We all know what temptation is, don’t we? We’ve been there, done that and could write a book about it.

As far as what temptation is in its essence, it is when desire meets opportunity. 

If I have a desire for a Diet Coke (that Kim tells me I’m supposed to avoid) but don’t have access to one, then there is no temptation. If, on the other hand, I have access to a Diet Coke but don’t have the desire to consume it, there is no temptation. Yet, if I am craving a Diet Coke and one is placed in front of me … walla! … temptation!

From that we can understand what sinful temptation is. It occurs when we have a sinful desire and an opportunity to indulge that desire. 

But what about Jesus? In my Bible reading this morning, I came across Luke 4:1-13 where it gives the account of Jesus’ temptation. This is a point of much debate and has been for centuries. 

Why? Because Jesus is God in the flesh. As God in the flesh, He was fully human yet lacked one thing that every other human had/has – the sin nature. We are all born with a sin nature that explains our sinful cravings. We sin and violate God’s laws because there is within us what the Bible sometimes calls “the flesh” that wants to focus upon gratifying self regardless of what God has said. Even though God’s laws are given for our good, we often violate them to our own harm … because of the sin nature.

Well, Jesus didn’t have a sin nature. Thus, the question: “How could Jesus be tempted if He didn’t have a sin nature? He was given opportunities to sin by Satan in Luke 4:1-13 but if He didn’t have the desire, then how could it be temptation?” But, an even bigger question than that is, “How could it be said that Jesus was tempted when He was, in fact, God?” God can’t be tempted, right (James 1:13)?

Luke 4:1-2 (New Living Translation)
“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.”

For starters, the Word of God calls it “temptation” so, well, um, that’s what it was whether we understand it or not.

Second, Adam and Eve were not created with a sin nature. They were created neutral to sin. They could take it or leave it. Unlike us, there wasn’t a driving force within them that compelled them to sin. Yet, they sinned. 

I believe that it is in this way that we are to understand Jesus’ human nature. He was fully human. Yet, He had more in common with Adam than He did with you or me. (In fact, Jesus is compared/contrasted to Adam in the New Testament – see Romans 5:12-21 & 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). He did not have the driving force to sin within Him that you and I have. He was neutral to sin like Adam and Eve in their original state. In His human nature, He could take it or leave it.

Yet, that being the case, one can see how even though Jesus was neutral to sin could be tempted in the three areas that Satan hurled at Him.

Jesus was hungry (He hadn’t eaten for 40 days!) and Satan tempted Him with the idea of recklessly using His divine power to turn rocks into bread (Luke 4:3-4). That would be VERY tempting!

Jesus knew that claiming a position of authority over the world would require His substitutionary death (see Philippians 2:5-11). Satan provided a shortcut (Luke 4:5-8). We can see how this would be tempting, can’t we?

In the third and final temptation, it seems as if Satan was calling upon Jesus to prove that He really was a person of divine value. He could find out by jumping off the highest point of the temple and seeing Heaven’s angelic host come to His rescue (Luke 4:9-12). The assurance from Heaven could be tempting. 

So, it is true that Jesus was tempted. Even though His human nature was neutral to sin, we can see how the temptation that Satan lobbed at Him was truly tempting.

Yet, how are we to understand that Jesus was tempted when we consider His divine nature? After all, since He was God in the flesh, He couldn’t be tempted (see James 1:13)?

An explanation that has made the most sense to me is found in the book, “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem. In it, the author states that we may understand Jesus’ human nature by picturing someone in a baseball game. They are the catcher behind home plate. The pitcher winds up and throws the ball. The catcher is supposed to catch it and absolutely not let it get past him. Yet, if the ball gets past him, there is a backstop behind him to stop the ball.

It was noted that the human nature of Jesus is the “catcher.” Satan lobbed temptations at Him and he combated those temptations in the realm of His human nature. (If He had combated them in the realm of His divine nature, it could not have been accurately said that He was tempted since God cannot be tempted.) If His human nature had failed and was made willing to yield to temptation, His divine nature would have stopped it from happening. Yet, that never happened. Jesus battled Satan and sin in His flesh and emerged victorious.

In fact, we could even say that Jesus knows what temptation is like even more than we do. We often only experience momentary temptation before we give in. Yet, Jesus bore the full weight of temptation because He refused to give in.

So, Hebrews 4:15 is absolutely accurate when it says that Jesus was genuinely tempted. “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”

Since Jesus has experienced temptation and understands what it’s like, call out to Him when you are struggling. Not only does He know all things as God, He experientially knows what it’s like. He can help you, friend.