14 October 2015

Hebrews 2:14-18

“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 107:33-43


Evidently some 1st-century Jews had quite a thing about angels! Angels feature often in the Old Testament, where they act as God's anonymous messengers, enabling him to speak to humans. They function as narrative devices, rather than as independent characters. But by the 1st century, with the growing influence of other ancient religions (such as Persian Zoroastrianism) they gain the status of semi-divine beings, with stories of their own. The devil, on the other hand, features nowhere in the Old Testament, although Satan features a few times, mainly in Job, as one of the 'heavenly beings' (or 'sons of God') whose narrative purpose is to test the faithfulness of God's people. But, as with the rising popularity of angels, the idea of the 'devil' as a powerful anti-God supernatural being owes much other ancient religions and to Greek mythology. And the devil enters the thought-world of 1st-century Jews (and Christians) as the one who has the power of death and presides over hell, fuelling superstitious fears and the belief in a dualistic cosmic conflict between good and evil, light and dark, angels and demons, heaven and hell, Jesus and the devil.

In this thought-world, Jesus is the divine Son who becomes "flesh and blood" so that he can die and face the Devil on his home-ground, hell - and destroy the devil. But it is interesting to note that it is only the Jews ("the descendants of Abraham" (v. 16)) who are thus liberated from the devil's power. And the language is, of course, very Jewish - Jesus, as "high priest" offered himself as a "sacrifice of atonement" (v. 17) to succeed where Jewish temple worship had failed. The 'flesh and blood' Jesus has overcome the test of the fear of death. And now he helps us to overcome those same fears - with or without the help of 1st-century Jewish mythology!

To Ponder

  • Ideas about angels and the devil may have helped 1st-century Jews to understand the good news about Jesus, but are they still helpful today? What do you think?
  • For the writer to the Hebrews, it was the death of Jesus and the destruction of the devil that was of primary importance (as it still is for many Christians today). Where does the Resurrection fit into this?
  • Which is more important to you: the idea that Jesus was/is 'divine', or that he was/is a 'flesh and blood' human? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.