The Importance of the Death of Christ in the Plan of Salvation
The writer of the book of Hebrews begins his argument that the New Testament system of Christ is superior to the Old Testament law of Moses
by pointing out in chapter 1 that because Christ is the divine Son of God He is so much better than the angels through whom the Old Testament law
was given to Moses. However, in chapter 2, he goes on to point out that this One who was so much better than the angels was made lower than the
angels. In verses 5 through 8, he quotes from Psalm 8 that man was made a little lower than the angels, then points out that Christ was also made
a little lower than the angels. In other words, He became a man, a human being.
Why? "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (verse 9). The reason given here is "for the suffering of death." The inspired writer is setting up the basis for his later argument that the sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament were insufficient to forgive sin, so it would take the sacrifice of something greater. Basically saying that Jesus became a man to die for our sins. Thus this passage emphasizes the importance of the death of Christ in the plan of salvation.
First, in verse 9, it says that Jesus had to die for everybody, "that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." Jesus Himself had pointed out that God would give His Son for the whole world, telling Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16). Why was this necessary? It was because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). What makes this fact even worse is that there are severe consequences to sin. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). Yet, even as Paul mentions the gift of God, the Bible teaches that God loves us enough to have had Jesus lay down His life for the sins of everyone. "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us..." (1 Jn. 3:16). This is why it was necessary that He by the grace of God should taste death for everyone.
Second, in verse 10, the passage says that the aim of making the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings (referring to His death) was for Him to bring many sons to glory. This may refer to the fact that all human beings are the offspring (sons or children) of God, physically speaking, because He is the Father of our spirits (Acts 17:28, Heb. 12:9). This would mean that God wants to make a way for all His offspring or all human beings to be saved from sin. It might also refer to the fact that those who are saved from sin are born again through the word of God and hence become the spiritual children of God (1 Pet. 1:23, 1 Jn. 3:1-3). However, either way we look at it, we must understand that the death of Jesus Christ was necessary in order for this to happen because it was He who "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:4-6). Just as one goal of the captain of a ship is to bring the passengers to safety, so Jesus as the captain of our salvation has as His aim to bring many sons to glory.
Third, in verse 14, the passage says that through His death, Christ has destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil After Adam and Eve had sinned, it had been prophesied that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3.16). This has universally been understood as a prophecy of the Messiah who would come to destroy the devil. Jesus Himself understood that His mission involved conquering Satan. In Matt. 12:22-29, He said that His power over the demons demonstrated that He had first bound "strong man." In Lk. 10:17-18, when the seventy returned having cast out demons, Jesus said that He saw Satan falling as lightning from heaven. This was not something that had taken place before the world began but was going on right then as Christ was involved in conquering Satan. Both Jn. 12:27-31 and 16:7-11 also make reference to the casting out or judgment of the prince or ruler of this world that was soon to come. This is exactly what Jesus did "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn. 3:8). The devil's power over mankind, which brings the fear of death, is through sin, but by His death Jesus makes possible the forgiveness of sin, thus destroying the power of death and releasing those who receive His forgiveness from the fear of death.
Fourth, in verse 17, the passage says that His death has made reconciliation or propitiation for the sins of the people. The verb translated "make reconciliation" in the King James Version or "make propitiation" in the New King James Version was used among the Greeks to mean to make the gods propitious or to appease them, since their good will was not conceived as their natural attitude but something to be earned. This use of the word is foreign to the Bible. In the Old Testament, the concept was related to the atonement that was made for the sins of the people with the animal sacrifices (cf. Lev. 16:8-22). Of course, these sacrifices pointed forward to the time when Christ would come to make complete atonement for the sins of the world. Thus, in the New Testament, the concept of "propitiation" always refers to the fact that God is propitiated through the provision that He made in the sacrifice of Christ to show mercy and make possible the remission of sins. "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood..." (Rom. 3.24-25). We must conclude, then, that the death of Jesus Christ
was what made it possible for the scriptures to call Him "the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 2:1-2, 4:10). Because He made propitiation for our sins, we can have reconciliation with God
God created us to be in fellowship with Him, but all of us have sinned and broken that fellowship. Yet, God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--loved us enough that, even though we deserved eternal punishment for our sins, God sent His Son, who was so much better than the angels, to be made lower than the angels that He might die for our sins, bring us to glory, destroy the power of the devil, and make propitiation with the Father. However, while God's gift of salvation is free in that He does not require us to do anything to make atonement, it is not unconditional. He has revealed certain commands in His word that we must obey to show that we are willing to submit our wills to His in accepting His offer of remission of sins. This is why the Hebrew writer goes on to say about the death of Christ, "Though He was a son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:8-9). Have you obeyed Him?
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 14.3; March 2007