December 21, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
For centuries, Christians have confessed Jesus to be both fully divine and fully human. In the language of the classic statement of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), Jesus Christ is “truly God and truly man” (in the original Greek, theon alethos kai anthropon alethos).
This is easy to say, but hard to fathom. Indeed, given our limited human capacity, it is in some ways impossible to fully understand. For this reason, it has been tempting for some Christians throughout the ages to make things intellectually easier. Some who identify as Christians deny that Jesus was truly God, holding him out to be, instead, a divinely-inspired but otherwise normal human being. Others solve the problem of Jesus’s confusing nature by claiming that he was not fully human, but that he only appeared to be so. In reality, they argue, he was fully God but only apparently human.
This latter solution to the mystery of Jesus’s nature stumbles over the wondrous truth of Hebrews 2:14-18. There, we learn that “Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity” (2:14). Jesus, though fully God, was “made like [Abraham’s descendants], fully human in every way” (2:17). The Greek of this verse reads, more literally, that Jesus was “made like his brothers and sisters in every way” (kata panta tois adelphois homoiothenai). (Later, Hebrews adds that Jesus, though like us in every way, did not sin; see 4:15).
Hebrews reveals that Jesus was fully human. The book also explains why this matters. According to 2:14-15, Jesus shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Then, verse 17 adds that Jesus was made like us in every way “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Now there is some pretty complex theology in these verses and I don’t have space to unpack it here. But the main point is clear. Jesus was fully human so that he might save us who are also fully human. Because he was a human being, he could break human beings free from the power and fear of death. Because he was one of us, he could represent us as our high priest and bring us into relationship with God.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who was truly God and truly human. Yet the birth of Jesus did not save us. Rather, his birth and his nature made possible the salvation that was yet to come, when Jesus died in our place on the cross and was raised triumphant on Easter. Christmas is, in this sense, a prelude to what comes later. It is a prerequisite, something required for something else to happen. Because Jesus was truly one of us, in addition to being truly divine, he was able to save, and he will be able, in time, to restore all things.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Most Christians, even those of us who seek to be fully orthodox in our faith, lean one way or another when it comes to the nature of Christ. We tend to think of him more as God or more as a human being. If you can relate to this, how do you tend to think of Jesus? And why?
In what ways does the truth of Jesus’s full humanity matter to you?
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise;
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark, the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold Him come,
offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark, the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
The Creation Has Become Subject to Evil (Hebrews 2:14–3:6)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Jesus shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death.
Who holds the power of death,
Chuck, thanks for your comment and question. In Hebrews 2, the one who holds the power of death is the devil. Of course, his hold on death is not so great that God cannot break it. That is the main point here.