Who’s in charge? As you go through life, and as you look around the world, what’s your reaction to that question? Maybe your first thought is “Not me, that’s for sure”. But then who is? That’s the issue before us today.
On Sunday mornings we’re now on our way through the Letter to the Hebrews. We’ve come to Hebrews 2.5-9. You can find that on p 1202 of the church Bibles, and it would be great if you could have that open in front of you. It’s a relatively short section but we’re going to have to think quite carefully about it if we’re going to get clear on its meaning. Mind you, that shouldn’t be a surprise given how this chapter starts. 2.1 says:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard…
Now, you’ll see from the outline on the back of the service sheet that ‘Crowned With Glory’ is my title, and that I think it’ll help us to get to grips with this question of who’s in charge if we ask three further questions of this passage and of the Bible. First, Who should rule the world? Secondly, Who does rule the world? And thirdly, Who will rule the world?
This question of who’s in charge, who rules the world, is one that’s pressed upon us from many directions. For instance, on a global level we seem to have had in recent years a series of cataclysmic natural events that have made it all too clear that the natural world is way beyond our control. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Earthquakes and their deadly attendants the tsunamis have killed hundreds of thousands in South East Asia, Haiti, New Zealand, Japan.
And yet somehow we have this deep-seated sense that we ought to be able to control – or at least to predict and influence – these vast natural forces. Underlying the whole climate control debate is this largely unspoken assumption that we ought to be in charge of these things. It’s as if there is this frustration in humanity. It just doesn’t seem right that a big wave should get the better of us. But we don’t control the natural world.
The same applies in many other areas. Disease after disease ravages humanity, but we cannot just take them as our inescapable fate. We struggle against them with a kind of outrage that seems to say “How dare these diseases do this to us! Who do they think they are?” Sometimes we even manage to eradicate one, just for another to rear its ugly head. We don’t control disease.
Wars and conflicts blight the world, but we just cannot live in peace. One conflict finds a resolution, or at least the warring parties exhaust themselves and the fighting stops. But another breaks out in some other part of the world and from some unexpected direction. New political leaders ride waves of optimism and hope that they’ll be able to lead us into a new and peaceful world order. But it never happens. The conflicts just mutate and reappear in another form. We don’t even control ourselves.
And of course that doesn’t just apply at the national and international level. It applies to our personal and family lives as well. We have this frustrated sense that we ought to be able to bring order and keep order in our personal lives – surely at least that, even if we concede defeat on a global level. But we can’t even do that. And again and again something happens in our lives that brings us up against the hard reality that there are times when even the simplest things in our lives are way out of our control. We’re not in charge. So who is? Which brings me to my three questions there on the outline.
First, WHO SHOULD RULE THE WORLD?
Take a look at Hebrews 2.5-9. I’m going to read this right through – it’s quite short, but it’s quite densely packed. And I want you to look out for some things as we read this.
For one thing, notice that there are three time frames of which we need to be aware. There’s the world as God created it. There’s the world now. And there’s the world to come.
Then for another thing, notice who are the candidates for control of the world mentioned here. Because ‘Who’s in charge?’ is the question that runs under the surface of this passage. And there are four candidates: God; the angels; mankind; and Jesus Christ. So: three time frames; and four candidates for control. Look out for them. Here we go:
5It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified:
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour 8and put everything under his feet.
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
So who should rule the world? I want to answer that initially by thinking about the world as it was created by God. That quotation there in verses 6-8 is from Psalm 8. We said that together earlier. Psalm 8 begins:
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The Lord is the Lord. The Lord is King. God rules the world. That much is clear, of course. But how, and through whom does he rule? Verse 3 of Psalm 8 takes our minds to God’s work in creation:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man… ?
Look at the scale and wonder of God’s universe. What are we in comparison? We think that’s a modern question, with our telescopes and satellite images. But it’s as old as the Psalms.
But our glory is that God who made all this made us too. He is “mindful of us” and he does “care for us” (verse 4). And more even than that, he had a key role for us in creation. Genesis 1.26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over… all the earth… So God created man in his own image … male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful … fill the earth and subdue it. Rule …”
So who should rule the world, under God? We should. Mankind – men and women together – should be ruling the world. That’s what we were made to do.
Now of course Adam and Eve’s revolution and sin, and the fall, and our rebellion, have all intervened, and things are not what they ought to be. That royal image in us has been badly battered. But it’s still there in all of us, even if it is a wreck. Maybe that’s why we have this deep frustration about our powerlessness in the face of all these forces that knock us about. We haven’t forgotten that under God we should be in control. But we don’t need reminding that we’re not. So:
Secondly, WHO DOES RULE THE WORLD?
We’re not talking theory here. And we’re not talking about the future. We’re talking about this real flesh and blood world that we live in now. Who’s in charge? Is it us? Is it the angels? Is it Jesus?
Well, as we know, it’s not us. For now, we’re below the angels in the hierarchy. Verses 6-7:
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 7You made him a little lower than the angels
As the footnote says, that could mean “you made him for a little while lower than the angels” – but either way, the point is that the angels are in charge of us; we don’t boss them around.
Maybe that’s not something you’ve thought much about, but we need to take the angels seriously. And we need to be aware too that there is war in heaven amongst the angels.
Satan is a fallen angel. He has his own armies of fallen angels – the demons – who do his bidding. He rules the old world that is on the way out now that Christ has come. Jesus calls him “the prince of this world”. In John 12.31 Jesus says as he approaches his death:
“now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
The power of the fallen angel Satan is rampant still – but it is broken. Satan is in his death throes. But he remains a formidable enemy even for those who are trusting in Christ. Those who are still unwitting subjects of Satan’s kingdom still live under his spell. He is the one who calls the shots in that old world.
Jesus has his angels too. And we need to be aware that these are mighty creatures. Psalm 103 describes them as the Lord’s “mighty ones who do his bidding”. The Bible is clear that they are powerful, they protect God’s people, at times they are agents of God’s judgement, they give direction to God’s people, and they mediate God’s law. The great King David encountered one of them, 1 Chronicles 16 says…
… standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extending over Jerusalem.
And King David was afraid. David knew the angel was more powerful than him. Two angels are named – Gabriel and Michael. And Michael commands a great army of angels. So the angels are serious contenders for being in charge now. And they are seriously powerful.
Both Satan and his angels, and Michael and his angels, are higher than us in the league table of powerful creatures. For now. But in the end it’s not the angels who are in charge, any more than we are. It is Jesus.
Psalm 8 doesn’t only apply to us. It applies to Jesus as well. After all, he is one of us, as the rest of Hebrews 2 spells out. We are “of the same family” (verse 11). And he “shared in [our] humanity”, as 2.14 says. Despite his divine dignity as the Son of God, he became for our sakes “a little lower than the angels” for a time. But only for a time. Then at the cross and by his resurrection and ascension Jesus was glorified and raised to the right hand of his Father.
So now he rules the world. But it’s a rule that’s hidden to all except those with the eyes of faith. Look at verses 8-9:
Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him [that is, to mankind]. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For now, mankind does not rule as God made him to do. The Fall put paid to that. But Jesus does rule. And to eyes of faith, that rule is visible. We see him by faith. He is our King today, seated on the throne of heaven, directing the world and our lives.
Who does rule the world? Not us. Not even the angels, for all their power. But Jesus. In a way that is hidden to most, but visible to the eyes of faith, Jesus is in charge. But what of the future, and the world to come?
Thirdly, WHO WILL RULE THE WORLD?
Not angels, for a start. Hebrews 2.5 is crystal clear on that:
5It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.
In the age to come, after the glorious return of Jesus and the resurrection transformation and the creation of the new heaven and earth, the rule of Christ will be complete.
But there is more to say than that. Because Jesus is one of us. He does share our humanity. He is flesh and blood like us. We are his brothers. Or to use a different image that the Bible also uses, he is our head and we are his body. We are united with him. And in him, we too will rule the world to come. He has been crowned with glory and honour. In the world to come, astonishingly and utterly undeserved, we will share in this glory, and we will be crowned with glory and honour. Verses 7-8:
you crowned him with glory and honour 8and put everything under his feet. In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.
That’s us in the world to come. In Christ, there will be nothing – not a thing in all creation – over which we don’t rule. In Christ, we’ll be in charge. So even the mighty angels – with all their legions and with all their awesome power – will be subject to us, redeemed humanity. So the apostle Paul asks in 1 Cor 6:
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life?
And God’s good purpose for us in creation will finally be fulfilled. We will rule the earth. Under the loving rule of Christ and his word, and for his glory, we’ll be in charge. That’s how it was always meant to be. That’s how it will be.
So then, where have we got to? Let’s run through our answers.
Who should rule the world? We should – that’s what God created us to do.
Who does rule the world? We live in the last days, with two overlapping worlds. The old world is ruled by Satan and his demons – but his power has been broken by Christ at the cross, and his days are numbered. The old world is on the way out. The new world is ruled by Jesus, who has been raised to rule through his death and resurrection. Jesus command legions of powerful angels who are working for our good. By faith in him we come under his rule – so we’re safe, even if buffeted by the prince of the old world. With spiritual eyes of faith we can see Jesus ruling now.
Who will rule the world? The old age will disappear on that day when Christ will return in glory and all his angels with him. Then once and for all we will enter the world to come – the resurrection world. Then Christ will reign supreme and unchallenged over all creation, excluding nothing and no-one. And by sheer grace, in him we will also rule. He is one of us. We are his body. We will share in his glory. Even the powerful angels will be under our rule. We will fulfil our long–delayed creation purpose and our glorious destiny.
So what does all that mean for you and me today? Here are some of the implications for our lives now.
One. Don’t be afraid. What is it that scares us? Surely it’s the things over which we have no control and which could harm us. It’s the hostile powers that seem to rule our lives. We fear death and disease; natural disaster; persecution whipped up behind the scenes by the devil and his demons; the grip of enslaving sin in our lives; our close relationships running out of control and crashing. But don’t be afraid.
Two. Look to Jesus. You need spiritual eyes to see him, but that’s what he’s given us through faith, so we can see him. He’s there, and he’s in control. He’s in charge. That’s why we don’t need to be afraid in the face of otherwise scary things, situations and events that are bigger than us. We belong to Jesus. His angels stand guard over us and serve us, under his command. Hebrews 1.14:
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Three. Know who you are. Our society is awash with talk of self-image and self-esteem. And we do need a right self-image. But what is it? It is that we were created by God to rule the world for God; that we have been redeemed by grace from the ruin that we brought on ourselves; and that we are destined to rule with Christ in the world to come. We have a crown of glory to come. So:
Four. Walk humbly. Walk humbly in the light of Christ’s suffering for us sinners. Verse 9:
he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Keep the cross always before your eyes, and you’ll never be arrogant or self-righteous again.
Five. Stand tall. Stand tall in the dignity of both your origin and your destiny. We are all members of The Royal Family of God. So easily we become cowed and crushed by the weight of everything that in this world today is beyond us to control. Learn to rise above it all – not by will-power, but by faith in Christ. God says to us: “Stand up! Don’t you know who you are?” Whatever our circumstances, we do not need to live cowed and crushed lives. When we know who we are. We can live lives of the greatest dignity.
Six. Live worthily. If by grace through faith we are going to share in the glory of Jesus, which we are, then now is the time to start living like it. That’s why all our often frustrating efforts, for instance, to care for creation and to defeat disease and to order our lives are right and worthwhile. William and Kate are now learning to live like the future King and Queen that they know they will one day be. But that destiny is as nothing to the destiny that comes to us through faith in Jesus. A crown of glory lies in wait for us. So we need to start living like it now.
So don’t be afraid. Look to Jesus. Know who you are. Walk humbly. Stand tall. And live worthily.