Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Have To Suffer?

Many wonder why Jesus had to suffer and die on that cross to save us.  The writer of Hebrews answers this question (Hebrews 2:10-18).  Jesus is the reason we all exist (“for whom and by whom all things exist” – Hebrews 2:10; cf. John 1:1-3).  Christians are God’s adopted children (Romans 8:15; Galatians 3:26; 4:5), and thus are the “sons” God is “bringing…to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).  Yet while all Christians are God’s children, Jesus – “the founder of their salvation” (Hebrews 2:10) – is God’s “only begotten” Son (John 3:16) in an exceptional way. 

One way in which he is exceptional is that he is the founder of our salvation.  “Founder” in the Greek the Hebrew writer used when he was inspired to write this refers to one who takes the lead in something and is a guardian, the founder of a city, a commander, a pioneer.  Jesus led the way in blazing the trail that led to our eternal salvation.  He accomplished this in part by being made “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10).  “Perfect” in the original Greek refers to completeness.  What helped Jesus to be the founder of our salvation, lacking in nothing that would be needed to accomplish that goal?  It was suffering (Hebrews 2:10). 

The Hebrew writer elaborates: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.  That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11).  Christians are “those who are sanctified,” meaning that they are set apart from the rest of this sin-filled world and made holy and righteous.  Christ is “he who sanctifies” all Christians.  Jesus and Christians have something in common (“all have one source”).  They are all God’s children, Christ being uniquely God’s “only begotten Son” and Christians being God’s adopted children.  Thus, Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).  Two Old Testament passages bolster that fact (Hebrews 2:12-13; cf. Psalm 22:22; Isaiah 8:17-18).  The quote from Psalms gives us the awesome image of Jesus singing God’s praises while being “in the midst of” his Christian brethren when they congregate to worship (cf. Matthew 18:20).  The quote from Isaiah points to how Jesus, our Messiah, trusts and depends on God just as Christians, “the children God has given me,” also trust and depend on him.

Since “the children” are human (“share in flesh and blood”), Jesus “likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:14).  In other words, he also became human (John 1:14).  One reason he did so was so that he could die, and “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).  John elaborated, “…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Since we all sin and sin produces death (Romans 3:23; 6:23), Satan had control over death, the spiritual death which would separate us from God eternally in hell (cf. Revelation 21:8).  All of us were “dead in our trespasses,” “slaves of sin” (Ephesians 2:5; Romans 6:17).   Yet Jesus took away Satan’s control over death (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10).  By doing so he could “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). 

Because Christians are Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29), Jesus helps them rather than angels (Hebrews 2:16).  Therefore “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (v. 17).  Jesus lived the same life we live, and was tempted just as we are tempted, “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  He saw things from a human perspective, thus qualifying Him to be our representative and advocate, “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).  His suffering helps him to relate to us.  As the Hebrew writer put it, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

It comforts me to know that when I as a Christian beg God for forgiveness, I have a high priest sitting at God’s right hand who knows what it’s like to be tempted and to suffer in this life.  We owe Jesus so much.  Let us always be grateful to him!

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