Lots of people wonder if Jesus could have sinned when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The most common theological answer is that while Jesus could have sinned in His humanity, He could not have sinned in His deity. I have heard it illustrated that the deity of Jesus is like a iron bar, and the humanity of Jesus is like a thin wire wrapped around the bar. The wire, or humanity of Jesus, could be bent to sin, but for that to happen, the iron bar of His deity would have to bend, which is impossible.
It’s a nice analogy, but it really doesn’t make me feel that Jesus has experienced temptation the same way I have. I don’t have that iron bar holding me straight. And my wire of humanity feels more like dental floss.
So let’s step back and look at all this a different way.
First, as believers we do (in a sense) have the iron bar of deity holding us straight. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. In other words, we are encased in Christ. So, just like Jesus, the part of us that is “of God” cannot sin (this is what 1 John 3:9 is talking about). And yet, we do sin, because unlike Jesus, we have the sin nature.
And this, I think, really helps us understand the temptation Jesus went through versus the temptation we go through. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted in all ways, just as we are, yet without sin. We often believe this means that He was tempted, but didn’t sin. While this is true, one of my professors at seminary taught that Hebrews 4:15 means that Jesus was tempted in every way we are except one – He wasn’t tempted from the sin nature, because He didn’t have one. In other words, we could loosely translate this verse this way: “Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, but not from the sin nature.”
Why is this important? Because it means that the temptation Jesus went through was way more difficult and trying than any temptation we might experience. We tend to think Jesus had it easy, while our temptations are so severe. But it is really the other way around. The pressure to sin that Jesus faced would crush any one of us.
Let me explain. How much temptation does it take for you to sin? For most of us, it doesn’t take much at all. We have a sinful flesh that will lead us off into temptation every chance it gets. And so Satan doesn’t have to come and tempt us, or even send some of His minions to do the job. Our flesh causes us to sin at the drop of hat, and so he doesn’t have to expend any energy tempting us.
Probably not a single one of us will ever, in our entire lives, be directly tempted by Satan himself. He is not like God who can be everywhere at once. He can only be in once place at one time, and with over six billion people on the planet, he probably has more important things to take care of than tempting you or me to cheat on our taxes or watch that dirty movie. Our flesh easily leads us off into those temptations all by itself; no push from Satan is required.
But while Jesus was fully human, He did not have “sinful flesh.” So the devil had to focus all his energy and skill directly at Jesus. Both knew that life and death and the ownership of the heavens hung in the balance. Not a single one of us will ever face the magnitude of temptation and the cunning power of the devil that Jesus faced for 40 days in the wilderness.
So don’t ever think that your temptation is more severe than what Jesus faced. He has faced down the devil. Most of us have probably never been tempted directly by the devil. And yet every single one of us constantly have the presence of Christ with us and in us, helping us stand in the temptations we face.
Jesus is an iron bar to wrap your frail wire of humanity around. Then you, and Christ in you, will be unbendable, unbreakable, able to withstand the wiles of the devil.