“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Hebrews 5:8–9, KJV 1900)
There is a different between knowledge and experience. I hired a mechanical engineer one time who had an impeccable background and superior knowledge of engineering. However, he never worked in a factory environment like ours. He lacked experience. He had never utilized his engineering skills in a manufacturing environment. As a result, while his engineering work was excellent, he needed time to understand how these skills fit our manufacturing environment.
As I read through the author of Hebrew’s writing, I needed to pause and think through something. He stated that Jesus learned obedience through suffering and that He through this suffering was made perfect. My dilemma was that Jesus, being fully God was always perfectly obedient and always perfect. How was it that He learned obedience and was perfected?
I then considered Jesus. He was born and then needed to grow in stature and wisdom (Luke 2:52). It seems that there were certain ways in which His full deity and humanity joined, where He limited the use of His divinity. Thus, except for sin, He experienced the same things we do. This was necessary so that we could fully identify with Him and so He could fulfill His mission according to the will of God.
In His divinity, He fully understood the pain of suffering He would experience on the cross. Yet, without the incarnation He would not have experienced it. To pay the complete penalty of our sin, it was essential for Him to experience such agony. In this sense, He experienced in his humanity the pain of suffering brought about by obedience.
Furthermore, the author of Hebrews indicated that in this suffering, Jesus was made perfect. The Greek verb for “perfect,” teleioo, carries with it the idea of completeness, to carry something through to its end. Jesus, through His agony and death on the cross, completed His work of suffering perfectly. In this finished work of obedience, Jesus fulfilled the qualification to be our eternal great high priest who presented the perfect sacrifice for sin.
In his sacrifice, we have the great assurance that the requirements for our salvation have been perfectly completed. There is no longer any sacrifice to be made and Jesus is our present and eternal mediator.
However, there is one more challenge in this verse. It states that Jesus became the author of salvation to all that obey Him. One might misconstrue this to mean that we must do good works to have eternal life. The word “obey,” hupakouo,” means to listen with the intention of obeying. The author is telling his readers that they must hearken to obey the call to trust in Christ alone for their salvation (Rom 1:5-6; 10:16).
As we look at the example of Christ, our great high priest, we do see some comparisons. God grows us in our faith and its corresponding outworking of obedience through trials in our life. He works to conform us to the likeness of Jesus. This work of sanctification begins when we hearken to the call of God to obey the gospel. We do this by placing faith in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. This faith, if genuine, will result in a transformation of our hearts, which will be seen in our lives of devotion to Him.