In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
At first glance this is a confusing verse. Jesus was made perfect through suffering? Wasn’t He born perfect? What suffering? The cross? No, He had already lived a perfect life before He was crucified. Did the discipline he received as a child make Him perfect? That doesn’t make sense either.
Another passage in Hebrews speaks to this same difficulty: (Hebrews 5:8 NIV) – “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered”. Jesus “learned obedience”? Didn’t He always obey the Father? Surely He had learned to obey before suffering on the cross. What suffering taught Him obedience? What suffering made Him perfect?
While these seem like complex problems, as is often the case, the best commentary on the Bible, the best book to help us understand Bible mysteries, is the Bible itself. We find the answer to these questions in Hebrews 2:18 – Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
The suffering that “taught” Jesus obedience and made Him “perfect” was being tempted. We don’t see temptation as “suffering”. In fact, we usually enjoy it because it feeds our old nature. But being tempted to violate God’s will was a torturous battle for our Lord. We see the full depth of His agony, the suffering of resisting temptation, in Gethsemane where His whole being was crying out to avoid the cross and He actually sweat drops of blood.
He “learned obedience” because without temptation there can be no obedience. Only when He became man and struggled with the fallen flesh nature did He understand what it is like to have cravings contrary to God’s will. Only then could He choose obedience, “not my will but thy will be done”. Temptation gave Him the opportunity to choose to obey, to learn, to experience obedience just as it offers us the same opportunity.
Suffering temptation made him “perfect”, as Hebrews 2:10 tells us, not implying He was imperfect or sinful before being tempted. Rather it is a continuation of what is being talked about in the context of this passage. The passage is saying that to be a “perfect” High Priest for us He had to be one of us, “fully human” (Hebrews 2:17). It is saying His suffering temptation made Him the perfect High Priest because He then could understand the battle we face daily with our old nature.
He experientially “learned obedience” through suffering temptation and that experience made Him the “perfect” “author” of our salvation, the perfect High Priest for us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.