If you make only a surface reading of the book of Hebrews you may walk off wondering if Jesus really was perfect. We know He had to be or we would still be in our sins. So what do these “seemingly contradictory” verses mean?
When the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:10 that God the Father made Jesus, the rock of our salvation, “perfect through suffering”, what does he mean? And what does he mean in Hebrews 5:8 when he says that “He learned obedience through what He suffered?” And again, what does it mean to say that Jesus was “made perfect” through His suffering (Heb. 5:9). In both cases the writer is setting in place the qualifications of Jesus to serve as our Great High Priest. The fact that Jesus “suffered” in this way proves that He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).
So what do these statements mean? The “perfecting” has to do with Jesus’ mission, His calling to be the Savior of His people. Jesus had to suffer to be fully qualified for His office. He does not mean that Jesus was flawed by sin or that he was a morally imperfect person and had to be cleansed. We know this because of what he says in Hebrews 4:15, 7:26, and 9:14. The sinlessness of Jesus has never been a question when you consider the rest of Scripture. The “perfection” we read has to do with Jesus in preparation to fulfill his work. The writer here is saying that Jesus was fully qualified as our High Priest to make a complete atonement for sin, and was able to assure for us a righteousness that can be ours through faith because He faithfully obeyed His Father and offered up a sinless sacrifice for sin. Our Lord showed that He was capable and qualified to be our Savior because He trusted in His Father from the beginning to the end, even when He suffered terribly at the hands of sinful men.
In Hebrews 5:8 it says that Jesus “learned obedience through what He suffered.” I think the words “made perfect” in 2:10 mean the same thing as His “learning obedience” in 5:8. It doesn’t say that Jesus learned “to obey” as a light reading would seem to suggest , like He was formerly disobedient and sinful. Instead, He entered into a very personal understanding of what obedience is and what obedience requires by actually obeying. A commentary I was reading stated it this way, “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’.
We many times suffer and end up thinking that God isn’t worthy of our praise because He doesn’t really understand. We bail out on Him in order to avoid suffering or to make it easier to bear. Not Jesus. He walked through His suffering with complete devotion to the Father and His saving work and in doing this He showed Himself “perfect” for the task He came to complete.
Something to think about on this beautiful day we have been gifted.
Shalom, until tomorrow, Lord willing,