The Temptation of Jesus
by Dudley Ross Spears
The temptation of Jesus usually brings Bible students to Matthew chapter 4 and Luke chapter 4. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. This was not the only time Jesus was tempted (See Luke 22:28). In all of the trials through which he passed, he alone never succumbed to temptation. He was never of even the slightest infraction of God’s will (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:21-22). But was Jesus tempted as is described in James 1:13, which says God cannot be tempted with evil? My answer is no. Please study further.
The fact that God cannot be tempted with evil doesn’t mean it was impossible for Satan to make an effort to tempt him with evil. Satan did that repeatedly, but evil has no attraction to God. He never desires to do evil things. He never thinks evil thoughts. In the sense that evil has no attraction to God, it was not attractive to Jesus, the Word that became flesh (John 1:14; 1 John 1:2).
Every faithful child of God knows Jesus was God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). He was God all the time he was in the flesh. He never ceased being God. “The Word” became a human being named Jesus, whom the angel introduced as “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Jesus, “God with us,” was tempted with evil to sin, but neither evil nor sin held any kind of attraction for him. He never desired to do evil.
Some Bible students, in an effort to radically humanize God, the son of man, assert that Jesus did not retain any of the attributes of deity. They deny he possessed or even had access to divine powers and attributes. They strip God of that which identifies and distinguishes him as God. If they are correct, and Jesus neither had, nor had access to, divine attributes, he was not tempted to sin, as God. If he had no attributes of God, he was not God; he was just a man, and was tempted as such.
Was Jesus tempted as just a man? When he was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, was this a test of Jesus as God, or as a very hungry man? Hunger cannot be factored into this. No matter how hungry a mere man becomes, he cannot turn stones to bread. Jesus could. Jesus, as God, had personal control over the process of altering food. It would have been no more difficult to turn stones to bread than it was for him to multiply bread and fish (Matt. 14:17ff). So this was not temptation for a man to satisfy his physical hunger. It was an attempt to get Jesus to prove he was God in the flesh.
When the foul tempter offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of this world, he tempted Jesus to fall down before him and worship Satan. Jesus’ response was: “It is said, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God” (Luke 4:12). Satan was not tempting a mere man. He was tempting God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus was saying, in effect, “You shall not tempt me,” knowing all the while that he was God, though now in a flesh and blood body.
Was there any kind of a risk involved in this? Could Jesus have failed and given in to Satan’s temptations? Hardly. Here’s why. The first prophecy about Jesus was given by God Almighty. The word God always includes Jesus (God, the son), or “the Word” that became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14; 1 John 1:1). That is Jesus, of Nazareth.
Here is the prophecy from God Almighty:
“I will put enmity between thee (the serpent) and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed (Jesus, of Nazareth): he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
Crushing the head of a snake kills it. God promised this would come to pass without fail. Genesis 3:15 is a clear statement of assured victory. This was a battle won before it was fought.
The prophecy of Isaiah reaffirms the unfailing success of Jesus.
“He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law" (Isa. 42:4).Till the end of time, Jesus could not fail. So, what risk was involved as Jesus faced the tempter? Jesus was infallible.
Jesus announced his victory over Satan, declaring “the prince of this world is (has been, NAS, now stands, NIV) judged” (John 16:11). The Lord had previously affirmed complete victory over Satan by saying,
“I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing (has no hold on, NIV) in me” (John 14:30).
With nothing to control in Jesus, the Devil was powerless.
Some will ask, “If there was no possibility of Jesus giving in to temptation, of what value is his temptation to me?” It is extremely valuable. It tells us as much about Satan as it does about Jesus. Satan is vulnerable. He can be defeated. He didn’t know Jesus was invulnerable. He tried and failed. To me that tells me I can also become invulnerable to Satan’s siren calls that would lure me into sin.
Others may ask, “But Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus was tempted, was tempted with evil, was tempted to sin, but the big difference is he was “without sin.” Sin was never any part of the nature or being of Jesus. “And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Since Jesus is God, manifest in the flesh, there was no darkness in him at all. Yes, he was a man, and yes he was tempted in all points. No, he was not tempted exactly as a mere man.
Notice the part of the sentence, “like as we are, yet without sin.” There is a clear distinction made by the Hebrew writer that separates Jesus from any mere man. In the same book, we are told, “For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Heb 7:26). Jesus was unlike mere man in that he was always without sin.
Consider this also. Jesus was not completely like ordinary men. It was impossible for him to be precisely like ordinary men. His birth was unlike that of ordinary men. He defined the difference himself. “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). The term “like as” cannot mean “the same as.”
The comments of the late Robert Milligan are true:
“He was tempted in every respect, in joy and sorrow, in fear and hope, in the most varied situations, but without sin: the being tempted was to him purely passive; purely objective. No inclination to evil ever defiled his pure spirit. The lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, had no place in his affections. And hence, though tempted by the Devil through all the avenues and natural desires of the human heart, he was still ‘without sin’.” (Commentary on Hebrews, pages 147-148).
“Like as” doesn’t mean the same as. We learned this long ago when dealing with charismatics and so-called “Pentecostals.” The tongues that are mentioned in Acts 2:3 were “like as” of fire, but not identically the same as fire.
One thing that has been presented repeatedly, but never answered, on this issue is the following. Jesus could not be tempted just like an ordinary man who has sinned. One of the strong attractions to sin is to repeat the “pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). One who sins and finds it pleasurable will be tempted to repeat it. Not so with Jesus, for he never sinned in the first place. Yes, Jesus is our example (1 Pet. 2:21) but not in everything.
Jesus is not our example in every thing we are required by God to do. Jesus could not be our example in repentance and in asking God to forgive his sins. The fact remains, that while Jesus was not just like us, nor was he tempted just exactly like we are, his sure victory over Satan generates confidence and substantiates hope. As God, becoming a man like us, Jesus Christ is the very foundation upon which we are to build our lives (Luke 6:48-49; 1 Cor 3:11). As such, he is the sure foundation, not a foundation that would involve risk or chance. May God help us to appreciate the great God and our savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).