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Among the glorious truths about Christ’s high priesthood is not only that He was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17) but also that “in every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). This requires careful consideration. On the one hand, Jesus was made just like us. On the other hand, Jesus is unlike us in that He has always remained sinless. We must therefore think carefully about Jesus’ temptations. We must not minimize His temptations, but neither should we conclude that they are exactly like our temptations in every possible respect.

First, Jesus really endured temptation. Not only is Hebrews clear on this, but so are the Gospels: Jesus was tempted for forty days by the devil (Matt. 4:1–2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). Though the Greek term for “tempt” can also mean “test,” when sin is in view typically the best translation is “tempt.” Further, Hebrews is clear that Jesus’ temptations involved suffering (Heb. 2:18). Beyond the temptations at the outset of His ministry, some have noted that Jesus was also tempted three times at the end of His ministry to save Himself and come down from the cross (Matt. 27:39–44). But Jesus persevered in selfless obedience to His mission to the very end.

Jesus persevered in selfless obedience to His mission to the very end.

Second, it was necessary for Jesus to be tempted like us so that He might be a perfect High Priest through His suffering (Heb. 2:10). This need to be made perfect does not indicate any lack of moral perfection in the divine Son but refers to the need for the incarnate Son to be made perfect in His role as a human priest. This likewise underscores the importance of the Son’s role as truly human, in solidarity with those He came to save (v. 11). By becoming true man, the eternal Son was able to address the problem of human sin by conquering the devil who holds the power of death. This Jesus did by suffering, even unto death (vv. 14–17). By overcoming death in His glorious resurrection, Jesus is our forerunner (v. 10). Jesus realizes the dignity and goal of humanity given to Adam in the beginning (vv. 5–9), and this He realized by obeying, suffering, dying, and rising again. And since He suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (v. 18).

At the same time, this glorious truth of Jesus’ conquering through suffering and death is also surprising, since the One who suffered is the divine Son of God. But the author of Hebrews tells us that this was fitting (v. 10). Although Jesus is the Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered (5:8). Jesus had to make atonement according to His human nature, suffering the penalty for our sins, even though He Himself was sinless. Bearing this penalty required suffering. Yet suffering was not the end for the glorious Son, for His being made perfect includes His resurrection and glorification, since He abides forever as a faithful, eternal Priest, according to the power of an indestructible life (5:9–10; 7:16–17, 20–28).

Third, Jesus’ victory over temptation not only is essential to the way that our salvation is secured, but it also provides us with an example of persevering in love for God. Jesus is both our Savior and our model (see 1 Peter 2:21–24). He despised the shame of the cross by looking forward to the resurrection joy on the other side of it (Heb. 12:2). This provides encouragement for us to run the race set before us (v. 1).

Fourth, we also need to attend to the differences between Jesus’ temptations and ours. All people born naturally since Adam are born with a sinful nature and are inclined toward sin. But Jesus did not have a sinful nature. Further, the human nature of Jesus is not independent, but in the incarnation, the divine person of the Son of God is the acting subject. These theological truths underscore that, despite strong solidarity between Jesus and His people in the matters of temptation and suffering, some crucial differences remain. We are fallen persons who face temptation not only externally but also internally. Jesus faced real temptation externally, but He was not internally drawn toward sin. Instead, His human will always perfectly conformed to the divine will.

Hebrews’ teaching on Jesus’ priesthood is replete with good news. Not only does Jesus understand human weakness, but He has faced (and overcome) suffering and temptation. As the divine Son of God with a true human nature, He offered the obedience that we could not exercise and grants us the victory that we could not earn. This Jesus is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (7:26). He has ascended into the inner sanctuary as a sure anchor for our souls, where He serves as a Priest on our behalf forever (6:19–20).

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From the August 2023 Issue
Aug 2023 Issue