The imperfect Jesus

Jesus never committed a single sin. Let’s get that out of the way. He was sinless and therefore the ideal — and only possible — sacrifice in order to bring us forgiveness of our sins.

The title, “The imperfect Jesus,” reminds us to use Bible words with Bible meanings. Hebrews 5.9 states that Jesus was perfected by obedience. Here are verses 8-10:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

We usually cite this verse to prove — and it is proven, beyond all doubt — that obedience is necessary to one’s eternal salvation. It’s on my list of 52 verses for our congregation to memorize this year, for that very reason.

But these three verses say much also about Jesus, not least, how he became perfected or qualified as our sacrifice for sin.

First, his perfection. If Jesus was perfected, that means that before that time he was not perfect. Let’s define our terms. We use the word to mean sinless. The Bible does not use it in this way. See how these versions translate the word, whose core meaning is complete or mature:

  • perfect [uniquely equipped and prepared as Savior and retaining His integrity amid opposition] (AMP)
  • This made him the perfect high priest (ERV)
  • and after he was made complete (McCord)

In order for Jesus to be our high priest and holy sacrifice, he needed to learn to obey the Father. It didn’t matter that he was a son.

When he obeyed, he became the source of eternal salvation. He is the only source of that salvation. That salvation is eternal in nature. That means that it opens the doors of eternity to us. (It doesn’t mean we can’t lose it while we are living on earth.)

One lexicon says the word behind “source” means author or causer. Jesus makes it happen. So if we want it, we must go to him. On his terms. And his terms are spelled out clearly: obedience.

Like Jesus, obedience is a necessary component in our relationship to God. The writer of Hebrews feels the need to get that point in there, even while talking about Jesus.

Also, Jesus’ perfection or qualification meant that “he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” The Hebrews author has been comparing the covenant of Moses and of Christ. In every way the latter is superior and therefore deserves commitment even in the face of persecution. The priesthood of Christ figures large, because he does not die, therefore he can represent us before the Father forever.

The author recalled Melchizedek, during the time of Abraham, whom we regard as a shadowy figure. Not much is know about him. And the writer makes use of that fact. He foreshadowed Jesus. No mention of parents, birth, death. He seems to be an ageless character, serving a superior role even to the patriarch.

Jesus is flesh and blood. He lived in tears and sweat. He prayed fervently, Hebrews 5.7. He felt the full pressure of temptation. He made the ultimate sacrifice. And he bore that sacrifice all the way up to heaven.

Yes, Jesus was imperfect, because on earth he had to learn obedience. And he did so. And by doing so, he qualified himself for sacrifice and service. He has it all. “Christ is everything” Colossians 3.11 NIRV.

To be like him and to receive the benefits of his sacrifice and service as high priest, I must obey.

That’s the perfect plan of God.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet. His microblog is randal.us.

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