THE EXALTATION OF JESUS
In these verses, the writer picks up the theme of the superiority of the Son (Jesus) to angels. The warning of verses 2:1-4 is a sort of parentheses. Verse 5 picks up as if it came immediately after 1:14. That is why he says “of which we are speaking”.
So, to add to the list of reasons Jesus is superior to the angels, the writer says the world to come will be subjected to Jesus, not angels. Read verse 5. He says it is not to angels he (the Father) subjected the world to come. The writer implies that God has subjected the world to come to Jesus. Later he will say that expressly. He already said it in chapter 1, when he quoted God saying “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”.
In contrast to Jesus’ reign in the world to come, this present world is ruled, in a sense, by angels. It is ruled by fallen angels. We sometimes call them demons. Satan is a fallen angel and the leader of all fallen angels. Jesus called him the ruler of this world (John 12:31 and 14:30). Ephesians 6:12 tells us our real enemies are not human (flesh and blood) but principalities, powers and rulers of darkness in this world. In Daniel 10, the angel sent to Daniel was opposed by the Prince of Persia, which appears to mean a fallen angel which controlled Persia. So, angels rule this world, but Christ rules the world to come.
To prove his point to his Jewish readers, the writer again goes to an Old Testament passage and applies it to Jesus. This passage is Psalm 8:3-8. Let’s look at it.
In this passage, the Psalmist marvels that God pays any attention to man. He looks at the majesty of creation and realizes God is really big and powerful. In contrast to the smallness and weakness of man, it is amazing God pays man any attention at all. This is verses 3-4.
Yet God not only paid attention to man, he gave man dominion over the earth. The Psalmist mentions the animals, birds and fish. (6) He has in mind the mandate of Genesis 1. It is spelled out in Genesis 1:26-28. God gave man and woman dominion over all the living things on earth and told them to fill the earth and subdue it. He was crowned with glory and honor because he was made in God’s image and acted as his representative to rule the earth.
Adam failed, of course. He did not fulfill his mandate. By disobeying God, he lost his place as ruler of the earth. He became subject to death and the earth became subject to the curse of sin.
Verse 5 says that God made man a little lower than the heavenly beings or angels. He was lower than God and lower than angels, but above the animals.
How was man lower than the angels? Man was bound to earth. Angels resided in heaven, but also could come to earth. Man has gone through much of history without any direct access to God and now has it only in the spiritual since through prayer. In contrast, angels reside in heaven with God and have access to the throne of God.
Angels were made perfect, at least those that did not follow Satan in rebellion. Man was created innocent, but not perfect. He had the ability to sin.
The writer of Hebrews applied this passage to Christ. He says, in effect, Christ fulfills all of man’s original destiny, as described in the Psalm, but in an even greater sense. Some believe this passage in Hebrews speaks of mankind in general. However, we can see that it speaks of Christ, not of man in general, as we see he says “namely Jesus” in verse 9. Then he applied the words of the Psalm directly to Jesus, saying he was for a little while lower than the angels and that he was crowned with glory and honor. In addition, the whole passage from chapter 1 on is about Jesus as compared to angels, not mankind compared to angels.
In thinking of the meaning of this verse, remember that Jesus came to earth in the form of a man. Philippians 2:7 says he was born in the likeness of men. He was fully man and fully God.
When he took on the likeness of men, he did not count equality with God a things to be grasped, but took on human form to carry out his mission. (Philippians 2:6-7) The writer of Hebrews makes this same point by making a small change to the words of the Psalm. He says God made him “for a little while” lower than the angels. So, while the Psalm is qualitative, saying man is lower than angels in status, this passage in Hebrews is temporal; it says Jesus was lower than angels for a short time. That is true because he is exalted over the angels upon his ascension.
The NIV does not make this the primary reading, falling back on the wording of the Psalm in Hebrew and applying this passage to mankind in general rather than Jesus. Some commentators take this approach also. However, it does not fit the context of the passage, which is talking about Jesus, not mankind in general.
So, verse 8 tells us Jesus rules over everything. Everything is under his control. This point is made in Philippians 2 as well, where verse 9 says God highly exalted him and gave him a name above all other names such that all people will acknowledge him as Lord.
Paul also conveyed this idea in 1 Corinthians. Read 1 Corinthians 15:23-28. All things are subjected to Christ. This is also the point of the language that Christ is exalted to the right hand of the Father. Peter used this language in his first sermon in Acts 2:33. The writer of Hebrews also used it in 1:13.
Yet, the writer acknowledges the truth that we do not yet see everything under subjection to Jesus. This is the obvious objection to the truth of these statements. The world is full of sin and rebellion against God. The writer is telling us that the defeat of Jesus’ enemies is not yet complete, but he still reigns. So, we do not see all under his feet yet, but we see Jesus (the one who was made lower than the angels for a little while) crowned with glory and honor. (This is another reason to see that the passage is speaking of Jesus and not humanity in general, because he takes the words of the Psalm again and specifically applies them to Jesus.)
Of course we do not see Jesus crowned with glory and honor with our own eyes while we are alive in the body. We shall see him in heaven when we die. But we know now from the Scripture that he is indeed in heaven, reigning over all, including the angels, and defeating all of his enemies. He must reign in heaven until he has put all his enemies into subjection. (1 Corinthians 15:25)
Why is this so? It is because he will come again as a king. 1 Thessalonians 4 says he will come with a shout and the sound of a trumpet. This would have been understood in the Roman world as the coming of a king or ruler. He is first announced by a herald, then by the sound of trumpets. 1 Corinthians 15 paints the picture of Christ returning after defeating all the enemies of God, then raising his people in bodily resurrection, and finally delivering the kingdom to the Father. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
Revelation paints this picture for us with vivid imagery in chapter 20. Satan will lead a final rebellion at the end of this age, but Jesus will defeat him and thrown him and his supporters into the lake of fire where they will be tormented forever. Then the new creation, the new heavens and earth, the New Jerusalem is established. In other words, the kingdom is completed. Chapter 21 tells us that God the Father and God the Son will dwell among the believers.
Not only will they dwell, but Jesus the Son and the Heavenly Father will reign in the new creation. Revelation 22:3 says they sit on thrones and are worshipped by all. In other words, all things are subject to Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews said.
And believers will reign with Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:12 says if we endure, we will also reign with him. Because Jesus fulfilled the task at which Adam failed, he reigns over the world to come. Because we are in Christ, we will share this reign over the new creation, although subject always to him.