Who Rules the World to Come?
Jesus Is Superior to Angels
As you turn to the text, let me remind you about what we have seen in chapter 1. The writer says that in former times God spoke in various ways through the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, namely, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2). Jesus is God's final and decisive Word to the world. He inaugurates the "last days" because after him there is no third period of revelation. Everything God has to say from here onto eternity he says in Jesus. If there is fuller revelation, it will be clarification, amplification, and application of the Jesus already revealed in history and in the New Testament.
The writer stresses the utter superiority and uniqueness of Jesus over angels because angels had played a crucial role in mediating the word of God in the Old Testament (Hebrews 2:2). So the writer wants to make sure we do not say, "Well, if God spoke through angels in the Old Testament and spoke in these last days through his Son, then his Son is a great angel." "Wrong," the writer says. Jesus is not a big angel. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact representation of God's nature. He is God the Son (Hebrews 1:8) and, as such, angels worship him (Hebrews 1:6) and do his bidding (Hebrews 1:14).
God Did Not Subject to Angels the World to Come
The conclusion the writer draws from this exalted place of Jesus in the universe as God's final word to the world is found in Hebrews 2:1. So here is where we will pick up our reading.
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. 5 For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. 6 But one has testified somewhere, saying, "WHAT IS MAN, THAT THOU REMEMBEREST HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT THOU ART CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? 7 THOU HAST MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; THOU HAST CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAST APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF THY HANDS; 8 THOU HAST PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. 9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
Our focus this morning is on verses 5–9. Notice that this passage begins with the word "for." "For" or "because" means that he is giving a basis or defense of what he just said: "For He [= God] did not subject to angels the world to come." What he had just said was that our salvation is so great and so well attested that it is folly and dangerous to neglect it and drift into indifference. Why? "For God did not subject to angels the world to come concerning which we are speaking."
How does that make sense? Don't neglect your great salvation, "For God did not subject to angels the world to come." What's at stake here is who rules the world to come. To whom is the age to come subjected? And the answer to this tells us something crucial about how great our salvation is, so that we will not neglect it but give all the closer heed to it.
Keep in mind here that when Hebrews 2:3 speaks of a "great salvation," it is referring not only to all that Christ did by his death and resurrection to purify us from our sins (Hebrews 1:3), but also to all the effects of that in the age to come. We know this because in Hebrews 1:14b the writer says that we "will inherit salvation." In other words we experience part of it now in the purification of our sins and reconciliation with God, but there is more—O so much more—that we are yet to inherit. And that is what verses 5–9 talk about.
So when verse 5 speaks of "the world to come," it means the world of our final salvation—the time and the place and the relationships of glory and perfection after Jesus comes a second time and establishes his everlasting kingdom of righteousness and joy. So we can paraphrase like this: don't neglect your coming great salvation, because (as verse 5 says) in the coming world it is not angels who will have everything in subjection to them—it is not angels who will rule, but . . . But who?
Neglecting So Great a Salvation
Who will rule? What is the answer to that question which makes our salvation so great we would be utter fools to neglect it for mere power plays in this life, or mere possessions, or mere family? Jesus told a parable one time about God's great salvation and how people neglected it (Luke 14:16–20):
A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for everything is ready now." 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, "I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused." 19 And another one said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused." 20 And another one said, "I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come."
This is the classic picture from Jesus of what it means to "neglect so great a salvation." And notice they are all good things: a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, a wife. And for that, salvation is neglected and lost.
Now in Hebrews 2:5–9 the writer is helping us not to do that. He is laboring with the means appointed by God to save us—namely, with words. He is saying, Don't neglect this great salvation. Don't neglect what Christ has purchased for you and what is coming to you in the world to come. For in the world to come it is not to angels that God subjected all things.
To Whom Has He Subjected All Things?
But to whom then? And how is this part of our great salvation?
Verses 6–8 give his answer. Not to angels . . .
But one has testified somewhere [referring to Psalm 8:4–6], saying, "WHAT IS MAN, THAT THOU REMEMBEREST HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT THOU ART CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? 7 THOU HAST MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE [or "a little"] LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; THOU HAST CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAST APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF THY HANDS; 8 THOU HAST PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.
Who is it, then, who rules the world to come? In Psalm 8 this passage refers to human beings in general:
What is man that you remember him? Or the son of man, that you are concerned about him? You have made him a little lower than the angels . . .
All this refers to the seeming insignificance ("What is man?"), and at the same time the amazing majesty, of man ("You have made him a little less, or for a while less, than angels"). David in this psalm is celebrating the majesty of God by calling attention to the fact that man, who is created in God's image, is appointed to be the ruler over his creation—"You have put all things in subjection under his feet" (v. 8).
To Humans or to Christ?
Is this what the writer of Hebrews means by these verses? Or is he taking the words of the psalm and referring them to Christ? Is he saying that man in general is the ruler of creation under God, or is he saying that Christ is the ruler of creation? Or is there some interplay here that involves both?
My approach is to assume that the New Testament writers built on the Old Testament meaning of the psalms (and other books) unless something in the context forces me to think otherwise. So let's try that and see if it makes sense out of this passage. I think it does.
The flow of thought would go like this. Hebrews 2:1–4 says that we should be tremendously vigilant over our minds and hearts so that we don't drift away from the Word of God (1:2; 2:1) and neglect our great salvation (2:3) which is coming to us as an inheritance (1:14), if we hold fast to our confession of hope (3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23) firm to the end.
Then verses 5–8 say that salvation is indeed very great and worth embracing with joy and perseverance because God did not subject the coming world of our salvation to angels but to humans—to us. This is why our salvation is so great and immeasurably valuable—because in this salvation we are destined for something unspeakably great—we are destined to have all that is in creation put in subjection under our feet. It will all one day serve us completely for a good and joyful end.
But All Things Are Not Subjected to Man Now
There is one massive problem. The writer mentions it at the end of verse 8: "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him." I think the "him" here still refers to "man"—the human beings referred to in Psalm 8. So the tension builds. How is this problem to be solved? Man is to rule creation under God, but we do not see him ruling.
First, the writer tells us to be alert and careful to treasure our great salvation. Then, second, he says that the reason he says it is so great and valuable is that in the age to come God has promised to subject the whole creation to his redeemed (saved) people, not to angels. That hope is part of our great salvation—that someday those who have held fast to their great salvation will be revealed as the sons of God and all creation will serve them rather than ravage them the way it does now. They will be victorious over the natural world rather than victims of its floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and diseases and death. But then he says, very realistically, in the third place, wherever you look in the world today, that is not what you see (end of verse 8): all things are not subject to man. Psalm 8 is not now fulfilled in man.
On the contrary, man is subject to the creation in dreadful ways. We try to persuade ourselves that we are masters of our fate, and that since we can make airplanes and radios and televisions and computers and cellular phones and lasers and antibiotics and artificial heart valves and pacemakers and fertilizers and corneas—that we are indeed now the rulers of creation, that all things are subjected to us now.
Man Is Subject to Death
There are many problems with this persuasion. The most glaring one—the one that concerns the writer of Hebrews most is death. Whatever we have been able to conquer as human beings, we have not conquered death. It triumphs everywhere. It strikes babies and teenagers and young adults and mid-lifers and older people. It scoffs at our medicines and surgeries and diets and vitamins and exercise programs. When all is said and done, rocket scientists die. Politicians die. Doctors die. Professors die. Nobel prize winners die. The rich die and the poor die. The good die and the evil die. Farmers die. Bankers die. Carpenters die. Computer programmers die. And preachers die.
Death is not subject to man. And therefore nothing is ultimately subject to us, because it is only a matter of time till it will all be taken away from us, and what we thought we had mastered will be ripped out of our hands. That's what this writer is painfully aware of at the end of verse 8. The psalm says that man has a great destiny as the ruler of the creation. This is part of our great salvation. But the reality is we are not conquerors now; we are carcasses—all of us.
So what does the writer then say to rescue our great salvation and the meaning of Psalm 8? Verse 9 gives his answer. Make sure you see it in connection with verse 8 at the end:
But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him [that is, to man, because, for example, death is so rampant]. 9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
In other words, we don't see Psalm 8 fulfilled in ourselves yet. But what we see is Psalm 8 fulfilled in Jesus. We are still subject to death and all kinds of weaknesses and futilities. But Jesus has now passed through weakness and death, and is crowned with glory and honor. He is seated in power at the right hand of God and all his enemies are subjected to him as a footstool for his feet (1:13).
Jesus Tasted Death for Everyone
So how is this part of a great salvation for us? How does this relate to our fulfilling the great hope of Psalm 8 when we will triumph over death and God will put creation in subjection to our rule?
The answer is seen in the words at the end of verse 9: Christ came and suffered and died, "that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone." In other words, Christ was the first man to be restored to the magnificent destiny of Psalm 8. He was crowned with glory and honor over all creation. But he does not enter his glory by himself. Verse 10 says that he "is bringing many sons to glory"—the glory of Psalm 8. Our great salvation is that, united to Jesus, we will experience the fulfillment of Psalm 8 as well. Jesus is the great forerunner of our salvation. What has happened to him will happen to us. Because he tasted death for us, we can be sure that we will share his rule over creation.
The first man—the first Adam—sinned and was subjected to futility and death. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, defeated death and restored the hope of Psalm 8 for all who are in him. You, Christian, who do not neglect this great salvation, you will reign with Christ, and all things will one day be put in subjection to you. All things will serve your great good. All things, without any mixture of pain or sorrow or regret will manifest the glory of God to you and through you as you rule with Christ.
What Should Our Response Be?
What then shall we do? Put your faith in the promise of this great future grace—that what you see in Christ today will someday be your portion. Fix your eyes on Christ, not on the pain and futility and frustration and sickness and death of this age. They will not have the last word. Christ has conquered death and all the sin and pain that leads to death. Think on him. Consider him. Look to him.
And say to cancer and paralysis and sightless children and airplane-eating Everglades and child-shooting fathers—say to every unsubjected enemy—"Psalm 8 is my destiny! In Christ Jesus all things will one day be put under my feet, and I will rule with him in glory forever and ever." Believe that and say that—in the face of every calamity and every frustration in life. Because it is true. Jesus has made it true.
Come fix your eyes on Christ and see
The glory that you soon will be.