Our subject is one which has often been the cause of much debate and perplexity. Every now and then someone is bound to ask whether or not the temptations of Jesus were real and genuine in character in the sense of being effective. Whenever this question is asked the one enquiring does not necessarily doubt the holy record of Scripture that Christ was tempted by Satan (), or that the evil one employed his means of temptation as in , and many other instances recorded in Holy Writ. In general the enquirer is most willing to accept Scripture’s testimony that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are. ( ). But when enquiring whether or not these temptations were objectively real he is asking whether these temptations of Christ actually affected Christ as they affect us. Did they cause Him trouble and anxiety, fear and strife? Or did it mean nothing at all to Jesus to be tempted? Did Christ merely (shake off the onslaughts of the evil one as if it were nothing at all and simply pass on to the next episode in His life as if nothing had happened? Was Christ’s nature so repellent to temptation that it affected Him no more than water would an aquatic fowl so that He could even enjoy temptation? Or did Christ actually feel the tempter’s sting and did He feel His own inability to meet these temptations alone? Did they cause His soul to fear and did they drive Him out in bitter agony to God for help and mercy?
The cause of this questioning finds its source in the quality and attributes of the natures ascribed to Christ. Christ is no ordinary human being, but He is God and man. As God He is the fullness of all divine perfections, absolutely holy and perfectly righteous. As man He came in the true human nature, weakened through sin, yet sinless. As far as His human nature is concerned it, too, was absolutely holy, perfectly righteous and positively unable to sin. Hence, Christ might be tempted in the most furious manner but for Him it would never be possible to fall. In all temptations He would remain the true, obedient Servant of Jehovah and prove His absolute righteousness.
This very nature of Christ, His inability to fall into sin, seemingly makes true temptation impossible. One would think temptation could never have the least affect upon such a nature. To us it would appear that being gifted with such attributes it would be a joy to seek out temptation since its conquest would be an absolute certainty.
However, Scripture gives us an altogether different picture. Temptation, when present, was no joy for Christ at all. Inwe read: “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared.”
This testimony of Hebrews is in perfect harmony with what we read concerning Christ when Gethsemane with its temptations pressed from His soul the words: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, and He prayed saying: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (). Previous to Gethsemane Scripture records another temptation brought upon Christ by the thought of His coming suffering and death when in Jesus says: “Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” What a world of misery, too, is wrapped up in that horrible word, “offense”, when Christ, sensing Satan’s onslaughts through Peter, says to him: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense to Me.” ( ).
All the instances in Jesus’ life which are connected to the citations quoted above are considered by Holy Writ as temptations in Jesus’ life. Besides referring to Matt. 4 we would enumerate many more such instances recorded by the Holy Spirit, and the accompanying misery which they caused in Jesus’ life.
In connection with all Jesus’ temptations it will be as he does on any and all whom he desires to tempt. When Satan tempts he always focuses and directs his assault upon that certain point in our life where he can influence us most easily and where, if we yield, it will spell certain ruin. In the life of a Christian that point is usually our inclination toward the world with its pleasures of sin. This was not the ease with Christ. The world offered Him no pleasures, nor was there in Him any inclination toward sin. With His whole being He abhorred sin with all its pleasures. Neither could the pleasures of sin influence Him in the least because He was perfectly holy and righteous. In Him sin and the inclination to sin was an absolute impossibility.
The focal point in Christ’s life was His terrible suffering and death on the cross. So terrible was the anticipation of this suffering that it haunted Him every step of the way from the manger to the grave. It often caused Him a sorrow of soul at the point of well-nigh killing Him. On the other hand, so intricate and all important was this whole way of Christ’s suffering, so weighty was each step and the manner in which each step was taken that one single step in departure from this way would spell ruin for Christ and for His Church. Every step, every moment, every inclination, motive and desire was of eternal value in the obedience demanded by the righteousness of God in saving His chosen saints.
Satan was well aware of these facts. Therefore, in all his endeavors with Christ he focused all his assaults upon that part of Jesus’ life. Whether he tempted Christ personally or through his selected means, by Christ’s own disciples or by the multitude’s laud or bitter mockery, he was always after that one single step in departure from the way of Christ’s suffering. That one single mis-step would be Satan’s glory and Christ’s downfall. Thus he focused everything in that direction and upon that point.
Now it is true that Christ could never depart from that way. It was impossible to deviate one step from the terrible race set before Him. He was the perfect Servant of Jehovah Who would build God’s house. This perfection of Christ was due to the fact that although He possessed with His divine nature a true human nature, both body and soul, yet the person in which these natures were united was not a human person but the Person of the Son of God. Hence, sin, deviation from the way of suffering and obedience was impossible.
However, although Christ had a perfect human nature from the viewpoint that He was absolutely sinless, yet it was a weakened human nature. Though sin itself was not found with Him, yet the results of sin, such as sickness and death, fear and anxiety, strife and misery were found with Him. This we have previously proven. Hence, it can be understood how temptation could affect Christ in that it produced the effect of fear, anxiety, misery and even strife. Not that Christ ever hesitated as to what He should do, but His very doing and the determination to do often brought upon Him a dread of the suffering that awaited Him in the future, and it made Him fear and tremble, and sweat drops of blood and caused Him to cry out in agony to His God for help. So often He seemed forsaken and finally He was forsaken. Terrible were the realities of His temptation, much more so than what they are in our own lives since Christ as perfect man realized the implications of the temptations far more than what we ever can.
Finally, the possibility of Jesus, temptations being an objective reality can also be realized if we bear in mind one other factor in connection with Christ’s human nature. That fact is that wonderful powers contributed to His human nature by which He performed miracles and read the thoughts of His fellow men and could prophesy of things to come were not original to His human nature. By this we mean that we must never consider these powers as being naturally present and finding their origin and abode and residence in Christ’s human nature. It must be remembered that the origin and residence of the miraculous powers which Christ revealed through the medium of His human nature were found in the Person of the Son of God. By Christ’s divine Person His human nature had to be continually infused with these peculiar gifts. It was Christ’s divine Person contributing these gifts to His human nature. Therefore, it is also conceivable that these gifts were in some measure withheld from Him human nature so that Scripture can speak of the fact that Jesus developed, learned and grew. As, for instance, Scripture speaks of Jesus increasing in favor with God and man, () and of learning obedience by the things that He suffered, and of being made perfect though He were a Son. ( ). In considering these things we can somewhat understand how the reality of the temptations were very well possible.
Seemingly the question about the objective reality of Jesus’ temptations is an unimportant one, likewise its answer non-essential. We should bear in mind that the very reality of Christ’s temptations is considered by Scripture as a tremendous comfort to us in our temptations. Whenever our evils press upon us and overwhelm us we may call to mind the Son of God who labored under the same, and since He has gone before us there is no room; for us to faint but rather, first of all, be reminded that deliverance from evil can be found from no other than God alone to whom in all temptations Christ always betook Himself. Finally, since Christ is our merciful High priest to whom we must look for mercy and grace in the midst of all temptations we may be assured that: “He is able to succor them that are tempted in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted” (), since: “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” ( ).