“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (bondage). -Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV
These verses contain a lot of big ideas, stating “the devil” imparted a “fear of death,” which then made one “subject to” (meaning “put under the authority of”) “lifelong slavery” (or bondage). Put another way, this says: “the devil’s power created a fear of death, causing life-long bondage to those under his rule.” Although (thank God!) Jesus broke this bondage once for all, I think it’s worth understanding what the devil and this bondage are or were, so we don’t somehow go back under it.
To understand what all this means, we have to be open to the possibility that our current understanding is wrong, and that this is ok! It also greatly helps to keep in mind that while the New Testament contains much truth and enlightenment we can benefit from, was not written TO us, in 2017 A.D. (possibly except for the gospels). Certainly the book of Hebrews, which was written nearly 2,000 years ago to Jews living while the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, was not written TO us! I could elaborate a lot more about this, but my point is that our understanding of scripture derails very quickly when we don’t keep the original audience and time-frame in mind.
So, looking again at Hebrews 2:15, the Greek word translated “slavery” or “bondage” is douleia. This word, used four other places in the Bible, always refers to a “state of being” which was undesirable, immature, inferior, and temporary. In fact, it is said to have already passed away in Christ! Notice its use in these four scriptures:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery (douleia) to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15 ESV)
“…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage (douleia) to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21 ESV)
“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery (douleia); she is Hagar.” (Galatians 4:24 ESV)
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (douleia).” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
So, douleia is associated with death, the devil, fear, corruption, an old covenant, and a yoke of slavery! Aren’t you glad Jesus defeated the devil and delivered us?!
That leads me to the main issue I want to explore: who or what does “the devil” refer to? You might be surprised, as I was at first, to learn that this term does not necessarily refer to an evil spiritual being. The Greek word translated “devil” is diabolos, which is not a name and does not refer to a specific being. Diabolos is an adjective, a descriptive term, literally meaning “an accuser, a slanderer.” Anyone or anything which slanders and accuses a child of God is a/the devil! Consider these scriptures:
2 Timothy 3:2-3 ESV: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous (diabolos), without self-control, brutal, not loving good…” –Here, we clearly see Paul writing that PEOPLE will be diabolos (devils)…
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers (diabolos) or slaves to much wine.” (Titus 2:3 ESV)
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers (diabolos), but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (1 Timothy 3:11 ESV)