Here’s a difficult question that’s worth thinking about: What is the difference between the temptation that Jesus experienced and the temptation that we experience? A good answer to this question will help us deal with the temptation that we experience. Here are some of the biblical texts that we must consider in order to think this through:
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Here are some of the questions that make this issue difficult.
1) Jesus was clearly tempted by Satan, and it was a real temptation. The Hebrews passage makes this crystal clear. But Jesus is God and the James passage says that God cannot be tempted by evil. How can those two passages be reconciled?
2) The James passage says that each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Some versions, like the NIV and KJV translate “desire” with “evil desire” or “lust” (respectively). The word in Greek is epithymia and almost always refers to evil desires, so these translations are accurate. But Jesus, being sinless, would have had no evil, lustful desires luring him and enticing him. Does James then point at a kind of temptation that affects us, but that did not affect Christ. If so, how can this be reconciled with the Hebrews passage that says that Jesus was tempted in every respect… as we are?
Please note that I am not trying to pit any one scripture against the other. I am trying to look at what God is telling us in these diverse passages to get at a more complete understanding of what temptation is and how Jesus, our great high priest, is able to help us with it.
I have some thoughts on this that I want to share in a future post, but I thought it would be interesting to pose the question first to see if anyone who may come across this blog would have some thoughts. Feel free to leave comments. Note that I must approve the comments before they will appear. Our family is currently in the middle of a big move, so I may not get back to this right away.