Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)
Often the best, and sometimes the only, way to learn sympathy is by suffering ourselves what another is suffering. Suffering is a very skilled teacher. We can read about and hear about the pain of being burned. We can even see people being burned. But until we have been burned ourselves, we cannot completely sympathize with a burn victim. I had read about, and even seen, many automobile accidents; but only after I was involved in one that almost took my life did I realize how horrible they can be.
Jesus had to learn certain things by suffering. He was given no exemption from hardship and pain. Even though He was God’s Son, God in human flesh, He was called to suffer. He learned the full meaning of the cost of obedience, all the way to death, from the things which He suffered, and God therefore affirmed Him as a perfect High Priest.
That is the kind of high priest we need—one who knows and understands what we are going through. When we go to the Lord in prayer and fall on our knees before Him and say, “God, this problem, this loss, this pain is breaking my heart,” how wonderful to feel His arms around us and to sense in our hearts that He is saying, “I know. I know.”
8 The Greek sentence continues without a break to the end of v. 10. Verse 7 consists of two participial clauses (“having offered up … and having been heard”), which are now followed by an “although” clause before we reach the first main clause, “he learned …” The learning of obedience is therefore directly linked with, and is the outcome of, the experience of prayer (and especially the prayer of Gethsemane). Jesus prayed to be spared if possible, but it was his reverent acceptance of God’s will rather than his own that was heard, and thus he “learned obedience” through the suffering to which he then willingly submitted. It is important to understand this sequence of thought in order to avoid the misunderstanding to which the words of this verse alone might give rise, namely, that a previously disobedient Jesus had to be compelled to obey against his will by being made to suffer. In this context to “learn obedience” means, not to become obedient after having been disobedient, but to discover in personal experience what obedience—and obedience that involves suffering—really means; only by coming to share our human condition could the Son of God know this experience. Cf. the argument of 2:10–18 and the comments on being “made perfect through suffering” in 2:10.
Within this sequence of very human experiences, the opening clause of v. 8, “Son though he was” (TNIV), reminds us of the other side of the truth about Jesus. This concessive clause relates primarily to the main clause that follows—even though he was the Son of God, he had to undergo this new experience of obedient suffering. But it also contrasts with the preceding mention of Jesus’ “reverent submission,” thus underlining the paradox that the one who as Son has all authority needed nonetheless to submit.
5:8. It would not be unusual for a son to learn obedience by suffering, but Jesus was no ordinary son. He was a perfect Son, and we could wonder why he needed to learn obedience. Certainly, he did not need to learn obedience in the sense that he learned the unpleasant consequences of disobedience. Jesus never disobeyed.
The connection of Jesus as subject of a verb involving learning raises a theological issue we must explore. Jesus shared in God’s omniscience, that is, the ability to know everything. Why would the Omniscient One need to learn anything?
Luke explored a similar idea about Jesus in his youth: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Again we must ask, Why would the Omniscient One need to grow in wisdom? This question of how we could understand development, change, and learning in an omniscient deity has long troubled theologians.
One effort to deal with this issue has followed a special interpretation of Philippians 2:7, saying Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (nasb). These theologians, emphasizing the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ, have said that during his time on earth Jesus surrendered his attributes of omniscience, omnipotence (all power), and omnipresence (being everywhere at once). Opposing this interpretation is the recognition that if Jesus gave up the attributes of deity, he would cease to be God. Others have suggested that Jesus did not surrender the possession of the attributes, but he surrendered the right to use them independently. This feature of interpretation would explain why at times Jesus indicated that he did not know some things (Mark 13:32) but at other times claimed a knowledge which reflects omniscience (John 6:64). Jesus used his attribute of omniscience only when it was the Father’s will for him to do so.
We should probably recognize that a divine mystery is involved in Jesus’ learning obedience in Hebrews 5:8. It is difficult to understand why the divine Son would need to learn. It is understandable that one who was the God-man might grow in wisdom, understanding, and in a grasp of the importance of obedience. In a sense that we cannot fully comprehend, the incarnate son of God acquired knowledge through suffering that allowed him to learn the value of obedience.
Jesus always possessed the attitude of obedience, but by practicing obedience he learned the value and importance of obeying. By making a response of obedience to his testing, he acquired the experimental knowledge of obedience. He learned what was involved in following obedience. Learning this trait equipped him to understand better the struggles and weaknesses of human beings. It added to Jesus’ skills in showing sympathy with wandering sinners.
This is the sole New Testament verse in which Jesus is the subject of the verb learn. Jesus came with a commitment to obey, but in obeying he learned a new level of experience in obedience. His example and experience encouraged both the readers of Hebrews and today’s readers to persevere. We cannot experience a hardship in which he fails to identify with us.
Jerry Bedsole served for twenty-five years as a missionary veterinarian in Ethiopia. During his time in this famine-ravaged, politically unstable country, Bedsole saw loving Christians develop from former atheists. He saw God use a communist government to build his church. He watched in amazement as a Christian response to a famine in Ethiopia opened opportunities for spreading the gospel.
Bedsole saw an entire church, parents and children, imprisoned on one occasion for several weeks. That imprisoned church grew in love, fellowship, and eagerness to learn the Bible. He saw believers disowned by families, and persecuted by their friends and families, but they remained solid in their commitment. Bedsole said, “Their families may have turned their backs on them, but they never turned their backs on Jesus.” These Christians learned the value of obeying God by their exposure to suffering. The encouragement from other believers and the strength of God taught them the importance of commitment. Jesus learned in the same way.
5:8 Now once again we come face to face with that profound mystery of the incarnation—how God could become Man in order to die for men.
Though He was a Son, or better, Son though He was—He was not a Son, that is, one of many, but He was the only begotten Son of God. In spite of this tremendous fact, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. His entrance into this world as a Man involved Him in experiences which He would never have known had He remained in heaven. Each morning His ear was open to receive instructions from His Father for that day (Isa. 50:4). He learned obedience experimentally as the Son who was always subject to His Father’s will.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 124–125). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 76–77). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 92–94). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2171). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.