Hebrews 2:1–4 . . .

“Warning to Pay Attention”

We saw in last week's commentary, titled "Why Christ Is Superior to Angels (Hebrews 1:5–14), documentation from the Old Testament of how Jesus is superior to holy angels. Today's summary will focus further on the presence, power, and potential of angels while positioning the value and importance of Jesus in our lives.

This epistle was clearly written to the Hebrews of Jesus' day to highlight the unique nature of Christ’s teaching and his absolute superiority, as Messiah, over other authorities or sources of righteousness. Passages make direct comparisons between Jesus and Moses, the priests from the line of Aaron, and even angels, which is the focus of this particular passage. In all of these, the intent is to show Christ’s superiority to all of them, thus giving him preeminence in his connections with God, his righteousness, and his authority.

"Hebrews" quotes from the Old testament repeatedly, to demonstrate Christ's greatness in comparison to angels. The audience of first-century Jewish Christians had developed a skewed belief in angels. Christ's lordship is affirmed without disrespecting God's valued angelic messengers. See how the Old Testament reveals how Christ is superior to angels.
  1:5–6 references Psalm 2:7… Christ is called the "Son of God"; not so the angels
  1:7, 14 references Psalm 104:4… while important, angels are servants under God.
  1:8–9 references Psalm 45:6–7… assures us that Christ's kingdom will last forever.
  1:10 references Psalm 102:25–27… declares Christ as the Creator of the world.
  1:13 references Psalm 110:1…Christ is given the most unique honor by God.

In each Old Testament Scripture, Jesus is established as the true Son of God, to be worshiped by angels, eternal in his kingship over all creation. Angels were seen as exalted beings, direct agents or servants of God, righteous and blessed for their closeness to God. They spoke God’s commands, carried out God’s direct orders, and represented God to the faithful. By establishing Jesus as being above these beings, one would document conclusively the supremacy of Christ’s message and his sacrifice.

Chapters 1–2 essentially convey three major sections of an urgent message that God conveyed to us in his Son: (1) God has spoken through his Son who is higher than and superior to angels (1:1–14); (2) we ought to listen well to all that he says (2:1–4); and (3) the Son became "lower than the angels" so that he could effectively save sinners (2:5–18).

The fact that angels serve us should encourage us when we feel unloved or forgotten. Because God loves us, he dispatches his angels to help us.

“. . . So that We Do Not Drift Away” (2:1)

Seeing in chpt. 1 how Christ has been proven to be superior to angels, we'll now see how chpt. 2 begins by bringing our attention to the duty we have to steadfastly adhere to Christ and his gospel. As our text urges, let us read and listen well to God's Word, lest we drift into dangerous waters. We had better be most attentive to and follow all that he has said!

2 1We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (2:1).

This is the first “warning passage” in "Hebrews." The author has changed from writing an exposition to emphasizing an exhortation. It's very important that we appreciate the writer's change of focus because it will set the course for our future studies.

By inserting "therefore" in the middle of the opening verse, the author, reminds his readers [then and today] of what he'd written in chpt. 1. Here in v. 2, he ties his exhortation to what he'd recently written: Consequently, since God has spoken finally and fully through his Son, who's vastly superior to every other being, we must listen carefully and attentively to what Jesus has said, otherwise we'll drift away from it. . . Get my drift?

The author uses a familiar analogy from the Old Testament to communicate this warning and the importance of it. Remember, he wrote to those Jews who'd professed to believe in Jesus Christ. They were under constant pressure to return to their more familiar path of Judaism. Of course, the author feared that if believers returned to the previous lifestyle of following Mosaic Law, they may not be believers at all, which is why "Hebrews" is vital to us today. We're in that same position; while having the complete revelation of God, we'll worship Jesus at church, week after week, yet fail to respond appropriately to the salvation gift that Lord Jesus has offered us.

Warren Camp's custom bookmark of Hebrews 2:1

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Warren's bookmark.

Note the three "we"s in which the author includes himself in his commandment that "We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." It's important to note that we're not being asked to merely think about paying the closest attention to God's Word. In fact he demands that "We must pay the most careful attention." Based on the logic of the argument of Christ's superiority, it's a necessity for us to pay the closest attention to God's Word! To be clear, each instance of “we” in v. 1 refers to a particular group of believers, possibly a church, perhaps a house church. There may have been one or more unbelievers in the group, but by and large, the letter's recipients are believers in who Jesus is and what they knew he'd said and done.

Warren Camp's Scripture Picture of Hebrews 2:1

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Warren's Scripture Picture.

The "drifting away" problem likely deals with paying insufficient attention to God’s Word, ignoring or neglecting so great a salvation (v. 3). So what does it mean to "drift away"? The phrase literally means to "slide or drift past" something. The word-picture is of a boat that drifted past the safety of the harbor because the crew hadn't paid close attention to where it was sailing. When the boat slid or drifted past the safe harbor, it was destined to drift into the unsafe sea where it would be doomed for destruction. That's also true for us: Christians who neglect their course and anchor — Christ — can quietly drift away.

The danger is this: Christians may grow cold in their love for Christ and drift from their dependence on being nourished by his Word; by such neglect, they put themselves in danger, the nature of which we'll explore in the following two verses.

The Devastating Outcome of Drifting (vv. 2–3)

The author is about to illustrate the severe consequences for those Israelites who disregarded the requirements of the Law of Moses. He'll then argue that it will be even more dangerous if they neglect the reality of the revelation of God in Christ.

2For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him (2:2–3).

Beginning with "For," v. 2 builds on what the author has just said in v. 1. In effect, since the message or words of the angels was binding or inalterable, what they say is true and verifiable.

You might now wonder: How could the law be said to have been spoken through angels? Three New Testament Scriptures provide the answer: Acts 7:38, 53; Galatians 3:19.

It's likely that we Bible readers today have a limited conception of the splendor surrounding God's revelation in the Old Testament. To our thinking, Well, God came down to earth and he talked to Moses on Mount Sinai. Likely, we don't sense anything extraordinary with that account. But read now what we've been given in Deuteronomy 33:1–2 NLV. The presented word-picture shows God, who, when he'd come to talk to Moses, was accompanied by thousands upon thousands of angels. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the end of this verse reads "At His right hand, the angels were with Him" meaning, the angels were with Father God when he spoke with Moses. We aren't told what their role was, but the fact that they were present with God (in the thousands) is clear.

The author writes Hebrews 2:2, assuming that his Jewish readers were completely familiar with the concept of angelic messages being unalterable, literally meaning "steadfast" and "sure." The revelation made by angels was true and never unchanging, similar to God's character.

In Jesus' day, there was evidence of angelic involvement in the giving of the Law, which is the point the author makes herein. If the consequences for neglecting God’s Word were severe in the Old Testament, how much greater will they be for neglecting God’s Word in the New Testament! Jesus, the One who is vastly superior to angels, has brought good news to men. Disregarding this good news message that God has revealed, by and through his Son, is bound to have more severe consequences.

Coming to v. 3, the author has already proved that the revelation given through angels is "binding." Accordingly, won't the greater revelation through Christ, the superior instrument, prove to be even more sure and binding? The emphasis of this verse is on "so great a salvation." It is great because no one else has ever, or will ever, provide total and complete forgiveness of sinfulness for all who believe. It's only through the work and person of Jesus Christ that this great salvation is made available to believers.

Looking further at v. 3's "so great a salvation," note Apostle Paul’s New Testament teaching, wherein he declared to the Israelites that the Law could never provide salvation; it could only condemn man (Romans 3:19–20). He goes on to proclaim that, while the Law brings condemnation, Jesus Christ brings salvation (3:21–26).

The punishment danger that the author addresses in v. 3 is that some people will "ignore" (literally "be careless" about) this salvation. The same warning holds true for us today. How many times might you have gone to church, not paying attention to the teaching of God's Word? Instead of truly worshiping our Lord and Savior, you think about yourself and your apparent needs while ignoring or being complacent about Jesus' gift of salvation. Your prevailing attitude: The salvation gift is valuable, but it's not so important to me today.

Jesus himself warned about the danger of such complacency and neglect. People who refused to accept his words would suffer an even worse fate than Sodom (Matthew 10:15). And he explained the reason in 11:23. God had done great and wonderful things by his Son. If the wicked people in Sodom had seen such things, there's no doubt that they'd have decided to obey God.

The question that the author of Hebrews asks next is, "how shall we escape...?" In v. 3's context, the question has already been answered: There is no escape! If a believer drifts by the revelation of salvation that comes through believing in Jesus Christ, there'll be no way to control the ship, nowhere to go safely.

Therefore, it shouldn't surprise us when the author of "Hebrews" speaks of the Old Testament revelation (the Mosaic Law) as bringing condemnation while the New Testament brings about a great salvation. This epistle's first warning — like the others that follow — is directed toward those Christians who risk the devastating consequence of "drifting away" from following Christ because of their neglect. While the consequences are serious for Christians, they shouldn't risk making light of their salvation. Nevertheless, we're obliged to attentively consider if we're "drifting away" and then determine what we must do to prevent such drifting by righting the course back to Lord Jesus.

The Spirit Willfully Gives Believers Gifts (v. 4)

There's one more verse that supports the message of salvation by Christ.

4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (2:4).

God, through his Son Jesus, brought the message; eyewitnesses confirmed it; and God substantiated the testimony of those eyewitnesses through the signs and wonders that he performed through the apostles. As a result, God was testifying that the apostles' message concerning Christ was true. Verse 4 highlights giftedness that continually comes to us from God today: The Spirit continually works at gifting individuals who choose to believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord.

The gospel is the superior message from God. It supersedes all other revelation given through the Law, through the prophets, and through the angels. Christ's sitting down at God's right hand documented without doubt the finality of the revelation of Jesus and his gospel message that God has given to us. We've received all that we need for salvation and righteousness, so long as we don't drift away and be forced to suffer the consequences of our neglect or complacency about Jesus.

Spiritual gifts (v. 4b) are evidence of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. As the body of Christ exercises various spiritual gifts, the Word comes to life before our eyes, confirming the power and authority of God’s Son and of his Word.

Pastor/teacher/elder Bob Deffinbaugh says this about these four opening verses of chpt. 2: "Our text has made it abundantly clear that every Christian faces the danger of drifting away from the Lord Jesus, from His Word, and even from fellowship with other believers. This is not just a danger for unbelievers who have heard the gospel; it is a danger for all who have heard and embraced the good news. If drifting away is a grave danger for every believer, then it is important for us to be able to recognize when we are drifting."

Gathering regularly in the Lord's house provides a stable support anchor. But skipping church to pursue other interests usually indicates a believer who's begun to drift away from God. Less apparent are the men and women who mentally skip worship services. The act of attending means nothing unless we make a deliberate decision to receive God's Word and apply it to our life. As the writer of "Hebrews" has warned us, if we don't pay attention to what we've read and heard about God's message, we'll continue to drift away from it and suffer as a result.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Today, exactly how attentive are you to paying attention to the words of Jesus?
  • Q. 2  Have you ever ignored the great salvation that Jesus has offered you?
  • Q. 3  What did it take for you to make the effort to successfully accept Jesus and his gift of salvation?

This Week’s Passage
Hebrews 2:1–4

New International Version (NIV) or view it in a different version by clicking here.
Listen to chapter 2, narrated by Max McLean.