The Precious Perfection of Christ

How Jesus Paves Our Way to God

How can Scripture say that there was a time when Jesus wasn’t “perfect”? Twice we’re told that Jesus was made perfect (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9). Hebrews even goes on to connect perfection with cleansing from sin. Old Testament sacrifices couldn’t “make perfect,” cleanse, remove guilty feelings, or “take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1–4). Yikes! Did Jesus really start his life as an imperfect human needing to be cleansed from sin? That doesn’t fit with what the Bible says in other places, even in Hebrews, where we’re told that Jesus did not sin (4:15). How can Scripture say that Jesus had to be perfected, connect perfection with sin, and still affirm that Jesus was sinless?

The Bible answers these questions in a surprising way. The perfecting of Jesus isn’t some embarrassing reality to paper over. Instead, Hebrews insists that Jesus’s perfection was “fitting” — good, right, appropriate (2:10). We’re told, in fact, that had Jesus not been perfected, then God’s story wouldn’t be good news. To hear the Bible’s surprising answer to why the sinless Jesus had to be perfected, we have to start at the beginning of the Bible’s story — with Adam.

Adam’s Imperfection

We were created to live permanently in God’s presence. That is the goal of God’s story. It’s where God’s story will one day end and, therefore, where it’s been headed from the beginning (Revelation 21:3). God wants to be our God in the perfect and permanent place he’s prepared for us (Hebrews 8:10; 9:11; 11:16). To reach that end, to enter and remain in God’s presence, humans must be perfected. Humanity’s original glory and worldwide dominion had to become permanent glory and dominion. For that to happen, Adam, our representative, needed to trust and obey God.

He didn’t.

Instead, he disbelieved in God’s goodness and disobeyed God’s word. As a result, humanity lost its original splendor. We lost our original splendor, becoming diminished in glory and restricted in our dominion. Hebrews 2 tells this sad story. It’s why perfection in a post-Adam, post-fall-into-sin world now requires unwavering trust in God and forgiveness. Faith alone won’t perfect us any longer now that we have red on our ledgers. Something has to be done about our sin too.

Jesus’s Perfection

This is the world Jesus entered and the humanity Jesus assumed. Hebrews doesn’t tell us how Jesus was “made like [us] in every respect” (2:17) while still avoiding guilt by association with Adam. Other places in the Bible give us hints. (Compare Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38 with Romans 5:12–21.) Hebrews only tells us that Jesus was like us and that he lived his human life full of faith and free from sin, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:13; 4:15; 9:14).

“Jesus did what Adam did not. And because he did, he reached humanity’s goal.”

Jesus, in other words, did what Adam did not. And because he did, he reached humanity’s goal. He was made perfect (5:9). Humanity’s original destiny — superiority to angels, glory, and dominion — is now his permanently (1:5–13; 2:9). Even his body is now “indestructible” (7:16), since perfection takes away even the possibility of mortality. It’s this new status, therefore, that makes Jesus fit to live right where God intended humans to live — in his presence forever (1:3; 11:16; 12:28).

But that’s only part of the story. After all, the Bible doesn’t just say it was fitting for Jesus to be perfected, but perfected “through suffering” (2:10). It’s a two-word phrase we cannot live without!

Our Perfection

When Jesus entered God’s presence, he went there ahead of us, not instead of us. He’s like Daniel Boone, a pioneering trailblazer who paved the way for others to follow him. That’s exactly how Hebrews describes Jesus (2:10; 12:2). It’s also why Hebrews won’t let us forget that Jesus wasn’t simply perfected but was perfected through suffering.

He ran his race. He succeeded where Adam had failed. He trusted and obeyed all the way to the cross. And he did all this for us. His final act of faith gives us a way to wash our sins clean and join him in God’s presence.

Hebrews tells the story like this: During Jesus’s final days, he prayed and prayed that God would rescue him from death and reward his sinless life with perfection. God — we’re told — heard Jesus’s request precisely because of his “reverent submission” (5:7 NIV). God listened to Jesus because Jesus listened to God all his life. Jesus ran his difficult race and, along the way, learned what it meant to trust and obey God through thick and thin. As a result, Jesus crossed the finish line and was made perfect and, at the very same time, became the “source” of our perfection (5:9). Jesus perfectly passed his test of faith, and his passed test perfects us!

Precious Perfection

Had Jesus not been perfected, then we could not be perfected. There wasn’t any other way to reach the end of God’s story. Hebrews wants us to see this so clearly that it tells us four precious goods we would lose had Jesus not been perfected.


First, we would lose our perfect example. Had Jesus come as an already-perfected human, then he couldn’t be our example. His human experience would have been too different from our own to be useful. That’s why Jesus came not only as one not yet perfected but also as one lowered, diminished, and restricted. He came as a post-Adam, post-fall-into-sin human like us.

Yes, he was sinless and blameless. Had he not been, then his final act of obedience would have lacked the potency our sins required (Hebrews 9:14). But he was, nevertheless, weak and susceptible to suffering in a way pre-fall Adam — God’s “very good” humanity (Genesis 1:31) — was not (Hebrews 2:15, 18; 4:15; 5:7). Friends, it’s Jesus’s example, his likeness to us, that inspires our race of faith. That’s what it’s meant to do. Jesus is like the amazing runners of old (11:1–40), only so much better (12:1–2).


Second, we would lose our perfect priest. Had Jesus not been perfected, had he not experienced our human condition, he could not be our priest (2:17–18; 5:1–10). After all, priests are selected from “among” others just like them (5:1). How else could they hope to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15)?

It’s also Jesus’s sinless experience of our human condition that qualifies him for a unique priesthood. Only a human with an indestructible life could be appointed to the ultimate priesthood and, therefore, provide his peers with the perfection other priests could not (7:11, 16–17; 9:1–10; 10:1–4, 11–14). Because Jesus sinlessly suffered, because he faithfully trusted and obeyed to the point of death, he reached humanity’s goal. And his body was made permanently immortal, qualifying him for an eternal priesthood. The suffering, the becoming perfect, however, was essential. Jesus could not be the priest we need without it.


Third, we would lose our perfect covenant mediator. Had Jesus not been perfected, then he could not give us access to God’s best and final promises. It’s Jesus’s final act of faithful obedience that unleashes the promises God made in his new and final covenant (8:6, 8). There God promised to make a way for humans to live with him forever, to do for them what Adam had not. He promised to stitch perfect faith and obedience into their minds and hearts (8:10). But he couldn’t do this without first taking away their sin. Perfection in a post-Adam world requires faith, but it also requires forgiveness. In the new covenant, God provides both through Jesus’s faith-filled death (9:15–28).


Finally, we would lose our perfect king. Had Jesus not been perfected, then Jesus couldn’t be our king. As Hebrews tells us, it was Jesus’s life of faithful obedience that caused his enthronement. “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (1:9).

Later, Hebrews specifically draws attention to Jesus’s final act of faithful obedience. “We see . . . Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (2:9). It’s Jesus’s death — his final act of faithful trust in God — that led to his enthronement as our king. And it’s this king who triumphs over every one of our enemies (1:13; 10:13), including our ultimate enemy, the devil (2:14–15). Before Jesus was perfected, before Jesus died, we were slaves to the king of death. But now that Jesus has died, we serve a new and better Lord (13:20).

God’s Good Story

Far from being an embarrassing subplot in God’s grand story, Jesus’s perfection is the story’s fitting and surprising climax. It’s the reason we can call God’s story good. It’s the way — the only way — we can reach the story’s end. How precious indeed is Jesus’s perfection.

We wouldn’t want the story told any other way.

is associate professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary.