Theology in 3D

Born for More Than Just to Die

Layton Talbert | December 16, 2019
New Testament, Theology

Christ was born to die. The phrase is as common as Christmas, a Christian reminder of the ultimate irony of the Incarnation. Christ did not come merely to show us how to live, to give us an example, to show solidarity with humanity. None of these are false, but none of them say enough. Hebrews 2 spells it out this way: Jesus became human “for the suffering of death” so “that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb 2:9).

The reason Christ came and took on flesh was to equip him—indeed, to enable him—to die. For the eternal and immortal God to make the infinite sacrifice of death on behalf of man, he must become man. The writer of Hebrews underscores this point as well (Heb 2:14). So, yes, he was born to die.

But that’s not the only reason he had to become a man. And it is the writer of Hebrews who tells us this as well.

Importance of Divine Sonship

Sonship is not one of the traditional mediatorial roles of Christ, but it qualifies him as superior in all his mediatorial roles. The emphasis of Hebrews on the ontological identity of Christ as Son is foundational to all the Christology that follows.

Christ’s superiority as Prophet over all other prophets is rooted in the fact that this Prophet is God’s Son (Heb 1:1-2). Christ’s superiority as King over all kings, to the point that he alone deserves the worship not only of men but of angels, is underscored by the fact that this King is God’s Son (Heb 1:5; cf. Ps 2:1-12). And Christ’s superiority as Priest over all other priests is substantiated by the fact that this Priest is God’s Son (Heb 5:5; 7:28).

The Royal, Priestly, and Prophetic Mediator between God and Man is both Son of God and Son of Man. His Theanthropic nature uniquely fit him for his mediatorial roles.

Necessity of Humanity

Jesus’ humanity not only equipped him to die in history but also qualifies him to inherit and exercise dominion over this world.

This consequence of Christ’s humanity comes into focus when you trace the line of argument from Hebrews 1 to Hebrews 2. After a brief comparison between Jesus and the OT prophets (Heb 1:1-2), the writer moves quickly to a more extended comparison between Jesus and the highest created beings we know of: angels (Heb 1:3-2:5 includes nearly a dozen references to angels). In short, the Son is superior to angels because he is God.

Hebrews 2:5 is the rhetorical hinge on which the writer then swings his argument about Christ’s superiority over angels in a new direction — from emphasizing Christ’s deity to underscoring his humanity. We might expect the writer’s argument to run something like this: “Christ is superior to angels not only because he is God, but even in spite of the fact that he became human.” But that’s not at all what the writer argues.

Christ’s superiority to angels is further enhanced by his humanity. In other words, Christ is superior to angels not only because he is God, but also because he became Man.

Christ’s incarnation contributes to his superiority to angels because it qualifies him to an inheritance that angels have no access to. God granted dominion over the earth to man, not to angels (Ps 8:6; Ps 115:16; Mt 25:34). That dominion was disfigured by the Fall. If it is to be reclaimed for righteous dominion, it must be reclaimed, and can be reclaimed only, by man.

Hebrews 2:6-8 confirms this very point. In citing Psalm 8, the writer is first making a point not about Christ, but about man in comparison to angels—specifically in connection with the reclamation of all creation and of the future kingdom over creation.

The “world to come, of which we speak” in Hebrews 2:5—a reference back to Hebrews 1:2, 8, 13—is the inhabited world of the coming Messianic age of which Christ has been anointed heir and ruler.

In other words, the writer does not apply Hebrews 2:6-8 to Christ until Hebrews 2:9. Initially, it is designed to make a point about man. By extension, it proceeds to make a point about Christ because, and only because, he became man.

Here’s the author’s argument in a pecan shell: Christ also became superior to angels in another dimension, by becoming temporarily lower than the angels in becoming man—giving him the capacity to fulfill a destiny uniquely given to man.

The reasoning behind the argument runs like this: only humanity was given inheritance and dominion over this earth, so only by becoming human could Jesus succeed where we failed and reclaim that dominion on our behalf.  

Redemption is not about trashing what was marred by sin and Satan, and starting over with something new. For redemption to have any triumph about it for the glory of God and the inviolability of his purposes, it must revolve around rescuing not only humanity but this world as well.

The Son became man not only to enable him to die for us, but also to qualify him to reclaim this earth for us and to share its reign and dominion with us.

You can trace the trajectory of this storyline from Genesis 1 to Psalm 8 to Daniel 7 to Hebrews 2. More on that next time.

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