Hebrews 2:16-17 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Since death entered our world, a lot of things die. Plants can die. Animals can die. Even angels, who don’t have a body, can be thrown out of God’s presence–in that sense “die.” But Jesus did not come to save any of them. He became what he came to save, a human being, a descendant of Abraham. An old Joan Osborne song asks the question “What if God was one of us?” Then it wanders around in speculations about what this would mean. Here in Hebrews, it’s not a question, but a statement, a promise. God’s Son Jesus IS one of us. Then it tells us what this means.
“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Jesus’ genetics were just like yours and mine. You know that when you cross a horse with a donkey, you get a mule–something that has some characteristics of both the horse and the donkey. But a mule is not the same thing as either a horse or a donkey. Jesus’ conception by the power of the Holy Spirit did not make him something like a human being, sharing some of our characteristics but not the same thing. His body functioned just like yours. He did not have altered or improved DNA. He was like us in every way, except for sin, which isn’t really part of what makes us human anyway.
This was necessary for his high priestly work. Priests offer sacrifices. That is what Jesus came to do. Someone other than a human being could perform the procedures necessary to have a sacrifice. You could train an unusually intelligent chimpanzee how to go through the ritual of slitting a lamb’s throat and arranging the carcass on the altar. Or God uses angels in Scripture to fight battles and deliver important messages. Performing a sacrificial ritual would be easy work for them to do. But this misses the point.
As our merciful and faithful high priest, Jesus came to offer a sacrifice like no other. He offers himself. He offers himself where each of us should have been offered. The point of Biblical sacrifices is not to feed God, as in some religions. In Psalm 50 the Lord says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall…If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you.” A sacrifice, rather, is God’s way of sparing someone from getting what he deserves. He allows a substitution to be made.
A lamb, a goat, a calf, or a pigeon doesn’t make an appropriate or effective substitution for a human being. The only substitute that matches is another human being. But he must be innocent: no death-deserving sin of his own. Jesus is the flesh and blood Savior who serves as our substitute. He satisfies God’s demand for justice, “that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” It’s all possible now that God is one of us.