The Temptations of Jesus

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The question of Jesus temptations has been raised again. It is a complex, but very important area of theology. Here are twelve points to keep in mind about Jesus’ temptations.

  1. Thinking about Jesus’ experience of temptation highlights the mystery of his person. Since Jesus is fully God and fully human—and Creator and creature are infinitely different—then there must be mysteries, and even paradoxes in what we affirm about Jesus. We can affirm certain things, as I will here, but we cannot hope to describe Jesus’ inner experience of temptation.
  2. The New Testament words translated “tempt” and “temptation” (peirazo/peirasmo) mean test or trial, they do not always refer to “enticement to do wrong” (what we could call moral trial). We should not assume that every time the New Testament speaks of temptation it means an inner desire toward sin.

We should not assume that every time the New Testament speaks of temptation it means an inner desire toward sin.

  1. Jesus faced the trials of suffering and death (Luke 22:28), and moral trial as the Tempter sought to divert him from his devotion to God (Matt 4:3).
  2. The gospels highlight Jesus’ moral trials at the start of his ministry (Matt 4:1-11 Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13). These Satanic temptations continued through his whole life (Luke 4:13). His death was the height of his trials, both general and moral (Luke 22:28,48; John 12:27).
  3. Jesus’ temptations were focused on his messianic task, they were opportunities to turn from the path of suffering and death. They were also general human temptations. The temptations in the wilderness related to his identity as the Son of God, but were also common human temptations to doubt God’s goodness, test God’s faithfulness and turn to false worship. Satan appealed to Christ’s valid human needs for food, reassurance, success. From these we can start to think of how Jesus was “tempted in every way” (Heb 4:15). 
  4. Through temptation and obedience, Jesus was fully qualified (“made perfect”) to be saviour and the high priest for God’s people (Heb 2:10). Here “made perfect” (teleioo) means fully equipped for God’s purpose, not correcting Jesus’ life as if he needed to be turned away from sin.
  5. Jesus lived, and faced temptation, by the power of the Spirit (Matt 1:18; 3:16; 4:1; 12:18, 28; Luke 1:35, 80; 4:1, 18; 10:21; John 1:32-33; 3:34; 6:63). By the Spirit he offered himself to God in his death (Heb 9:14). 
  6. Jesus did not sin. He is “without sin” (Heb. 4:15 cf 7:26) and “committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22 cf John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Jn 3:5). Although there is some debate about this, we should affirm the Christ has no ‘sinful nature’. He came as the head of a new humanity just because he is the second Adam, not a member of the first Adam. To be truly human does not require a fallen nature, in fact the fall distorts and corrupts humanity. True humanity is only restored in Christ.

He was free from inherent sin. Nowhere in the structures of his being was there any sin. Satan had no foothold in him. There was no lust. There was no affinity with sin. There was no proloctivity to sin. There was no possibility of temptation from within. In no respect was he fallen and in no respect was his nature corrupt.[1]

To be truly human does not require a fallen nature, in fact the fall distorts and corrupts humanity. True humanity is only restored in Christ.

  1. Enticement for Christ to turn from God’s way came from outside of himself. Satan could use Jesus’ valid human desires, which in a fallen world are weaknesses (Heb 5:2). In this sense, Jesus’ temptations were certainly ‘inner’. The enticement, and the sinfulness, came to Christ from the Tempter.
  2. If we ask, “Could Jesus have sinned?”, we arrive at a point of paradox. As God, he could not sin; as a human there must be some sense in which he could sin. The very fact of temptation implies the possibility of sin. How could the One who cannot sin face the prospect of being enticed into sin? Who can imagine?
  3. Jesus’ temptations were entirely real. He entered our battle and lived under the conditions of our struggle, seeing it to the very end (unlike us).
  4. Jesus’ temptations were more intense than those endured by any other person. The New Testament witness to the Satanic activity around Jesus ministry highlights the intensity of his temptations. In agony in Gethsemane he strained to commit himself to follow his Father’s will (Matt. 26:37–39; Luke 22:41–44). This point is underline in famous words from Westcott on Hebrews 2:18.

‘Sympathy with the sinner does not depend on the experience of sin but on the experience of the strength of the temptation to sin which only the sinless can know in its full intensity. He who falls yields before the last strain’.[2]

Jesus’ temptations were more intense than those endured by any other person.

The temptations of Christ are central to his work. They also remind us of the mystery of the incarnation.

No doubt, as with our temptations, Satan appealed to Christ’s human desires and weaknesses.

There are two great difference between Christ’s temptations and ours. First, our temptations arise, in part, from our own distorted desires; to the extent that they were enticement to sin, his came from without. Second, Christ resisted temptation entirely and utterly, continually dedicating himself to his Father’s will. He alone knows the full pain and cost of resisting temptation. Thank God, he did that for us.


Read a longer version of this post at: https://theologyinteralia.net/2019/08/22/christ-and-temptation/

[1] D. Macleod, The Person of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1998), 222. 0n the debate about Christ and sinful nature, see Kelly Kapic, “The Son’s Assumption of a Human Nature: A Call for Clarity.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 3.2 (July 2001): 154-66.

[2] B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 59.

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