Tag Archives: Hebrews

Misunderstanding Son of God

 

In the Western World, and more specifically, the United States, it’s extremely difficult to read the Bible without importing our preconceived notions or understandings of particular words, phrases, or themes. In fact, it’s impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to restrain our understanding and allow the Bible to speak and define words or concepts for itself. One particular example in which this occurs is through the phrase “Son of God” as it is applied as a title to Christ. Though our Lord preferred the title Son of Man, nevertheless Son of God is the other predominant title given to Him in the New Testament, particularly through the pen of the Apostle John. We find this phrase 9 times in his Gospel, 9 Times in his first epistle, and one time in the book of Revelation. But what exactly does it mean?

I fear that our societal understanding of the term son immediately triggers a position of subordination in our minds. For instance, in a father-and-son business, generally speaking the father is considered the senior, more experienced of the two, while the son is often viewed as the younger, more vigorous of the two who one day hopes to take over the family business when he has reached a certain experiential level. When applied to God, I wonder if we haven’t made God the Father the gray-haired, crotchety, senior god and made the Son, a more compassionate, less hard-lined, less-experienced smaller “god”. In any event, my concern is that by hearing and reading the phrase Son of God, we’ve by default come to view Christ as a junior or lesser deity to the Father and that simply isn’t true, nor is it the intention of Scripture to convey this, in fact it is just the opposite.

The title Son, as it relates to Christ, is first meant to communicate equality in essence or being with the Father. Any other starting point will lead to a false conclusion and false understanding of who Christ is. This is where modern Arianism, i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, falter in their understanding of Christ’s deity. Their conception of son is that of a created being, similar to that of angels, Adam, or even Satan. But Scripture does not refer to Christ as Son of God in order to represent Him as a created being. It uses the term Son to communicate that God the Father’s “dna” if you will, or essence, is entirely held within the person of the Son. This is what’s intended in passages such as Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15, 19.

Again, difficulties may arise with our understanding of the word son. When my son was born, he possessed my dna. However my dna is not pure, though it is specific to me, because it did not originate from me. I have millennia, back to Adam and Eve, of ancestors who’s dna has combined to form me. Likewise, my son has a combination of my wife’s ancestral dna such that he is made up 50% of me, 50% of my wife. When we think of Christ, we cannot import this understanding of son into Scripture because God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. This means that His “dna”, if again you will allow the use of that term, has no origin apart from Himself, nor mixture from any outside source. Likewise, Christ is said to be equally eternal, begotten from the Father with no mixture of “dna” and no entrance of maternal dna. To be clear, we are talking of Christ’s deity and title as Son of God here, not of His incarnation or title Son of Man, lest there be here any turning of our thoughts toward Mary. With this understanding, we can begin to see that when Christ is called Son of God, it is meant to convey nothing less than Christ = God. This is precisely what is stated in John chapter 5.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:16-18

In this passage, the central theme is that Christ has healed on the Sabbath and has therefore fallen under condemnation of the law in the eyes of the Jewish Pharisees. In verse 17 of this chapter, we read Jesus’ declaration that “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This statement has a dual edge; the first clearly states that God is His Father and the second implies equality between the two in that both are equally “working”. The Jews, who hold none of our modern societal impediments (though certainly have their own), understand the meaning of Christ’s declaration of Himself as God’s Son. Note carefully John 5:18, “…not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” This is the Apostle John’s commentary on the situation. Clearly, the Jews of Christ’s day understand the divine genealogical principle being established by our Lord. Through His assertion that God is His Father, He is implicitly stating that He is God. They understand that God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. They understand that there is no mixture of “dna” in Him. So when Christ claims Him as Father, this automatically carries with it the idea of deity, not a lesser deity mind you, but as the passage states, equality with God.

Explaining this passage to a Jehovah’s Witness may be tricky. Their immediate defense is to eschew this meaning and assert that this was the Jews misunderstanding. In other words, they believe that the Jews wrongly assumed that Jesus was calling Himself God and it follows that they wrongly accused Him of blasphemy and wrongly crucified Him on this basis. However, this interpretation is a bucket full of holes and cannot hold water. It falls precisely into the trap of importing a false notion of Son into the equation and it fails to properly understand that God the Father is eternal and did not procreate with anyone else to create Christ, nor would Christ’s creation from other material (or angelic being) give proper weight to the term “son”.

Note the declarations of Christ’s Apostles, who share the Pharisees understanding of the term “son”.

Matthew 14:32-33, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

This statement is neutered of its meaning if we take it to say Christ is a lesser god or Christ is a created being. That would be saying something similar to the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a created being.” Or “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a lesser god than the Father.” Those interpretations simply make no sense. This passage is boldly stating the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is Yahweh.”

Matthew 16:15-17, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s again apply the erroneous understanding of son as meaning a lesser god or created being and observe how it again neuters the impact of this powerful statement. “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a lesser god than the Father!” Or “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a created being!” Even the weak attempts by Jehovah’s Witness to say that Christ is an “exalted being” fail to do justice to these emphatic statements of His divinity.

Next observe the interrogation of Christ at His pre-crucifixion trial from Matthew’s Gospel. “57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council[h] were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Mattew 26:57-67

First we see that our Lord’s accusers tried in vain to trump up charges against Him, but were unable. When they did bring forth two witnesses, their words actually misconstrued what Christ had said.[1] Next, Caiphas asks bluntly, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” His question is twofold, yet related, and reveals the Jewish understanding and anticipation of the Messiah (Christ or Annointed One) and the divinity that He was to hold, Son of God. When Jesus responds in the affirmative to the question, yet adds more to Caiphas’ understanding (verse 64), the high priest responds with, “He has uttered blasphemy”. Those who were interrogating Jesus understood that He was making a claim to deity. Contextually, there is simply no other way to take this. They haven’t misinterpreted His words, as the Jehovah’s Witness claims; they recognize that His affirmation of being the Son of God is nothing less than a claim to deity and for that they condemn Him to death.

There are many more examples that we could look at, but those above serve well to help our understanding that the title Son of God when applied to Christ is a clear reference to His divinity.

Secondly, and the order is important, the title Son of God is meant to communicate a subordination of ROLE, function, or office, NOT of essence or being. Space prohibits developing this theme in more depth, but it should be mentioned here to prevent further misunderstanding and objections to Christ as Son. It’s actually on this point that most who deny Jesus as God base their claim. For instance, they read such passages as John 14:28, “…for the Father is greater than I” and John 10:29, “…My Father…is greater than all….” and make the false conclusion that Jesus is lesser in His essence or being, yet they fail to reconcile those passages with others, such as those mentioned above, in which Son of God means that Jesus has equality with God. If we were to keep reading in John 5 we would see that Christ’s subordinate role is further defined, yet it in no way does it undermine His divine nature or make Him a lesser god. As a further study, John 5:30-47 clearly outlines several subordinate roles that have been given to Him by the Father, yet all the while it maintains His supreme status as God. At issue then is that this secondary understanding of Son of God is given primary status and used as a rubric through which all other passages asserting Christ’s deity are read and subsequently dismissed. That is a fatal flaw in Scriptural interpretation and leads to a false understanding of who Christ is. Anyone who holds to a lesser Christ than one who is God stakes their hopes in no Christ at all and are subject to the wrath and condemnation of God, that is Christ, to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22-23).

Much more could be said regarding Jesus’ claim as Son of God and exactly what that means, including Jesus as Son-King. Likewise, there is more to be said from an Old Testament perspective that Christ as Son fulfills the promises made to David, but that for another day.

Son of God as applied to Christ means nothing more and nothing less than God the Son. It is an emphatic statement of His deity and role as the Second Person in the Trinity. He is not a lesser god, He is God; He did not become God’s Son at His incarnation, He has always been and will always be. To Him belongs all glory and honor. He is worthy of all worship, praise, and adoration.

[1] There is a play on words here with the word temple. See Jesus’ statements on this in Matthew 24 or Mark 13.

*Image credit: Harvestrockford.org

The Deceitfulness of Sin

 

Hebrews 3:13 “…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

“Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens’ hearts, and brings them to ruin.”[1]

These words from John Owen, in his masterful treatise on The Mortification of Sin, highlight for us the deception through which sin operates in the heart of men. Sin is a deceiver and has been a deceiver of man since the fall in garden. In the passage from Hebrews 3:13, the Preacher instructs his hearers to avoid hardness of heart brought about through the deceitfulness of sin. We may ask, in what ways does sin deceive? In answering this question, it seems reasonable to first turn to the occurrence of the original sin, alluded to earlier, to find out its modus operandi.

From Genesis 3 and the Serpent’s encounter with Adam and Eve we read,

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

In this original sin, how did sin deceive? Observe four particular ways, though certainly more may be discovered:

  1. Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar (vs. 1, 4)
  2. Sin distorts the law of God in calling what is evil, good (vs. 3-5).
  3. Sin distorts the grace of God in calling what is good, evil (vs. 3,5).
  4. Sin distorts inherent desires by promising what it cannot deliver, satisfaction (vs. 6).

In our passage from Hebrews, we see that this original sin, though foundational and perhaps a typical pattern for future sins, was not called into recollection as the basis for the exhortation. Instead, he draws upon a rebellion more fully discussed on the pages of Scripture and perhaps more relevant to his exposition on the comparison and contrasts of the Old and New Covenants.

In this particular passage he turns to the wilderness generation of Exodus through Deuteronomy, specifically noting their history of rebellion and lack of faith culminating in a disinheritance of the Promised Land. His citation in Hebrews 3:7-12 comes from Psalm 95 but has much of the Torah for its background concluding in Numbers 14 with the curse brought on that generation of disobedience.

Observing the deceitfulness of sin in this account, we see much overlap from the Edenic sin and that in the “Wilderness of Sin.” It is likely there can be no greater contrast between the “Garden of Eden” and the “Wilderness of Sin” than in their physical appearance. One was lush with vegetation the other a desert with thorns and thistles. In one the animals are submissive to man, in the other wild beasts run rampant. These dissimilarities aside, the common denominator is man, specifically his rebellious heart against God. Note the summary given in Hebrews 3:7-12:

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Israel has sometimes been referred to as a type of corporate Adam, this is fitting given the failure of each in their own “garden”. However, unlike Adam’s single rebellious act, Israel’s repeated testing (10 times – Numbers 14:22) of the Lord reached its culmination on the threshold of the Promised Land. In their testing, noted above, they were recipients of God’s grace in provision over the course of the exodus from Egypt on the way to promised land. Yet this was not enough to prevent the swelling of rebellion in their hearts.

The citation from Psalm 95 indicates that the “hardness of hearts” took place in Meribah (rebellion) and the day of testing was in Massah (wilderness). Turning to these occurrences in their Old Testament context, we arrive at Exodus 17:7, And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Specifically, this particular episode of quarreling and questioning of God by Israel was in relation to their lack of water, which would eventually be resolved by Moses’ striking of the rock at God’s command (Exodus 17:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Notice however the central thesis of the Israelite murmur, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Fundamentally, this is an example of premise #1 from above on the deceitfulness of sin in the garden, Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar.

God’s initial commissioning of Moses included the promise below:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’’” Exodus 3:16-17

We are told in Exodus 4:30 that the Word of God was given to the people, via Aaron. Therefore, when we read of their murmuring and questioning whether God was with them, they were in essence doubting the promise of God and by doing so calling Him a liar. Thus the deceitfulness of sin.

Much more could be said regarding this Wilderness Generation and their rebellion against God, specifically as it relates to the deceitfulness of sin. The author of Hebrews uses their experience as a negative example of those who have heard the Word of God, but didn’t believe it and didn’t obey it.

Sin misrepresents reality. It removes or distorts the corrective lens of God’s Word to prevent clearly seeing it, along with its dangers and deceptions. Owen offers some helpful comments on the deceitfulness of sin. He writes:

“It [sin’s deception] consists in presenting unto the soul, or mind, things otherwise than they are, either in their nature, causes, effects, or present respect unto the soul. It hides what ought to be seen and considered, conceals circumstances and consequences, presents what is not, or things as they are not, as we shall afterward manifest in particular. This is the nature of deceit; it is a representation of a matter under disguise, hiding that which is undesirable, proposing that which indeed is not in it, that the mind may make a false judgment of it.”[2]

Venning notes that sin is crimen laesae Majestatis “high treason against the majesty of God”[3]. Sin in its deception is likewise high treason against the authority of the Sovereign King. Fundamentally, its purpose is to distort the Word of God. Its power is in its deception because it promises what it cannot deliver. Sin promises satisfaction; it promises the fulfillment of our most intimate, innate desires, yet it has no power to deliver on these promises. In the end, sin is a flash in the pan though is fool’s gold. It always leaves the sinner wanting more, hungering for the wrong things because it can never satisfy and quench the desires that man has.

Only God, through His Son Jesus Christ can satisfy every desire that we have. It is Christ that promised the woman at the well “living water” so that she would never thirst again. It is Christ who declared Himself to be the bread from heaven, satisfying the inmost hunger pangs of the soul. Understanding the deceitfulness of sin and the satisfaction that can only come in Christ serves believers well as a precious remedy against sin’s deception.

Like sand grains hardened into stone through the internal workings of cementation and the external pressures from nature, so too is the heart hardened through the internal workings of sin’s deceitfulness and the external temptations of the world. Be vigilant in your perseverance dear saints, that your hearts be not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

[1] John Owen Volume 6 pg. 12

[2] John Owen, Volume 6, Pg. 213-214 This is compilation of various quotes from Owen on the subject.

[3] Ralph Venning The Sinfulness of Sin

The Suffering of the Son

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Continuing in Hebrews 2, we reach another transitional section following the author’s discussion of Christ’s humanity in verses 5-9 and the family of God in verses 10-13, to now the suffering of the Son, alluded to in verse 9 and expanded upon in the remaining verses of this glorious but challenging chapter. In connecting the humanity of Christ with His death, it then becomes apparent that the chief purpose of our Lord’s incarnation was His subsequent death. Our Lord lived in order to die.

What a staggering and profound truth that the King so splendidly described in chapter 1 as the Supreme Being in the universe, the high and exalted One, the Son of God, should come to earth, suffer, and die. It hardly seems believable, yet it’s true, and in verses 14-18 we begin to see several of the purposes behind His suffering unto death.

In setting forth these purposes, we find in verse 14 the familiar transitional formula that is so often utilized in the book of Hebrews, namely the conjunction “therefore.” This is an important marker for Bible readers to pay close attention to because it most often serves to 1.)Maintain the continuity of an idea established earlier by transitioning to an explanation of why an earlier statement was made or 2.)To summarize a previously lengthy section with a more succinct statement. In verse 14a we have the latter, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things”. This part of the verse serves to restate the solidarity in the flesh that Christ shares with His “brothers”.

In the second part (b) of verse 14 we find the first purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, namely his power over death. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A similar sentiment is conveyed in Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Finally, we read the words of Jesus heralding His imminent triumph over the devil, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32

The sentence begun in verse 14 continues into verse 15 and provides for us the second purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Destroy and Deliver, the twin themes of our Lords earthy purpose.

Those who were subject to lifelong slavery because of the fear of death is author’s eighth way of defining the “everyone” from verse 2:9. He has employed the terms: sons (vs.10), those who Christ leads or Captains (vs.10), those who are sanctified (vs.11), brothers (vs.11), brothers (vs.12), children (vs. 13), children (vs.14) and now those who have been set free from fear of death by the death of Christ. Or as John Owen so clearly stated, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”  Why should there have been slaves to a fear of death?  Our Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56 that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  It becomes apparent then that slavery to a fear of death is directly related to the law, specifically punishment that the law demands because it has been violated.  Those identified in this passage are no longer subject to the fear of death because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf thereby setting them free.

Keeping those recipients of Christ’s death in mind, we arrive at verse 16 and find the contrast once again between angels and the children of God, this time referred to as the “seed of Abraham.” This verse has seemed a mystery to commentators and translators alike throughout history. The King James Version translates the verse as, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Here they have offered a bit of interpretation into their translation, to which John Owen agrees. He interprets verse 16 similarly and sees it not as a reference to helping or giving aid (the verb used here) to the seed of Abraham instead of angels, rather he sees the verb meaning “to take hold of” or “appropriating” and therefore associates it with Christ’s incarnation.  In other words, for Owen and the KJV translators, Christ took on the nature of Abraham’s seed, not the nature of angels.

Taken this way, this verse provides a further polemic against those who deny the humanity of the Son of God (established in verses 2:6-9) and likewise is a sufficient rebuke for those who say that Christ was a spirit being or angel prior to His incarnation (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for example). Surely this interpretation is biblically valid, for in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Christ’s lineage was traced back to Abraham. Additionally, this builds upon the context of the humanity of Christ, from Adam, that has been the subject since verse 6 of chapter 2, by making Him the physical seed of Abraham that was promised in the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 12-22; Galatians 3:16).

A second option follows the ESV translation of this verse, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Since the verb, here  translated helps, is elsewhere translated to mean offering a hand to, i.e. Matthew 14:31 with reference to Peter sinking in the water, this translation has in view the helping or saving of the seed of Abraham instead of angels. We know this to be biblically true as well (see discussion below). This too would seem to fit the context and further define everyone in verse 9, i.e. children, brothers, sons, etc. thus making Christ the helper of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

Both of these interpretations are biblically valid and supported elsewhere in Scripture, leading one to wonder if the Divine Author of Hebrews doesn’t have both options in mind when He pens this verse.  This is the direction I’m inclined to take, concluding that both Owen and the modern commentators are correct.  Due to the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e. promises to his physical seed and promises to his spiritual seed, Christ came from the physical seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) in order to save the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12; Gal. 3:9,14,29) thereby becoming the Inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and the Distributor of those promises to all who have faith in Him.  Important to note here is that the humanity of Christ as the second Adam has already been established in chapter and this verse narrows the help that Christ gives from the universality of Adam’s children to specifically Abraham’s seed, literally the children of God, keeping with the familial motif established throughout several verses of this chapter.  One additional note, Schreiner points out that the author is possibly drawing from Isaiah 41:8-10:

8But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Much more is left to be said regarding the seed of Abraham, but for now we move on to verse 17 and find continuity (therefore) with our previous conclusion, 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.Explicitly tied to the humanity of Christ, in becoming like His brothers, is His qualification and appointment as “High Priest in the service of God”.  We may conclude that this is a third purpose for the humanity of Christ, namely to serve in the office of High Priest as intercessor between God (faithful) and man (merciful) and as we will see, to mediate the New Covenant established in His blood (this is the first of 17 references to Christ as High Priest and more will be developed in the coming chapters).  Christ not only serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who makes a sacrifice, as typified under the Levitical system, but IS the sacrifice, truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Additionally, we find in this verse one of the specific functions of Christ as the High Priest is to “make propitiation”.  Typically, the word propitiation carries with it a dual concept of the removal of guilt or forgiveness of sins (expiation) and the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath (propitiation).  The Old Testament type for this can be found in Leviticus 16 where we find the high priest commanded by God on the Day of Atonement (note some translations use the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” instead of propitiation, see NIV) to place their hands on the head of a live goat symbolizing the transference of the people’s sin and guilt (expiation).  Likewise, we see the command from God to the high priest to kill a second goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (the root of the word propitiation).  Therefore, we find biblical precedence from this passage that our concept of propitiation should include both ideas.  As previously stated, the high priestly function is fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ who is both the sacrifice AND the High Priest.

Finally, in verse 18 “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” we find a fourth reason for the incarnation of our Lord, namely the Sympathetic Resonance of Christ with His brothers.  The term sympathetic resonance refers to a harmonic phenomenon wherein an instrument, such as a tuning fork, is struck and another instrument of like kind resonates with the sound that is made and offers a corresponding sound.  This expression is fitting for describing our Lord’s humanity in relating, literally resonating, with His brothers who are tempted, so that we may be reminded that He was tempted in every way as we are and is yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Also, found in this verse is the second use of the word help, which would seem to be in line more with “giving aid” (assumption #2 from above) though we must remember He is able to do so because He shares the same flesh and blood (assumption #1 from above).

Jesus’ humanity qualifies Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest.  This, along with several other purposes for His incarnation, were identified in this passage, namely His deliverance of the saints from fear of death, destruction of the works of the Devil, providing propitiation, and having sympathetic resonance with those for whom He mediates the better covenant.  What is man that our Lord would condescend Himself from the glory and exaltation that He shared with the Father, to the humiliation and suffering as a man among sinners. Truly He is an awesome God, worthy of all praise and honor.

Solus Christus!

 

*Image credit: http://cmda.org/resources/publication/the-suffering-and-death-of-christ