The Necessity of Humanity

The writer has given strategic references to the humanity of Jesus prior to this discussion, but now he focuses on the fitness and necessity of the eternal Son of God being made like those that he willed to redeem. In this discussion, which actually begins in verse 5, he expands the meaning of 1:3 b-4 (“after making . . ., having become”), 6 (“when he brings the firstborn into the world”), 9c (“beyond your companions”), He initiates this discussion about the humanity of Christ by showing from Psalm 8 that God’s original intention for man was that he be “crowned with glory and honor” with “everything in subjection under his feet.” That presently is not the case, however, for the fall has created, by divine decree (Romans 8:20) an unruly tumultuousness in nature and has given it a threatening aspect; Christ, on the other hand, was subjected to the forces of corruption and finally to death for a while and now, like the original intent for man, has been crowned with glory and honor. This coronation comes precisely at the point of his victory as a man made subject to the ravages of the fall and the suffering infused into it (2:10) by moral necessity. To sanctify the people he put himself in the midst of the consequences of the fall and overcame all of them. He did it as a man, one in our nature (2:11), peculiarly for those whom the Father had given him (2:13, cf. John 6:39; 17:2, 19)

I. Verses 14 – 16 – Jesus took our nature that he might also take the consequences of humanity’s having broken the original covenant.

A. “The children” – These are the “children mentioned in verse 13, the one that God has given him.

B. by “share in flesh and blood” is meant their common humanity. All sinners have a common humanity derived from the fact that it is from one man that God made all the nations of men (Acts 17:26) Also because of the sin of this one man, “death spread to all men (Romans 5:12).

C. “He himself likewise partook of the same things” meaning “flesh and blood.” From our common humanity, Jesus took our creaturehood as a human (born of the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; Luke 1:35), thus genuinely of the race descended from Adam, and was susceptible to testing as was Adam; but he was not immediately from the seed of the man and was thus free from the moral corruption of nature (Hebrews 7:26) as well as free by his perfect obedience from any personal transgression (4:15; 7:28).

D. Dealing with death – “Through death . . .the power of death . . . fear of death.”

1.”So that” – This is a purpose clause pointing out that the incarnation in our nature was not an end in itself but for the purpose of shouldering in a legitimate way the moral responsibility of the humanity of “the children.” The incarnation is a display of incomprehensible wisdom, power, and glory, but, even at that, is subordinate to a greater display of wisdom, power, and glory.

2.“Through death” refers to the volitionally chosen death of Jesus, In obedience to the purpose of the Father, the Son has come and taken our nature and has been given authority to lay down his life in our stead. (John 10:18) In giving himself to death, Jesus neither usurps nor goes beyond the will and authority of the Father but shows himself as one that is in perfect compliance with and fully equal to the intent of the Father in this death. This is, in fact, the death that was threatened in “ (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23)

3. “The power of death” – The devil does not have the power of death as a sovereign, although he can kill (Job 2:6; John 8:44; 10:10; Revelation 13:15) and could, on occasion, be an instrument of God in inflicting death on some that God intends to judge. This “power of death,” however, is the leverage that Satan believed he had in thwarting the purpose of God to give glory to the race of men and put all things under their feet. They had sinned, and now, they could not be exalted, but must instead die. He had deceived them into sinning and now God must execute his promised just sentence of death if he is to maintain his character. To this original successful temptation by deceit Satan was clinging as the surety that God could not enact the goal of the exaltation of the sons of men. The intrinsic, infinite, eternal wisdom of God however, was far beyond the merely created intelligence of Satan, though he was perhaps in the beginning the most glorious of all creatures. God has removed this bit of moral leverage greedily embraced by Satan and has put to flight Satan and all of his by the unlikely event of the death of the Son of God within the nature of the son of man.

4. “Through fear of death” – Many may put forward an impression that they do not fear death. They do this by a false attitude of either denying its reality, its certainty, the moral character of men, or their own susceptibility to judgment. But, in the conscience of every man and woman is the reality of moral responsibility and the fact of death, the combination of which brings a fearful uncertainty about that moment after the last breath. Scripture has the fullest explanation of death in all of literature and gives a clear remedy for this fear. Scripture gives discussion of its origin and cause, the continued consciousness of all that pass through it, the reuniting of body with the faculty of understanding at the resurrection, an appearance before the Creator/Judge for the assignment of eternal residence, and full, sensible consciousness and awareness of either gracious glory or justly-received wrath, tribulation, fury, and tribulation (Romans 2:5-10). When these truths peep through into the conscience, slavery, both subjective and objective becomes dominant in the soul.

5. “Deliver” – The dynamic of this deliverance is set forth clearly by Paul in Romans 6:5-11. By the death of Christ, those united to him no longer are enslaved to sin, for the death in which we have been united with him has delivered us from the law of “sin and death” (Romans 8:2), and because of his work the “righteous requirement of the law” has been fulfilled in us, now that our covenant and natural representative has taken on the full penalty of death for us. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

E. “Not angels . . . but the offspring of Abraham.”

1. Not angels – Christ died neither for elect nor fallen angels. He did not take their nature and thus could effect nothing for them immediately by his death. His death did secure the destruction of Satan and submit him to the victory of man, the seed of the woman. As far as his purpose toward man was concerned, Satan has been destroyed. For the elect angels (1 Timothy 5:21), the redemption of man seals them in their purpose of being “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14). But all of the redemptive aspects of Christ’s death relate only to the “offspring of Abraham.”

2. There appears to be a three-fold purpose in relating Christ’s work to Abraham

This fulfills the promise to Abraham of providing a lamb (Genesis 22:14). Christ was the ultimate provision (John 8:56).

From his “offspring” all nations of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18)

Those of the faith of Abraham are the true sons of Abraham and gain the benefits from the victory of Jesus (Romans 2:29; 4:11, 12; Galatians 3:7, 9, 14, 29; 4:4)

II. Verse 17 – To serve us, his people, rightly, he had to serve God the Father faithfully.

A. His humanity was a necessary element of the work he came to do. He could not do this work by merely an appearance in power as the eternal Son of God, but “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” The phrase, he had to, comes from a word for debt, to owe something. Christ’s incarnation was prelude to, and necessary for, the payment of a ransom price.

B. As in verse 14, in the middle of verse 17 another purpose word is placed, “So that.” His death in verse 14 was the purpose of his incarnation. This truth is now expanded in telling us the kind of death that is necessary.

C. “He might become” – The completion of a full course of obedience in his humanity was necessary to qualify him for the work, and in that course of obedience he became the one through whom the priestly work of sacrifice could be done once and for all. Incarnation was necessary, the perfect life of purposeful obedience was necessary.

D. “Merciful and faithful” – Mercy does not ignore justice. God, indeed, is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4; Titus 3:5) and the gifts that comes to us of forgiveness and justification, all the benefits of the Spirit’s indwelling, adopting witness, and sanctifying power, the intercession of Christ, and the Father’s bountiful goodness certainly flow from infinite mercy. But they are obtained in the way of strict justice concerning the satisfaction of the transgressed law of God. Christ is faithful, just as the Old Testament High Priest had to be in offering every sacrifice according to the provisions of revelation. This is that glorious wisdom that transcends even the mystery of the incarnation in setting forth a single provision in which faithfulness to the perfect holiness, righteousness, and justice of God is completely honored while, in that same act, the door to all the abundant provisions of mercy is opened wide.

E. “To make propitiation” – The word “to” translates another purpose clause. This section of Scripture, as we have seen, is filled with the disclosure of necessity and purpose in this great work of redemption. We see how one aspect of it is necessary to prepare for the fit execution of another aspect of it. Both mercy and faithfulness are covered in this work of propitiation. For God to be faithful to his word, his character, his law he must punish sin and be fully satisfied in the just execution of wrath—thus, the propitiation. For God to be merciful, he forgives and justifies sinners, and brings them to an earnest pursuit of holiness, accomplishing all of this through that same propitiation. This indicates a status of equality between the injury done to one’s honor and the reparation designed to restore it.

F. ”The sins of the people” – The punishment commensurate for all the sins of the people for whom he suffered death in bringing “many sons to glory” (2:10)

III.  The degree to which Christ suffered in his temptations far surpasses any like circumstance for us. He suffered to the point of death, even the death of the cross. He suffered with the specter of divine wrath breathing down his neck and vividly manifesting itself in his soul. As our intercessor who has so suffered, and who is the propitiation for our sins, he is ever interceding for us for forgiveness when we sin, and ready with solace and comfort as we struggle. He knows through his earthly experience the real human dimension of suffering from rejection and betrayal of friends, the tiredness that comes from ceaseless labor and truly ridiculous demands made on one’s time and energy, the wearying cynicism and carping questions of enemies, and the onslaught of Satan. Paul captured this same thought in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.  “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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