If Jesus Exalted Above the Angels, Why Made Lower? (v. 5)
An Objection Anticipated and Answered
Readily all believers confess that Jesus Christ makes the highest claims for himself – only Savior, King of kings, the Truth and Wisdom of God, the glory of God incarnate. Whatever may be the aims and movements of the city of man, Jesus Christ is the Head of all, and all things are being gathered together under him (Eph. 1:10). He is the only Way and Life (John 14:6), not merely for spiritual life and peace with God but also concretely in daily life, with all its family, business, and political concerns. The disintegration evident in virtually every area of human society and life is due to the failure of men to reckon with the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no prosperity, no wisdom, no way forward in international affairs, nothing good and lasting anywhere unless there is faith in him as man’s only Savior from sin and submission to him as the only King of men and nations.
Nothing about his claims and kingdom correspond with fallen man’s expectations. He denies God and his Christ at every turn, and thus blindness and judgment confront him at every turn. Given the monumental nature of our Savior’s claims, certain questions confront the honest inquirer and also challenge the Lord’s professing friends. If Jesus Christ is the exalted King who “upholds all things by the word of his mouth,” why did he become so low? Why did he die such a shameful death? Why not simply swoop in and destroy sin and Satan? Is Jesus Christ really higher than the angels? The main issue taken up here seems to be not so much a direct continuation of the earlier theme – his superiority to the angels – but a related issue – why did one so superior suffer such reproach? This is the great conundrum and most humbling aspect of the gospel. Why must our Savior sink so very low in order to redeem us? And how does his degradation agree with his exaltation? And what bearing does this dynamic between his humiliation and his exaltation have upon our expectations as his followers and the way we live? That men no longer think about these things only indicates the degree of carelessness that has fallen upon us. Since Jesus Christ is the Mediatorial King, we had better give these questions serious considerations, for the sake of our eternal souls and our temporal security.
A Savior Ruling the World to Come
For – and here is the point – angels do not rule the world to come. Jesus Christ does. This is the point of connection with 1:5-14, which was briefly interrupted by the strong warning of 2:1-4. It also intentionally heightens the difficulty of trying to reconcile Christ’s superiority to the angels with his intense humiliation for sinners. We cannot understand the gospel, however, unless we understand that the glorious Son of God humbled himself and sank so low because our sins had destroyed our original dignity and made us unable to realize or even to see God’s purposes for our creation. Thus, the One who rules all things by his power and is therefore superior to the angels did not come with pomp and circumstance but with pain and misery. He came bearing our pain and misery, our curse and its consequences, enduring our temptations and finally our deserved death on Calvary.
We shall soon learn the glorious reasons, but for the moment, we should note that he did all this when he inaugurated the “world to come.” This pregnant phrase refers to the whole gospel and kingdom age brought into the world at the first advent of our Savior. It is not yet consummated, to be sure, but it is inaugurated and progressing (Heb. 6:5). It cannot refer to heaven and the consummated age primarily, for before this age dawns, Jesus Christ as Mediator will hand over the kingdom to his Father as a fait accompli (1 Cor. 15:27). Thus, we are to understand that as integral as angels were to the old covenant time and administration of God’s church and kingdom, in this “world to come,” in the new age Jesus Christ has inaugurated, he is Lord of all. He is now “exalted, extolled, and very high” (Isa. 52:12) because he humbled himself and became obedient unto death (Phil. 2:7-11). The angels are his servants and minister to his people, but all things are subjected and being subjected to Jesus Christ. There is no other power or authority than what he wields from his Father’s right hand (Matt. 28:18-20).
The Dignity and the Disappointment that is Man (vv. 6-8)
To show the reason that Jesus our Lord had to become lower than the angels, he turns to Psalm 8. The way he references this well-known psalm – “but somewhere someone” (de, pou, tij) – does not indicate a memory lapse on the part of our apostle but rather a mature commitment to Scripture’s inspiration. He did not feel the need to give the author’s name but cited the lines as self-evidently divine and therefore sufficient to establish his present point. Does this not practically teach us that we are to know our Bibles so that we recognize major references, images, symbols, and passages when a preacher cites them or we find them referenced in a book, especially in the Bible itself? It is one of the most remarkable if little recognized traits of Scripture that the Holy Spirit constantly self-references! The fact that we no longer speak a common Bible language is due not simply to the proliferation of Bible translations and paraphrases but even more to inexcusable laziness and resulting ignorance of God’s holy Word. Still, let us not despair but determine to devote ourselves to daily study and meditation upon our Savior’s word, for he will dispel our ignorance. If we will hunger after the living water our Savior gives us through his word, we shall grow and profit (1 Pet. 2:2). We shall soon lose appetite for those things that divert our attention from hearing and obeying our Savior’s blessed voice.
Man’s Dignity and God’s Condescension
The reason that our Savior suffered so shamefully is understood by considering the nature of the man he came to save. Psalm 8 is perfectly suited to this end. God created man but a little lower than the angels. In comparison to God’s majesty, God must condescend to think upon or visit man. And this is before man sinned! Yet, God endowed man with an original dignity that raised him above the other creatures, with the exception of the angels. Their superiority to man perhaps lies primarily in the simple fact that they were blessed with more direct and constant communion with God. They are also more powerful than man, for no single man can decimate an army in one night, but a single angel can! But God has crowned man with glory and honor as being made in his image, something not said of the angels, and has subjugated this entire world to man’s dominion, not to the angels. Man is a glorious creature, made for communion with God, the object of God’s condescending favor, and given dominion over this world.
Man’s Downfall and Destiny
When we look at man and at man’s world, however, we see that something has gone terribly wrong (Eccl. 7:29). The dominion God gave him is now misdirected and abused. In some, it leads to intense narcissism and all manner of unbridled lusts and covetousness. This is the way the majority of men have used their strength – to pursue all kinds of devices to gratify their sinful desires. In others, they pervert God’s intention and become tyrants or intensely greedy businessmen who try to gobble up the lives and goods of others. However our original corruption comes to expression in actual depravity, which is comprehensive in man and his race, we look around and do not see all things put under man. Even with respect to godly men, we do not see God’s original promise and purpose realized. The world in its cursed state resists efforts to be subdued to God’s glory. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of an original and deep rebellion against God, that the core of life is broken and unable to be mended, regardless of how many laws and bureaucrats and talking heads try to convince us that they have discovered the secret to man’s recovery. They have not and cannot. They are as broken as the rest of us. Pilate’s hopeless agnosticism is thus written upon the soul of our race ~ “What is truth?” We might add – “Where is truth?” And, “What is wrong with us?” And the answer. No one knows.
Why We Must See Jesus (v. 9)
He is the True Man, the Savior of Man
But all the godly who have ever walked the earth, from Seth and Enoch, through Abraham to Joseph and Moses, to David and the prophets, have ever looked to the coming Messiah as the only Savior of man. This is the reason for Psalm 8 in this context. It is not that the Psalm is strictly Messianic. As the Jews never saw it as such, it would have been a weak argument for the apostle to have used it in this way. He used this beautiful psalm to show that only in Jesus are man’s dignity and destiny restored. In a sense, he is the true Man. He is what man was intended to be – wholly consecrated to the will of his Maker, loving and obeying his God and Father, and subduing this earth to the glory of God. Thus, the Son of God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the great resolution of Psalm 8. Man has failed to realize his purpose and potential. The Son of God took upon himself our nature and bore our curse to redeem and restore us. We turned rebel against God; he subdues our heart to teachableness, so that in communion with him by the power of the Holy Spirit, we walk humbly with God in newness of life and thus begin to realize the purpose and destiny of our creation.
Present Delay and Hardship Must Drive Us to Him
And is there not urgency to this, “But we see Jesus?” The implication is that we must see him and must look to him. The letter to the Hebrews will end with just such a call (12:1), and we find similar encouragements scattered throughout. When it looks as if man is lost beyond recovery – you, me, man in general, the man next door, all the men whom we encounter in the world – hope remains for his recovery through faith in Jesus Christ. When it looks as if the anti-man will prevail, the wicked man whom we encounter so often in Scripture, when he is wreaking havoc and encouraging godlessness, we must see Jesus. When the church doubts God’s promise that all things will be subject to the godly man and that he will enjoy God’s richest blessings now and forever, we must see Jesus. We do see him. We see him crowned with glory and honor. We see that although he was the Son of God, he became so very low and the object of ridicule in order to restore us to God. And when the world and Satan are particularly and specifically fighting against the gospel, against hope in the forgiveness of sins, killing men through wars, unbelief, covetousness, and suicide, we must see Jesus. And when it is our life on the line for the gospel, as it was for these Jewish believers, whether we are called to seal God’s truth with our blood or suffer reproach for our Savior’s blessed name, where shall strength be found except by seeing Jesus? When he fills the horizon of hope and faith, strength and faithfulness and steadfastness and joy fill our hearts.
Why Jesus Made a Little Lower than the Angels (vv. 9-10)
We can now understand the answer to the question, “If Jesus Christ is really the glorious, eternal Son of God, why did he suffer so terribly, becoming lower than man and almost “no man,” to quote from the prophet (Ps. 22:6)? He had to suffer death for us. Here is the necessary obstacle barring the way to man’s salvation and thus his recovery to the original vision set forth in Psalm 8. Sin made us enemies of God, enemies to God, and subject to death as the penal curse against rebels. Nothing would do if God would be just and justify sinners but that he must put his beloved Son to death in the place of sinners. Jesus Christ must become sin so that we might be raised up to righteousness through his obedience (2 Cor. 5:21). In a chiasmic, back and forth fashion, the apostle places humiliation and exaltation. The one who suffered death is now “crowned with glory and honor.” This is as our Mediator. His sacrifice was sufficient. He was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25), because the Father fully accepted his sacrificial death in place of sinners and thus raised and seated him in glory. By adding that he tasted death for every man, it is established that Jesus Christ as the Mediator of the covenant could not be so high now and the ruler of the world to come, all the kingdom of God and all the powers of the earth, had he not become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
There is thus nothing embarrassing about the lowliness of Jesus Christ and the depth of his sufferings. Awe-inspiring, deeply humbling, and the wonder of angels would be more appropriate. For the one who tasted death for us, drinking the cup of judgment and draining its bitterest dregs, was none other than the Beloved of the Father, the brightness of God’s glory, and the Creator and Consummator of all things. It defies human thought that he would humble himself for us. Is it any wonder that so many have run after him, willingly and brutally suffered for his gospel, and defied popes and tyrants in order to have his word and worship preserved intact? And his becoming so low was not for a few, but he tasted this death for “every man.” This is defined in verse 10 as “many sons.” It does not mean that Jesus satisfied the curse for every single man, else all would be forgiven and obtain everlasting life. It means that he saved our race. He saved man by assuming man’s nature and tasting man’s death. He did this so that all who believe upon him will be saved.
Do You See Jesus?
Are our times dangerous? Frustrating and uncertain? Are our hearts fainting with fear? Boiling with anger? We must see Jesus in his full significance for our race. He is its only hope. Comprehensively, he is our Savior everywhere or we shall not be saved anywhere. Individually, each one of us must look to him. As a man, as a businessman, as a mother, as a college student, as a believer in Jesus, you must see Jesus. We see him not by mystic vision but as we abide in his word (John 14:21). It is no wonder that we do not see Jesus clearly when his word is closed to us, rarely studied with devotion, hardly obeyed. To see him we must call upon him, devote ourselves to following him, and walk in intentional communion with him. Do you see him? Now, where you sit? Do you admire him? Long for him? Can you say, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth?” Is your confession, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine?” See Jesus, child of God, and you will embrace his cross and adore his crown.