Because Jesus is fully God and fully man, it becomes confusing to talk about Him being made perfect. Yet, unless we believe that He is fully God and fully man, we cannot be Christians.
Being Made Perfect
Let’s continue the second part of the Hebrews verse from the previous post Hebrews 5:8-9. Verse 9 can be just as confusing as verse 8. How is Jesus being made perfect? Isn’t He already perfect? 1 Peter 2:22, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 3:5. The key word causing confusion there is “being”. It is easy to understand (maybe) that Jesus was already perfect. After all, He is God. But this “being” means that He somehow became more perfect?? So how can Someone in whom there was no imperfection undergo a process where by He was made perfect? Philippians 2:7-8 uses this same word “being” and this is word is our point of departure from everything.
Brace yourselves for a very brief examination of Biblical time. There are two modes of time in the Bible. The first is temporal/earth time. This is what we are used to: past, present, future. I ate, I eat and I will eat. If you know a little physics, then you will understand that this temporal time is coupled with what we call space. Time and space are inseparable in this world that He has made.
There is however another sense of time in the Bible. You could think about it as Holy time. It’s not time the way we’re used to it. Holy time has no past or future. Instead, in Holy Time all things are in the present. Another name for this Holy Time is Eternity. Eternity is what was before “In the beginning” in Genesis 1:1 and Eternity is what is after “Amen” in Revelations 22:21. We tend to think of Eternity as a version of our temporal time that goes on forever and forever. But this isn’t so. Going on forever and forever is what we call “infinity”. Infinity is not Eternity. Eternity is a different thing all together. A infinite number of apples will never produce one grape. So also, an infinite amount of temporal time will never produce Eternity.
The words we have in any language cannot quite describe Eternity. The Bible defines Eternity through comparison and juxtaposition. Consider what John writes about Jesus and His servants in Revelations 13:8. Depending on the translation you use you will either see one of two things: either those who are saved were saved from before the world began or you will see Jesus described as slain from before the world began. Either one blows the mind. God is Named The Ancient of Days Daniel 7:9 and further described as the first and the last Isaiah 44:6 or as One who is from everlasting to everlasting Psalms 90:2. For Him, a thousand years are like a day and a day like a thousand years 2 Peter 3:8. These descriptions tell us that ideas about temporal time cannot be applied to God and Eternity. Time for Him is just another measurement tool. God IS. There’s no was and there is no will be in Him. He IS. So also in Eternity, there is no future and there is no past. There is no history. All is present in Eternity.
In Phil 2:6-7,9-11 we are speaking mostly in the past tense to describe how things ARE in Eternity. These things are fixed, immovable and ARE. But verse 7 through 8 in Phil 2:7-8 describe Jesus Christ in history. He acquired a past, present and future because He entered into temporal time with all of us. So the process of perfection that Jesus went through was not describing how He IS in Eternity. This being made perfect occurred in time and space. Note the progression in time in verses 7-8. He went from humility through obedience all the way to death even death on the cross. He marched in time. But the verses surrounding 7-8 say nothing about Christ in time. No instead they speak of His State and Position in Eternity beyond time. Now take a deep breath because we’re about to go in a little deeper.
The Building Block Of Faith
Everything we just talked about in the previous section may seem confusing and difficult to understand. In fact, if you have read the articles in the blog section, you may have begun to guess that Christianity is a religion of paradox. The truths of Christianity are either foolishness to unbelief or paradox when you do believe. Amidst all these statements the Bible makes like “Jesus learned obedience” or “being made perfect, Jesus...”, it can be difficult to keep straight the things you have to believe as a Christian. It sure would be nice if you could distill and concentrate all of Christian belief into one statement, into one fundamental paradox. So let us go ahead and do this.
Let us suppose you had a friend who told you to express what it means to be a Christian in as few words as possible. Maybe even one sentence. What is the one thing you must believe to help you be a practical Christian? You may come up with many answers. My answer would be this: Believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Ah but that is my answer and well also the answer I learned from Kierkegaard (see Training in Christianity). But what does the Bible say? Let us look at what John says in 2 John 1:7. John says here that all deceitful preaching can be summed up by saying that Jesus [The Father’s Son 2 John 1:3] did not come in the flesh. John, the apostle, is saying that you can know that someone is preaching the truth if their preaching reveals that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. This truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man is the the fundamental truth every Christian must abide in. John calls it The Doctrine of Christ 2 John 1:9.
He further warns that you have to be careful to continue to abide and in this truth or you will easily lose your faith 2 John 1:8. What does John mean by “abide”? He means that you have to make this truth your house. Make this truth of the full humanity and full Godhood of Jesus your home. If you do not actively believe in the full Godhood and full humanity of Jesus Christ, then anything else you believe about Jesus will be incomplete and weak. You will not know the One you claim to believe in. As John later says in 2 John 1:9, only the one who abides in the doctrine of Christ (from the Greek)has/possesses/is joined to both the Father and the Son. Remember our definition of being a Christian: A Christian is someone who is in community with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Well, it is impossible to be in community with God and Jesus, if you are not joined to God and Jesus. John says that you can only be joined to both God and Jesus, if and only if you abide in the truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, unless your fundamental truth is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, you cannot be a Christian.
It is because of this fundamental paradox of Christianity that we have statements like “Jesus learned obedience” or “being made perfect, Jesus...”. It is because He is both fully God and fully man that these statements are even possible. It is nothing to say that a man or a woman learned obedience or was made perfect. But to say that God! learned obedience?! That makes no sense. It is foolishness for unbelief but a paradox, the building block of faith, to those who believe 1 Cor 1:18.
It is the full humanity of Jesus that allowed Him to die but because He was fully God, He rose on Easter Sunday. The full humanity of Jesus allowed His sacrifice on the cross to be for all men and women. If He was only God, not only could He not have died, His sacrifice could not have been for me because He is not like me. It is because of His full humanity that He could speak to me on my level. Yet because He is fully God, His Word is not a suggestion but a Command. So all this talk about Jesus being only a great teacher goes out the window. He is God so He doesn’t just teach, He Commands. As a full human being, He is my High Priest who knows what it is to suffer like we do but as God He is my King and Lord who can still tell me what to do.
This brings us back to the whole of Hebrews 5:8-9. Verse 9 concludes that Jesus became a source of salvation to all who obey Him. He is only this source of salvation by being made perfect. We’ll talk more about this next. Consider the following though. If Jesus was not fully human, He could not have been made perfect and therefore, could not have become the source of eternal salvation. Yet, if He was not God, He could not be obeyed into eternal salvation. You can obey anyone into a temporal salvation. But only those who become obedient to God, are eternally saved Matthew 7:21. (See the two previous articles on obedience.)
If you are a Christian, lay out everything you believe about Jesus and weigh them against the truth of His full Godhood and full humanity. You will see that unless you believe what John says, all your other beliefs grow weaker and then maybe cease to exist.