THE PERSON OF CHRIST: His temptation
“For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted”, Hebrews 2:18.
The verse quoted above suggests to us a way of approaching the subject of temptation. We may think of it in relation to “He Himself”. Then the fact that “He suffered, being tempted”, then the fact that “He is able to succour them that are tempted”.
The first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews opens with seven rays of the Divine glory of Christ. Then continues with seven rights He possesses because of that glory. Then in chapter two there are seven reasons why He became man. First, to vindicate God’s trust in man, verses 5-8; then to consummate God’s purpose, verse 9; to elevate God’s people, verses 10-13; to eradicate the Devil, verse 14; to emancipate the slaves, verse 15; to propitiate sins, verses 16 and 17; to relate to their temptations, verse 18.
We must be very careful when considering the subject of the temptation of the Lord Jesus. In our earnest attempt to understand it, (insofar as it is possible to do so), we must remember the uniqueness of His person. He is the Son of God, and as such is not able to sin, or else God is able to sin. When He took manhood, He did not cease to be what He always was. Scripture teaches that He who is in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. Note that He took the likeness of men upon Himself as one who is in the form of God. He added manhood to His Deity. He did not modify His Deity to accommodate His manhood. He now possesses two natures, yet remains one person. Now it is persons that sin, not natures, so because He remains the same person He ever was, then for that reason He is not able to sin. Because He remains God, like God He cannot be tempted with evil, James 1:13, for it holds no attraction for Him at all. He does not have to weigh up the situation and make a decision whether to give in or not- for Him, sinning is not an option.
He is not able to sin for a related reason also. When He came into the world, the Son of God expressed the resolve to do God’s will, Hebrews 10:7. The fact that He did indeed perform the will of God perfectly, is not only known by His own testimony, “I do always those things which please Him”, John 8:29, and, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do”, John 17:4, (and if it were not so He would have told us, John 14:2), but also from the fact that He has returned to the throne from which He was sent, and has sat down there with Divine approval, Hebrews 10:12.
It may be objected that the Lord Jesus did certain things which it is not possible for God the Father to do. He slept, (But “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”, Psalm 121:4), He hungered and thirsted, (but God needeth not anything, Acts 17:25), and He died, (but God is from everlasting to everlasting, Psalm 90:2; the Living God, Acts 14:15). Christ did indeed experience these things, but He did so, not because His Deity was weakened or modified, but precisely because He was God, and as such could will to do these things. It was part of what He willingly accepted when He became man.
We are told by those who believe that Christ did not sin, but could have done so, that He needs to be like that to relate to His people, who are capable of sinning. The people of God, however, are born of God, and as such do not practice sin as a habit. 1 John 3:9. They do, alas, commit sins, but they do so when acting after the flesh, and God does not look on His people as if they are in the flesh, but in the Spirit, Romans 8:9. When believers commit sins they need, and have, an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who pleads the value of His work at Calvary.
It is true that the statement, “Jesus Christ could not sin”, is not found in Scripture. But the truth is certainly found there, and it is implied overwhelmingly by the whole doctrine about Christ and his Person. Is it realistic to suggest that a person who could sin would be able to pass through this world with all its temptations, be assailed by the wickedest, cleverest force for evil in the world, even the Devil himself, and not succumb? Also, if He could sin when on earth, how are we sure that He cannot sin now? His condition has changed, it is true, but His person has not; if He could sin then, He could sin now. This is unthinkable.
He hath suffered, being tempted
We should remember that because a person is tempted, it should not be assumed that he is able to give in to temptation, for there may be infinite ability to resist. This is the case with Christ. Because too often we do give in to temptation, we tend to think that this is part of the idea in the word. It is not so, however. After all, the children of Israel tempted God in the wilderness, Hebrews 3:9, but there is no possibility of God sinning. It is one of the things He cannot do, for He cannot deny Himself, and He is holy and righteous.
The word for tempt is the sort of word that in Bible times a metal refiner would use. In 1 Peter 1:6,7, the apostle refers to manifold temptations, and these temptations put faith to the test. Now just as a metal refiner put his metal through the test of the fire, so that he could skim off the dross that floated to the surface, so the trial of our faith has a like effect in the moral sphere. Job could say, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”, Job 23:10. The refiner would continue heating and skimming until he could see his own face reflected without distortion in the molten metal. In like manner the Lord allows us to go through trials so that the dross of likeness to Adam may be removed, and the likeness of Christ may be seen reflected in the metal. If we respond to this process, then when the Lord comes there will be a discovery, (hence the word “found” in 1 Peter 1:7), of conformity to Christ, and this will be to His praise. Men refine gold to adorn their own persons, but this “gold” is for the praise, honour and glory of the one who brings the trial. Ordinary gold, even when it has been tried many times in the fire until the dross has all been removed, will, despite its preciousness, still perish at the dissolution of all things, 2 Peter 3:10,11. Spiritual gold, however, which results from the testing of our faith, will last for ever.
With the Lord Jesus there was no dross, but that did not prevent the fire of temptation putting Him to the test in order that it might be evident that this was the case. As He Himself said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me”, John 14:30.
Note the gospel records of the temptation that came at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Matthew records them because he wishes to show us the King who is perfectly fitted to rule over men, and require them to obey His law. He has not the moral right to demand this if He is liable to sin. As David said, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God”, 2 Samuel 23:3.
Matthew records the final three temptations of the forty days in the order in which they occurred, so the climax, appropriately for the Gospel of the King, is the refusal of the kingdoms of the world. These will be Christ’s one day, not from the Devil, but from His Father, as Psalm 2:8 says, “Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”. The word Matthew uses for the leading into the wilderness is the same as is used of Israel being led in the wilderness, Psalm 80:1, thus he is continuing his contrast between Israel of old, and the true Israel, Christ Himself, Isaiah 49:3. He has already applied “Out of Egypt have I called My son”, to Christ, Matthew 2:15, and then recorded the baptism of Christ, in effect His crossing of the Jordan. Now He is led into the wilderness. But note the order, for Israel were brought out of Egypt, led into the wilderness to be tested, (to see whether they would walk in God’s way or not, Deuteronomy 8:2), and then commanded to cross the Jordan into the land. But the word from heaven at Christ’s baptism assures us that there does not need to be a wilderness experience to see if He will walk in God’s ways, for that is already established, and the word from heaven confirms it. The book of Deuteronomy, from which Christ quoted twice in this incident, was the preparation of the people for entry into the land, but He mused upon it, confident that He was, Joshua-like, fit to enter into the work of God, and introduce others into the kingdom of God.
Whilst Mark gives us no detail of the temptation itself, he does mention three things. First, that Christ was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Does this mean He was reluctant? This cannot be. Mark presents us with Christ as Jehovah’s perfect servant, and as such He was ever willing. But as a servant, He had made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7, and His triumph in the wilderness will mean reputation. Thus, whilst willing, He also is continuing to make Himself of no reputation, and needs to be urged on by the Spirit. There is a contrast with Adam, whom God drove out of the garden because of his failure to resist temptation
The second thing is the mention of wild beasts. What an evidence of the failure of the first man to serve God! The animals had been brought to Adam, and he had served God by naming them, but at that point no trace of wildness was in them. Now it is different, for sin has come in, and with it the corruption of creation, Romans 8:20,21, so that the animals are now wild. Christ began His ministry amongst the wild beasts, and finished it by riding into Jerusalem on an untamed ass, for He is the one who has all things under His feet, including the beasts of the field, Psalm 8:7, the sheep and oxen, John 2:14, and the birds of the air, Mark 14:30, and the fish of the sea, whether the shoals or the individual fish, Luke 5:4-7; Matthew 17:27. He shows clearly by this that He is God’s millenial man.
Thirdly, we learn that angels ministered unto Him. The ministry that Jacob knew, He knew too. But with this difference. Jacob was ministered to by angels before his temptations, in order to strengthen him for the trial. See Genesis 28:12; 31:11; 32:1. However, it was after the temptation in the wilderness had been successfully dealt with by Christ that the angels came, as Matthew 4:11 makes clear. He met the temptations, and overcame them, by the use of the same means as is available to believers, namely, the indwelling Spirit and the word of God.
John gives to us no mention of the Temptation, but he does give us the sequel. Having been tempted, the Lord Jesus came up out of the wilderness to meet John the Baptist, who, seeing Him come unto him in that way, exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1:29. Here is the testimony of the son of a priest, that the Lord Jesus is not only the counterpart of the fit man of Leviticus 16:21, but also the scapegoat-in-waiting as well. He is shown to be without blemish by His experience in the wilderness, and thus is both fit and suitable for the task of bearing sin at God’s appointed time.
Coming to Luke’s account, we notice that he puts the genealogy of Christ immediately preceding the temptation. Matthew had begun with the King’s genealogy, and started at the baseline of Abraham and David, the two who had received promises from God about the future kingdom, Abraham receiving the promise of the Seed and the Land, David receiving promise concerning the House and the Throne. Matthew starts in the past, and finishes with Christ, for He represents the hope for the future.
Luke’s genealogy of Christ goes back in time, right back to Adam, described as son of God. Luke is clearly contrasting Christ, not with Israel in the wilderness, as Matthew does, but with Adam in the garden, surrounded by every tree that was good for food. Adam fell when surrounded by plenty, yet Christ, the second man, 1 Corinthians 15:47, triumphed when in want. Luke therefore ranges over the whole of human history up to that point, and challenges any to restore that which Adam took away, see Psalm 69:4. His extensive genealogy of Christ, going back to the beginning as it does, (Luke’s intention was to go back to the beginning of things, Luke 1:2,3), is also a challenge to Satan, to fail where he succeeded before.
Just as Goliath had challenged Israel for forty days to give him a man to fight, 1 Samuel 17:16, so Satan for forty centuries had challenged God to do the same. At last there is one who can meet the challenge. Just as David defeated Goliath with just one of the five stones he had hidden in his shepherd’s bag, so Christ defeated the Devil with the use of just one of the five books of Moses, which He had hidden in His shepherd heart. And why did David choose five stones? Goliath had four sons, 2 Samuel 21:15-22, and David was ready for them, too. So Christ knew that the Devil, although defeated in the wilderness, would come again, and the rest of Scripture would defeat him then.
Note that He is tempted of the Devil, which name means accuser. Yet he does not come with accusations, but temptations. He can bring no charge concerning those silent years in Nazareth, any more that the men of Nazareth could when the Lord went back there to the synagogue, Luke 4:16. Their objection to Him lay in what He said about the Gentiles, not about any character-fault during His years amongst them. No doubt if Christ had sinned when tempted, the Devil would have been quick to accuse before God, but it was not to be. The most evil and most wise created being is now attacking Christ, in order that he might overthrow God’s purpose through Him. Many had been his attempts to destroy the seed of the woman in Old Testament times. These had all failed, so now his scheme is to divert the Lord from the pathway of obedience, trust, and confidence, which led to the cross.
We note too the word that Luke uses for led, for it is the same one that is used of believers being led of the Spirit, in Romans 8:14. So He is moving into the temptation experience confident of the guidance of the Spirit in the matter. He does not act independently either of His Father or the Spirit, for Divine Persons by definition cannot act independently of one another, for God is One.
The order of the temptations in Luke is significant. It is body, soul, spirit, the same order in which Luke, a doctor, would have assessed his patients. First their bodily condition, then the soul-attitude, and then, as a Christian doctor, their spiritual condition. So first of all there is a temptation to do with physical hunger, then one to do with mental ambition, then to do with spiritual attitudes to God. It is worth noting that it was only after the temptations were over, that He felt hunger, as Luke 4:2 makes clear. John the Baptist had been sustained in the desert by locusts and wild honey, so it was not that there was no food in the place. The point is that Christ was so absorbed by the word of God that the pangs of hunger did not affect Him. He was without food willingly, not by force of circumstances. So when the temptation about food came, the response was based on the Scriptures that fed His soul. He was the perfect example of one to whom the word of God was more important than necessary food, for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God”, Luke 4:4.
So, too, with the temptation to accept the kingdoms of the world immediately. His baptism had been His re-commitment to Calvary, so He had already given His answer to the idea that He was willing to escape death. And He had gone into the wilderness with His Father’s endorsement ringing in His ears. There was no doubt that His Father was on His side, so there was no need to test this out.
Of course, his temptations did not begin or finish with the temptation in the wilderness. Throughout His life He was tested. As to the body He knew hunger, thirst, tiredness and pain. As to the soul he knew sadness, joy, a sense of anticipation, a sense of disappointment, and loneliness, rejection and trouble. As to the spirit He knew the unbelief of men, the slowness of His disciples to learn, but also He rejoiced in spirit that all things were in the Father’s hand. He knew, too, what it was to groan in spirit as He neared the grave of a friend, and the ravages that sin had wrought in the earth were borne in upon Him. Borne in upon Him also, the thought that soon He too was to be in the cold dark tomb.
He can be tempted in all points, because He has been made in all things like unto His brethren, (the word “things” is the same as “points” in 4:15), Hebrews 2:17, and thus suffers as a real man. Although His temptations are over, He has taken His sympathetic heart to heaven, and fully knowing what our trials are like, can minister just the help we need. Are we tempted to doubt God’s goodness? He has been tempted by the Devil in that regard. His suggestion that Christ should turn a stone into bread carried with it the implication that His Father had not been caring for Him enough. The promise to the Messiah was “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”, Hebrews 1:5, but the Devil suggested that the Father had not been true to His pledge, and had left His Son without resources.
God had provided for multitudes of Israelites for forty years in the wilderness, yet His own Son had only been there for forty days, and there was no food! Later on in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, He would point out that fathers do not give their sons stones when they ask for bread, Luke 11:11, yet here was the Son Himself, surrounded by stones, yet He had no bread! What a trial this was, far greater than the temptation that had come to Adam with regard to food, for he was surrounded by a plentiful supply. He did not need to eat of the forbidden fruit to save himself from starvation. There was no dissatisfaction in the heart of the Lord Jesus, however, for He had better food than material bread. Every word which proceeded out of the mouth of God was valued as His necessary food. There had come no indication from the scriptures on which His soul fed, that He should turn a stone into bread, and thus He was content.
So absorbed with the word of God was He, that it is only after the temptation that He hungered physically. By basing His reply to the Devil on God’s word, and especially since the quotation begins, “Man shall not live”, He clearly indicates that this victory over temptation can be ours as well as His, for we can all insert our name where the word “man” occurs. He does not assert His Divine authority and say, “Verily, verily, I say unto you”, but simply quotes what is already written, as we may do. When we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness, then we should we cry for help, and He will show us in God’s word those things that demonstrate the reality of God’s goodness to us.
We also may be tempted to double-mindedness in relation to God, eager to worship and serve Him, but at the same time attracted to the glamour of this passing world. To those thus tempted, and who come to Him for help, there is the example of Christ’s resolute determination to serve God with undivided heart, and an equally resolute determination to resist the Devil. Satan had positioned himself between Christ and His Father, but the Lord will not tolerate this, and commands the Devil to get behind him, clearly refusing to bow down to him.
The kingdoms of this world will one day be Christ’s, Revelation 11:15, but He will receive them from His Father, Psalm 2:8, and not from the Devil. Those who triumph in this aspect of temptation do so because they rest in the purpose of God. How great would the Devil’s victory have been if he could have given the world to Christ without Calvary!
Then again, we may be tempted to wonder whether God’s promises are really true, and begin to doubt Him. This temptation has come to our Saviour as well, but His firm rebuff to the Devil we may take up too, “Thou shall not tempt the Lord Thy God”. His word should be enough for us- “Hath He not spoken, and shall He not do it?” So the Lord refuses to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple simply to see whether God’s word is true or not.
God’s provision, God’s purpose, God’s promises- is there anything not covered by these three? Christ has been tempted in all points like as we are, and we may overcome as He overcame, by the right use of the Word of God, as we are led by the Spirit of God in ways that glorify God.
He is able to succour them that are tempted.
There is a further question that may rise in our mind, and it relates to the fact of the sinlessness of Christ. Can He really know how we feel since He had no sinful urges from within? In addressing this problem we must remember two things. First, that the more holy a person is, the more suffering will he feel when he is tempted. But Christ is infinitely holy, and therefore temptation to Him was extreme suffering, for “He suffered, being tempted”, Hebrews 2:18. Because the temptations came from without does not mean that they were less real. Second, that Christ does not sympathize with us in those temptations which come from within, but He, as God’s Son, does enable us to break free from them through the application of truths such as are found in Romans 6. “The Son shall make you free…the truth shall make you free”, John 8:36,32. When we obey from the heart that form of doctrine that has been delivered to us, Romans 6:17, and in particular the truth regarding our association with Christ in His crucifixion, burial and resurrection, as detailed in Romans 6, then we shall be made free from bondage to indwelling sin. If we do sin through giving in to indwelling sin, we need an advocate, not a sympathizer, and this we have, 1 John 2:1.
The priesthood of the Lord Jesus comes in when we are in danger of giving way to temptation. Like Melchizedec, who brought bread and wine to Abraham to strengthen him before his trial with the king of Sodom, Genesis 14:17-24, Christ ministers to us the truth as to His life, (the bread), during which He successfully resisted all temptations. He also imparts to us the truth as to His death, (the wine), when He not only resisted unto blood, striving against sin, Hebrews 12:2-4, but also died for our sins, 9:14. By these means our souls are strengthened for the conflict.
Temptation may come to us in three different ways. There are the trials of life, which test our faith in God. 1 Peter 1:5-7 speaks of these. This is a test because of fidelity to God. Then James 1:12-16 speaks of temptation which comes from within, because of carnality. We have within us still the capacity to sin, and the remedy for this is not the sympathy of a high priest, for He does not, (and indeed cannot), sympathize with this. He has not practical experience of it, being all pure within. The remedy for this is the application of the truths found in Romans chapter six, where we are exhorted to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin.
The third kind is the test of infirmity, which Hebrews 4:14-16 deals with. In Hebrews 3:1 we are reminded that we have a faithful apostle and high priest in the person of our Saviour. As apostle He corresponds to Moses, sent out by God to the people. As High Priest, He corresponds to Aaron, who went in to God for the people. But neither of these two entered the land of Canaan! Both were marked by failure, despite their office. Now Hebrews 4:15 says we have not a high priest like that. He has passed right into the heavens, not stopping at the entrance, but calmly taking His rightful place on the right hand of the very throne of God. We have one who is Jesus, the Man of chapter two in all His matchless purity, and the Son of God, the One of the first chapter in all His Divine authority. He combines sympathy, authority and ability as none other has done, or could do.
This gives us great reason to hold fast our confession. The passage from chapter 3:7 to 4:13 forms a parenthesis in the epistle, the second of the warning passages, showing how that Israel, in the wilderness, failed to hold fast, and were deprived of the land as a result. Tempted by their wilderness experience, they responded by tempting God, an incident referred to in one of the passages Christ quoted to the Devil, Luke 4:12; Deuteronomy 6:16. Even men like Moses and Aaron could not prevent their fall. The reason being that Aaron in particular was himself compassed with infirmity, as chapter 5 explains. We are relieved to learn that we do not have a high priest like Aaron, who was unable to sympathize fully with the people. We have as High Priest one who is free from sin in all its manifestations, and who is therefore qualified to take up our case when we are tempted.
The writer describes Aaron and his line as taken from among men, 5:1, and being such, compassed with infirmity. Appointed to serve God, he must not only offer sacrifices for the people’s sins, but also for his own. Note how infirmities are connected with sins. “Infirmities…by reason hereof…offer for sins.” It is the same in chapter seven, where we read that high priests of Aaron’s line needed to offer for their own sins, precisely because the law made men high priests which had infirmity, 7:26-28.
So it was because Aaron was an ordinary man, compassed with infirmity, that he needed to offer for his own sins, 5:2,3. The infirmity may not have been sinful in itself, but it tended to lead to sin. In contrast, God has made His Son High priest, so our High Priest is taken from among the Godhead, and He is perfected for evermore. Not perfected in any sense that He progressed from infirmity to lack of infirmity, but rather, perfected or fully fitted by His experiences down here to take up our case.
What He is said to be touched with the feeling of, is our infirmities, or manifestations of lack of strength. But here again, we should not assume that He sympathizes with these because He had infirmities Himself. It is true that Paul gloried in his infirmities, so they are not necessarily sinful, but still it is not the case that Christ possessed them. Paul’s infirmities, by which are meant bodily weakness and ailments, were a direct result of the fall of man in Adam, and the consequent subjection to vanity that came with it. The Lord Jesus did not share in the results of the fall, even as to His body. He was not begotten of Joseph, thus He has no link with fallen humanity, either morally or physically.
Matthew tells us that when the Lord Jesus healed the men and women of His day, there was a partial fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 53:4. In that passage the prophet describes the Messiah as One who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows”. When Peter alludes to this in 1 Peter 2:24 he quotes it as “He bare our sins”. This is the ultimate fulfillment of the words, but Matthew is concerned with their partial fulfillment, and so prefaces his reference to Isaiah 53 with the words “That it might be fulfilled”, and then quotes Isaiah with the words, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses”.
This might seem to indicate a final fulfillment, until we remember that there are three ways in which quotations from the Old Testament are introduced by writers in the New Testament.
Where the Greek word “ina” is used, then it is “in order that it might be fulfilled”, and the prophecy has been finally fulfilled.
Where the word “tole” is found, then it is “was fulfilled”, and indicates that the event was merely a case in point, and what happened was an illustration of what was said in the prophecy, and it might be “fulfilled” in that way on another occasion.
Where the word “opus” is used, as is the case in Matthew 8:17, it is “so that it might be”, and the fulfillment is not complete, but an event which was within the scope and intention of the prophecy.
So Matthew is not saying that sins were borne during the life of the Lord Jesus, but he is saying that there was an event that was included in the scope of the prophecy of Isaiah, but which did not exhaust its meaning. So when the Lord Jesus healed a person, He took upon Himself, in deep sympathy, the griefs and sorrows that illness caused him, so that instead of the ill person bearing those sorrows, the Lord Jesus bore them for him. Coupled with this, virtue or power went out from Christ to heal the disease that caused the sorrow, see Luke 8:46. In this way He is touched, even now, by the feeling of our infirmities. Remember, He is the Creator of men, and therefore is able to understand perfectly the difference between what He made man at the beginning, and what sin has made him to be now.
The Lord Jesus healed all manner of diseases, Matthew 4:23, and the power of the Lord was present to heal all who were sick, even Pharisees, Luke 5:17. The miracles that are recorded in detail are those that present to us some spiritual lesson, and illustrate some particular sinful condition of man. For instance man is blind, unable to perceive the truth of God, deaf to the voice of God, dumb in the praise of God, lame as to the ways of God, defiled as to the holiness of God, and so on. Those that are recorded in detail, however, are but a sample from the full range of disease that was dealt with by Christ. There was nothing too hard for the Lord to deal with.
Remember also the pains of Calvary, for death by crucifixion was designed to inflict the most possible pain, for the longest possible time, in the most varied ways possible. If anyone knew pain, it was our Saviour, especially since not one of His senses was dulled by sin, unlike ordinary men.
There are not only body-infirmities, however, but weakness of mind and spirit. Can He be touched by these, even though He had no weakness of mind or spirit? Indeed He can, for He has been tested in body, soul and spirit. His mental sufferings on the cross were of the extreme kind. Who else has been forsaken of His God? And He the Son of God in His bosom eternally! There could be no greater trauma than this, than to cry unto God and to receive no answer, as if He were like those who regard iniquity in their heart, Psalm 66:18. And to be separated from God, as if He were like those whose sins have hidden God’s face from them, Isaiah 59:2.
Even in His life He knew sadness because of the sin and unbelief of men; disappointment when His disciples made such slow progress in Divine things; grief as He wept over the city that would soon reject Him, and condemn itself, as a consequence, to be levelled to the ground.
Think of the grief of heart when His loyalty to God, His desires to be subject to Divine purpose, His confidence in Divine promises, were all called into question by the Devil in the wilderness. How true was Isaiah’s word, He is a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief. But in all this He sinned not.
But the question remains as to how exactly our High Priest sympathises with us if He does not have what we have? The answer is that it is precisely because He is apart from sin in any shape or form, that He is able to support, succour and save us from a position of strength. It is not drowning men that save drowning men, but those who throw them a life-line whilst firmly standing on the rock.
There are two truths presented to us in Hebrews 4:15, and they are separated by a semi-colon, and not by a comma, so they are distinct yet allied. First, we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched by the feeling of our infirmities. We have thought a little of that already.
The second truth in 4:15 has to do with temptation. So the writer does not say He is touched by the feelings we have because He had what caused those feelings Himself, but because He was tempted. We have noted that in his temptation every aspect of a man’s attitude to God was tested. He was tempted in all points like as we are, “yet without sin”. This latter phrase may be misunderstood, especially if we retain the word “yet”, which the Authorised Version inserts. “Without sin” means what it does in Hebrews 9:28, namely “apart from, cut off from, sin”. The words of that verse are, “so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin, unto salvation”. When Christ comes again, He will not re-open the question of sin, for He dealt with that effectively by His first coming. He will come totally separate from any notion of dealing with the sin of his people, but will have only their salvation before Him. It is the same in connection with temptation. It is not just that sin is absent from Christ, although that is true, but rather that He distanced Himself from sin in all its forms, cutting himself off from any notion that sin may be trifled with, and indulged in. Now it is precisely because He did this, that He is in a strong position to help us in our temptations, for He strengthens us to distance ourselves from sin too.
He is not touched by our infirmities, but He is touched by the feeling of our infirmities. In other words, without sharing in sinful infirmities, He draws upon His experience of temptation in which He met with, and resisted, the temptation to sin. He knows the feeling that we have when infirmities tempt us to sin. Again we must emphasize that He does not have the infirmity, but from outside of Himself came incitements to sin, which found in Him no response at all. Because He resisted these fully, He has felt the pressure of them beyond all others. We could think of the illustration of a sea wall. One section is built far beyond specifications, with the best quality materials and workmanship. The adjoining section is built below specifications, with second-rate materials and poor workmanship. Which section of the wall will feel the pressure of the storm most? Clearly, the fault-free section, for the other will give way easily. So Christ, fault free in every sense, has withstood to the utmost, and therefore has felt the force of the storm of temptation beyond anything we shall know.
Because we have a High Priest like this, there should be a consequence, indicated by the “therefore”. We should come with boldness to God’s throne, for it is a throne of grace and not of judgement for us. Upon that throne is One who is for us, not against us, and those resources which we need to enable us to overcome temptation are available for the asking. The word for succour, used in Hebrews 2:18, is the word that the woman of Canaan used in Matthew 15:25 when she cried out, “Lord, help me”. So we may utter the same cry. To succour means “To run to the aid of one who cries for help”, and we may approach a throne upon which sits our sympathising high priest, and when we cry to Him for help His attitude to us will be one of mercy, (for He is a merciful high priest, Hebrews 2:17), and He will give us the needed grace to help us in our time of deep need. He will show us from the Scriptures the way in which He met temptations, and so we shall be saved from falling.
- A consideration of the temptation of Christ must take account of the fact that He is the Son of God, and He has not lost or modified His Deity by becoming man. Since God cannot sin, and He is God, then He cannot sin.
- He came to do the will of His Father, which did not include sinning.
- He does not need to be able to sin before He can help us in temptation.
- He really suffered when tempted, because He resisted temptation absolutely.
- He triumphed, whereas Adam and Israel both failed. He is thus shown to be God’s Ideal Man, and Israel’s Rightful King.
- He was tempted in all points, in relation to body, soul, and spirit, and in relation to God’s provision, purpose, and promises.
- We are tempted by circumstances, as He was down here. In this He is the example of patient suffering. We are tempted by the flesh within. He was not tempted like this, for He had no sin-nature, but He is the Son who makes free, John 8:32-36; Romans 6:18), as we apply the truth found in Romans 6. We are tempted by infirmities, those weaknesses which come through the fall, and which can cause us to sin. In this situation He is a touched by the feelings that we have, for, although not having those infirmities Himself, He has known the feeling of being tempted that we have.
- He ever distanced Himself from sin. Sin was not an option for Him.
- He is ready with strength and help for us if we draw near to His throne of grace for help appropriate to the situation.