Seeing the Unseen in the Scripture
The book of Hebrews was written to a persecuted people. They were being thrown in prison (10:34; 13:3), their property was being plundered (10:34), and they were facing widespread shame and reproach (12:1-3; 13:13). One of the main purposes of the letter, therefore, is to equip the church for endurance. This strengthening takes many forms throughout the letter. They are exhorted to use the means of grace like the community of believers (3:12-13; 11:4-40) and the word of God (4:12). They are warned of the consequences of shrinking back and being destroyed (10:39). They are given God’s perspective on their trials, which is to discipline them as sons (12:7-11). They are comforted that their kingdom is one that can never, ultimately, be shaken (12:28). And they are told of the glories of their coming, certain inheritance (2:5-8). This inheritance is to rule the world to come with Christ, the founder and perfecter of their salvation.
But it is just here that the help seems to break down. Our future participation with Christ in ruling the new creation is meant to affect our present-tense subjection to society. But how? How can we hope to have everything subjected to us in the world to come, which is the promise of 2:5-8, if we see nothing subjected to us in the present? How can we know this is not just a pipe dream promise to comfort us in our misery?
The answer, in vs 9, is to focus on what we can see. We can see Jesus. Our forerunner, our brother, our representative (high priest), has entered into the destiny of Psalm 8 ahead of us. He was low, like us, and is now crowned with glory and honor. And He will not enter His glory alone. The reason he “partook of flesh and blood” (2:14) was in order that he might be used of God to bring many sons into that same glory (2:10)! So the hope of our inheritance doesn’t come from looking at our circumstances and imaging how they might evolve into dominion over the earth! Hope comes from lifting our eyes off of our circumstances and considering Christ. When we see Him, we are seeing our inheritance.
That seems to settle the question. We don’t see all things subject to man, but we know they will be because what we do see is Christ, the head of a new humanity. And where He is, there all those who are in Him (by faith) will one day surely be.
But in fact this just leads us to the main question – where can we go to see Him? If my endurance hangs on seeing Him, how can I see Him? This is an urgent question! To compound the urgency, Peter opens his letter (to a persecuted people) by celebrating the way our inheritance – imperishable, undefiled, and unfading – gives us hope and joy in the midst of trial. But whereas the author of Hebrews exhorts us to look to Christ, Peter tells us that we can’t see Him! Though you have not seen Him [Jesus], you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 8-9). How can we square a hope built on seeing Him with a hope built on believing one that we can’t see?
Far from a contradiction, Peter’s exhortation helps give definition to the work of Hebrews 2. Our natural eyes cannot see the exalted Jesus any more than they can see the promise of Psalm 8 currently manifested in our life. We will one day see Jesus with our natural eyes, at what Peter calls his “revelation,” in the same way that we will one day see our partnership with Christ in ruling the new creation. In fact these two “revelations” are inextricably connected. We enter into our inheritance (the fullness of salvation) when Jesus returns, since He is our very great reward. Part of the intimacy we enjoy with Him will be sitting on His throne with Him (Rev. 3:21).
So when Peter says “you don’t see Him but you believe in Him”, and Hebrews says “we see Jesus”, both authors are pressing us to look with the eyes of faith. And here is the point to catch: the object of that faith, in both cases, is the Scriptures. Peter directs us to the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours (1 Pt. 1:10-12). It is this word, inspired by the Spirit, into which we inquire concerning the sufferings of Christ and his (and our!) subsequent glories. Similarly, Hebrews 2:9 is surrounded by Scripture. The whole first chapter of Hebrews is built around seven OT quotations. 2:3 has just exhorted us to pay careful attention to the word. Psalm 8 has unfolds the greatness of our salvation, applied first to Christ and then to all those who are in Him, in 2:6-8. It is at the end of this long train of biblical reality that the author says – we see Him! The implication is clear – when we believe what Scripture says about Him, we see Him! Such is the reality between the word and the Word. To believe what is written about Jesus is the see the reality of Jesus. And, to bring the argument home to our condition, it is to see what will be true for all of those who are in Jesus.
So here is the heartbeat of this book: God’s people will be persecuted. A persecuted people must endure. We endure by looking to Jesus. We can’t see Him (nor can we see any hope in our condition) with natural eyes. But we can consider Him in Scripture. Scripture is the place where God has appointed for us to see the unseen. It is where our faith feeds on certain, though invisible, reality. This is the source of strength for persecuted, persevering hearts. Therefore the command of 2:3 (the first and foundational command of the whole book) takes on added significance: we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it and neglect such a great (future) salvation!