Like the rest of the Scriptures, the book of Hebrews is clear on the necessity of the incarnation, suffering, and death of Christ for our salvation. The author stresses the necessity of these things in Hebrews 2, as we have seen, and before we move on to today’s passage, we need to make a comment on 2:10. This verse tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering.”
What can the author mean, for how can the One who is perfect because He is God need to be perfected? The answer is found when we think about what was required for our salvation, namely, the suffering and death of our Great High Priest. By virtue of His incarnation and sinless life, Jesus had no inherent deficiency. He needed to overcome no imperfection in the sense that we normally conceive of as an imperfection. But He did lack something that was necessary to His priestly work, namely, a blood sacrifice. His suffering and death was that sacrifice, and until He experienced that, He could not be our Priest. Jesus was perfected by suffering in the sense that His suffering made it possible for Him to have a priestly offering for sin (9:11–14).
Jesus’ death atoned for sin, but what is more, His death defeated the one who has the power of death, the devil (2:14). The atonement provides not just one benefit but many. It reconciles us to God, purifies our consciences, and defeats the devil, who holds the power of death. But note that the devil does not have ultimate power over death. Our Creator is sovereign over all, even death. He pronounced the sentence of death on sin, and He kills and makes alive (Gen. 2:15–17; Deut. 32:39; Ps. 103:19). Satan has power over death only in a secondary and derivative sense. He tempts people to sin, which brings death. Because of this connection between sin and death, the devil is particularly associated with death, and he has power over those enslaved to sin and death (Acts 26:18). This is only by God’s decree, but the power and threat are still real.
The only way this power and threat can be removed is through the taking away of any “right” death has over us. Jesus did this when He died under the curse of God (Gal. 3:10–14). He paid fully for all the sins of His people, wiping our records clean (Rom. 3:21–26). He Himself was not guilty of sin, so once our sin was atoned for, the grave had no right to hold Him (Acts 2:24). Christ went through death, exhausting its power and might, freeing us from it and from Satan.