Jesus: Tempted Yet Without Sin

In Hebrews 4:14-16, the author draws together three truths: 1) Jesus was tempted; 2) Jesus never sinned; and 3) Jesus is the believer’s high priest. The question is what is the relationship between these three concepts?

The author twice mentions that Jesus was tempted (2:18, 4:15), and that he was tempted “in every respect” as we are. Some argue that if Jesus was God, then he never really faced temptation because he could not sin. That is true according to his divine nature. But according to his human nature, he could have sinned—the temptations were real. It is because he is the God-Man that the quality of his temptations were far more severe than any a mere mortal has faced. Thus, he can sympathize with us.

“Yet,” the author adds, “without sin.” Although Jesus suffered far greater temptations than we will ever face, he overcame all of them. In truth, we could never be tempted as he was because we give in to the most feeble of temptations. Therefore, he is able to help anyone escape temptation unlike the priests who could only commiserate.

In the Old Testament, the priests could only assist the Israelites after they had sinned. Now, believers may approach Christ for grace and mercy before they sin. It is like the priest saying, “I would that rather you would come to me for help during the moment of temptation, than come to me seeking forgiveness.”

Thus, the believer benefits in two respects for having Jesus as high priest. First, Jesus has compassion on those who are tempted for he knows precisely, from experience, what the believer faces. Secondly, because he never gave in to temptation, Jesus is able (and desires) to offer help to those who are tempted so that they might not sin.