But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:9-10).
The ways of God are certainly inscrutable, and His judgments are unsearchable (Romans 11:33). This is most certainly made evident through His Son.
After all, if humans were in charge, how would someone be perfected? We could probably come up with many answers, but the idea that perfection would come through suffering humiliation, dishonor, and death would likely not come up. In fact, we humans do pretty much whatever we can to avoid pain and suffering.
So how can it be that anyone could be perfected through suffering?
Jesus, the Word made flesh, had all knowledge and insight– He was active in the creation (John 1:1-3), and was present throughout the days of Israel (John 8:58, 1 Corinthians 10:4, 9, Jude 1:5). Yet, as God, He did not personally experience the life humanity experienced. Therefore, in order to be made perfect, He had to go through the one thing that God had not gone through– the human experience.
And it would not be just any human experience. What defines the human experience more than suffering? While we like to focus on the pleasantries of life– the beauty of creation, our successes, our prosperity– it is not as if such truly satisfies and they are always punctured at some point by suffering, pain, misery, or failure. Many can sympathize with Jacob; while they may not have lived 130 years, they can say that “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” as he did (Genesis 47:9).
We can think about it another way. What would we think if Jesus had lived a charmed life? What if He never knew need, was never maligned, lived an entirely sheltered and prosperous life, and was transported back to Heaven unscathed? It might have made for an interesting story, but it would not be nearly as compelling. We would not believe that Jesus really experienced the true human condition!
And, as the Hebrew author explains in Hebrews 2:14, 17-18, this is why Jesus came to earth to live and experience suffering and temptation. No one can honestly say that God never condescended to know “what it’s like” to be human. Instead, Jesus is completely able to sympathize with the believer in distress. Are they reviled? He was reviled. Are they weak, downtrodden, or humiliated? Jesus experienced the same. Are they sorely tempted to give up and return to the world? Jesus was also. And yet He proved faithful as a Son (Hebrews 5:7-9), and through His suffering was glorified and honored and made perfect!
We see, therefore, that Jesus is made perfect through suffering, and He can now sympathize with the believer. Yet, in saying this, the Hebrew author re-affirms the fact that perfection can only come through suffering. Paul demonstrated that believers will be co-heirs with Christ only if they suffer with Him (Romans 8:17); Peter describes the suffering of Christians as the trial of faith as by fire for purification (1 Peter 1:6-8). James tells Christians to rejoice when experiencing trial on account of the fruit it bears (James 1:2-4). These truths are not convenient, pleasant, or according to our desires, but they remain firm and established. If we want to grow into the fulness of Christ and receive the inheritance, we must partake of the sufferings of which Jesus partook. We must experience that baptism with which He was baptized, to drink from the cup that was poured for Him (Mark 10:38-39).
If Jesus could not attain perfection without suffering, how can any disciple of His expect to avoid it? This is not the way of the world, certainly, but it is the way of the Kingdom. We only come to a strong measure of faith when we are emptied of self, weak, humiliated, and sorely distressed– the training ground that leads to patience, endurance, and true focus on the divine (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, James 1:2-4). Let us stand firm in the midst of trial, knowing that as Jesus experienced suffering in order to receive glory and honor, we look forward to our day of glorification!
Ethan R. Longhenry