As I write this article I have eight commentaries, four Bibles, and two hermeneutical texts on my desk to help with one particular verse that I’d like for us to consider today. I seldom refer to quite so many, and generally choose for us to be less technical during our “time” here, but in this case I wanted to unpack one specific verse of Hebrews a bit, only to begin to initiate our thoughts in this direction.
First the context: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and designated by God to be High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10).
Jesus’ submissiveness and faith is certainly at the center of the Hebrew writer’s thesis. The Messiah willfully chooses the cross so that we might be saved. He is our High Priest, interceding on our behalf as both priest and king, without beginning and without end (“in the order of Melchizedek” – see Genesis14 – Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness”).
But the one idea I’d like for us to focus upon is that our Savior “learned obedience” from what He suffered (v8). I understand the author’s impetus in that Christ is “made perfect.” He is made whole/complete/glorified as He is resurrected by the power of God. Atonement for sin is achieved. Eternity secured. But what does it mean that He “learned obedience”?
Are we to deduce that Christ had not “learned obedience” until the cross?! Absolutely not. So what then does it mean?
What if we were to read verse 8 like this: “Christ experienced obedience from what He suffered”? Does that help us in our understanding of what is being communicated? Or, “Christ learned by experiencing the fullness of His obedience”? Does that change our perspective?
Christ’s entire life and existence defines discipline and fidelity to the Father. Obedience characterizes the whole of our Savior’s existence. We are called to imitate His obedience and discipline as we strive to live called lives (Philippians 2:1-11). And yet what is being communicated to us here in Hebrews 5:8 is Christ’s experience of the fullness of His obedience. The Apostle John shares something similar as he describes the Upper Room scene where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love” (John 13:1). It’s not as if He had not revealed His love prior to the moment. And certainly His love will be made manifest the follow morning! But through the servanthood of the Lord in the Upper Room, the Apostle describes the revelation of the Savior’s love as it is experienced by His disciples as He washes their feet.
The culmination of the life of Christ, a life lived in complete and total surrender to the Father’s will, is revealed as He “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). As Christ experienced the fullness of His obedience.
Therefore when Jesus calls us as His disciples to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23) experiencing the fullness of obedience, each and every day, is what He is after!
Glory to God!