A gracEmail subscriber asks whether Jesus Christ was truly tempted to sin as we are, or whether he only encountered the temptation but without any accompanying enticement.
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Although Jesus was the divine Word made flesh, in the Incarnation he truly became human and lived as one of us (Heb. 2:14). In so doing, he graciously “emptied” himself of divine prerogatives and advantages (Phil.2:7; 2 Cor. 8:9). Although God cannot be tempted by evil, in his humanity Jesus was fully “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (James 1:13; Heb. 4:15). Because he did experience our difficulties and struggles, Jesus is able now to be our gracious high priest at God’s right hand in heaven (Heb. 4:14-16). An early teaching called Docetism said that Jesus only appeared to be human but the apostolic church rejected that notion as contrary to the gospel.
Jesus’ intercession as our high priest also rests on the fact that, when tempted, he always remained faithful to God. His high priesthood is exercised in a sinless human life, now resurrected and glorified in heaven, that is indestructible (Heb. 7:16). If Jesus had ever sinned, he would have disqualified himself from becoming either our Savior or our high priest. He came as the second “Adam,” representing his people before God in his own doing and dying, and their fate depended on his success (see Rom. 5:12ff). Thank God he was successful and we enjoy God’s favor and fellowship as a result!
Jesus also fulfilled Israel’s destiny as God’s faithful chosen servant to bring the nations to God. That is in Matthew’s mind as he tells the story of three special temptations of Jesus Christ. God brought ancient Israel out of Egypt through the water into the wilderness, there to be tempted for 40 years to see if they would obey him or not — and they failed the test. Similarly, Jesus comes out of Egypt (Matt. 2) through the water (Matt. 3) into the wilderness (Matt. 4), there to be tempted after 40 days to see if he will obey God — and he does. Because Jesus was tempted throughout his life but did not sin, he was able to become our Savior and merciful high priest. He thus reversed the tragic consequences of Adam’s sin as the last Adam, fulfilled Israel’s destiny as the righteous remnant and true Israel, and now calls the whole world to restoration and wholeness with the living God.