The passages in Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7 that describe Jesus as being made “a little lower than the angels” have been the source of much discussion and debate among Bible scholars. At first glance, it may seem confusing or contradictory that Jesus, the Son of God, would be described as lower than the angels He created. However, when these verses are examined in their biblical context, we gain insight into the true meaning of this phrase and what it tells us about Jesus’ identity and mission.
Context of Psalm 8:5
Psalm 8 is a psalm of David that expresses wonder at God’s majesty and His decision to crown humanity with glory and honor. Although given dominion over the works of God’s hands, humans are described as lower than “the heavenly beings” or “angels” (v. 5). The specific wording used for “a little lower” refers to a decrease in status or rank. This likely reflects the common Old Testament view that compared to the surpassing majesty and authority of these spiritual beings, humans seem insignificant or of lesser status. Yet God has remarkably chosen to crown us with His own glory and honor (v. 5).
In its original context, Psalm 8 serves to contrast mankind’s humility before God’s magnificence, underscoring the remarkable privileges He has given us. As Hebrews 2 explains, this passage, though not specifically prophesying about Christ, aptly described His mission to identify with humanity through the incarnation in order to become our merciful and faithful High Priest (Heb. 2:17).
Context of Hebrews 2:7
Hebrews 2:7 quotes Psalm 8:5 to demonstrate that Jesus was temporarily made lower than the angels to accomplish God’s redemptive plan for humanity. The broader context of Hebrews 2 explains how Jesus had to be made like His brethren in every way in order to become the perfect sacrifice for sins (Heb. 2:17). Though Jesus was the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3), He laid aside the privileges of deity to take on flesh and be made like us (Phil. 2:6-8).
The writer of Hebrews proceeds to explain that Jesus was made lower than the angels in the Incarnation, but through His suffering and death was then crowned with glory and honor. His identification and suffering with humanity qualified Him to be the perfect and sympathetic High Priest who intercedes for us (Heb. 2:17-18). Now highly exalted, Jesus is Lord over all and will subject all things to Himself (Heb. 2:8-9).
The Meaning of “Lower than the Angels”
So what does it mean that Jesus was made “a little lower than the angels”? A closer examination of this phrase in context provides some key insights:
- It describes Jesus’ incarnation where He temporarily took on humanity and lowered Himself from the glory of heaven.
- In His humanity, Jesus’ status was below that of the angels He had created.
- This humbling allowed Jesus to identify with us as High Priest and perfect sacrifice for sins.
- After achieving salvation for us, Jesus was highly exalted over all creation, including the angels.
- The passage emphasizes Christ’s humanity, not inferior deity. He remains eternally equal with God.
So this phrase underscores the depths of Christ’s humiliation in the Incarnation to identify fully with humanity and serve as the perfect sacrifice for sins. His subsequent glorification and enthronement affirm His eternal deity and majesty as the Son of God.
The Divine Son Became Human
Several key biblical themes emerge from the description of Jesus as “lower than the angels” which offer insight into His nature, identity and mission:
1. Jesus’ full humanity
This phrase highlights that Jesus was fully human, identifying with mankind’s lowly and humble status. Though existing eternally as the Son in the form of God (Phil. 2:6), Jesus took the form of a servant and was born in human likeness (Phil. 2:7). The Creator condescended to become part of His creation and experience its limitations (John 1:14). Though equal with God, Jesus laid aside His privileges and took on a human body and nature lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim 3:16).
2. Jesus as the perfect sacrifice
In order to save humanity under the law, man’s savior had to be fully human. Only an innocent substitute from mankind could atone for human sin before a holy God. A divine savior alone could not redeem humanity or mediate before God. So God’s Son became Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23) in order to provide the perfect sacrifice, being fully divine and fully human in one person.
3. Jesus as our sympathetic High Priest
Since Jesus shared in our humanity, with its sufferings and limitations, He can fully sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). This qualified Him to be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, interceding for us and providing propitiation for our sins (Heb 2:17-18). His humanity enables Him to empathize with believers and come to our aid (Heb. 2:18).
4. The humiliation and exaltation of Christ
This phrase captures the progression and contrast of Christ’s incarnation (humiliation) and glorification (exaltation). In humility and obedience to the Father, Jesus left His throne and took on flesh, allowing Himself to be made lower than angels. Yet this was only the first step leading to the cross, resurrection, and ascension where He was crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:8-11).
5. Jesus remains fully divine
While highlighting Jesus’ humanity, this phrase also affirms His eternal deity. As the divine Son, He created and rules over all the angels. So this temporary demotion to a status under angels does not compromise or call into question His absolute divinity and equality with God. Rather, it affirms the deity of the One able to lay aside His privileges for a time to redeem humanity.
Implications for Christians
What are some key implications of this phrase for believers?
- It gives us confidence in Christ’s complete identification and sympathy with our human weaknesses and limitations.
- It reminds us of the remarkable depth of Christ’s sacrificial love to endure the cross on our behalf.
- It affirms Christ’s unique ability as both God and man to mediate and provide atonement for our sins before God.
- It highlights the temporary nature of Christ’s humility and lowliness, giving hope in His present reign and the glory to come.
- It calls us to emulate Christ’s selfless humility and obedience for the sake of others (Phil. 2:5-11).
What an amazing comfort that our Creator stooped down in love to lift us up. Though made lower than angels, Jesus is now crowned with glory above every name that can be named (Phil. 2:9-11).