11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all one. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying, “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I, and the children God has give me.” 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. 16 For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
Our author is continuing to unfold the greatness of God’s speaking to us in these last days by His Son. In this self-revelation, the triune God has accomplished His purpose for us to bring “many sons to glory”. And He accomplishes this, not by staying distant from us, not by sprinkling fairy dust over us, but by the Son of God becoming the Son of Man, Jesus, “a little lower than the angels” and as the Son of Man, suffering death “that he might taste death for everyone”. Remember the last sentence in the previous section? The author tells us that it was fitting, right, that Jesus “in bringing many sons to glory” was perfected as the pioneer or trailblazer of their salvation through suffering.
The beginning of this section is connected to the last with the word “for” that we have already had earlier in the letter. Why was it fitting that Jesus should suffer as the pioneer of our salvation? The reason that the author unfolds in these verses is Jesus’ relationship with us, with humanity, which is established in His incarnation. God, in Jesus, becomes truly united to us, to heal us from the inside out. As the early church father, Athanasius, put it, Jesus doesn’t heal us as a doctor who gives medicine or advice, but He becomes one with the patient and overcomes our brokenness and rebellion in Himself to truly cleanse us from our sins!
The author develops this point throughout this passage, helping his readers gaze deeper into the true significance of the incarnation. To work our way through this passage, we will look at the various descriptions of the incarnation presented and then at all the implications of the incarnation the author draws out.
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all one. The reason it is fitting for Jesus, our pioneer, to be perfected through suffering is that he, as the One who sanctifies, is one with those being sanctified. In the previous verse, we learn that Jesus pioneers our salvation, our being unbound, freed, given the space and room that comes with life from God. Here He is described as the One who sanctifies. This word fills out more what salvation is. “Sanctify” is a word used in the context of worship, or communion with God. I think often we understand sanctification and holiness to be some sort of static state of perfection, a level of perfect behavior that is required to enter heaven. Actually these words have more to do with belonging to God. In the Old Testament, these terms could be used of vessels that were set aside for use in the tabernacle or, later, the temple where God dwelt. The priests were sanctified also and this was so they could be in God’s presence. The Hebrews understood that God’s desire was to have a real relationship with them and that He had to be the One to make that possible. So in this verse, we see that God provides our real sanctification in Him, in Jesus. Our freedom to know God, live in His presence, is secured for us by God Himself though the Son's incarnation.
And Jesus sanctifies us by being one with us, by becoming “all one” with us, the ones He is sanctifying. What does this mean? The author develops this idea in the rest of this passage. In verse 14, the author says, Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature. Since we are made of flesh and blood, God in Jesus took on and so shares in our actual nature. Remember that a very prevalent view at that time was that bodily existence was considered inferior to spiritual existence. Why would any spiritual being want to take on our bodily nature? Why would God, the Creator and Sustainer of all, partake of human nature?
For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Jesus partakes of our nature because we are the ones that He is sanctifying. The Greek word here translated “is concerned” actually means “take hold of” or “seize”. It gives a much more active sense to what God does in Christ. On this word, Chrysostom, an early church father comments, “It is derived from the image of persons pursuing those who turn away from them, doing everything to overtake them as they flee and to take hold of them as they are bounding away. For when human nature was fleeing from him … he pursued after and overtook us. He showed that he has done this only out of kindness and love and tender care.”
Jesus, in sharing in our human nature, in sanctifying us, comes to us where we actually are. He doesn’t just come looking like a human, or taking on a perfect human nature. He grabs a hold of us in our actual fallen broken state, in our running away from the grace of God. This is why the author goes on to say, “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect.” In order for Jesus to truly grab a hold of us, He had to meet us where we actually were, in our sin and rebellion, to rescue us from our bondage, to lead us out into life—in other words, to save and sanctify us Himself.
To give us salvation, the triune God and Creator of all speaks Himself in His Son into our real and actual fallen existence. He doesn’t cease to be fully God, but assumes our real fallen humanity to heal us from the inside out. This is why this Word, spoken in these last days, is superior to everything that came before, is superior to the angels, is superior to Anything else we may seek to trust for our lives. No other has or can so unite themselves to all humanity and sanctify us for being in communion and fellowship with God. Only the very Son of God so united to humanity can.
Now we will go back through this passage to see what the author tells his readers of the implications of this incarnation. His first statement is quite startling and wonderful, “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Jesus, God the Son, becomes one with us in such a way that He unashamedly calls us brothers and sisters. In order to make us able to truly belong to Him as His dear children, God the Son, God’s word in these last days, comes to belong to us as one of us! And I find it fascinating that the author doesn’t just say that He calls us brethren, but that He is not ashamed to identify us as His own family. God’s purpose for us is to bring “many sons to glory” (2:10), to give us a real share in the Son’s sonship and glory. As the early church fathers put it, He who is the Son by nature makes us His children by grace… and He is glad to do it! He has really made himself our actual and true brother.
Now the author quotes three Old Testament passages to confirm that Jesus is indeed connecting Himself to us at the deepest level. The first passage (in v. 12 above) is from Psalm 22, verse 22. This is a lament song of David and was considered one of the messianic, “suffering servant” passages. Jesus quotes the first line, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” when He is on the cross. This verse comes towards the end of the psalm where the speaker resolves to trust God and to worship Him in the midst of the congregation. Our author here, then, is saying that Jesus, rather than being ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, is standing with us, in our midst, to proclaim His Father’s name to us. The second two (in v. 13) are actually consecutive verses. They are from Isaiah 8:17 and 18 respectively. In this passage Isaiah warns of a great invasion from Assyria into the land of Judea. He speaks of himself and those who are with him, that he will place his trust in God. The author of Hebrews, in connecting these words with Jesus, is indicating that Jesus, in being one with us, is trusting the Father with us, as one of us, and on our behalf. And, as with the earlier quotations from the Hebrew scriptures, our author is indicating that in Jesus, we have the reality, the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament points to.
The next implication of the incarnation which the author gives is Jesus’ triumph over the power and fear of death, “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” Jesus is the pioneer, the trailblazer of our salvation. He has grabbed a hold of us at the point of our rebellion and taken us out into the freedom of salvation. In His death He has tasted death for everyone. Here, the author tells us that Jesus, as our pioneer, had to go through death, the same death we would have to go through, to destroy its power over us, and so to deliver us from the fear of death that we have been enslaved to. Our sin not only separates us from the One who made us temporarily, here and now, but finally, because it leads to death. Death, then, had become the last word. We could not escape it and no matter what we might accomplish or have in this life, death would still be the final reality. But the path to life that Jesus cuts for us is the path through our death. Through this death, Jesus renders the devil "impotent", as it says in the Greek. So death no longer has the final say, Jesus steps in our place and issues the final Word, the Word of Life in place of death.
Finally, the author tells his readers that Jesus had to be made “like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.” Now so much of what he says here will be further developed at length in the rest of the letter, so I am actually not going to go into this statement much here. This is the first time he speaks of Jesus as a high priest, an image he will expound on in great detail. His point here is that Jesus became a merciful and faithful high priest on our behalf by becoming like us in every respect and in so doing, he made expiation, or purification as it is stated at the beginning of the letter, for our sins. In making expiation, Jesus removes the obstacle of our sin, which is what keeps us from having communion with the triune God who made us.
And Jesus does all of this, as we have seen, by actually uniting Himself to us in our fallenness, and really beating a way forward, removing the sin, suffering our death, and taking us to Himself as His brothers and sisters. This is why he is “able to help those who are tempted”, as it says in the last verse of this section. He can help us in this deep and profound way because “he himself has suffered and been tempted” as one of us, tempted in our place and on our behalf. He took on our real brokenness, our real distrust of and contradiction to God, and turned us back to the Father in Himself. This creating of a path, blazing the trail, was something Jesus doesn’t accomplish outside of Himself, but actually in Himself, which is why He suffered and died. And the help that He offers us is the help of One who has taken on our disease, healed it in himself first, and now gives us a share in His health as one of us, united to us as our high priest.