Hebrews 2:17

Friday, 31 August 2018

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

The word “Therefore” asks the reader to go back and review what brought about the coming statement. The words certainly cover everything back to verse 2:10 at least. There it spoke of bringing many sons to glory. Immediately after that it said, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” The thought of Christ sharing in humanity continued right up until verse 16. There, in verse 16, it spoke of giving aid to the seed of Abraham.

Understanding the context, the author says, “in all things.” There is a like for like comparison being made. It is not that the two will be somewhat alike, but that they are alike in all ways. This is confirmed by the next words, “He had to be made like His brethren.” If Christ were made like an angel (verse 2:7), He would not be “like man” in all ways. If He were exempt from a body which could suffer (verse 2:10), He would not be “like” us in all ways. If He were not able to be tempted (verse 4:15), He would not be like us in all ways. And so on.

The verse also directly refers to the final thought before this verse which mentioned “the seed of Abraham.” Christ was made like the seed of Abraham in all ways as well. Vincent’s Word Studies goes so far as to say, “Likeness is asserted without qualification. There was a complete and real likeness to humanity, a likeness which was closest just where the traces of the curse of sin were most apparent – in poverty, temptation, and violent and unmerited death.” This is correct. This closeness, to where the traces of the curse of sin are, was necessary in order “that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest.”

The high priest was selected from among the people of Israel. He shared in their family line, he shared in their culture, and he shared in their plight in all ways. He was, therefore, able to empathize with his people in the execution of his duties under the covenant that the Lord made with the people. The same is true with Christ in His ministry. Likewise, it was necessary for Him to be like those He ministered to as well, if He were to initiate a new covenant. The introduction of the role of Christ as High Priest at this point takes the reader back to the very opening words of the epistle. In verse 1:3 it said, “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

The thought of the purging of sin is that which pertains to priestly duties. The author has spent all of the past two chapters leading the reader to this point. It is a point which will be referred to from this point on as well. If there is to be a new covenant, there must be a High Priest to administer it. But if there was already a covenant in existence, there must be a valid reason why it needed to be set aside. The author’s words are preparing us for understanding these things by first showing that Christ is suitable to the role. After that, he will then address the how’s and why’s of the introduction of the New Covenant.

In being like His brethren in all ways, Christ is able to be the merciful and faithful High Priest that is needed. Without being able to empathize with His people, there would be a lack of mercy needed to properly conduct His duties. Without facing trials similar to His people, He could not faithfully represent them in their own petition for strength, or for mercy and forgiveness. But Christ can because He did.

He first lived the life necessary, and then He became our High Priest “in things pertaining to God.” This is referring to the system in which the High Priest conducts His duties. There is a need for One to act between God and the people; a Mediator. This job fell to Aaron and his sons under the Old Covenant. In the establishment of a new covenant, there would likewise be this need. The system of sacrifices necessary to appease God, the conveyance of prayers on behalf of the people, the communication of the will of God, the judgment in accord with the covenant’s laws, and so forth, all needed to be accomplished by a suitable mediator. Christ was set to fill this role in the coming of the New Covenant.

To complete the verse, the author then says, “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The Greek word chosen here, and translated as “propitiation,” is only found elsewhere in Luke 18:13 –

“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

How could the High Priest truly Mediate in such a way as to petition God for mercy for such a wretched soul unless He had first been made “like His brethren” in all ways? The verb used for “make propitiation for” is akin to the cognate noun which signifies that which is the propitiation – the atoning sacrifice. It is what accomplishes the action which removes the wrath of God, allowing Him to be merciful. That noun is used by John twice – in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10. In both uses, it is speaking of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus for our sins. In the giving of His life, He is able to make that propitiation which is necessary for God to be merciful. He is the very focal point of God’s mercy, and therefore His ministry is perfectly sufficient to accomplish the obtaining of that mercy for His people.

Life application: How can God demonstrate infinite mercy upon His finite and fallen creatures? He can do it through His perfect Sacrifice, Jesus. In the giving of His Son, the void is bridged, the gap is crossed, and the wound of separation is healed. Christ Jesus is the very focus of God’s mercy to His creatures. We don’t just have a hope in eternal life, in Christ Jesus we have the absolute assurance of it. The enmity is ended, and reconciliation is realized because propitiation has been made.

Glorious, gracious, and merciful God… Thank You for Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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