Jesus’ incarnation is fundamentally a blessing for people: by taking on humanity, He helps humans. Hebrews describes several ways that happens in this section at the end of chapter 2: Jesus alters our view of death; He serves as high priest; He makes atonement; He gives aid to those who are being tempted. Each of these tips into a much longer discussion, so let’s start by considering the first–how Jesus affects the way we approach death.
Jesus nullifies the one who holds the power of death–that is, the devil. ‘Destroy’ (as the NIV puts it) may say a bit too much; a more literal translation suggests the idea has to do with rendering the enemy powerless. What I find remarkable here is how quickly Jesus disarms the devil. No drawn out, super-heated battle, but one swift, sure act, like David felling Goliath. This is not to minimize the agony of Jesus’ death, or take anything away from the wrenching nature of that sacrifice; it rather points out how decisive Jesus’ victory over the enemy was. In obedience to His father’s will, Jesus goes to the cross, and because of that, the devil’s long hold over humanity is broken.
There’s a second effect of Jesus’ cross-work: Jesus’ death means freedom from the fear of death. People had long been held in slavery by this fear, and with His sacrifice at Calvary, Jesus shatters those bonds.
Why fear death? Not sure as I can say with complete authority, but I wonder whether the fear comes from a sense of death’s permanence. Could it be that something deep inside wants very much to keep going, and that death looks like a full stop?
When Jesus dies, we learn that death is not the end; His resurrection shows that there is more to follow. There may well be pain–physical, psychological–associated with death, and it may be wrapped in other sorts of indignities and injustices. But death is not the end of the line, and so the premonition that there’s nothing on the other side need not be heeded. There is more to come (and other writers will take up that topic); fear need not disturb us.