17 “Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.
18 For because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:17, 18
When we studied Hebrews 2:14-16 in the last post we saw that Jesus did not have a sinful nature or carry sin in Him in any way. He came in the flesh but not sinful flesh. Verses 17 & 18 reinforce the idea that saying Jesus came in the flesh is not the equivalent of saying Jesus had a sinful nature.
Verse 17 makes it clear that the writer of Hebrews is stating that Jesus “had to be made like His brethren” for two important aspects of ministry. He “might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,” and that He was “to make expiation for the sins of the people.”
If the writer of Hebrews was trying to convince us that Jesus could have sinned or failed in any way then these two commissions for Jesus’ ministry couldn’t be true. If Jesus carried the nature of fallen Adam then He Himself needed a savior and couldn’t be a savior. Jesus is the second Adam in the reality that He came as a man with the physical weaknesses of man, but He did not come to Earth as a second fallen Adam.
The High Priest on the day of Atonement had to go through a series of ritualistic washings to become symbolically clean so He could enter into the Most Holy Place to apply the blood before the Mercy Seat. Adam could not have served as High Priest without the cleansing and if Jesus came in the nature of fallen Adam, then He would have to become ritualistic pure in order to serve. But there is no mention of that in the Scripture and the reason is Jesus was already pure. He came as my substitute for sin and death not as my example to prove Adam, just like Him, could live without sin.
Let us look at the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry mentioned in Verse 17, then we will look at the results of that ministry as recorded in Verse 18. First of all the whole point of Jesus’ incarnation as discussed in Hebrews 2:14-16 is to break the hold of slavery Satan has on us because of our fear of death. (2:15) The only way that was possible was for the Son to die and the only way to die was to become human. Again, let me be clear, the reason Jesus became human was to die as our substitute for sin so Satan’s hold would be broken over us. He did not come to be an example of how we could keep the law perfectly and be saved by our own striving and efforts.
Verses 17 & 18 are in a way transitional verses to the heart of the sermon found running from 4:14 through 10:25. There are at least seven words or phrases found in these two verses found also in 4:14-5:3:
– High priest ( 4:14; 5:1)
– sin (4:15; 5:1-3)
– merciful/mercy (4:16)
– tempted (4:15)
– help (4:16)
– the people (5:3)
– and the obligation to do something (5:3)
We can’t expect to know all there is about the work of the High Priest from verses 17 & 18. They are but an introduction to what will be explained in 4:14 and following.
There are things however we can know without the long explanations found in 4:14 and 10:25. Verse 17 is the conclusion of the major theme of chapter 2:10-17 and that is the incarnation of Christ. In these verses we are taught that Jesus’ close connection to the children of God runs through the incarnation.
“The Son brings believers to glory (2:10) and is not ashamed to call them family since He and they share a common experience. (2:10) He is in their midst (2:12-13) having become like them by taking on flesh and blood (2:14, 17) and therefore, He can give them help. (2: 14-15, 18) He is fully human and can relate fully to people.” Hebrews, George H. Guthrie p.113
Once again the point of the incarnation was that Jesus, born of flesh and blood, would become the savior of fallen humanity. Read again verses 10-18 and you will be surprised at how much emphasis is upon the suffering of Christ for His people.
Verse 17 says that the reason Jesus became a merciful and faithful High Priest was to make expiation for the sins of the people. What does that mean exactly? Well, the word expiation means to take away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. The mercy and faithfulness of Jesus is what led Him to Calvary’s cross where, as our substitute for sin, our guilt before the Father was washed away.
The atonement was made at the cross, or as the old timers use to say “we are at one” with God. At the cross our sins and our guilt were forgiven and forgotten and we once again had peace with God. Of course this had nothing to do with our own doings but was totally the work of Christ. As we study the role of the High Priest later in this series we will look at how expiation and the High Priest ministry of Jesus are tied together so I won’t go into that in this post.
Verse 18 has to be one of the most beautiful in Scripture for its assurance and help with discouragement. “For because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.”
Jesus was tempted in this life because He was flesh and blood. However, He never surrendered to temptation because His eyes were on the prize and not focused inward to His own needs and wants. It is difficult to know if the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus suffering in the whipping just before the crucifixion or whether Jesus suffering came from not surrendering to the strong temptations that surrounded His life.
Now you and I might be tempted to break our diet, watch stupid reality shows, or waste our day away lounging around the pool. Jesus’ temptations ran more like ”will I call angels down from Heaven to smite Pilot” or “will I turn my back on this mission to save humanity at such cost and suffering to myself?”
But regardless of what form the suffering took, He bore up under it and carried it to the cross, the grave, and the resurrection. I’ve met Christians that believe the suffering of Jesus was complete at the cross but do we really believe Jesus ministers in Heaven as our great High Priest and intercessor without feeling the pain of seeing His loved ones squander their lives away in sin and pain?
Do we think God doesn’t love every single person with the entire love of His very being? A parent who sees His child suffer with disease, unhappy marriage, poverty, or sadness has their heart pulled apart every day in sorrow for their child that they love so much. Do we think less of God’s love?
God longs to pour His love out to those of us who suffer and are under the attacks of temptation, and that is all of us. He comes to us as our great High Priest who has suffered and faced temptation like us. He knows the pain and hurt we feel and experience, and He is merciful and compassionate towards us.
Christ takes care of the ultimate pain of our separation from God through being an expiation on our behalf. He takes away our guilt, our sin, our shame, our separation, our death at the cross, and gives us life, freedom, hope, assurance, and unity with the Father in there place.
Just a side note. When I went to Seminary there was a mystery around the book of Hebrews. It was considered difficult to understand and a bit dry. Luther wasn’t a fan of the book, and you seldom hear a sermon taken from it because it doesn’t feature the kind of stories, like the Gospels, that can easily be expounded upon.
But when we sit down and study Hebrews and we are just skimming the surface, there is a wonder and joy in the book that lifts the soul. The book drips Gospel and wraps us in assurance and hope. It is the antidote against the blues. I want to thank those of you who have written to me and encourage me to keep on with the series. We have so much Gospel yet to come and to sink our teeth into that I can hardly wait to write again.