What Does it Mean That Jesus Learned Obedience by What He Suffered?

Submitted March 22, 2013

What Does it Mean that Jesus Learned Obedience?
The garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweat blood the night before His crucifixion.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Svetlana Makarova

In Hebrews:5:8, it says, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.” What does this mean? God is all-powerful. He's omnipotent. Being God, how is it possible that He would need to “learn” anything, least of all obedience?

Can you imagine what always existing, what being eternal in both directions might be like? It defies human logic. Jesus Christ always existed and always will exist as part of the Godhead. To quote Him directly, He said simply, “I AM” (John:8:58). And being God, He always had perfect character. God the Father and Jesus Christ, in their pre-creation existences, always existed and were always perfect. Now, at some point way back in eternity, Jesus Christ respectfully submitted to God the Father, and in accordance with Their plan (John:14:28, 6:38, 1 Corinthians:11:3), it's been a long time that Jesus has perfectly obeyed the Father. And if you're eternal and have always had perfect character, submitting and obeying is something that just comes… naturally (for lack of a better term).

It was when He came to earth as a human—having created the angelic realm, having created the universe (John:1:3), having created human life, having collaborated with God the Father to establish the plan of eternal salvation—that He got to experience what being physical is like. Blood pumping through His veins, sweating under the sun, crying tears of joy or pain, human emotion, physical pain, hunger, friendship. Yet these were things He had never experienced. He was always only a spirit being before. The physical realm didn’t even exist for most of eternity. He had no experience of what being physical is like. When He did become human, He committed all the way, giving up His privileges (Philippians 2:7-8).

On the night before He was to be tortured and executed in some of the most painful ways mankind had dreamt up, He knew what awaited Him. He knew what fleshly pain was going to feel like. He knew what a crucifixion looked like up close as a human. He knew the agony that those who are crucified experience.

But even worse, He was also in agony that night because of His impending separation from His Father. It was the most important relationship in His life then and in the eternity before. But as part of Their plan, He knew that taking on the sin of all mankind, past, present, and future, meant that He would be temporarily forsaken by God, with no Helper or Father to help Him through it. That meant that He would be completely alone for the first time, with Satan and the fallen angels torturing Him with their evil presence, delighting in His agony.

On that night in the garden, as He was realizing that He was about to be tortured and experience a loneliness deeper than anyone else has ever felt, the gravity of the physical pain and spiritual emptiness hit Him so hard that He sweat blood . Obedience took on a new meaning for Christ in those moments. He prayed to God that if it could be any other way, please let it be! (Luke:22:42-44).

Yet despite it all, He still obeyed, with the stakes of obedience being visceral in a way He had never experienced before. He suffered torture, complete separation from God and death. In doing so, He became the Captain of our salvation—not one who doesn't sympathize with us, but One who experienced it all, and still remained sinless (Hebrews:2:10, 4:15).

Nobody could ever accuse God of not understanding—of being too far removed or of being aloof, blissfully ignorant of what the physical sufferings we humans endure feel like. No, Jesus Christ experienced everything. He overcame the world so that we can have hope for overcoming it ourselves (John:16:33), and that we may have eternal life (Matthew:24:13, Revelation:2:10). As we take part in the New Testament Passover in remembrance of Christ, let’s understand what He suffered—and what He learned.


*Edit, 4/2/2013—Changed the final sentence of paragraph 3 for clarification.

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linda effenberger

linda effenberger's picture

Could it be a typographical error here where you wrote "He was not still God while He was a man"? We read in John:1:14 "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Was he not man and God? And if he was man and God, he had to die as a man, but also as God - the Son of the Most High.

How did God die? I would think that when there was no more life in him, that is, the Spirit of God, then he was no longer God. The Father had left Jesus Christ (or forsaken him - Matt:27:45 ) because of the sins he bore for the world.

Sherrie G

Sherrie G's picture

This is such a great way to explain how he learned obedience. I can't imagine what it must have been like to create everything that existed only give up who I was and become a part of that creation. It would be like a painter giving up being human to become part of a painting. Although the purpose for doing so would be meaningless. His purpose for doing so was out of pure love for us. His obedience holds so much more love in it than any of us can ever imagine.

I am so thankful for The Plan.


wolfsong's picture

thank you mitchell for writing on this difficult passage. yes, i can agree that this passage refers to his human experience; that real obedience is when it is exercised even when it would suffering loss even death.

however, you wrote:

"When He did become human, He completely gave up His eternal existence; He was not still God while He was a man."

if jesus was no longer god, then why did he accept worship claimed that he gives eternal life?

sincerely in the lord,


geom2's picture

Well written!

Mitchell Moss

Mitchell Moss's picture


What I meant is that Jesus did not possess his eternal nature and abilities while in the flesh. He of course was still worthy of worship as one of the members of the "Godhead."

As to the point about whether He was still "fully God" while He was a man, if He had been, then when He died, He wouldn't have been actually dead. Philippians 2:6-7 is the key scripture about this. There are a few paragraphs that specifically talk about this in our booklet about Jesus. Read the subhead halfway down that says, "Was He really God?"

Ivan Veller

Ivan Veller's picture

Here is that reference:

“Jesus was God as the Bible explicitly says (John:1:1). What was the difference, then, between how He was God prior to His human birth and when He was a human being? …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’…

‘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). 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). 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].

‘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).

‘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)…

‘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). If He were to again have eternal life, He would now have to obtain it as a human being…through submission to the Father and the resurrection from the dead’: http://www.ucg.org/booklet/jesus-christ-real-story/god-who-became-human-...

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