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Because Jesus Can Offer Help to the Tempted (Hebrews 2:10–18)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Jesus’ own suffering strengthens his ministry to those who fall into sin.
2:10. The death of Jesus on the cross was proper or fitting. Jews viewed the idea of a suffering Messiah as a horrible concept, but Jesus’ death fitted in with the plans of a gracious God. Whatever God does is fitting, and Jesus’ death is no exception to that principle.
God’s goal was to bring many sons to glory. God wanted to bring lost, struggling humanity to sonship. He also wanted believers to experience his glory (2 Cor. 4:17). Jesus’ death helped to accomplish this goal of sonship and glory.
God’s method was to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Jesus was the originator, founder, or trailblazer in securing salvation. If Jesus had not broken a new trail, no one else would have succeeded. Jesus’ work was essential for God to make an offer of salvation to the world.
In what sense did Jesus become perfect? He was already perfect in a moral sense. Making Jesus perfect refers to qualifying him to become a perfect Savior by his death. By his death God qualified him to serve effectively as the priest of his people. This allowed him to accomplish his work of redemption. Only through the death on the cross could the world gain a perfectly qualified and effective Savior.
By dying on the cross Jesus experienced a perfection which resulted from having suffered. This type of suffering differs from a perfection which comes from being ready to suffer. By passing through the crucible of suffering, Jesus developed a perfection which qualified him fully to be a complete and effective Savior. He also demonstrated a perfect example of obedience to the Father’s will. He failed at no point in obeying God. Jesus became perfect in that he learned sympathy through his own experience and practiced obedience without reservation.
2:11. Jesus, who makes us holy, is a human being just like the readers of Hebrews. The idea of sanctification (being made holy) means that Christ sets us apart for God’s purpose. The fact that we are sanctified does not mean that we are without sin. It does mean that God has stamped his reservation on us. We are set aside to do his will.
Christ can sanctify us because of his close connnection with us. Christ is of the human family. He is fully one with us. He identified with us so that he was our brother. He has no shame in acknowledging us as his family. Because Christ is a human being, he can help us to grow in holiness. Three Old Testament quotations support the claim that Jesus is one with us.
2:12–13. Verse 12 comes from Psalm 22:22 which opened with the words Jesus quoted on the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The first part of the psalm shows the suffering of Jesus on the cross. The second part, beginning in verse 22, shouted a conclusion of triumph.
The speaker was Jesus. He was lifting God’s praises to other believers, my brothers. The word for “congregation” (ekklesia) is the term for “church.” Jesus has shouted God’s praises to fellow Christians, calling them brothers, thus showing that he was one with them. He suffered for them and was a part of them.
The second quotation (13a from Isa. 8:17) shows the attitude of Jesus in putting his trust in God the Father, demonstrating that he is like other human beings who must live by faith in the Father. Trusting and obeying represented the only principles for living life for Jesus and for us, his followers.
The final quote in Hebrews 2:13 came from Isaiah 8:18, the verse immediately following the preceding source. In the Old Testament Isaiah recognized that his own children were signs given by God. Hebrews understands Isaiah’s words about his children as the words of Christ about his people. Jesus affirmed his closeness with his people by calling them children. In John 17:6, Jesus had described his disciples as “those whom you [God] gave me out of the world.” Jesus was making a close identification with human beings. His statement led naturally into a declaration that Jesus shared in [our] humanity in the next verse.
2:14. This verse is a theological watershed. It presents two facts about Christ and his death. First, it declares that Jesus shared the same humanity with human beings. Second, it presents the reason for his death.
Chapter 1 declared Jesus’ superiority to angels. This verse states his equality with human beings in that he shared their humanity. In the incarnation at Bethlehem, Jesus became what he had not been before. He had always been God. He now also became a human being. We can call him the God-man.
Jesus entered his incarnate life on earth by birth. He departed this life by death. He did not merely appear to be a human being. He genuinely shared our humanity. No one who merely seemed to be human or who resembled human beings could meet our needs. Jesus was a real person. He can meet all of our needs.
Why did Jesus die? He died to destroy … the devil. Jesus’ death was not a defeat. It was a triumph over sin and death. Sin always causes death (Rom. 5:12). Our sin, not his own sin, caused Jesus to die. His death snatched away our sin and guilt.
“Wait a minute,” you may say. “Satan is pretty active in me today. How has he been destroyed?” Jesus triumphed over the devil at the cross (Col. 2:15), but we live in an interim period when we don’t see the full effects of Jesus’ death. Satan is still hanging around as a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). He still has limited power in this age (Eph. 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:7). His future doom is sure (Rev. 20:10).
You might also ask, “How did Satan hold the power of death?” This statement raises a problem because Scripture asserts that God alone has charge of the issues of life and death (Luke 12:5). Satan took the lead in introducing sin into the world by his successful temptation of Adam (Rom. 5:12). Satan has “the power of death” because he introduced sin which causes death. Death is the fruit of sin (Rom. 5:21). The death and resurrection of Christ have rendered powerless the one who was formerly the master of death.
2:15. Jesus has destroyed our archenemy, but he has also liberated us from our chief fear. Death still occurs. We need no longer be afraid of it. Like Satan, death has a limited sovereignty. Its presence will conclude at the return of Christ with the resurrection of believers (1 Cor. 15:54). This hope sets us free from the nagging fear of death which can enslave us. Death cannot separate God’s people from the love of God (Rom. 8:35–39). Satan no longer can use the fear of death to intimidate us or frighten us.
Notice that Christ has not yet abolished death. He has defeated the devil who had the power of death (Col. 2:15). We still face natural death. The removal of sin by the death of Jesus withdraws the sting of sin (1 Cor. 15:55–57). One day Jesus will completely destroy death (1 Cor. 15:54). For Christians the fear of death is already gone.
Although this verse does not precisely mention the resurrection, we realize that the original readers would have understood the importance of the resurrection. Whenever we describe Jesus’ death as a victory (Heb. 2:14), we point to his resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is the cornerstone of the victory over the fear of death which we have as believers.
2:16. This verse tells two facts about Christ’s incarnation. First, Christ did not assume the nature of angels. He did not take angelic nature on himself. Probably some of the readers of Hebrews felt that an angelic deliverer would come to rescue them. Hebrews declares firmly that Jesus was not merely an angelic deliverer.
Second, Christ did assume human nature. The original language literally read that “he took on himself the seed of Abraham.” As a human being, Christ descended from Abraham. He also showed by his obedience that he was a spiritual descendant of Abraham. All believers are spiritual descendants of Abraham (Gal. 3:29).
Christ became a human being to give help to us as sinners. When the Son of God humbled himself in his incarnation, he stooped lower than the position of an angel to become a human being. When he became a human being, he was able to provide for the salvation of human beings.
2:17. This verse restates the truth of verse 14 that Jesus had a complete, perfect humanity. We read two reasons for the incarnation of Christ. First, the incarnation allowed Christ to become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. Jesus’ own suffering allowed him to be sympathetic to others and thus to show mercy. He demonstrated his faithfulness by remaining steadfast to the end without flinching. Jesus was completely trustworthy in everything God called him to do.
A second reason for the incarnation was that Jesus might make atonement for the sins of the people. Jesus’ death handled the personal sins of all human beings. Jesus did in reality what the Old Testament sacrificial ritual could only do in symbols. It was not that Jesus’ death satisfied the angry demands of a peevish God. The truth is that God himself provided the payment for our sins because of his ever-abiding love (Rom. 5:8).
2:18. This verse insists on the real humanity of Jesus. It also contains an important application of that real humanity. Because Jesus was a true human being and because he suffered, he can help us in our temptation.
This verse introduces several important questions. How could the sinless Jesus receive temptation? Was he tempted in the same way as human beings? These questions will be discussed further in 4:15.
Three important thoughts confront us here. First, Jesus suffered. He suffered as our Savior physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Second, this suffering became a source of temptation. The sufferings were so intense that Jesus could have decided that enduring them was not worth the pain which they inflicted. He never considered that, for he said, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Third, enduring suffering allowed him to help us. His victory over temptation and sin allowed him to guide us through the dangerous rocks of temptation.
Jesus has great ability to help us. His ability is not based on his experience with sin. His ability is based on his experience of the temptation to sin. Only someone who is sinless can know this experience fully.
When my son was a child, I often took him swimming. He delighted in playing the game of holding his breath under water. We competed with one another to see who could outlast the other. His youth led to his defeat. At the first sign of pain and discomfort under water, he would surface for air. I stayed under until my lungs were heaving with pain. When I surfaced for air, I truly needed it. Jesus remained in the pool of temptation longer than any of us. He knew the pain more fully. He resisted to the end. He never sinned. His experience allows him to encourage us and lead us to victory as we face temptation.