Christ, Our Brother
The comforting assurance of the incarnation.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
Imagine you are a Christian in the fourth century. A new set of beliefs called Arianism is growing popular among some of your friends. They seem excited about it but you are a little confused. It sounds very different from what you were taught about the Trinity, but the details are a bit fuzzy. Thankfully, there is one man who is willing to stand against the world to defend orthodoxy. His courage has earned him a nickname: Athanasius Contra Mundum. Athanasius against the world.
Athanasius was a fourth century church leader who courageously stood against many powerful men to preserve the doctrine of the Trinity we love and cherish today. Key to his argument was a defense of the hypostatic union of Christ summarized in the creed bearing his name: “We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and human, equally…completely God, completely human.”
Athanasius was passionate about preserving the biblical doctrine of the incarnation because he understood the effect orthodoxy has on orthopraxy. One cannot mess up beliefs about the God-man without messing up man’s reconciliation with God. Hebrews 2:10-13 is just one of several passages that describes the importance of the incarnation in God’s redemptive plan.
V. 10 says it was “fitting” that Christ should suffer. Why? In order to bring many sons to glory. The author of Hebrews begins with the basis of what theologians call penal substitutionary atonement. But what does that mean exactly?
Remember that Adam and Eve’s punishment for disobeying God was death (Genesis 3:19). Sin requires a blood payment (or atonement), a fact we see throughout the Old Testament and the sacrificial system institutionalized in Leviticus 1-5. While the sacrifice of animals under the old covenant was sufficient for its time, it required a complicated set of rituals and had to be repeated as long as God’s people kept sinning.
However, the people of God looked forward to the day of the new covenant when God would write the law on their hearts, forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In other words, a day was coming when a greater high priest would offer an atoning sacrifice that would fulfill God’s requirements for justice once and for all. According to the author of Hebrews, that day has come. Jesus Christ is that high priest and sacrifice, offering himself on the cross for the salvation of his people.
V. 11 connects penal substitutionary atonement to the incarnation: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.” Again, Athanasius’s contributions to Christology are helpful. Man does not have a divine source so that can’t be what the author of Hebrews means. However, Jesus as the God man has both a divine and human nature, the latter of which he shares with us.
On the one hand, perfect atonement for man’s sin had to be human. But on the other hand, it had to be pure and holy, an impossible feat for sinful man. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is satisfactory exactly because he takes on flesh while living a perfectly sinless life.
One criticism of penal substitutionary atonement is that it feels a bit too procedural–having all the warmth of a typical legal exchange. But we ought not fail to acknowledge its implications, something not lost on the author of Hebrews.
The second half of v. 11 reminds us that Christ is not ashamed to share a human nature with us. In fact, he delights in calling us “brothers.” We serve a Savior who loves us so much he took on flesh and condescended to us. Moreover, he is one that sympathizes with our plight. Though he was without sin, he experienced all the troubles of living in a fallen world. He grieved over the loss of a loved one. He was mocked and scorned. He was misunderstood and slandered.
As disciples of Christ, we never have to wonder if our Savior understands us. He knows us fully and looks on us with compassion because he’s walked among us. All our wickedness was not enough to deter him. He bore the worst humanity had to offer, yet still gave his life for us.
Perhaps now we see Athansisus’s mission in a new light. May we too stand boldly in defense of the incarnation and Christ, our brother.