are sanctified, separated unto God; our sins are forgiven, our righteousness is divine, we are complete in Christ. Looking forward, we expect the world to come; we show the death of the Lord till He come. That same Jesus whom now, in His personal absence, though we see Him not, we love and trust, in whom we rejoice, and who is specially with us while we commemorate His dying love, shall return to take the kingdom and the power. Now during the interval we live by and on what Jesus has done for us when He died upon the cross. We are always celebrating the Lord's Supper. And this is His wondrous love, that day by day He gives us His body to eat, which is meat indeed, and His blood, which is drink indeed. This is outwardly expressed at the Lord's table. The daily, hourly, secret but most real life of the Christian, which is nothing else but eating Christ and living by Him, even by Him who gave His body and shed His blood for us; this. is manifested to ourselves, the Church, and the world, by the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, in which the union between Christ and the believer is renewed, confirmed, and sealed. The spiritual Lord's Supper is for every day and all the day; for this is our life, to feed on Jesus, who died for us. This is the glorious consequence of His death—"I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore." And this is, if I may so speak, His blessed occupation now—to feed and strengthen the children until He shall come again in glory. He continually renews and imparts to us that love which died for us upon the cross.
Oh, that we may know what it is to be justified and what it is to be glorified! that we may be clothed with God's righteousness now, and that we may be glorified together with Christ at His coming! Let us take the cup of salvation, be-hold Christ crucified, but now exalted, our righteousness and glory. Amen.
[I] * Luther : " This psalm speaks entirely of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which He obtained through suffering, as Heb. 2:9 clearly testifies." It is quoted as referring to Christ: (I) Matt. 21:16; (2) 1Cor. 15:27; (3) Eph. 1:20-22; (4) Heb. 2. Luther has beautiful remarks on the spiritual teaching and consolation of the glory and honour of Christ. (Isaiah 53; Isa 61; Psalm 45)
The designation “Son of man " is given, with the exception of Ezekiel, to none but Messiah. In Daniel 7:13 the expression is Ben-Enosh, which brings before us more vividly that He who was crucified through weakness is now exalted and glorified. In this psalm Ben-Adam is more appropriate—" the Adam above," "the Adam on high, who has dominion over all things," an expression occurring in the Talmudic writings and the Zohar. Compare also Rom. 5 and 1Cor. 15.
[II] *"These were three mysterious hours. The time of this desertion corresponds with the 4th verse of Psalm 8, in which the Sun is not mentioned (Matt. 27: 45)."—BENGEL, Gnomon.