14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14–18)
In this penultimate article concerning the season of Advent, there are two words which stand out in today’s text. They are words destroy and deliver. They are both verbs, which means they are actions which, in the context, Jesus Christ actively accomplished. Let’s look at each word separately.
We do not often, if ever, associate the word destroy with Christmas. Yet, the writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus Christ partook of flesh and blood in His incarnation for the expressed purpose of dying a substitutionary death on the cross for sinners. Why? In order to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
The word destroy (καταργέω; katargeo) means to abolish, to wipe out, and to cause to come to an end. The end within this context of which the text is speaking is the devil himself. Jesus’ death on the cross not only provided the only way sinners could be justified in the sight of God, but also provided the only means by which our adversary, Satan, could be eternally vanquished.
In accomplishing this, Jesus delivers sinners from the fear of not only physical death but also from spiritual and eternal death. This fear of death, in all of its forms, resulted in lifelong slavery.
One commentator explains that, “Jesus had to become part of humanity, as in Psalm 8:4–6, to become a forerunner, a new Adam for humanity. Ancient literature often spoke of the terrors of death, although many philosophers claimed to transcend it. Jewish literature had already connected the devil and death, especially in the Wisdom of Solomon (which this author and his audience probably knew well); some later texts even identify Satan with the angel of death. Like Heracles in the Greek tradition and perhaps God the divine warrior of Jewish tradition (cf. Isaiah 26:19–21; 44:24–26), Jesus is the “champion” who has delivered his people.”
This brings us to the second word: deliver. To deliver (ἀπαλλάσσω; apallasso) means to release and to set free. Who has Jesus set free? The text says all those who feared death and therefore were in bondage to Satan. This freedom comes personally to the sinner by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
As one author has stated, “Still expounding Psalm 8:4–6, the writer reminds his readers that Christ acted as forerunner for God’s people (“Abraham’s seed”; cf. perhaps Isaiah 41:8–9) for the world to come, not for the angels. The Old Testament called Abraham’s chosen descendants “children of God”—(e.g., Deut.32:19; Hos 11:1). The writer is addressing Jewish Christians, members of a people who have long believed that a great destiny awaits them in the future. Christ is already exalted above the angels (2:7, 9), as his people will be in the age to come (2:5).
Therefore, in becoming a man Jesus Christ provided a satisfaction, by His substitutionary death, with respect to the wrath of God the Father upon sin and sinners alike. This satisfaction is called propitiation. Propitiation provides forgiveness because of the instrument which accomplished propitiation: Jesus Christ’ virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The word (propitiation) means “to conciliate” or “satisfy.” Christ’s work of propitiation is related to his high-priestly ministry. By his partaking of a human nature, Christ demonstrated his mercy to mankind and his faithfulness to God by satisfying God’s requirement for sin and thus obtaining for his people full forgiveness. Cf. 1 John 2:2; 4:10.”
Although not a Christmas carol, the following song, entitled His Robes for Mine, beautifully expresses the purpose of Jesus coming to earth.
His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.
I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
My praise—my all—shall be for Christ alone.
His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.
His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried, “’Tis done!”
Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.
His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!
Soli deo Gloria!