Hebrews 2:17 (ESV) … “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.”
Jesus Christ became like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could become our merciful and faithful High Priest. In the Old Testament, the high priest was the mediator between God and the people. The high priest’s job was to regularly offer animal sacrifices according to the law and to intercede with God for forgiveness for the people’s sins. The Jews understood the high priest as the one who had special duties that no other priests had. He alone could enter the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle or temple on the yearly Day of Atonement to pray to God about the sins of the nation. But Jesus’ death and resurrection inaugurated a new covenant. Under the old covenant, the high priests had to go before God once a year; Jesus’ death accomplished forgiveness once and for all for those who believe in him. Christ performed perfectly and completely the duties of a high priest. Thus the writer calls him our High Priest, our representative before God.
Jesus became like us in every respect except for the sinful nature—Jesus never shared in that part of humanity (4:15; 7:26). Only in this way could he offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. That sacrifice was his life. Jesus’ death on the cross wiped out our sin and the grip it had on our lives. When we commit ourselves fully to Christ, we are released from sin’s domination over us.
How did Jesus’ sacrifice “take away” our sins? A holy God cannot overlook sin; thus, the sinfulness of humanity had to be punished. In the Old Testament, God required his people to sacrifice animals (“perfect” animals, healthy and whole) to atone for their sins. The costly sacrifice of an animal’s life impressed upon the sinner the seriousness of his or her sin before God. When animals’ blood was shed, God regarded the people’s faith and obedience, cleansed them, and took away their sins. At the right time, God dealt once and for all with sin and its ultimate consequence—death and eternal separation from God. Instead of sending all humanity to eternal punishment, God took the punishment himself (Romans 8:3). Sin had to be punished, but Jesus shed his blood—gave his life—to take away our sins so that we wouldn’t have to experience spiritual death. His sacrifice transforms our lives and hearts and makes us clean on the inside.