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Was Jesus Tempted?

Our question for this issue concerns the temptations of Jesus. A reader asks: "Jesus, we accept, was born to be like us - except that he was without sin. But in Hebrews we read that he was tempted in all ways like us. If he was without sin, he couldn't really be tempted, surely? And if not tempted, how can he be an example to us?"

The difficulty here is obvious and the attempts to answer it have been varied. One explanation (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) is that Jesus was able to sin as far as His human nature was concerned, but that His divine person kept the human nature from sin - "a peccable (able to sin) nature but an impeccable person."

This, we believe, is really a denial of the unity of Christ's two natures in one Person and of Christ's sinlessness. If He was One "who knew no sin" (I Cor. 5:21), how dare we even suggest that Jesus was in any sense of the word able to sin?

Yet the Bible insists not only that He was tempted (Matt. 4:1-11, Lk. 4:1-13), but that He was tempted "at all points like as we are" (Heb. 4:15). Scripture emphasizes the reality of those temptations in other ways as well. When they were over, Jesus required the ministry of angels (Matt. 4:11), something that was necessary only again after His agony in Gethsemanae, just before He was crucified.

Also, Scripture deliberately uses the same word in reference to Jesus' temptations and ours (I Cor. 10:13, James 1:2, etc.). We must believe, therefore, in the reality of Christ's temptations.

Our difficulty in understanding, it seems, lies partly in the fact that we are sinners and cannot conceive of temptation without at least the possibility of sin. For us temptation is the struggle against our own sinful inclinations, and we can hardly imagine it otherwise.

But take away that possibility of sin, as with Christ, and there may yet be a severe spiritual struggle. Remember that Jesus' temptations were aimed at turning Him aside from doing His Father's will in dying for the sins of His people. Is it not possible, then, that without any thought of turning aside, He nevertheless agonised about that way?

He Himself says, literally, in Luke 12:50: " I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am in agony until it be accomplished." Gethsemanae shows us that same struggle. Just the thought of the cross made Him sweat drops of blood there.

Do we not ourselves experience something of that in some of our temptations? When we are by grace preserved from temptation, do we not even then experience a certain spiritual exhaustion from the hard struggle to remain vigilant, watchful and praying, even if we were not drawn to the particular sin with which Satan was attacking us?

Furthermore, there is in all temptation the work of God in trying and testing as well. Remember, we use different words, trial and temptation, where the Greek and Hebrew use only one - trial and temptation are the same word in those two languages!

In all of His temptations, therefore, Christ was being tested and tried (the word means "to be put into the fire") by God - not to break Him, but to prove to us that He is our sinless Savior! And that, of course, is the purpose of His temptations for us. Looking to Him we must take courage, resist the Devil, flee temptation, not grow wearied and faint in our minds, and persevere in obedience.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 1
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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