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The God Who Became a Human Being

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“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
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).

How could someone who is spirit, having lived for all eternity in the past, become human? Was Jesus a human being just like us? And when He was a human being, was He still God?

Jesus was prophesied to be “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 Matthew 1:23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
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). Jesus was a human being and He was also God. There was never a time when He ceased to be who He always was. His identity did not change. When He was in the womb of Mary, He was God. When He was a baby boy lying in the manger, He was God. When He was a youngster growing up in Nazareth, He was God. And when He was dying, He was God.

As a spirit being, prior to His human birth, He was infinite in knowledge, power and presence. As God He would know everything and have unlimited power to act on any object, anywhere. But if He was human, He could not do everything. He would be limited to the normal abilities any normal human being would have. He could not have been both infinite and finite simultaneously.

A physical body with physical limitations

When Jesus became flesh He was still God in terms of His identity, but He was nevertheless a human being in every sense of the word.

Jesus had a physical body. His closest disciple attests that He was a physical person: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness” (1 John 1:1 1 John 1:1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
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). John is establishing the humanity of Jesus Christ when he says they heard, saw and touched Jesus.

He had a fully human body. He was born. He grew and developed just like any other child.

Jesus was subject to the same physical limitations as other human beings, because He had the same kind of body. He experienced hunger when He fasted (Matthew 4:2 Matthew 4:2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
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) and thirst (John 19:28 John 19:28After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst.
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). He experienced fatigue from a long walk (John 4:6 John 4:6Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.
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).

Jesus suffered physically and died. Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became 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.
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tells us that He was made “perfect through sufferings.” Physiologically, He was a human being just as we are human, subject to death. “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14, NRSV). He was made flesh “that He …might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9 Hebrews 2:9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
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).

Jesus suffered terribly when He died, as is evident in the crucifixion accounts. When the spear was thrust in His side, water and blood poured out. His body was the same as ours. There can be no doubt that He felt physical suffering as genuinely as we do when He was beaten and scourged, when the crown of thorns was shoved onto His head and when the nails were driven into His wrists and feet.

Jesus felt human emotions

Jesus also experienced many of the same emotional and intellectual qualities we do. He thought, reasoned and felt the full range of human emotions. He had strong affection for people (John 11:5 John 11:5Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
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; John 13:23 John 13:23Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
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; John 19:26 John 19:26When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son!
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). He felt compassion and pity for those who were hungry or physically or spiritually afflicted (Matthew 9:36 Matthew 9:36But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
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; Matthew 14:14 Matthew 14:14And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
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; Matthew 15:32 Matthew 15:32Then Jesus called his disciples to him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
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; Matthew 20:34 Matthew 20:34So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
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).

He could be distressed and troubled, as was evident to His disciples when He anticipated His impending suffering and death (Luke 12:50 Luke 12:50But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
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; John 12:27 John 12:27Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I to this hour.
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). He was deeply troubled when considering that one of His disciples would betray Him (John 13:21 John 13:21When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you shall betray me.
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). He grieved and wept over the mourning of Lazarus’ family and friends when Lazarus died (John 11:33-35 John 11:33-35 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 34 And said, Where have you laid him? They said to him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept.
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).

Jesus was “deeply distressed” and “exceedingly sorrowful” and didn’t want to be left alone when He was struggling with His thoughts and feelings just before His arrest (Matthew 26:37-40 Matthew 26:37-40 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then said he to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death: tarry you here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will. 40 And he comes to the disciples, and finds them asleep, and said to Peter, What, could you not watch with me one hour?
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). Obviously Jesus possessed the same human capacity to feel sorrow and anguish as deeply as we sometimes do.

He also experienced joy (John 15:11 John 15:11These things have I spoken to you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
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; John 17:13). He could be angry and grieved with people’s attitudes (Mark 3:5 Mark 3:5And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
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) and indignant toward His own disciples (Mark 10:14 Mark 10:14But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said to them, Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
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, NRSV).

Jesus’ intellectual abilities

Yet the Gospels clearly reveal that Jesus had knowledge of the past, present and future in a way that was far beyond what any ordinary man would have. However, these remarkable abilities were not something that He had inherently. They were given to Him by the Father. As Jesus clearly said, “I can of Myself do nothing” (John 5:30 John 5:30I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me.
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)—that is, nothing supernatural on His own. We will explore this idea more when we discuss the works of Jesus.

What are some of the ways Jesus had knowledge beyond normal human abilities? We first see this when, at the age of 12, He showed understanding far beyond His age in His discussions with the teachers at the temple (Luke 2:46-47 Luke 2:46-47 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
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).

He knew the thoughts of both His friends (Luke 9:47 Luke 9:47And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him,
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) and His enemies (Matthew 9:4 Matthew 9:4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Why think you evil in your hearts?
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). He knew the Samaritan woman had five husbands and at the time was living with a man to whom she was not married (John 4:18 John 4:18For you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband: in that said you truly.
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). He knew that Lazarus had died from his illness even though He and the disciples were miles away (John 11:1-14 John 11:1-14 1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. 4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he stayed two days still in the same place where he was. 7 Then after that said he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8 His disciples say to him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone you; and go you thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him. 11 These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. 14 Then said Jesus to them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
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).

He knew which disciple would betray Him long before Judas had made the decision to turn Jesus over to those who wanted to kill Him (John 6:70-71 John 6:70-71 70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.
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). He told Peter that he would deny Him three times on the night He was arrested and that a rooster would crow after the third denial (Luke 22:34 Luke 22:34And he said, I tell you, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that you shall thrice deny that you know me.
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).

At the same time, He did not know everything. There was knowledge that He did not have and therefore asked to find out. He inquired from the father of the child who had the mute spirit, “How long has this been happening to him?” (Mark 9:21 Mark 9:21And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came to him? And he said, Of a child.
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). When Jesus gave the amazing prophecies about the end of the age and His return, He acknowledged that He did not know the exact time of His coming. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32 Mark 13:32But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
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).

Jesus here is relying on the Father to present Him with the time of His return. This helps us to understand that the Father also gave Him the understanding of the hearts of men, prophetic events and other information that He wasn’t told.

Jesus constantly depended on God the Father for guidance on what to do, what to say and how to answer, for insight into the hearts of men and for anything else the Father might see fit to give to Him. He relied on God the Father for help to obey, to have power over demonic spirits and to have strength to resist and overcome temptation.

Sometimes He prayed for long periods (Luke 5:16 Luke 5:16And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
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; Mark 1:35 Mark 1:35And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
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). Before choosing the 12 apostles He prayed all night (Luke 6:12-16 Luke 6:12-16 12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, he called to him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; 14 Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15 Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, 16 And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
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). On the night before His crucifixion, He prayed repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Father sent an angel to strengthen Him during this terrible ordeal (Luke 22:41-44 Luke 22:41-44 41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42 Saying, Father, if you be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done. 43 And there appeared an angel to him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
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).

Hebrews 5:7 Hebrews 5:7Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
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tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (NRSV). As a human being, Jesus trusted the Father completely for the strength He needed to prevail against the forces that worked so fervently against Him.

Could Jesus have sinned?

This brings us to another question about Jesus’ humanity. Was it possible for Jesus to sin? The Bible is quite clear that Jesus did not sin. Paul says that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21 2 Corinthians 5:21For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
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). John confirms that “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 1 John 3:5And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
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). None of His enemies could convict Him of sin (John 8:46 John 8:46Which of you convinces me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do you not believe me?
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).

But could He have sinned? Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
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tells us that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” If it wasn’t possible for Jesus to sin, then was His temptation genuine?

It’s more fitting to say that while He could have sinned, it was certain that He would not. He faced genuine struggles and temptations, but refused to give in to the temptation to sin.

When He was tempted of the devil for 40 days and nights (Luke 4:1-2 Luke 4:1-2 1 And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungry.
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), was this real temptation or merely a pointless exercise? One could hardly say that His “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death” were not a result of experiencing strong temptation.

Such a time came when He prayed under such duress immediately before His arrest that, “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 Luke 22:44And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
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). Jesus then urged His disciples to “rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46 Luke 22:46And said to them, Why sleep you? rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
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).

For Jesus to fully know how human beings have to deal with sin, “…he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:17-18 Hebrews 2:17-18 17 Why in all things it behooved him to be made like to his brothers, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.
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, NRSV).

How could He be our example if He wasn’t human and therefore wasn’t tempted exactly as we are? This is why He had to be tempted in every way as we are. Yet He went beyond. If a person yields to temptation, he has not felt its full power, but has given in while he has yet more to resist. Only the one who successfully prevails against a particular temptation and remains sinless knows the full extent of that temptation.

Was He really God?

We have explained that Jesus was God as the Bible explicitly says (John 1:1 John 1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
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). What was the difference, then, between how He was God prior to His human birth and when He was a human being?

Paul addresses this very question in Philippians 2. Paul tells us what He left behind and what He took upon Himself. “He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God’s equal.” Instead He “stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man” (Philippians 2:6-7, NTME).

Philippians 2:8 tells us that “he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, to the point of death, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal” (NTME).

In taking on the form of a human being, Jesus gave up the independent exercise of His attributes that He had when He was with the Father. This doesn’t mean that He lost them but that, to become truly human, it was necessary that He voluntarily give up the ability to exercise them on His own. And having given them up, He no longer had these attributes inherently while a man. Indeed, as quoted above, Jesus clearly said He did not have the ability to perform supernatural works on His own: “I can of Myself do nothing” (John 5:30 John 5:30I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me.
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). He could exercise the attributes of divinity only in submission to the will of the Father.

Jesus performed many wondrous works, but He emphatically told His disciples that “I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10 John 14:10Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak to you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me, he does the works.
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). Again and again, Jesus declared that the works He did were the Father’s, not His own, and He pointed to the works as proof that He had been sent from the Father (John 10:32 John 10:32Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do you stone me?
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, John 14:37-38 John 14:37-38
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).

While in prior centuries Jesus had authority to speak as YHWH of the Old Testament, He now spoke and acted under authority to God and in full dependence on Him. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19 John 5:19Then answered Jesus and said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for what things soever he does, these also does the Son likewise.
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).

The One who existed with the Father from before the beginning of the universe, now as a human being, explained the relationship: “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28 John 8:28Then said Jesus to them, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.
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).

Jesus’ salvation

Jesus placed His entire future squarely in the hands of the Father. The self-existing One now would have no life unless it were through the Father (John 6:57 John 6:57As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.
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). If He were to again have eternal life, He would now have to obtain it as a human being, in the same way you and I would achieve salvation—through submission to the Father and the resurrection from the dead.

Hebrews 5:9 Hebrews 5:9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him;
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explains that Jesus became “the author of eternal salvation” by experiencing the process of salvation as a human being—with one exception. Jesus didn’t have to repent of sin. But He did have to remain sinless. And “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8 Hebrews 5:8Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
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).

He was always obedient. Yet His obedience and character were tested and strengthened through hardships and trials. “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9 Hebrews 5:9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him;
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). He was already perfect before His human birth. Now He was perfected as a human being. He is “declared to be the Son of God …by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4 Romans 1:4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
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). However, He already was the Son of God by virtue of who He was (Romans 1:3).

It becomes clear that “in all things He had to be made like His brethren” (Hebrews 2:17 Hebrews 2:17Why in all things it behooved him to be made like to his brothers, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
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).

The enormity of the sacrifice Jesus made becomes difficult for us to comprehend when we realize the position He voluntarily put Himself in. His very existence was on the line. If Jesus had sinned, then who would be the sacrifice for Him? If He had made a choice to sin, just once, He would have incurred the penalty of death—death for all time. The very law that He spoke Himself as God from Mt. Sinai would require it.

Could God die?

When talking about God, some people don’t like to consider the possibility that God could die. How could God cease to exist? As an infinite, immortal spirit Being, He couldn’t. But if He volunteered to become a human being and to possess all the attributes of human nature and a physical existence, then He could die. And indeed He did die—and when He died, He was really dead. If He wasn’t really dead, in the same way we would be dead if someone killed us, then it couldn’t really be a genuine substitution—His life for ours.

It would have been only make-believe, an illusion. Not only did Jesus die, but He also could have died the death from which there was no resurrection—the death of a sinner without any redemption.

His salvation was through the Father in whom He had complete confidence. That relationship was one that could only be described as total, complete and utter trust in and reliance on His Father (John 8:29 John 8:29And he that sent me is with me: the Father has not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
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). Jesus submitted His will to His Father (John 6:38 John 6:38For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.
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). He asked for no glory as a human being (John 17:5 John 17:5And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.
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). He was obedient all the way to His death (Philippians 2:8 Philippians 2:8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
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).

He put His salvation on the same basis as ours . We have a forerunner, an example, an author of salvation, a captain of salvation. Who He would forever be hung in the balance of a few short years on earth (Philippians 2:8-11 Philippians 2:8-11 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. 9 Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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).

Was there ever a doubt in the outcome? There was none—not because He couldn’t fail, but because He and the Father knew what each could do and would do. The strength of God is the greatest strength there is, and the faith of Jesus was absolute. It is the same faith through which we are saved (Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
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, KJV).

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