Hebrews 2:14-18


Hebrews 2:14-18

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.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the character Billy Pilgrim shares something interesting about the Tralfamadorians, the alien race he encounters in the novel after being abducted by them and taken to their planet.

On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim, there isn’t much interest in Jesus Christ. The Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadorian mind, he says, is Charles Darwin—who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements. So it goes.[1]

Interesting: an alien race more interested in Charles Darwin than in Jesus Christ because Darwin accepted death as an improvement. At the very last one must give the Tralfamadorians this: they rightly understood that Jesus would not accept death as a natural part of life, much less as an “improvement.” In fact, the writer of Hebrews informs us that Jesus was the death-killer and He came to destroy death and the fear of it that so enslaves us.

Hebrws 2:14-18 is a beautiful text that makes much indeed of Jesus Christ! His great work of salvation is depicted here in powerful images. Let us consider four of them.

Jesus is the flesh-inhabitant.

The great work of Jesus to save lost humanity begins with His taking on flesh, His becoming incarnate.

14a-b Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…

Jesus is the flesh-inhabitant. “The word became flesh” (John 1:14). He inhabitants human skin and a human body. “He himself likewise partook of the same things…” And what are the “same things”? The beginning of the verse tells us: “flesh and blood.” And why did He do this? The very first words of the verse tell us! “Since therefore the children share in flesh in blood…”

We are flesh and blood so Christ takes on flesh and blood.

Christ the Lord is born.

Christ the Lord takes on a body.

Christ the Lord becomes a man.

You will notice in the verse that humanity is said to “share in flesh and blood” whereas Jesus “partook” of flesh and blood. That different verbs are used is interesting. Donald Guthrie says of this:

It is significant that a different verb (meteschen) is used to describe what Jesus shared from that used (kekoinōnēken) to describe what the children shared. Although there is no essential difference in meaning, the change of tense from the perfect to the aorist suggests that Christ’s taking on human nature is a specific act in time; he became what he was not before (i.e. a man).[2]

Jesus becomes fully human (while remaining fully God) and yet there is a difference. As the scriptures attest in multiple places Jesus took on flesh but He did not take on man’s sinful nature. He was the perfect “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He took on the limitations of flesh but not the degradation of our rebellious nature.

Indeed, on the cross, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), but that was in the great moment of substitution and was not germane to the incarnation itself. In His becoming man He did not become a sinner even though on the cross He became our sin in the great substitution.

You and I are flesh and blood, embodied, corporeal, human.

Jesus, in order to save us, becomes flesh and blood, embodied, corporeal, human.

Jesus is the devil-destroyer.

And in becoming the flesh-inhabitant He prepared Himself to be the devil-destroyer by taking hold of the one weapon the devil had used to terrorize humanity: death.

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

Jesus destroyed the devil by use of the devil’s favorite weapon: death!

“Destroy” here does not mean complete destruction. The final judgment is yet to come upon Satan. But there was a kind of destruction of the devil that Jesus wrought on the cross. Ray Stedman writes that Jesus “rendered impotent (katargeo—“to annul,” “to make inoperative”) the devil’s power to carry out the full effects of death—that is, spiritual separation from God forever.”[3]

The devil has been shackled.

The devil has been neutered.

I love how commentators throughout the church’s history have relished this beautiful verse! John Chrysostom, the great 4th/5th century preacher, summarized the verse thus:

By the very thing that was [the devil’s] strong weapon against the world—death—Christ struck him. In this Christ exhibits the greatness of the conqueror’s power. Do you see what great goodness death has wrought?[4]

I love this! Chrysostom pictures Jesus as snatching the devil’s greatest weapon out of his hand and smacking him with it! It reminds of the scene in Tombstone when one of the Cowboys threatens Wyatt Earp by opening his jacket and showing Earp his pistols. In a flash, Earp snatches one of the pistols and pistol-whips the Cowboy in the head, knocking him down. When the devil flashed death at Jesus, Jesus took it and smacked the devil with it by entering it and then, through the resurrection, defeating it!

Martin Luther added yet another element when he observed that by defeating death through succumbing to death Jesus actually made the devil do God’s good work because it was only through dying that Jesus could defeat death!

For this is the most glorious kind of victory, namely, to pierce the adversary with his own weapon and to slay him with his own sword…For in this way God promotes and completes his work by means of an alien deed, and by his wonderful wisdom he compels the devil to work through death nothing else than life, so that in this way, while he acts most of all against the word of God, he acts for the work of God and against his own work with his own deed. For thus he worked death in Christ, but Christ completely swallowed up death in himself through the immortality of his divinity and rose again in glory…[5]

Jesus is the devil-destroyer! He defeated the devil by disarming him of his most powerful weapon: death. By defeating death through death and resurrection Jesus broke the devil’s power and thereby defeated the devil.

Jesus is the slave-freer.

Furthermore, in defeating the devil by overcoming death Jesus also set free the human race that was enslaved to fear.

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.

By overcoming death, the writer of Hebrews tells us, Jesus “deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

That is a most interesting way of putting it, is it not? We were “subject to lifelong slavery” “through fear of death.”

Fear is a powerfully debilitating thing. This helps us see how the devil is a terrorist. He wields terror to cripple us, to bind us. Before we came to Jesus we lived our lives in fear of death and in fear of what awaited us on the other side. We knew our own hearts, that all we deserved was damnation. We waited with baited breath the judgment of God on the other side of the grave.

These fears the devil held over us, crippling us, stymying us, imprisoning us.

And there was some truth in these fears. We were indeed at enmity with God outside of Jesus. Death was indeed the terrifying passageway to destruction.

But then Jesus came! He submitted Himself to death and, in dying and rising, defeated death and disarmed the devil! In doing so, He opened a way for us to come out of the death that sin brings. Furthermore, by offering us life eternal Jesus broke the fear of death!

I love what the 6th/7th century monk and theologian, Maximus the Confessor, said of our text:

He destroys the tyranny of the evil one who dominated us by deceit. By casting at him as a weapon the flesh that was vanquished in Adam, he overcame him. Thus what was previously captured for death conquers the conqueror and destroys his life by a natural death. It became poison to him in order that he might vomit up all those whom he had swallowed when he held sway by having the power of death. But it became life to the human race by impelling the whole of nature to rise like dough to resurrection of life. It was for this especially that the Logos, who is God, became human—something truly unheard of—and voluntarily accepted the death of the flesh.[6]

I love it! Death swallowed up Jesus but Jesus, being the God/Man, was Himself poison to death. Thus death vomited Jesus up along with all who had been held imprisoned by death! We need to be careful with the theology of this, but fundamentally this rings true: death could not hold Jesus because Jesus was unlike anyone else death had tried to hold! (I might also point out that Maximus’ imagery of being “vomited up” is consistent with Jesus’ likening his death and resurrection to Jonah in John 12:38-41.)

Maximus argued that when death vomited Jesus up Jesus brought us along with Him!

What a praise! What a miracle! What a Savior!

You are now free to be free!

Free of fear!

Free of judgment!

Free of Hell!

Free of shame!

Free of guilt!

Free of condemnation!

Jesus sets us free if we will receive the freedom He has won for us.

Jesus is the satisfaction-maker.

And there is one more thing. Jesus makes satisfaction by paying the price for our sins and by being the perfect sacrifice for us.

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.

In becoming incarnate and going to the cross, the author tells us, Jesus made “propitiation for the sins of the people.” Thomas Schreiner writes of “propitiation”:

Scholars dispute the meaning of the word “propitiated”…Some argue that it means “expiated” so that the focus is on forgiveness of sins. The object of the verb, after all, is “sins”…fitting with the idea that sins are erased or wiped away. It is likely, however, that there is also the notion of the appeasement of God’s wrath. Hebrews draws on sacrificial language from the cultus, and in the OT the failure to abide by what God commands provokes his wrath (cf. Lev 10:1-2). Another way of putting it is that we don’t have an either-or here. The word designates both forgiveness of sins and appeasement and satisfaction of God’s wrath. In the OT, if sins aren’t expiated (wiped away), God pours out his holy and just wrath on those who have transgressed.[7]

The crucified Christ satisfies the demands of a perfectly holy God. He makes peace where before there was enmity and strife!

The thrust of Hebrews 2:14-18 is as clear and it is revolutionary: Jesus becomes like us in order to suffer in our place and pay a price we could never pay in order to secure for us a life here and hereafter that we could never attain in any other way.

Christ becomes a man…then Christ becomes a crucified man.

Some years ago I read “The Long Silence.” It has stayed with me ever since. I offer it here in a somewhat edited form.[8]

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly–not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.

An elderly man stepped out from the crowd and, with indignation, undid his shirt and turned around, revealing the burn marks on his back. He spoke with trembling lips. “I lived in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. I lost my family and my home. I lived but have born the scars of that nightmare ever since.”


In another group a black man likewise undid his shirt and turned his back to the shocked audience who gasped in shock. “What about this?” he demanded, showing the hideous whelps and scarring from where he had been unjustly whipped. “Enslaved and tortured…for no crime but being black!!


“Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a woman. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror…beatings…torture…death!”


Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered most. A Jew, a black man, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. A girl who was the victim of an assault and was bearing a child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live one earth–as a man!

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.

And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.

Yes. Jesus steps before the crowd and they all see and know: God has not stayed distant, protected, unaccompanied with suffering, with pain, with fear.


God has come in the person of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus has taken on flesh.

Jesus has submitted Himself to the cross.

Jesus has suffered.

Jesus has died.

Jesus has risen again.

He does understand.

He does know.

And He loves you.

And He has made a way for you.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and none of us will come to the Father except through Him.


[1] Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (pp. 268-269). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

[2] Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ray C. Stedman. Hebrews. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol.15 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p.44.

[4] Ibid., p.47.

[5] Rittgers, Ronald K., ed. Hebrews, James. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Timothy George. New Testament XIII ( Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), p.41-24.

[6] Heen, Erik M., and Philip D.W. Krey, eds. Hebrews. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament X (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.44-45.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Hebrews. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), p.109.

[8] I have altered some of the details of the original story. The story first appeared in John Stott’s The Cross of Christ but I have copied and altered the version that appears at https://www.challies.com/quotes/the-long-silence/

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