In Hebrews 5:8 Hebrews 5:8Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
American King James Version×, 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 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
American King James Version×). 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 John 14:28You have heard how I said to you, I go away, and come again to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, I go to the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
American King James Version×, 6:38, 1 Corinthians 11:3 1 Corinthians 11:3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
American King James Version×), 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 John 1:3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×), 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 Philippians 2:7-8 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×).
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 Luke 22:42-44 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.
American King James Version×).
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 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.
American King James Version×, 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 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version×), and that we may have eternal life (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×, Revelation 2:10 Revelation 2:10Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life.
American King James Version×). 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.