October 23, 2017

Our Savior and Man’s Fear of Death

By Walton Weaver

The Lord of heaven would not have condescended to become man (assume human nature) had it not been for the world's need of a Savior. But why was it necessary for him to become man in order to save man from sin? The writer of the book of Hebrews answers after this fashion:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14-15, NKJV).

The Hebrew writer's answer to our question is that Jesus' work of redemption involved suffering and death on his part. Assuming flesh or taking on our human nature was made necessary by the nature of his mission.

The Context

1. The Divine Purpose (vv. 9-10). The mission of Christ in coming into the world as man was clearly redemptive (i.e., he came into the world to become the author of our salvation, v. 10). As Christ was made perfect through his own sufferings, he also (and by the same process) brings many sons into glory with him (v. 10). In doing this he accomplishes the very purpose of God, and in a way (i.e., through the suffering and glorification of Christ) that is consistent with the Father's own being (see v. 10a, "for it was fitting for him"). Christ's sufferings included the fact that he must "taste death for everyone" (v. 9).

Hebrews 5:8 helps us understand how Christ was "made ... perfect through sufferings" (v. 10). According to this passage Christ "learned obedience" through his sufferings. Not obedience to God's law, but prayerful and believing submission (implied by the term trans. "being heard" in v. 7) to the sufferings which came upon him in the discharge of his special vocation as our Savior. It was not "perfecting" as a moral development that the writer has in view, but rather how our Lord became perfect (complete) in fully submitting to the vocation given to him in accomplishing the redemption of mankind. He not only suffered, but he learned from the sufferings (he had to more or less work himself into his place in God's plan in this way, or through sufferings) the perfect (full, or complete) obedience. This was the full or complete submission to the Father's will as it pertained to his place in the work of redemption, the very purpose for which he had come into the world.

2. The Sanctifier And The Sanctified (v. 11 a). Verse 10 shows us that the saved are themselves sons of God, and that Christ identified himself with his people in suffering that he might bring them to glory with him. Christ is therefore "the sanctifier" and his people are "the sanctified. " But what does the writer mean when he says we "are all of one" (NKJV)? In some sense the sanctified have been made to be one with the sanctifier. Some say we are "one" with Christ because he assumed our nature, or became flesh. Others see a spiritual reference in the expression: we are one with Christ because we are the sanctified, and as the sanctified we are also sons of God with him. In other words, God is the common Father of both him who sanctifies and they who are sanctified through Christ. The context itself develops both of these views so it does not seem necessary that we choose between them. God's people are one with Christ in a spiritual sense, and they are also one with him by being of the same human nature. That Christ became "one" with us in the latter sense was made necessary by the nature of his work to be accomplished as our Savior (i.e., he must go through sufferings and death on our behalf). After all, the sanctified have become so "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).

3. Christ Is Not Ashamed To Call Us Brethren (vv. 11b-13). This is true because Christ has identified himself with his people through his sufferings and death in order that he might bring them to glory with him. It is evident that the writer viewed the passages quoted from the O.T. (Psa. 22:22 and Isa. 8:17-18) to have been spoken by Christ. The first quotation (v. 12) shows he called his people "my brethren," then the next two quotations (v. 13, both from Isa. 8:17-18) supply additional proofs which help establish the affirmation. The first quotation from the Isaiah passage, "I will put my trust in him," does not prove anything as it stands alone. It must be taken with the second quotation from Isaiah. The "children" whom the Father has given him are his "brethren" who have been named in Hebrews 2:11, and (as the first quote from the Isaiah passage shows, v. 13) it is these brethren with whom he proudly associates. He associates himself with them in an act of faith, or by putting his trust in God as he goes through his sufferings on their behalf (i.e., so he might take them to glory with him, v. 10). In this act of faith Christ became the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2), and in doing so he gave us an example as to how we should live our lives out to completeness just as he did. He was the first to begin (the author) and the first to carry through to completeness (the finisher) that life of faith which we also are to live all the way to the end.

Christ Shared With Us Blood and Flesh

This brings us to the first thing affirmed of Christ in v. 14: "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same . . ." We should keep in mind the reason that has already been given as to why this was necessary (i.e., that he might suffer and die for mankind). This reason will be drawn out in more concrete terms in the next part of the verse and the verse that follows. But for now we must give brief attention to what is meant by the terms "blood and flesh" since this is what the first part of this verse affirms that Christ shared with us in order that he might accomplish the divinely appointed purpose for his death described in the words that follow.

We are a little surprised with the order of the words in this statement because elsewhere we find the word order to be "flesh and blood," not "blood and flesh." But surely the word order in this passage does not give us a different meaning. It is possible that "blood" is mentioned first in order to call attention to the natural unity of mankind (cf. Acts 17:26, "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth"). Although the terms "flesh and blood" are not used in the Old Testament, the expression came to be a common way for the Jews of a later period to describe human nature in contrast to God. Peter seems to use the terms in this way in Matthew 16:17, and Paul apparently did the same in Galatians 1:16. The expression is used in contrast with spiritual powers or forces in Ephesians 6:12. In 1 Corinthians 15:50 Paul says that "flesh and blood" cannot enter the kingdom of God. From these uses of the expression we may conclude that flesh and blood are what make a man less than a purely spiritual being. The terms describe that which is in man that makes him corruptible and liable to death. The terms are not equal to the term "flesh" (sarx) as it is often used by Paul in his writings, even though the physical flesh and blood are always behind his use of that term. The point that is being made by the Hebrew writer is that Christ had to assume physical flesh and blood in order that he might be put to death. Hence "the days of his flesh" (Heb. 2:7) are the period of his earthly struggles and suffering.

In our second article on this subject we will take up what the writer affirms in this passage was accomplished by Christ's death.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI 19, pp. 584-585
October 1, 1992

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