The New Testament theme of the “crucified Lord” scandalized the first-century world. Paul spoke of the cross as a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). To many minds a suffering Savior was not a God-worthy concept.
As the writer of Hebrews pens his letter to the harried little church, having reminded them of this dangerous drift in thinking as he alluded to Christ’s suffering death in 2:9, in verse 10 he turns the tables on the critics with an eloquent assertion that the cross is the most fitting and the most God-worthy way of salvation. The argument crowns and controls all that follows to the end of the chapter. Moreover, its few lines contain so much that we must give them extra attention before we proceed.
Agreeing with Paul, the author of Hebrews shows how the death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, was “fitting” (ἐπρεπεν), placing that word at the beginning of this first sentence for emphasis. As unthinkable as was the death of Christ to men, it was “appropriate” and “suitable” from God’s viewpoint. Conceivably God could have done it some other way, but He did not, and the way He chose to do it is amazingly fitting.
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.
Here the writer of Hebrews is giving us a commentary on verse 9, especially his last phrase, “by the grace of God.” Here is how that grace was displayed.
It was fitting that Jesus Christ should suffer and die for sinful man.
- Jesus became a man, what we are, that we might become what He is. (Not God, but holy like God.)
- He took upon himself our flesh, so that he might take upon himself our sins.
- He was born in our image, that we might be re-born in His image.
- The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.
Basically, Jesus became man so that he might die for mankind. If He had only a divine nature, He could not die. But by dying, He paid the penalty for my sins, since “the wages of sin is death.”
Becoming man, dying, and especially dying a shameful death on the cross, was horrifying and despicable in the eyes of Jews and Greeks. But it is God’s way of salvation, His marvelous way of salvation!
The means of salvation is by no means arbitrary or out of line with God’s will or God’s nature. Rather, it befits the God “for whom and by whom all things exist.”
As the work of creation is totally of God, so also is the work of salvation. Just as God poured Himself into the work of creation, not only being the agent that accomplished it but the receiver of all its glory, so Christ poured Himself into the work of our salvation, not only being the agent who accomplished it but who now deserves all the glory.
Christ’s sufferings and death are not only congruent with the character of the almighty God who did everything in creating the universe—they are an even greater demonstration of his power. Creation was done with a word. He spoke and voila!—there it was and is, ex nihilo. But his speech was not enough to effect salvation. It took not a word, but the Word—his Son incarnate who was humiliated, suffered, died, rose again, ascended, and is in session at the right hand of God—to effect a salvation that was consonant with his character. From the cross come the loftiest conceptions of him “for whom and by whom all things exist.” Our salvation is the greatest display of his power and character (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), pp. 237, 238).
In other words, the display of the glory of God is even more powerful through the crucifixion of Jesus than through the creation of the vast cosmos.
The purpose of Christ’s death, the reason that He endured the cross and despised its shame, the reason He did all this with joy in His heart, is because it would allow him to “bring many sons to glory.”
This was His heartfelt desire in going to the cross. This is the reason He endured the disgraceful shame of the cross—to bring you and me to glory. The glory that Adam originally possessed, but lost in the fall, spoken of in Psalm 8 and back in vv. 6-8, will be restored.
It’s the same glory promised in Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:7, “You have crowned him with glory and honor and appointed him over the works of your hands.”
Paul identifies this glory with the final stage of God’s work in our behalf. In Romans 8:30 he says…
30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
We experience some of that gloryifying now, as we behold Jesus in His Word. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
We are in the process of becoming more and more like Him, but one day that process will be super-charged and we will immediately take on the dazzling purity of His righteous glory. The moment we see Jesus “we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Someone has said, “sanctification is glory begun, and glory is sanctification done.” Verse 11 will speak more about this process of sanctification.
Every single believer in Jesus Christ will be glorified. Notice that Romans 8:30 puts this in the past tense, as if it has already happened. Why? Because in God’s eyes it already has, and that gives us the strong assurance that nothing can derail it.
Jesus here is called the “founder” of our salvation. He is the source, yes, but more than that, the word (ἀρχηγὸν) is literally more like “pathfinder, pioneer (NIV)” or “captain of a company.” It describes someone who begins something so that others may enter into it.
Notice that Christ only brings “many sons” to glory. Not everyone partakes of this glory. Only those whom the Father draws to Jesus Christ. But at least there are “many,” not just a few.
Literally, He is “leading” us to glory. He has been glorified through His death, resurrection and ascension, and is leading us to that destiny in Him. Marcus Dods says, “He is the strong swimmer who carries the rope ashore and so not only secures His own position but makes rescue for all who will follow.”
Kent Hughes points out how this title bears resemblance to the second of four names Isaiah gives to the “son born to us” in Isaiah 9:6, that he is El Gibbor, “mighty hero God.” As such, He accomplishes our salvation. Yes, He did so through a battle with the forces of darkness. He triumphed over them in the cross.
Have you recognized Jesus as the captain of your life? Are you submitting to His orders, following in His path? He will lead you and encourage you, but you have to follow Him.
That pathway, notice, is through suffering.
Oh, we don’t like that. No thank you, Jesus.
This verse says that Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering. If you’re like me, this take you aback…because you know that Jesus, by nature, is already perfect. There is no sin in Jesus, no fault—neither His enemies nor those closest to Him ever reported any fault or failure, any sin, on His part. Even this letter comments on this. Hebrews 4:15 says he is “without sin.” And Hebrews 7:26 claims that Jesus was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners…”
The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). At the announcement of His birth, an angel called Him “that Holy One who is to be born.” Pilate’s wife told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that just man.” Pilate himself said, “I find no fault in Him.” The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.” The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (4:34).
If Jesus were not sinless, He would have been required to die for His sins, and His sins only. His death would not have been accepted in the place of others.
So Jesus had to be man to die; had to be God for that death to be universal and eternal; and had to be sinless so that His death would pay for others’ sins, not His own.
This is what v. 9b said, “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” In other words, Jesus became man so that He could die for us. “Taste death” is a metaphor, but it does NOT mean “to take a sip,” but rather it refers to drinking the full measure of that “cup” of suffering.”
In the garden Jesus had asked God to “remove this cup from me,” but He went on to submit to God’s will so that He could bring “many sons to glory.”
What was in that cup? All of man’s iniquity and depravity, the poison of the curse, the filth of the defilement of sin. This was handed to Christ and He took that cup and fully drank it. He then handed it back to the Father and said, “It is finished.”
It was a self-initiated death—“by the grace of God.” What pushed Him to the cross was grace! It was not my goodness or worthiness or value that drew Him to the cross, but God’s initiative to show us kindness and mercy. God doesn’t love us because we are valuable; rather we are valuable because God loved us.
What did God see when He looked at me? I was pitiful, poor and perverted; hopeless and helpless; condemned and judged. Yet…within Himself there arose this passionate love and richness of mercy and out of grace He commissioned His one and only, beloved Son to enter this world and die on the cross for me…and for you.
The initiative that procured our redemption is God’s, not ours. Were it not for the priority of divine grace we should be without help and without hope. This truth is pressed home by Paul is his threefold insistence that “while we were still weak,” “while we were yet sinners,” and “while we were enemies” God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son (Romans 5:6, 8, 10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18ff) and by John’s reminder that “in this was love, not what we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Because this love is entirely motivated by God’s own heart it makes it stronger. It cannot be caused or forfeited—by me. It didn’t begin with me and it cannot end with me.
This death He tasted was also a substitutionary death. He didn’t deserve to die. He wasn’t a sinner. He didn’t deserve to drink that cup. We deserved it, but He drank it. He died in our place. Not only was it voluntary, because of grace; but it was vicarious. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood, sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!” (Philip Bliss)
“Taste death for everyone” is the gospel in a nutshell. That word “for” is (ὑπὲρ), which means “in place of” or “in behalf of” another. This is the heart of the good news—that Jesus died in my behalf, for my benefit, in my place. I should have been there on the cross paying for my sins. Instead, He took my place and paid my sin debt with His own life.
We find this in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins…”. Galatians 1:4, “gave himself for our sins…”. Galatians 2:20, “gave himself for me.” John 10:11, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” in their place. A chorus says…
He paid the debt he did not own, I own the debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, “Amazing grace”
Christ Jesus paid the debt I could never pay.
Thirdly, this death was a “sufficient” death. This death did enough to reconcile mankind to God. Verse 10 says only “many” are brought to glory because the reality is, not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.
And that gets us back to verse 10, where we see that through the suffering of death Christ was in some sense “made perfect.” Obviously this doesn’t mean that He was a sinner in need of sanctification.
Rather, it means that through his suffering his humanity was brought to maturity. Here being “made perfect” means “learning obedience” through suffering. This does not mean that he was once disobedient and then became obedient. It means that Jesus moved from untested obedience into suffering and then through suffering into tested and proven obedience. And this proving himself obedient through suffering was his “being perfected.”
Incarnate, Christ underwent a series of perfections. Hebrews 5:8, 9 tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
He was, of course, already obedient or he would never have undergone the Incarnation. But he became perfect (complete) in experiencing obedience in human flesh. Likewise, we believe that he learned such things as patience and faith. Jesus became perfect in regard to temptation by suffering temptation and putting the tempter to flight (Matthew 4:1–11). Christ’s sufferings through his atoning death on the cross when “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), taking all the sins of the world so that they were on him and in him, so that he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)—rendered him horribly perfect as our atonement.
And finally, all of this—his perfection in incarnation, temptation, and atonement—rendered in our pioneer a perfect identification with us. It was impossible for God to fully identify and thus fully sympathize with mankind apart from Christ’s incarnation and human experience. But now Christ’s perfection makes possible an unlimited capacity to sympathize with those exposed to troubles and temptations in this life.
Lewis Bayly, one of John Bunyan’s two favorite writers, eloquently portrayed Christ’s willingness to embrace suffering, and his resulting ability to sympathize and lend assistance, through this imaginary dialogue between a redeemed soul and Christ:
Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be taken when you might have escaped your enemies?
Christ. That your spiritual enemies should not take you, and cast you into the prison of utter darkness.
Soul . Lord, why did you let yourself be bound?
Christ . That I might loose the cords of your iniquities.
Soul. Lord, why did you let yourself be lifted up upon a Cross?
Christ. That I might lift you up with me to heaven.
Soul . Lord, why were your hands and feet nailed to the Cross?
Christ . To enlarge your hands to do the works of righteousness and to set your feet at liberty, to walk in the ways of peace.
Soul . Lord, why did you have your arms nailed wide?
Christ . That I might embrace you more lovingly.
Soul . Lord, why was your side opened with a spear?
Christ . That you might have a way to come near to my heart.8
What wonders of tenderness and sympathy Christ’s incarnation and suffering have wrought!
Perfection in Hebrews has to do with fully completing a course, making it to the end of God’s plan. Remember in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus had said, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
That Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”, therefore, connotes his full obedience to his mission of death on the cross and, perhaps, the adequacy of that act for bring the children of God to glory.
Now the writer says (in Hebrews 2:10) that it was fitting for Christ to attain this proven perfection through sufferings. Why? Because Christ is leading many sons to glory and so he must succeed where we failed.
His being made “perfect through suffering” has reference to his being made a perfect pioneer of salvation. The idea is that he was perfectly equipped to do the job. His perfection was rooted in the Incarnation. Man was created in the image of God, the imago Dei, but when Christ came he took on the imago homini—he became man.
Mike Mason beautifully states the significance of this: “In Jesus the centerpiece of the human race, the wild tangent of all the frayed and decrepit flesh of this fallen old world touches perfectly the circle of eternity” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage (Portland: Multnomah, 1978), p. 115).