The Agents of Hebrews One and Two
By Jonathan Mitchell
Is the comparison in Heb. Chapters One and Two between Christ and so-called "angels," or between the Son and agents – i.e., between the Anointed One and people through whom God had given messages? If we set aside the traditional concepts about "angels," and focus on the meaning of the Greek word ANGELOS – which means: agent, messenger; someone with a message – I think that we will get a more accurate understanding of this passage. I suggest that the contrast is between the Son and people, not between the Son and "spirit beings."
In 1:1 we see that God spoke to the fathers (or: ancestors) in, or through, the prophets. This is the way that God communicated with His people in those days. The prophets were His agents who brought the message to the people.
Compare this to 2:2 where the writer uses the phrase, "the Word (or: message) spoken through agents (or: folks with a message)." The first verse of chapter 1 makes it clear that these agents were the prophets, and in 1:2 he compares these to God's now speaking in and through a Son. Those agents include Moses, to whom 2:2 is referring, as well as those of whom Peter refers in 1 Pet. 1:10-12.
Now let us consider 1:4, where we see that the Son is born stronger and better than agents (or: folks with a message), and has a different name (or, title), i.e., that of "Son," and the good news is that we, too, can be called sons – because of Him.
The Greek of 1:5 can be rendered either as a statement, or as a question – there was no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts. Though traditionally rendered as a question, I suggest translating it as follows:
5. For you see, to a certain one of the agents He once said (or: as an interrogative: to which one of the messengers did He once say), "You are my son: I have given birth to you today!" [Ps. 110:1] And again, "I will be to him for a Father, and he shall be to Me for a son." (or: "I will exist being in him, [proceeding] into a Father, and he himself will exist being in Me, [proceeding] into a son!) [2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:14]
The difference between "to a certain" and "to which one" is the placement of the accent on the word TINI – and there were no accent marks in the early manuscripts. This second quote is speaking of Solomon – one of God's agents. Ps. 110:1 is prophetic of Christ, who came to be a servant, and God's agent.
Now in 1:6 he speaks of the Firstborn being brought into "the habitable world" – and it is in that place (i.e., the world) that He says "let all God's agents worship and give homage to Him." This quote of Ps. 97:7 can well be applied to all the prophets, and now His called-out community – the agent of His kingdom. Furthermore, the Hebrew of Ps. 97:7 reads ELOHIM – gods – a word which Jesus applied to people in John 10:34-36 when referencing Ps. 82:6. So what about 1:7?
7. And then, on the one hand, to the agents (messengers) He is saying, "He is the One making His agents (messengers) spirits (or: Breath-effects), and His public servants a flame of fire." [Ps. 104:4]
To this I would first point you to Rev. 11:5 where we see fire issuing out of the mouths of the two witnesses. Secondly, I suggest that He makes us all to be the effects of His breath, as we minister His Spirit/Breath to folks. Folks with the message (i.e., messengers) speak words that are spirit, and life.
1:8 continues to exalt the Son over mankind, referring to His throne and kingdom, then vs. 9 speaks of His fairness and equity and loving what is right. Now note that makes Him the Christ, anointing Him with extreme joy at the side of His partners – which could well refer to His disciples, His associates.
We have a similar situation in vs. 13 that we had in vs. 5, this time the pivotal word is TINAS, and the question of whether or not this should be a question. My reasoning here follows that for vs. 5, but let us look at this in the context of vs. 10-14.
10. And further, "O Lord [= Yahweh], down from beginnings (or: in accord with ruling [principle]s), You founded (or: laid the foundations of) the earth, and the works of Your hands are the heavens (or: skies; atmospheres).
11. "They shall destroy themselves (or: ruin, or lose, themselves) – but You continue remaining throughout.
12. "And all people, as a garment, shall be made (or: grow) old. Then like that which is thrown around [as a cloak], You will roll (or: wrap) them up as a garment, and so they will be made another (be altered; be changed; be transformed), yet You are the same, and Your years will not fail." [Ps. 102:26-28]
13. Now to a certain one (or, as in vs. 5: Now to which one …?) of the agents (or: messengers) He once said, "Sit at (or: out of [the authority of]) My right [hand; side] until I may place your foes (or: hostile ones) a footstool of your feet (or: = turn your enemies into your footstool)." [Ps. 110:1]
14. Are not all people public-serving Breath-effects (or: spirits; winds), being sent forth unto attending service because of those folks being about to progressively inherit deliverance (or: receive the allotment of salvation, health and wholeness)?
Please note that I rendered vs. 11 following the syntax of the Greek, and begin vs. 12 with KIA PANTES, as a separate statement, rendering this nominative as a masculine, "And all people..." This then is the antecedent of the same PANTES in vs. 14.
This definitely changes what this passage is saying. Vs. 13 is once again including Christ among God's agents – the Agent of our salvation, and Ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5), but now vs. 14 shows that all mankind are used by His Spirit, as the witness of the OT shows throughout. But this specifically refers to the prophets who were sent forth to minister to those "being about to progressively inherit deliverance," as we see in 1 Pet. 1:12.
12. to which folks (or: in which ones) it was unveiled (revealed; disclosed) that not to or for themselves, but to and for you people, they had been progressively dispensing and serving them – which things are now announced (or: which tidings were brought back) to you through those announcing (proclaiming; bringing and communicating) the message of well-being and goodness (or: good news) to you within [or, with other MSS: by] a set-apart Breath-effect (or: [the] Holy Spirit; or: sacred spirit) being sent forth from [the] atmosphere (or: heaven) – into which things agents (or: messengers) are habitually and earnestly desiring (are constantly in full passion and craving) to stoop down beside and look in.
If these agents were the prophets, then no wonder they desired to look into them – for these things applied to them as well.
So these, as well as those who Christ sent out, were folks giving attending service to the folks being about to progressively inherit deliverance. Then we see how vs. 1 of chapter 2 continues this thought of how it applies to us: " it is binding for us to more earnestly (or: exceedingly) be continually holding to (attending to; applying one's self to) the things having been heard..."
The writer speaks of agents again, in 2:5. Once again, this verse can be rendered as a question, but with what we are seeing about agents, I believe that a positive statement is more accurate to the context: 5. For, did He not align the impending habitable world – about which we continue speaking – under agents?
Verses 6-8 I see as being prophetic of Jesus, the Son of Man, and as speaking of the glory of Christ, not humanity. The comparison is between Christ and the human, not between Christ and "angels."
In vs. 7, I see Christ in the words,"You made him a brief time inferior, at the side of agents (or: folks with a message); You crowned him with glory and honor (or: You put a celebration and victor's wreath on him in a manifestation which called forth praise with a good reputation, and for value), and then You set him down (or: made him to stand; or: = appointed him) upon the works (or: actions) of Your hands." Vs. 8 states that we do not yet see all put under Him, but then vs. 9 confirms,
9. But yet, we are continuously seeing Jesus – having been made inferior for a brief time beside agents (or: folks with a message) – having been encompassed (encircled; crowned) with glory (or: a good reputation) and honor (or: value) on account of (or: through) the experience of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste of death over [the situation and condition of] all mankind (or: for and on behalf of everyone). This verse parallels what is said, above, about the Son of Man in vs. 6-7.
The theme of Christ in relation to His brothers is then set forth in vs. 11-13. Next vs. 14 speaks of Him sharing the humanity of the children with a view to the work of the Christ, "rendering useless the one normally having the strength of death.... and set them free" (vs. 15).
Now vs. 16 is contrasting agents to the seed of Abraham, but the question is, in what way? The New World Translation renders EPILAMB ANETAI as "assisting," rather than the basic meaning of "taking hold upon." The NIV reads "helps." But there is no expressed subject of this verb, it is just the third person singular. Most versions assume that the subject is Christ, and this is a legitimate choice. However, I think that the antecedent is "the fear of death" immediately preceding this in vs. 15, thus,
16. For doubtless (or: assuredly; I hardly need say) it [i.e., fear of death] is not normally taking hold upon agents (or: messengers; folks with the message), but to the contrary, "it is repeatedly taking hold upon Abraham's seed (= descendants)." [Isa. 41:8-9]
Those given the message were given the expectation that came with the message, so the fear of death did not normally take hold upon those agents. But it did take hold upon Abraham's descendants, in general. These were those that " were through all of life held within slavery by fear of death" (vs. 15). If this fear had taken hold of Christ, as an agent of God, then He too would have been held in that same slavery to the fear of death. He was the Agent that came to set them free. He participated in and commonly shared their humanity, yet without the fear of death, so that;
17. Wherefore, He was indebted (or: obliged) to be assimilated by (or: made like or similar to) the brothers in accord with all things (or: concerning everything; = in every respect; or: in correlation to all people), so that He might become a merciful and a faithful (or: loyal) Chief Priest (Leading, Ruling or Beginning Priest) [in regard to] the things toward God, into the [situation] to be repeatedly and continuously overshadowing the failures (mistakes; errors; misses of the target; sins) of the People with a gentle, propitiatory covering and shelter.
Then, in vs. 18, "in what He has experienced Himself, having been tried and proved, He is able to run to the aid of those who cry for help – those being tried (put to the proof)." The Agent was free to help humanity.
I suggest that "agents" are folks who bear God's message to mankind; they bear the Anointing, being God's prophets (vs. 1).
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