“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)
Even though Jesus was far superior to angels as the Creator of the universe and the inheritor of the whole world, the Messiah, and the Lord of all, Hebrews chapter 2 says that “[God] made him for a little while lower than the angels.” (Heb 2:7, ESV)
This refers to the incarnation of Jesus—Jesus becoming a human. Even though Jesus is God in his very nature, he lowered himself and humbly came to earth. And, in Hebrews chapter 2, we can find some reasons for the incarnation of Jesus.
1. To Taste Death for Everyone
The first reason was to “taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).
Jesus became a human to shed blood and die. In the Old Testament, to atone for sins, flawless animals had to shed their blood and be killed for people’s sins. Shedding blood was a very important part of animal sacrifice because God put the life of a creature in their blood, so “it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev 17:11).
We talked about the 6 steps of animal sacrifice in Leviticus chapter 1. A person who wanted to offer a sacrifice for atonement of sins first selected an animal without defect and brought it to the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Then, before killing it, he laid his hand on the head of the animal. By doing so, he attributed his sin to the animal. And, since his sin entered the animal, it had to be killed.
What’s also important in this procedure is that the purity of the animal went into the person at the same time. That’s why laying a hand on the animal was an essential step in animal sacrifice.
Leviticus 1:4 says,
“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” (Lev 1:4)
After laying a hand on the animal, he would kill it, skin it, and cut it into pieces. And, in the last step, priests burned it on the altar. The process of animal sacrifice was quite cruel. Animals used for sacrifice were not only killed, but skinned, cut into pieces, and burned.
It shows the nature of sin. Killing sin can’t be simple. Sin had to be skinned, cut into pieces, and burned to be eliminated. It means that we should also go through these cruel, difficult, and complicated procedures to take away our sins.
But, the good news is that we don’t have to offer animal sacrifices for our sins anymore because Jesus came to the world as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
As the lamb of God, “[Jesus] offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12) so that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10)
That was the first and most important reason for Jesus becoming a human—to pay the ransom for our sins by shedding his precious blood and dying on the cross. Now, we can be justified not by laying our hands on animals and killing them, but by believing in Jesus who died for our sins.
2-3. To Break the Power of Death and Satan
Now, let’s move on to the next reasons for Jesus’ incarnation. We can find the second and the third reasons in Hebrews 2:14. Let’s read it together.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14)
This verse describes what Jesus accomplished through his death—he broke the power of Satan, who holds the power of death.
The reason Jesus’ death ultimately resulted in victory over death is because he didn’t remain in death, but overcame it by being resurrected from the dead.
When describing the first purpose of Jesus becoming a human being, the author used the verb ‘taste.’ That Jesus only tasted death means that death wasn’t the ultimate power to take hold of him. Death had influence over him for only three days.
Just like how everyone on earth dies, Jesus died as well. But, the important difference is that death couldn’t completely reign over him because Jesus overcame death.
Before being captured by soldiers, Jesus told his disciples three times that he would be killed but raised to life again on the third day. And, as promised, he was resurrected from the dead and then showed himself to his disciples.
It means that through the resurrection of Jesus, death lost its power. As Paul said, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1Co 15:55)
Death is Satan’s most powerful weapon through which he captures and controls people. There are many things in the world that make us afraid, but the fear of death is probably the most powerful one because for those who don’t believe in the afterlife, death is the end of life that separates them from everything and everyone.
So, the fact that death was actually defeated and its authority was destroyed by Jesus’ resurrection is really good news to us. Now, we know that our physical death is not the end, but only the start of a new, eternal life.
Jesus was raised from death to life so that we, who believe in him, can also have eternal life in him after this life on earth.
It is essential for Christians to continuously remind ourselves of this truth because when we lose the perspective for eternal life, we focus more on things on earth and can’t really follow in Jesus’ footsteps or participate in God’s mission for the world.
But, if we truly believe that Jesus was raised to life and that there’s eternal life in him, we won’t be afraid of things in the world, not even death, but will continue to commit our lives to eternal things, seeking God’s righteousness and his kingdom first even though there may be many difficulties and hardships along the way.
4. To Free Us from Death
Hebrews 2:15 says,
“[He might] free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:15)
The good news of Jesus Christ is that he freed us from the slavery of sin and death. Hebrews chapter 2 describes three enemies—sin, death, and Satan.
Before we believed in Jesus, we were sinners heading towards eternal death. We were slaves to sin and Satan who captured us and controled our lives with his powerful weapon, death.
But, the good news is that by becoming a human, tasting death, and being resurrected from the dead, Jesus defeated all our enemies and has set us free from the reign of sin, the fear of death, and Satan.
Even though they still have a powerful impact on our lives, they can’t rule over us any more because we’re now under God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, everything has changed. We were slaves to sin, but now we’re children of God. We were afraid of death, but now we rejoice in the Lord for the eternal life and resurrection he will give us. We were under the dominion of darkness, but “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).
Those are the enormous changes we experience in Jesus. It was specifically important for the original readers to be reminded of this truth given their situation. They faced all kinds of severe persecution and death because of their faith in Jesus. And, because of their fear of death, many betrayed Christianity and tried to go back to Judaism.
So, what the author is trying to remind them of is the truth that death was already defeated in Jesus so they didn’t have to be afraid of it anymore. However, it was not only an encouragement, but also a warning.
If they professed their faith in Jesus, they would be killed and their lives on earth would come to an end, but they would have eternal life in Jesus. On the other hand, if they abandoned their faith in Jesus, they would save their life and live a little bit longer on earth, but they couldn’t join in Jesus’ resurrection after death.
That’s what we must also continue to remind ourselves of. By tasting death and being raised to life again, Jesus already broke the power of death. By doing so, Jesus also destroyed the power of Satan who holds the power of death.
That’s what Jesus accomplished by becoming a human being. Since we have flesh and blood, Jesus also shared in our humanity to show us victory over death and to allow us to follow his way without fear of death, but rather full of eternal joy.
After Jesus was crucified, during the period when Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb, his disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. They were afraid to be caught and killed like Jesus. They lost their hope and the mission Jesus gave them. They were powerless and purposeless.
But, everything changed after they encountered the resurrected Jesus. Jesus suddenly came, stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19)
Then, Jesus showed the scars on his hands and side. And, the Bible says, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (Jn 20:20)
Seeing the resurrected Jesus completely changed their lives from the inside out. They had been terrified because of their fear of death, but they were now overjoyed and peaceful. They were filled with Jesus’ peace which is different from the peace the world gives.
Worldly peace is different from the true peace Jesus gives us because the former is based on our situations and thus it can be changed and broken easily, but the latter is based on things in the eternal kingdom of God. It means that nothing in this world can take Jesus’ peace away from us. If we remain in Jesus’ peace, we won’t be shaken by worldly things, but continue to stand firmly on the strong rock of Jesus Christ.
When the disciples saw Jesus and were filled with His peace, their spiritual eyes were opened and they began to see eternal things. They were no longer afraid of death because they saw that it was already defeated by Jesus.
And, they unlocked the doors and began to go out to boldly proclaim who Jesus is. They were able to overcome their fear of death because of the surpassing power of Jesus’ love, grace, and peace being poured out in them. In other words, they experienced true freedom from sin, death, and Satan.
I believe that’s what Jesus wants us to know, find, and experience today. Even though Jesus was God, he chose to become like one of us and share in our humanity so that through his death and resurrection, he could defeat the power of sin, death, and Satan and free us from the fear of death.