Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. When he had been made complete and perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, since he has been designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (5:8-10)
Maybe it was because of the discussion I had with Umm Muhammad on yesterday’s post that I was especially drawn to these verses today. Let me anticipate the questions: If Jesus is God, can God learn to obey (and does he need to)? Was Jesus not already “complete and perfect” before the cross? Are these verses somehow diminishing the moral quality of Jesus?
In his popular level commentary on Hebrews in the For Everyone series, N. T. Wright explains this passage using a story about a rich business owner and his son who has just graduated from college and is now ready to take his spot in the family business. One might expect the father to place the son in a posh corner office with a high position and the pay grade to match. But the father does not. He puts the son at an entry-level position and has the son rise through the ranks learning the business as he goes. As a result, when the son does rise to upper management he is a far better leader who understands his trade and his workers better.
Wright said it this way: blood made the man a son, but experience made him a boss.
Many scholars think the Hebrews author is thinking about Jesus’ Gethsemane experience when he or she writes this. Jesus’ ultimate act of submission was to face the reality that within hours he would drink the cup of God’s wrath and to humbly accept this propitiatory role though he wished otherwise. When he had “completed” the journey to that point or finished the course, he had arrived “perfectly” at the point of pure obedience. Perfect in this context means everything was in place and nothing was lacking, not that Jesus was somehow imperfect or morally deficient before this point. Furthermore, the Hebrew author emphasizes the point that obedience is a “learning” experience, even as it was for Jesus. Through a lifetime as a human, Jesus was learning the ins and outs of obedience: that it truly is the best route; what it means to obey in a fallen world; what humans must face to faithfully obey; to feel the true temptation that comes with humanity but also the transformation that comes with obedience. Can an omniscient God know these things? That would seem logical. So it seems the knowledge that comes through experience was still required, at least for Jesus.
To mimic Wright’s conclusion above, blood made Jesus a son, but experience made Jesus the perfect high priest.
Personally, I am ever so thankful that my Savior truly understands in the most intimate ways what my life is like. That actually makes me love him and respect him all the more.