In C. S. Lewis’s book, Miracles, he identifies one miracle as “The Grand Miracle,” writing, “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man.”i And he’s right that this is indeed the grand miracle. The idea that God the Son became a human being, while not ceasing to be the divine person he always has been, is almost too much for our minds to handle. To think that the Son could be held by Mary in his human nature while holding the cells of her body together in his divine nature is easily one of the most glorious and overwhelming realities in the universe. In fact, the incarnation of the Son of God is such a central and crucial reality in the Christian faith that John says that one who does not confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2) is not of God.
But as miraculous and central to the Christian faith as the incarnation of God the Son is, it does raise a question, doesn’t it? And that question is, “Why?” I mentioned last week that when the Son took on a fully human nature, he lived in this world that is subject to death and decay. He got hungry, thirsty, and tired. He suffered pain, hurt, and even death. His sorrow was so deep on occasion that he thought it would kill him. So why do that? Why would God become man? And specifically why would God become man in a world where Satan, sin, and death are working great pain, agony, and destruction?
That question is answered in large measure in the text we’re looking at this morning: Hebrews 2:10-18. And the fact that the author of Hebrews answers this question in these verses makes sense if you consider where we ended last week in v. 9. After mentioning that Jesus is the human being who succeeds where Adam fails so that he is now crowned with glory and honor and reigning over all things at the Father’s right hand, he adds that the Son became human, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
And it’s at that point that you want to ask, “Why?” Why did he have to die? Why did he have to suffer? Why did he have to become a man who would live in this sin-cursed, death-ruled world? That’s what the author of Hebrews fleshes out in these verses by telling us that it was “fitting” for the Son to become man and suffer. So, let’s look at his answers this morning. Why was it fitting and necessary for the Son to become human and suffer? What was he doing by his incarnation and suffering of death? First, he became man and suffered to bring many sons to glory.
To bring many sons to glory
This point is made in the first verse of our text, but it is fleshed out for us amidst a number of complex details in these verses. So, let’s start with verse 10, and we’ll work our way through verse 13 in seeing this first point. First, he says in verse 10, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
What the author wants us to see is that the sufferings and death of Jesus were the work of God himself. That’s why he reveals God as the one doing the action here (in this case, “making the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering”). God is the one “for whom and by whom all things exist,” and he is the one who deemed it good, right, and “fitting” for Jesus to walk a path of suffering. So, God—the one by whom and for whom all things exist—purposed the incarnation and Jesus’ subsequent sufferings.
And one purpose of Jesus’ sufferings was to “make him perfect.” This, of course, can cause us problems upon first reading because we rightly acknowledge that Jesus, the God-man, was perfectly sinless. He is the perfect human being. But the idea here of being made perfect carries the notion of being made qualified for a task or office. In this case, I think the author is telling us that Jesus walked through suffering as a means of being appropriately qualified to serve as our high priest. He will later tell us (in v. 18) that it is precisely because Jesus has “suffered when tempted” that “he is able to help those who are being tempted,” as our merciful and faithful high priest.
So, Jesus’ sufferings were part of the plan of God, a means of qualifying him to be our high priest, and were for the purpose of “bringing many sons to glory.” Now what does that mean? Well, the mention of glory is picked up from the text we looked at last week in Hebrews 2:7 where the author quoted from Psalm 8 where David speaks of Adam and Eve in the garden being “crowned” with “glory” in that they were made rulers over the earth.
However, after the fall, that glory was diminished in the sense that man was not seen in that state of ruling over the world. That’s why I mentioned last week that Psalm 8 not only looks back to the glory that belonged to humanity at creation, but it is a prophetic text, pointing us forward to a restoration of that glory when Christ returns. This restoration of glory is why Paul, for example, will speak of our eternal hope of salvation in terms of “the glory to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18), our being transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18), and ultimately being “glorified” (Rom 8:30). There is coming a day when we believers will be glorified, perfectly conformed to Christ’s image, and reflecting our Lord beautifully as we reign over the world as his sons and daughters of God. It will be a restoration to the glory seen at creation, and it will even surpass that glory.
That’s what the author of Hebrews is speaking of when he tells us that Jesus took on flesh and suffered in order to bring many sons to glory. But how does this work? Well, on the one hand, as we saw in 2:5-9, Jesus is the first man of the new creation (like Adam was the first man of the old creation). He is the first human being who has been raised in glory, with a resurrection body. But, he’s also united with us, our representative, and our brother. He has brought us into his family so that we might be identified with him. We see this in verses 11-13.
We see this united family imagery as the author of Hebrews writes in verse 11, “For he who sanctifies [Jesus] and those who are sanctified [us] all have one source.” I think this is simply an affirmation that God is the Father of both Jesus and those whom Jesus is redeeming. But the author uses this point to establish a family identity. If Jesus and those whom he redeems have the same Father, then Jesus and the redeemed are family. We are his brothers and sisters. This leads to the argument of verses 11b-13 where the author writes, “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
These quotations, are from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 8, both which point us forward to the work of Christ. Psalm 22 is that psalm Jesus quotes from the cross, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But in the midst of the psalm, David identifies the people of God as his brothers, even as Jesus does with us. Similarly, Isaiah 8 comes in the middle of a strong messianic text of Isaiah 7-12 where we remember prophecies of the virgin birth, Jesus being called “Mighty God,” etc. And in the middle of it, Isaiah notes that his children given to him by God are a sign of God’s promises coming to fruition. Similarly, those children of God given to Jesus are signs of God’s redeeming promises coming to fruition.
But aside from the details of the OT quotations, we see the gist, don’t we? Jesus has been united with us as his own family. We are his brothers and sisters. He represents us and identifies with us. He is not ashamed to call us brothers. And what this means is that as the head of our family and our representative, what Jesus does counts for us.
Perhaps the easiest way to think of it is to think of Jesus as the second/last Adam. The first Adam was the first man of this old creation. We were identified with him, and because he was plunged into sin, condemnation, and death, so were we. Jesus, on the other hand, is the first man of the new creation. And we are identified with him. We are his family, his brothers and sisters. And because he died and was raised in glory, one day we will be raised in glory as well to reign alongside of him over a new creation. Thus, he came to bring us [“many sons”] to a restoration of the glory that was lost in Adam. That’s the first answer to why Jesus become man, suffered, and died. The second answer the author gives us is that Jesus came and suffered to destroy the devil.
To destroy the devil
The author of Hebrews writes in vv. 14-15, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he 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, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
I mentioned last week that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in Genesis 3, in a moment those who were to reign over the world became slaves themselves to the reign of death. Instead of reigning over the earth, the earth would one day house their dead bodies. But the Bible doesn’t merely pictured death as an enemy tyrant, it also pictures the devil this way.
In Scripture, Satan is referred to as the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30), the “god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4), the “prince of the power of the air” who is now working in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2), and the one under whose power lies the whole world (1 Jn 5:19). Satan is clearly a strong, reigning power in this world. And one way he holds people to lifelong slavery is through holding the power of death over.
But what exactly does that look like? Well, let’s think through it a bit. Death is linked to sin in the Bible again and again. Death is seen not just as an enemy power (though it is that) but as the penalty for sin. Many of us probably memorized Romans 6:23 at one point in our lives which tells us that the “wages of sin is death.” That is, death is the penalty we’ve merited by our sin. Therefore, Satan holds the power of death over us as a threat we know we deserve because we are condemned sinners. What comeback do we have to the accuser when he says we deserve to die because we are condemned sinners? There is none. Outside of Christ we are condemned sinners. And so, he holds people in lifelong slavery through their fear of death which is the just penalty for sin. He condemns us to death, and we stand condemned as sinners.
On the other hand, Jesus is seen in Scripture as the one who comes to conquer Satan. The very first promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15 is given to us in the form of a threat to Satan, the serpent, as the Lord says to him that the offspring of the woman would one day come and crush his head. And this is foreshadowed all through the OT as Pharoah and the Egyptians are destroyed, as Goliath is destroyed, and as the enemies of God’s people are destroyed again and again as he saves his people. But all of this is leading to the climactic act of salvation and destruction as Jesus, the conqueror, comes to destroy the very one who holds the power of death, the devil.
But—and here is what may be surprising—he destroys the devil by dying. This is what the author tells us, isn’t it? “Through death” he destroys the one who has the power of death. But wait a second, how does that work? Well, it works when we remember the connection between sin, condemnation, and death. Satan holds the power of death over us because we are condemned sinners who deserve to die as the penalty for our sins. Jesus, however, comes and removes that.
Jesus comes, as we’ve already seen, as our representative. And we can add that he comes as our substitute as well. So what Jesus does on the cross is that he dies in our place, bearing the penalty our sin deserved. And because Jesus is our representative, what he does counts for us. And because he is our substitute, we don’t have to bear the condemnation for our sins, as he’s already borne it for us in our place. This is why we sometimes refer to the cross as an act of penal substitution. As our substitute, he pays our penalty.
And because our sin has been atoned for by Jesus and because our penalty has been paid by his death, we are freed from the power that Satan holds over the world with his condemning accusations. We can answer like Luther who famously said, “When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”ii Jesus destroyed Satan’s condemning, accusing power.
Sure, we’ll die. And sure there is an appropriate fear of death, since it is an enemy and a reminder that sin has had great consequences. But as Christians we do not have to fear death as a reminder of our condemnation. Death for the believer is no longer a penalty. I think that may be why the Scripture consistently refers to the death of believers as a falling asleep, since we die merely to discover life eternal, not to suffer penalty for our sin.
So, as second reason that the Son became a human being, suffered, and died was so that by his death he might destroy the one who holds the power of death and deliver us from the enslaving fear of death that held us captive. Finally, the Son took on flesh and suffered to make propitiation for our sins.
To make propitiation for our sins
Now, if you don’t have any idea what the world “propitiation” means, that’s perfectly okay. I had never heard of propitiation until my freshman year of college when I picked up J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. Chapter 18 of that book is titled, “The Heart of the Gospel.” And in that chapter Packer describes the heart of the gospel as “propitiation.”
I’ll admit that as an eighteen-year-old I thought to myself, “If the heart of the gospel is summed up in a world that I hadn’t even heard of, then have I really ever understood the gospel?” And the answer is, “Yes” because though I hadn’t heard the word, I understood the idea. The idea of propitiation is that God satisfies his own wrath in the sacrifice of his Son. That is, instead of pouring his wrath out on us, God lovingly sends his Son and the Son lovingly volunteers to bear the wrath that our sins deserved for us. Therefore, because God’s wrath is satisfied at the cross, there is no longer any just wrath directed toward us. His wrath, we can say, has been propitiated at the cross. It’s been satisfied or removed.
Now, I bring up that word because it’s actually in our text. In verses 16-18 the author of Hebrews writes, ‘For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham [i.e. believers]. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
So, let’s take this bit by bit. First, when the text tell us that Jesus serves as our merciful and faithful high priest, he is referring to this office of a man who represented God’s people before God. In fact, we can see this very definition in Hebrews 5:1 where we read, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
Under the old covenant, the high priest would make this sacrifice in the tabernacle or temple. He would enter the temple, wearing twelve stones around his neck, showing that he was representing the twelve tribes of Israel. And he would offer the sacrifice of a lamb. The idea, of course, being that the lamb was bearing God’s wrath as a substitute for the people so that God’s wrath would be satisfied and averted from the people. That is, it was an act of propitiation.
Now, however, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came as our high priest (a human appointed to represent man before God), and he too came to make propitiation for our sins. What is different, however, is that Jesus wasn’t simply our representative (the high priest) offering the substitutionary sacrifice (the lamb); he is both representative and substitutionary sacrifice. He is both our high priest and the sacrifice for sins. He offered himself to bear God’s wrath on our behalf so that we might never taste that wrath.
And this is an important detail for us to understand, especially right after talking about how Jesus’ death destroyed the devil. We might be tempted, after reading verses 14-15, to think that the cross was mainly about dealing the devil. But it wasn’t. Our main problem as sinners isn’t the devil. Our main problem as sinners is that God’s just wrath hangs over us. This is why Paul can say in Romans 2:5 that because of our hard and unrepentant hearts we are “storing up wrath” for ourselves on the “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” In fact, the only reason Satan has power is because he can rightly accuse us of justly deserving the wrath of God that is coming.
But when we place our faith in Jesus—our representative and substitute—we can say that God’s wrath has already been appeased on our behalf because Jesus bore it for us. Now, not only do Satan’s accusations fall flat, but we know that we will never ever taste God’s wrath because Christ has made propitiation for our sins. We are no longer the objects of God’s wrath but the objects of God’s love, forgiveness, and delight. We are his children. And we are his children because Jesus became one of us, was not ashamed to identify us as his brothers, and died and rose for us. Therefore, we will one day be raised in glory, we do not have to fear death as a reminder of our condemnation, and we will never face God’s wrath. That’s why the Son became a human being and suffered. And this is the truth that grounds all of our obedience to God in this life. Therefore, let’s spend today, tomorrow, and the next day asking the Lord to keep this glorious work of Christ for us fresh in our hearts and minds so that we might love our God, knowing that he first loved us. And let us remember his work now as we come to the table. Amen.
i C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), reprint, 143.
ii Martin Luther, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Vol. 18 of Library of Christian Classics, ed. Theodore G. Trappert (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 86-87.