In keeping with the season of Lent, we have been striving to keep our focus on Jesus in spite of all that clamors for our attention. In order to channel our efforts in a fruitful way, we have been reflecting on the first two chapters of Hebrews. Last week, we focused on Hebrews 2:1-4. We noted that the concept of “salvation” is important to the writer at this stage in his argument, and we explored how the writer both sets the stage for and enumerates the proofs of that concept.
This week, we are going to turn our attention to how the writer of our text presents “salvation” (2:5-18) More specifically, we need to ask (because the argument of the letter prompts us to ask), “What does salvation accomplish for those who receive it?” A careful examination of vv. 5-18 reveals at least four benefits that come from salvation.)
Salvation Addresses Sin
Salvation is one of those words that we can easily take for granted. We think we know what it means, and we think we know why it is important to us. The problem is that with familiarity comes a bit of complacency.
That may have been what was happening to the first recipients of this sermon-letter. They knew that they needed to be rescued (the idea behind the Greek word we translate “salvation”), and they knew that God’s rescue mission had been launched through Jesus. But the uncomfortable circumstances that defined their everyday lives had, perhaps, caused them to lose their enthusiasm for what they had received.
So, the writer of Hebrews reminds them of all that Jesus has done for them. We will start our survey at the end of the chapter—with the benefit that is most obvious to any serious student of the Bible. Salvation addresses our sin (vv. 16-18).
It does this in two ways. First, it provides “atonement” (NIV) for sin. Atonement is something that we desperately need. After all, we cannot atone for our own sin. There is nothing that we can do to hide our sin from God, and there is no amount of good that we can do to distract God’s attention from our sin.
Salvation, however, does more than provide atonement for our sin. It provides help when we are tempted to sin. While this part of the work of salvation is more easily understood by modern Westerners than the concept of atonement, its implications are also more profound. We cannot hide our sin from God, and we are not strong enough to resist the temptation to sin. But Christ has made it possible not only for our sin to be forgiven but also for us to need that forgiveness less. It is only as we move on to the other aspects of salvation that we see how important this point really is.
Salvation Provides Freedom from Death and the Devil
The second benefit of salvation (vv. 14-15) is that it provides freedom from death and the devil. The writer of Hebrews argues that people live in constant fear of death. The evidence for this claim was all over the Greco-Roman world, from the mournful funerary inscriptions that adorned the resting places of the dead to the magical amulets that adorned the necks of the living. This fear was so powerful and pervasive that it approximated slavery.
Slavery to death, however, was not really slavery to a natural process that none of us can escape. It was slavery to the devil. After all, it was the devil that wielded the power of death to dastardly effect. But Christ had broken the power of the devil by participating fully (that is what it means to “taste”) in death (v. 9). Because Christ died, death no longer has power over those who have received salvation. And because death no longer has power over them, they care no longer slaves of the devil.
Salvation Means Adoption into God’s Family
Instead, as vv. 10-13 point out, they are now members of God’s family. They are sons and daughters of God. They are brothers and sisters of Christ. Obviously, this means that they stand in an entirely new relationship with their Creator and King, but it means more than that.
You see, it was assumed in the ancient world that a person was like their family. Indeed, it was very hard to escape the reputation that one’s family had acquired. That could be a bad thing if one’s family were scoundrels. Hebrews implies that this is the situation that all humanity finds itself in. But what if one’s family is made up of God and His Son? Now, all of the assumptions that one would make about the character of the divine are imputed to the character of God’s adopted children.
This is not merely a matter of status—and this is where we see the point about the addressing of temptation come into its own. We are actually supposed to be like Jesus, but he knows that we do not have the strength to do it. So, he not only offers us atonement for our sins, but he also offers us the strength that we need when we are weak. In other words, he offers us a way to actually become like him.
Salvation Restores Humanity to Its Former Glory
Salvation has one more benefit. It promises to restore humanity to its former glory. This may be one of the things that the writer is trying to say (or at least imply) in vv. 5-8, but it is certainly his point in v. 10. But what exactly will this future glory entail?
Again, vv. 5-8 may give us a clue. It may be that humans are destined for some kind of spiritual or celestial authority. However one interprets these verses, though, we certainly get a clue to what the writer has in mind in v. 11. There, Christ is portrayed as making people “holy.” This is certainly a moral quality, but it is so much more. It is a distinctiveness that reflects God’s own character and essence. I do not know what that all means, and neither does anyone else. But it is certain that it is good and that it transcends anything that we can now imagine.
Jesus Is the One that Makes It All Possible
I readily confess that I have done a poor job of capturing the overwhelming greatness of what Jesus accomplished by making salvation available to the world. But I hope that you have found here a prompt for prayerful reflection on all that you have received. And, I hope that you understand that all of this has come to you—and to me—as a direct result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In particular, our text emphasizes his suffering and death. We cannot here tease out all the implications that the writer wants us to draw from the example of Jesus. Nevertheless, we should never forget that Christ suffered much in order to bring us some very special gifts. We can look to him in our weakness. We will find someone who knows how we feel. Moreover, we will find someone who has the power to act on our behalf. He already has done so, and he will continue to do so until we are brought into the unceasing glory that has always been God’s purpose.