Written by Todd Mangum
Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00
“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”
— Hebrews 2:10
This is astonishing really. And perhaps the Orthodox are correct to admonish us to remain silent in wonder and awe at the mystery rather than puzzle over the explanation. Still, there is so much misunderstanding and opprobrium commonly heard over this point that some explanation is demanded.
Here is one place where focus on the atonement as satisfaction (“propitiation”) of Divine wrath is completely misplaced — and provokes misunderstanding. The level of Christ’s suffering was not “necessary” insofar as that much being required to get the angry God over His temper tantrum. If the beating and spitting and ridicule — not to mention the sufferings endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers behind closed doors so unspeakable that even the gospel writers leave it purely to the imagination; if all these sufferings — are thought to be the manifestations of the wrath of God, that’s where the objections to penal substitution as “Divine child abuse” arise.
But no, that is not what Hebrews is saying — and it’s Hebrews that goes into the most explanation of why Christ suffered (not just died). He suffered such pain and abuse and mockery and was subjected to such gratuitous sadism not because that was what was required on God’s part to satisfy Him. No, Hebrews says that was what was “fitting” to enable Christ to be a better, more suitable advocate for us humans.
In what way did the “author of salvation” need to be “perfected”? It certainly was not in the realm of informational knowledge; or correction of some deficiency of performance; or improvement in degree of pleasure taken in Him by the Father. No, the only thing that the Second Person of the Trinity would have “lacked” was the actual experience of being human.
And so, Hebrews tells us, not out of requirement but out of concern for “propriety” (do you hear the overtones of concern for “appearance” and “how it would be perceived”?!!!), God’s plan included the Son not only becoming human and enduring death, but enduring every awful aspect of being a human living in and under the corruption of sin. So He could advocate credibly for us — see Hebrews 4:14-16 — Christ endured unspeakable suffering, culminating in the most humiliating kind of public death every conceived from the heart of depraved humanity. Even the word “excruciating” has at its root, crux, crucis: the cross.
This Good Friday, as we contemplate the sufferings of Christ’s Passion Week and the bearing of shameful death on the cross, let us marvel and worship. But let us do so aright. The proper thought is not: “this is the suffering Christ bore that we deserve because God hates us sinners so much”; but rather, “this is the suffering Christ bore and that God regarded as ‘only fitting’ for a perfect priest-advocate for humanity He would provide because He loves us so much.”
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.