The Coming Inhabited World...
Some thoughts on Hebrews chapter 2
Hey, everyone! The last two weeks have been pretty busy. Last Thursday I had an upper endoscopy to check out the health of my esophagus. Compared to the last time they checked it out, I went from a “D” grade to an “A” grade. So it looks like my acid reflux is about as under control as you can get it. From Friday morning at around 3:50am to Sunday night at 9:00pm, I was on a trip to Long Island, New York to speak at a conference on nonviolence in Revelation. I’ll make a special post with information about that conference and links to my lectures later on! Alright, let’s get on with the article.
Yes. Hebrews chapter 2. I know you must be ready. Textual Tuesday gets you pumped up, right? If you really like it, consider becoming a paid subscriber and you can get the posts a week early at 5:00pm.
If you’d like to read a verse-by-verse commentary I am currently writing, check out https://danielr.net/hebrews. If you prefer just little snippets of each chapter, then this is the place for you.
Chapter 2 continues the theme of the superiority of Jesus by expanding the comparison between Jesus and the angels while simultaneously transitioning into a discussion on the Exodus and its two major leaders: Moses and Joshua. Chapter 2 also introduces a theme that will show back up again later in a major way - the priesthood of Jesus. Hebrews does this a lot. It will drop a reference, not expound upon it, and then circle back around later after a few additional points are made.
Today, though, I want to focus on verse 5, using Scot McKnight’s translation: “For God did not order the coming inhabited world under envoys, concerning which [coming world] we speak."
A few notes: first, the word “not” isn’t in his translation, but it was meant to be included according to a private message from the author. Second, “envoys” is Scot’s word for angels, and to be completely honest with you, I cannot give you any satisfactory answer as to what that line exactly means. Of course, since I’m fallible, most of what I say is my best guess anyway, but I’m really in the dark when it comes to angels and related entities.
Instead, we’ll be focusing on the expression “the coming inhabited world.” Let’s jump in.
Why I Have a Different Understanding of the New Creation
So from the start, I need to warn you that I might have a little bit of a different take on “the coming inhabited world.” Many of my good brothers and sisters in Christ believe that God will transform our physical world at some point in the future.
I personally find their view to be one of the more consistent views of the available end times paradigms out there. I find it to be filled with hope, peace, and love. I gladly fellowship any believer who holds this view, and I applaud them for their diligence in study, hope in the restoration of all things, and their nonviolent perspective. Some of my favorite authors espouse this view, and I respect their opinions on the matter.
However, there are a few reasons I personally do not accept this view when all is said and done, though I appreciate much it has to offer. My major objection, and the only one I’ll mention here in the introduction, is that Jesus, the apostles, and other New Testament writers and teachers consistently taught that one could accept the unfolding off the eschatological calendar to take place within the lifetimes of their listeners and readers.
And so, in my mind, the timing of the arrival of the new heavens and new earth controls the nature of the new heavens and new earth. If my understanding of the new heavens and new earth makes the timing impossible, then I don’t see how my understanding of the nature be correct.
Since it doesn't seem possible for the new creation to be physical and to uphold the integrity of the sense of imminence within the New Testament, I propose a different understanding of the new creation that fits within the expected time of both Jesus and his first disciples.
Okay, enough with the disclaimers. Let’s get to Hebrews.
There’s Something Coming…
In the book of Hebrews, there are several passages that hint of something that is on the cusp of arriving. It is alternatively called a rest, a city, a land, a mountain, and a kingdom.
A Sabbath Rest
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God, for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their labors as God did from his. Hebrews 4:8–10, NRSV
For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:10
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better homeland, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13–16
A Mountain (and a city)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, Hebrews 12:22
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, Hebrews 12:28
One More on the City
Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:13–14
All of these, it seems to me, are different ways of talking about the same thing, but when we consider what Hebrews is all about, I think we can agree that it is ultimately a comparison between the first and second covenants. Notice these passages:
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on the basis of better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one. Hebrews 8:6–7
In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:13
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. Hebrews 10:8–9
Notice in the last two of these references that the Hebrews writer speaks of the first covenant as yet to pass away and the second covenant as yet to be established. The Hebrews saw the temple as a sign of the “present time,” and so the fall of the temple, as in Matthew 24:3, would mean that the age had come to an end and the “age to come” (called the “time to set things right”) had arrived:
By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, indicating that gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right. Hebrews 9:8–10
This “time to set things right” is the time of the kingdom, which Hebrews 12 says they were receiving! He told them, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched, but you have come to Mt Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem.”
The kingdom of God, which both John the Baptist and Jesus said had come near, is the land Abraham longed for. It is “the inhabited world to come.” And it is new Jerusalem.
In Matthew 8, Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will take their places at the banquet with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
Let’s go back to our passage in Hebrews 2 now…
Back to Hebrews 2
Returning to Scot McKnight’s translation…
For God did order the coming inhabited world under envoys, concerning which coming world we speak. Someone somewhere witnessed, saying,
What is a human that you remember one, Or a son of humanity that you care for one? You diminished one for some while below the envoys, You crowned one with splendor and honor, You ordered all things under one’s feet.
For in this ordering-everything-under, he released nothing not ordered under him, but now we see all things not yet ordered under him. Hebrews 2:5–8
That “someone somewhere” is Psalm 8. 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22 both cite from this same passage. In Ephesians, Paul speaks as if everything had already been ordered under Jesus’s feet:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:20–23. NRSV
On the other hand, 1 Corinthians agrees with Hebrews that not everything has been put under Jesus’s feet:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25–26
“The inhabited world to come” is a world in which death is destroyed. The tense in 1 Corinthians 15 is interesting. While some version, such as the NRSV and the NASB, translate this verse in a way that suggests it is strictly future, the voice, tense and mood indicate a present, ongoing defeat of death (present, passive, indicative). It could be read, “The last enemy that is being destroyed in death.” Similarly, in the NRSV, verse 2 is rendered “through which also you are being saved…”
The action of “being saved” and death “being destroyed” are, in my mind, the same thing.
A similar thing is said in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Notice the mention of salvation coupled with the idea of death being defeated. Pay special attention to what both saves and destroys death:
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace, and this grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8–10
It is the gospel that saves, and it is the gospel that destroys death.
The kingdom of God, then, is the land in which death is destroyed. Jesus reigns supreme, and God has put all things under his feet. The kingdom, as Jesus promised would come before some of his disciples would die, has come, and it has come with power and glory.
Now, in this inhabited world to come in which we dwell, there is healing for the nations through the tree of life.