Question of the Week: When was Jesus made Perfect?

Andrea Mantegna [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Andrea Mantegna [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On September 17th, 2018, Brian Goad sent the Mentionables this question:

In Hebrews 5:7-8, it talks about Christ working through the trauma of what was about to happen on the cross with tears and loud crying and prayers, and that through this suffering it led him learning obedience. Then in verse 9, it mentions "having been made perfect" he became the source of eternal life. 

Does this mean that through his final testing to align his will with the Father ("not my will, but your will" he prayed in the garden) and his resolution of obedience to suffer and die on the cross, at that point he became perfect? If not, when did he became perfect (as the wording seems to indicate that he was made perfect at some point). 

Also, I'd like some info on any heresies that might be related to this question, as I'm concerned that this is towing a fine line in the question of impeccability and Jesus' Divine vs human nature.

These are the answers from the team:


This answer is from Network Member Randall Hroziencik

First of all, let’s take a look at Hebrews 5:7-9.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Although Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human, and his human nature led him to anguish over what was about to happen to him shortly.  Notes from the NIV Quest Study Bible point out that Jesus may have agonized over spiritual death – that is, being separated from the Father when he took on the sin of the entire world.  That may very well be the meaning of verse seven.  As a man, Jesus’ suffering was the necessary price of obedience to God’s will.

Being “made perfect” doesn’t mean that Jesus was less than perfect previously; as God incarnate, Jesus was perfect from the exact moment of his conception through the Holy Spirit.  “Made perfect” means that his mission was finally completed – it was brought to its final or appointed completion.  This wording reminds me of the confusion that results from Colossians 1:15, in which Jesus is described as being the “firstborn” over all creation.  In our modern English translations this seems to say that Jesus was the first created being.  That’s certainly how the Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the word “firstborn” in this verse, and that’s how I understood it when I was still a seeker of truth.  However, the Greek word translated as “firstborn” in this verse actually means “the one with ultimate authority.”  That would be Jesus, of course.  It’s pretty easy to see how a heresy can develop from a misunderstanding of a key word.

And, on the topic of heresies, I’m currently covering heresies in the early church in my weekly Bible class, so it’s fresh in my mind.  Through an examination of Jude, 2 Peter, and (currently) 1 John I’ve outlined the heresies that developed very early on, in the lifetimes of the apostles (first century).  Although all of the apostles and church leaders wrestled against false teachings in the church, the Apostle John may have been the champion defender of the faith – he was just as capable a defender as was Paul.  Although lacking Paul’s formal education, I believe that John was an intellectually capable man who may have been fairly well-read in Greek philosophy, which would have aided him in apologetics.  (John’s use of the Greek philosophical term Logos, and his reference to light and darkness – also a common theme of Philo of Alexandria, the first century Jewish philosopher – leads me to believe that John was more than just some backwoods fisherman with no interest in spiritual matters.)

The early heresies revolved around the dual nature of Christ.  Without an understanding that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, it would be easy to develop a false teaching about his nature.  And that’s what happened.  John wrote his Gospel and epistles in large part to warn about false teachings, which in his time was primarily (1) Cerinthianism and (2) Docetism.  Cerinthus was, according to tradition, John’s greatest opponent.  Cerinthus taught that Jesus was born a man, but at his baptism the “Christ Power” descended upon him and made him a god (small “g”).  Then, at the cross the “Christ Power” left Jesus, leaving only the man Jesus to suffer upon the cross.  This heresy denied Jesus’ divinity.

Docetism, from the Greek word dokei, meaning “to seem” or “to appear,” did just the opposite: It denied Jesus’ humanity.  The docetists maintained that Christ only appeared to have a physical, flesh-and-blood body, but in their version of reality Jesus was a spirit being only.  Docetism was the earliest form of Gnosticism, which became full-blown in the second century and persisted for quite some time.  (In fact, it’s still with us today.) 

Unless one understands the dual nature of Christ – what theologians refer to as the hypostatic union – it’s very easy to promote a false teaching such as Cerinthus or the docetists did.  In fact, the earliest heresies all revolved around two “problem points”: The Trinity, and Christ’s dual nature.  It’s no different today – “there is nothing new under the sun.”