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The Brethren

God gave his Son a name that's above every name—the name of Jesus—a name that means 'salvation'. But what would be the significance of that name if there was no one to SAVE? Jesus is Emanuel, which means 'God with us'. But what would that mean if there was no US with whom to share his presence? Jesus is the Redeemer. But he would cease to be the Redeemer if there was no one to redeem. In Hebrews 1:2, we are told “God in these last days hath spoken unto US by his Son.” Hebrews, a book that magnifies the person and work of Jesus, the Son of God, is intended for US. If there was no US to receive it, there would be no reason for God to give it. 

In Hebrews 2-3, the writer uses brethren five times (2:11, 12, 17; 3:1, 12). The word is ἀδελφός (adelphos), a combination of ἄλφα (union) and δελφύς (womb). It signifies those who come forth from the same womb. For believers, who are brethren, the womb from which they come is the womb of Christ himself, who is the way, the truth and the life. It's the womb all believers have in common. But when we consider Jesus, who said we are his brethren, what womb do Jesus and his brethren share? In terms of physical birth, Jesus and believers came from the womb of a WOMAN. That's not the same womb, but rather the same 'kind' of womb. 

Jesus and believers, in spiritual terms, came forth from the same womb of PROMISE. Galatians 3:14-22 makes this truth abundantly clear. Paul uses the word promise eight times in these verses to teach that both Jesus, as the promised Seed, and believers like Abraham are all the fruit of promise. The covenant of which Paul speaks is the blood covenant the Father (“smoking furnace”) and the Son (“burning lamp”) entered into while Abraham was is a “deep sleep” (Genesis 15:9-18). The physical birth of Christ was the fruit of the womb of covenant between the  Father and Son. The spiritual birth of the believer is the fruit of the womb of promise given to Abraham by both Father and Son as they walked between the blooded pieces of heifer, she goat, ram, turtledove and pigeon. This is the womb Jesus and his brethren share in common—the womb of promise!

The first use of brethren in Hebrews is in 2:11: “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” The verb sanctifieth is ἁγιάζω (hagiazō), meaning “to make holy, purify or consecrate.” Sanctifying something is literally 'holy-izing' it. Scripture portrays Jesus as the Holy-izer of his brethren. The phrase he that sanctifieth is a present active participle. Literal translation: “The one who is continuously holy-izing.” The phrase they who are sanctified is a present passive participle. Literal translation: “The ones who are continuously being holy-ized.” The goal of Jesus for his brethren is to make them more like him. They are predestinated to that end (Romans 8:29).  

There will never be a moment in the life of a child of God when Jesus ceases to sanctify him or he ceases to be sanctified. Even when a Christian is backslidden, as wayward as the Prodigal, his elder brother, the Lord Jesus, is about the business of sanctifying him, perhaps with chastening. But according to Hebrews 12:5-11, chastening is part and parcel to God's sanctifying work, which yields the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” in those “exercised thereby.” If one is not making progress in holiness (i.e., being holy-ized), it calls into question whether he's ever established a relationship with the Holy-izer. 

Jesus is not ashamed to call them brethren because he and his brethren are “all of one.” The preposition of is ἐκ (ek), meaning “out of” (as denoting origin). The one is God the Father. The Father is the womb that Jesus and believers have in common. The Father, according to Messianic promise and the work of the Spirit, gave physical birth to his Son (incarnation). The Father, according to the promise of life in Christ and work of the Spirit, gave spiritual birth to believers (regeneration). The Father is the common origin (womb) for the God-Man and born-again men. It is a profound truth that Jesus sees believers as his brothers who share a common paternal origin. 

Our text is Hebrews 2:17:

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”

In this one verse, we have a logical progression of thought that addresses four major Bible themes integral to the 'so great salvation' Jesus provided for us.

I. Obligation

The word behoved is ὀφείλω (opheilō), meaning “to owe, to be in debt to.” Vine's says: “ It indicates a necessity, owing to the nature of the matter under consideration.” The phrase it behoved him in 2:17 is the same verb, tense and voice translated it became him in 2:10. Twice in Hebrews 2, scripture tells us Jesus was under obligation to provide for a perfect salvation for sinners. The verb in both cases is an imperfect tense, active voice. The active voice signifies that Jesus willingly took on this obligation. It was not imposed upon him, which the passive voice would have indicated. 

The imperfect tense signifies continuous action in time past. This 'behoval' activity ended with the incarnation of Christ. It officially ended on the cross when he cried: “It is finished” (John 19:30). But when did it begin? If one answers, “Before the foundation of the world!”, he would be correct in terms of eternity. But can we identify the beginning of that behoval in terms of history? I believe we can. As I see it, the obligation came over him as he prepared “coats of skins” for Adam and Eve and sent (drove) them from the Garden (Genesis 3:21). In his heart, I can hear him saying: “I owe you better clothing. But those skins are the best I can do...for now. Even as I have made coats of skins for your physical need, one day I will become like unto you, and secure for you the spiritual clothing prefigured by the substitutionary death of those animals. I will clothe you in my own righteousness. I will become like you so you can be like me!” That first bloodletting began his sense of obligation to become sin for us, who knew no sin. The imperfect tense depicts a behoval that endured for four-thousand years until Jesus finally paid in full the debt for our sin. 

II. Assimilation

The word assimilation is one we apply to immigrants as they seek to conform to American culture. Conformity includes (1) compliance with Constitutional Law, (2) the ability to communicate in English, and (3) acquisition of employment, making one a self-sufficient wage earner and taxpayer. Assimilation denotes full immersion into the American experience. 

The words made like unto suggest our Lord went through a process of assimilation when he took upon himself a  human nature and traversed Israel for thirty-three years. He “learned obedience” by the things he suffered (5:8). The verb is ὁμοιόω (homoioō), meaning “to assimilate, to be similar, to liken.” It's passive voice, “to become, to be made similar.” While Jesus' obligation to sinners was embraced willingly, his incarnation imposed on him the need to grow into perfect manhood. Jesus fully assimilated EVERY aspect of the human experience (including compliance with Mosaic Law) EXPECT where sin was concerned. Jesus “KNEW no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), “DID no sin” (1 Peter 2:22) and in him “IS no sin” (1 John 3:5). In every other aspect of humanity, as God in the flesh, he fully immersed himself in the human experience and assimilated humanity. The result was a perfect sacrifice for the sins and the basis upon which God could raise him from the dead for our justification. It is critical to note that Jesus' full assimilation of the human experience, including fulfillment of Mosaic LAW, did NOT include assimilation of the TRADITIONS of the scribes and Pharisees, a continual point of contention between him and them. 

III. Intercession 

One of the goals of the incarnation was establishment of Jesus Christ as our High Priest. Inasmuch as Jesus was and is the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9), he transformed the role of high priest. In the OT, God and the high priest (intercessor, mediator) were TWO distinct persons. The incarnation enabled God to combine those two roles into ONE person, the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:20). His full, sin-free assimilation of human experience rendered him fully qualified to represent man before God and God to man. There is no circumstance a believer could ever endure without Jesus being well-acquainted with it. 

The scripture tells us Jesus is a “merciful and faithful” high priest in things pertaining to God. It is said mercy is God withholding from us what we deserve whereas grace is giving to us what we do not deserve. But I wonder if we should restrict mercy to withholding activity. Oftentimes a believer comes to the Father through the Son with needs unrelated to sin. There are decisions to make, wisdom to obtain, the need for longsuffering in dealing with others and divine supply for any number of other needs that prompt feelings of inadequacy. It's the mercy of God  administered by our merciful high priest, that meets the need. The fact that he's a faithful (dependable) high priest means the brethren will NEVER be disappointed when they come to Jesus in need of divine supply. 

The context here is one of intercession where Jesus is portrayed as High Priest. A comparative text in 1 John 1:7-2:2 portrays Jesus as our Advocate. His role as Advocate for (defender of) the brethren is one of intervention. In Hebrews 2:17, Jesus the High Priest is “merciful and faithful.” In 1 John 1:9, Jesus the Advocate is “faithful and just.” When it comes to Jesus' dependability in meeting the NEEDS of the brethren, he is MERCIFUL. When it comes to his dependability in forgiving the SINS we confess, he is JUST. In a manner of speaking, Jesus lets us OFF the hook for sins (forgiveness) because he put himself ON the hook for those sins on the cross (justice). We should always remember that every divine act of forgiveness is backed up by a divine act of justice!

One more thought about intercession. In the OT, only the high priest, God's designated intercessor, was allowed to enter the Tabernacle's holiest place. This he did once a year on behalf of the people by bringing the blood of atonement to sprinkle on the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. Hebrews 9:8 tells us: “The way INTO THE HOLIEST of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.” In the next chapter, we are given this assurance: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter INTO THE HOLIEST by the blood of Jesus” (10:19). In the OT, the high priest entered the holiest once a year with Israel hoping he would COME BACK OUT. In the NT, Jesus our High Priest bids his brethren “COME ON IN” with the expectation they can come boldly into the holiest as often as the need for mercy and grace requires (4:16). The English language is incapable of expressing the enormity of this sacred privilege! 

IV. Propitiation

The word reconciliation is ἱλάσκομαι (hilaskomai), meaning “to be or become propitious, merciful.” It is used only twice in the NT. The other usage is Luke 18:13, where Jesus told the story of the publican who beat upon his breast, and cried: “God be merciful [propitiated] to me a sinner.” The other NT word for reconciliation is the Greek καταλλαγή (katallagē), “a restoration to agreement.” Its noun and verb forms are used seven times in the NT to describe the work of Christ in bringing sinners back into agreement with God by imputing to believers his own righteousness as a free gift. 

In the Septuagint (OT Hebrew translated into Greek), translators used ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) for each instance of “mercy seat.” NT writers used it in Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 where it is translated “propitiation." The scriptures declare Jesus is THE propitiation for our sins and those of the whole world. The mercy seat, the place where the high priest sprinkled the blood of atonement, was “the place of propitiation.” In Jesus, the PLACE of propitiation became the PERSON of propitiation. Whereas the place provided TEMPORARY satisfaction, the Person provided satisfaction that is ETERNAL. In terms of the sins of all mankind, Jesus IS the satisfaction. 

Every aspect of atonement prefigured in the Ark of the Covenant was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, especially the Mercy Seat. Jesus provided satisfaction for sin ONE time for ALL time. Based on his TOTAL satisfaction for our sins, Jesus can provide ETERNAL redemption for the believer. Propitiation enables God to be merciful, faithful and just in ALL his dealings with the believer. 

Jesus and his brethren are all of One. He is continually sanctifying them, and they are continually being sanctified by him. His mission to bring many sons into glory was born of obligation, which required full assimilation of the human experience, enabling him to provide both intercession and propitiation for them that believe. What a mighty God we serve! And what a great salvation he has provided!


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