Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jesus' temptations ... and mine

For a number of years, there was a verse in the New Testament that, quite frankly, befuddled me.  (Just one?) It was 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. I believed the verse, as I believe all of God's words, but I certainly didn't understand it.  How could Jesus, living in the first century, be tempted in all the ways that I am, living in the world of the 20th and 21st centuries? I certainly understood that He was sinless, but had He really experienced all the temptations that you or I have? It didn't make sense to me.

You know exactly what I mean.  We can imagine the Child Jesus being tempted to tell a lie, or steal a toy from a friend, or imagine the young Man Jesus being tempted to lust after a pretty girl.  Those are timeless, universal things.  But Jesus never went to school, so He wasn't tempted to cheat on a test.  He was never married, so He wasn't tempted to ignore His wife, or betray her. (He will have a Bride in the spiritual sense, thank God, but I'm talking about His life on earth: that's the context of the verse.)  He was never in the military, so He was never tempted to cowardice in battle, or insubordination to an officer.  He had no children, so he wasn't tempted to scream at His kids or, worse, abuse them. He was never tempted to look at Internet pornography, or to preen and gossip on Facebook or Twitter. But the Bible says He was in all points tempted like as we are.  How could that be?

Finally, someone explained it to me, and suddenly the verse ( which I had doggedly believed, even without understanding) made perfect sense.  The verse doesn't say that Jesus was faced with every single temptation that we are.  It doesn't say that His experience was exactly the same as  ours.  It says that He was tempted in all points like as we are.  Get that combination: "like as...."  It gives us not one, but two qualifiers to explain that it doesn't refer to an identical experience.  I just didn't notice it - - - but every word of God is important, including the little ones.

There are, according to the Bible, really only three types of temptation: and when you've experienced those three, you've experienced them all.  Those are the "points" in which Jesus was tempted, as are you and I.  The Bible lists the "points," and gives very clear examples of each - - - including the example of Jesus, the first time He was here on earth.

In his first epistle, the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16).  Those are the three categories of sin, and temptation: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  "Okay," someone says, "that's interesting, but what do those things mean?"  To find out, we don't have to go any further than Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. 

The first human being ever to be tempted was Eve.  The story should be familiar, but there's no substitute for God's word, so let's look at it - - - and highlight the three points of temptation.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat (Genesis 3:1-6).

(Forget the "talking snake" that the theophobes like to joke about; the Devil was probably a beautiful, fascinating creature at this point: God didn't transform him into his more debased form until verse 14.  And it probably wasn't an apple, either.)

Why did the tree in the midst of the Garden appeal to Eve?  Why was she tempted to break God's commandment and eat it? Because the fruit was good for food, and thus satisfied the lust of the flesh.  ("Lust" isn't always sexual; you can lust over a ham sandwich or a candy bar.) The fruit was pleasant to the eyes, pretty to look at, and satisfied the lust of the eyes. (Nobody's saying that enjoying food or beautiful things is sinful: how many artists have painted "still lifes" that are bowls of fruit?  The only problem for Eve was that this fruit had been placed off-limits by God.  It wasn't her hunger, or her aesthetic sense, that got her in trouble; it was her disobedience.  But she was tempted to disobey in these specific points.) Finally, the fruit was desired to make one wise, and that appealed to the pride of life.  Eve wanted to be wise, but for the wrong reasons; it was a matter of pride.  So there were the three great categories or points of temptation, in a mere handful of fruit. The temptations are even listed in the same order as in 1 John. I wonder if the Apostle John thought about Eve as he penned his epistle?

Maybe not.  He might have been thinking of Jesus, because Jesus experienced these same temptations, during His time with Satan in the wilderness.  From the Gospel of Matthew:

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:3-9).


Even in tempting Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the Devil used these three points of temptation.  (He also used, or rather misused, Scripture: and he's still doing it today.) Jesus was hungry; so much we know from Matthew 4:2.  So, the first temptation, to make bread from a stone, was the lust of the flesh.  The second temptation, to survive a seemingly suicidal leap, was an appeal to the pride of life. In the third case, by showing Jesus all the kingdoms and their glory, the Devil was appealing to the lust of the eye.  This is why John could say that Jesus was in all points tempted like as we are - - - because He was, just as Eve was, and just as you and I are.

No, Jesus was never confronted with Internet porn while He was on earth; but He experienced the temptation of the lust of the eyes.  He was never tempted to snort cocaine or pay for plastic surgery to make Himself "handsome," but he was tempted by the lust of the flesh.  He never undercut a fellow employee for a promotion, or mocked someone just to make Himself feel "superior" (not that He needed to), but he was tempted by the pride of life.  Just like we are, whatever our specific weaknesses are.  He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  He never gave in to the temptation: He was sinless and perfect.

And that's why He's touched with the feeling of our infirmities;  although He never condones our sins or our temptations, He understands the power of temptation.  And that, in turn, is why He can be our Great High Priest, our Mediator before God the Father.  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  Mary or Muhammad can never be our Mediators; they've never been God, and don't know how God sees things. They only know how people see things. But a Mediator has to understand both sides.  And Jesus Christ does: He's the uncreated, eternal God, and was a Man, tempted like we are.  He got hungry ... but He wouldn't make the bread out of stones.

If you're not a born again Christian, who has received Christ according to John 1:12, this matter of Jesus' temptation probably doesn't mean very much to you.  But if you're a Christian, struggling with temptation, teetering on the brink of sin .... it means more than all the world.  You have a Saviour and Lord Who understands you perfectly.

What a wonderful Christ!

1 comment:

  1. An excellent explanation, I've cross referenced Genesis 3 and Mtt 4 and 1 Jn 2 in my Bible. Thanks!