Why Was Jesus Tempted?

Someone at Bible study last night asked why Jesus had to be tempted if he was the Son of God. My initial response was to point to Hebrews 4:15: “For 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.” Jesus was truly human and temptation has been a part of the human experience for as long as there have been humans.

But Jesus did what Adam couldn’t. The contrast between the two temptations is interesting. Adam was surrounded by every good thing that God created and only had to abstain from the fruit of one tree. He was in paradise and lacked nothing. Yet he still failed. Jesus on the other hand was led out into the dry and desolate desert where he went without food for forty days. He had every reason to fail and yet he succeeded. So why did Jesus have to be tempted? In order to undo what was done in Adam and to fulfill God’s original intention for humanity. Salvation is as much about Jesus’ life as it is his death and resurrection.

But there’s another thing we can note: Jesus is our example. Jesus, as truly human, was empowered by the Spirit to resist every temptation that came his way. In other words, I don’t think it’ll do to just say, “Jesus was God so he couldn’t sin.” We have to take notice of his genuine humanity and Spirit empowerment. We’ve been given the same empowerment and opportunity to say no to sin when temptation arises. Paul says: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” There’s always a way of escape; Jesus knew that and took it and so should we.



24 thoughts on “Why Was Jesus Tempted?

  1. My understanding about Jesus not being tempted was in regards to that he himself never seriously considered not doing God’s will….there were times he obviously didn’t want to go through that journey; but he set himself to walk it anyway.

  2. Craig: You mean about Jesus not sinning, right? He was clearly tempted. I don’t know that we can say whether or not Jesus ever seriously considered not doing God’s will, but we don’t have to, we know that he always did it.

    Bryan: (1) Yes. (2) I believe so. I’d take it further and say that even with the Spirit I believe that Jesus could have succumb to temptation. That’s what made it actually tempting.

  3. Let me rephrase that last question. Do you believe without the Spirit Jesus would have succumbed to temptation, or wouldn’t have been able to resist temptation. Or could he have completely resisted temptation without the Spirit? That’s what I meant to ask.

  4. To say Jesus was tempted is true. To say that he must have been is not, except to fulfill prophecy (none of which come to mind off the top of my head, though there may be some). Satan has self-will and chose to tempt Christ. It is Satan’s nature to defy God’s commands (do not tempt the Lord your God) to the extend he can. With regard to Heb 4:15, while this is wonderful news for us, it explains the benefit without actually explaining the purpose.

    //But Jesus did what Adam couldn’t.//

    Jesus did what Adam didn’t. Both were tempted. Both made choices. Both knew the Father’s will. One rebelled, the other obeyed. This is the good news, that Christ overcame and was victorious, and what is more he is merciful to apply his sacrifice to pay the penalty for our own sin choices.

  5. One of the dangers I see within this conversation and the greater Christian context is of a Spiritless Christology. Jesus could not do anything of his own accord; only what the Father showed him. This was through the Holy Spirit and it was through the power of the Spirit that Christ ministered healing, deliverance, prophecy, provision, etc.

  6. Lance: I’m going to disagree on both points. Had Jesus not been tempted, then he wouldn’t have been able to reconcile all things, or so it would seem. Salvation is tied up in Jesus’ living the life that God originally intended for mankind.

    On the second point, it’s moot (and speculative) to say that Adam simply “didn’t” rather than that he “couldn’t.” We have no way of knowing if he could have avoided the temptation because he didn’t.

    Craig: I don’t see that danger in this conversation. There’s no real danger of a Spiritless Christology here; just a hypothetical question being asked for the purpose of speculation.

  7. Nick, I shall then have to remain in respectful disagreement, still, on both of those points. For the sake of clarification I’ll add the following…

    //Had Jesus not been tempted, then he wouldn’t have been able to reconcile all things, or so it would seem. Salvation is tied up in Jesus’ living the life that God originally intended for mankind.//

    First sentence is at best speculative. He reconciled because he was a sinless sacrifice who atoned for all human sin. He certainly was tempted, but he did not sin. This goes to the second sentence as well. Salvation is tied to the sinless life in that only as such was his atoning blood acceptable as payment to redeem humanity. Being tempted helps us to relate to the suffering he endured for us, and it does make being sinless more meaningful in that we are not successful enduring temptation without sin. I’m not saying his temptation is without value or importance, but I believe it is his sinlessness that matters, not his temptation.

    //On the second point, it’s moot (and speculative) to say that Adam simply “didn’t” rather than that he “couldn’t.” We have no way of knowing if he could have avoided the temptation because he didn’t.//

    I think we’re comparing apples and oranges. This goes to the first point and where I think our communication runs off the rails. There is a vital distinction to be made between temptation and sin. They are not the same. One is the advertisement, the other is the purchase. Both Jesus and Adam were tempted. I said that in my original comment. I never said he could have avoided being tempted. I rather doubt Jesus could have “avoided” being tempted. The difference I suggest is not in the temptation, rather the choice to rebel.

    An interesting side point that applies to both Adam’s temptation and the wilderness temptation of Jesus… Both were offered what they already had. In my mind what made the difference is not just that Jesus was God Incarnate – but also that while Adam was warned, he was also ignorant of the effects of sin. Jesus, as a human, witnessed the ravages of sin all around him for 30 years before his ministry even began. Jesus, as God Incarnate, also saw his creation suffer the results of sin.

  8. Jesus is the one who said that to even think about sin is the same as doing the act. It is said that God cannot be tempted with evil and I submit that this quality of God was also in His Son. The messiah had to do what Adam and none of Adams children could and that was fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. In order to do this Jesus would have to be as righteous as God. Does it not say that Jesus was the fulness of God, the image and express person of God? Temptation begins in the mind and even if not acted upon is sin as Jesus said, now ask the question, could Jesus have sinned?

  9. Lee: A few things in response:

    (1) It seems as if you’re equating temptation with sin, i.e., to even be tempted with a thought is akin to sinning (please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you). I think Jesus spoke of something less superficial than that when he said that to lust after a woman (= covet another man’s wife) is as the sin of adultery. This is going beyond a stray thought and into the intentions of someone’s heart.

    (2) The nature of the Incarnation is that God the Son willingly humbled himself and took on a human nature. I believe that Jesus’ humanity was real in every way and that he lived the full human experience, to include being tempted, which is what Scripture says. It’s just about impossible for me to say that Jesus could not be tempted when Matt. 4, Luke 4, and Heb. 4 all say explicitly that he was.

    (3) I have asked if Jesus could have sinned for years and the conclusion I’ve come to is that he could have but obviously didn’t. I believe he could have because I believe that temptation without the possibility of sin is not actual temptation, and I believe that Jesus was actually tempted. I think it’s moot to argue the point though since we know that Jesus didn’t sin. Whether he could have or not is immaterial to what he actually did.

  10. James says that every man, including Jesus, when tempted is drawn away by his own lust. You are correct that temptation is what makes sin possible, it is the birth place of sin, the mind.
    The 10th commandment says thou shall not lust. If Jesus was tempted then he was drawn away by his own lust and therefore broke the 10th commandment. It is not necessary to act out the thought, just have the thought. You and I are judged by the thoughts and intents of our heart, why not the same for Jesus.

  11. Consider that Jesus knew he could not sin and this due to his fathers testimony about him in the prophets. Jesus knew what the prophets said and that he would rule in Gods kingdom. Prophecy is a sure word because it is the will of God in advance, therefore Jesus knew he could not sin. The will of God said so.

  12. If we read further into the scripture, of Matthew 4, Jesus uses scripture to rebuke Satan. This might also have been another part of the focus. Scripture, Gods word. Powerful! And a great example that Jesus left with us. Maybe Matthew 4 was not intended for people to focus on or debate Jesus ability to resist temptation but more to fulfill prophesy and Gods original intention, and to leave us the example of the power of Gods word. I am no theologian and I do not get excited about debate, so this was just a little food for thought.

  13. Jesus had the same love in him as the Father. Godly love can not sin and is the fulfillment of the law. The tempting of Jesus by Satan was to show us that we had a messiah who could not sin, after all none of the temptations worked, did they. Satan may have not known Jesus was unable to sin and thought he could get Jesus to sin. Either way God never had a plan B in the event Jesus would have sinned. Jesus is salvation, is the new covenant and no one had to die so that he could enter the kingdom of God and sit at Gods right hand. The unrighteous can not enter the kingdom of God so if Jesus did he was righteous and this is how he was equal to his Father and how through Jesus we the saints can have imputed righteousness by faith in Jesus.

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