How could Jesus Christ be made perfect?

QUESTION: If Jesus Christ is the eternal God and He is perfect before the foundation of the world, how can He be “made perfect” (Heb 5:9 KJV)?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

ANSWER: As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is, and ever was, perfect. Scripture does not, however, speak of Him as the Lord Jesus Christ before He came into this world, was born as a baby and laid in a manger in Bethlehem. In the early verses of John’s gospel He is called “the Word.” Indeed, this gospel opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1 NKJV). Several verses later we read: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (v.14).

In Luke 1:31 the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” Sometime later the angel of the Lord spoke to Mary’s intended spouse1 in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:20-21).

We conclude from these passages that the holy Son of God was given the name “Jesus” when He entered manhood. “Christ” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The angel told the shepherds that this baby was “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11).

Before Jesus grew up, He was first called a “Babe” (v.12), then a “Child” (v.17). Just as Scripture makes absolutely clear that He is God – God the Son – it is equally clear that having been born into this world of a woman, He is true Man. God’s Word gives Him many marvelous titles, but the most prevalent term He used to refer to Himself was “Son of Man.” We are on holy ground when we speak of the wonderful mystery of His unique person.

In Hebrews 5 we are still in the portion of this book that sets forth our Lord Jesus as High Priest. As God in eternity past, He was not High Priest. He “did not glorify Himself to become High Priest (v.5), but was given this high honor by God. It was “in the days of His flesh” that “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (vv.7-8). He was, and is, always morally perfect, for being who He is, the Holy One of God, He could not be otherwise. But obedience was something new for Him here on earth. He “humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8 JND).

Hebrews 2:10 says that “it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (NKJV). A helpful footnote in the Darby translation2 points out that the expression “to make perfect” in the book of Hebrews is used in the sense of fitting one for an office. After the Lord Jesus had suffered and died, God glorified Him so that “He became author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:9-10 NKJV).

Thus the expression “made perfect” (KJV) in Hebrews 5:9 in no way refers to or conflicts with the divine perfection which is intrinsic to our Lord Jesus Christ as God. It indicates, rather, how His sufferings while here on earth fitted Him for the glorious position of High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek to which God has now called Him.

1. We would speak of Joseph and Mary as engaged; but by Jewish custom they are referred to as husband and wife, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. An engagement was held to be sacred just as if it was a marriage.
2. Footnote “g” on the expression “to make perfect” in Hebrews 2:10 reads: “‘Make perfect’ in Hebrews has the force of doing all required to initiate into an office, to make a person fit to be installed in the office. It is sometimes translated ‘consecrate.’ ”