How are we to understand the temptation of Christ in light of the doctrine of “Dual Nature”? Meaning, if Jesus was fully God and fully man, how serious was the temptation that he endured in the Wilderness, or for that matter, throughout his entire life?
It is easy to understand how Jesus as a man would undergo temptation as it is common to the human experience. So, it would seem that the issue lies within the implications of Jesus’ deity. James 1:3 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” But in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that “…we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One (Jesus) who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” These two passages seem to create a conflict between the two natures of Christ.
Before I tackle this issue let me first demonstrate from Scripture that Christ indeed had two natures within his singular being:
As God, Jesus: However, as man, Jesus:
-was worshipped (Mt 2:2,11; 14:3) -worshipped God (Jn 17)
-is prayed to (Acts 7:59; 1 Cor 1:1-2) -prayed to God (Jn 17:1)
-is called God (Jn 20:28; Heb 1:8) -was called man (Mk 15:39)
-called the Son of God (Mk 1:1) -was called son of man (Jn 9:35ff)
-is sinless (1 Pt 2:22; Heb 4:15) -was tempted (Matt 4:1)
-knew all things (Jn 21:17) -grew in wisdom (Lk 2:52)
-gives eternal life (Jn 10:28) -died (Rom 5:8)
-and is indwelt by the fullness of God (Col 2:9) -had a body of flesh (Lk 24:39)
Do you see the difficulty of synthesizing these texts into an easy to understand doctrine of Christ’s deity and humanity? Well, I am going to give it my best shot in 300 words or less. Here it goes:
We see in Scripture that the divine nature and human nature of Christ coexisted within his person. The scriptures mentioned above tell us that God cannot sin and is not even tempted by sin, and yet the passage from Hebrews states clearly that Christ has been tempted in every way as we are and yet he remained sinless. From the vantage point of the divine I think it would be safe to conclude that Jesus could not have sinned. But from the human perspective Jesus MUST have been truly tempted. So the question becomes, if the divine nature of Christ keeps him from sinning then how could he have even been truly tempted?
Everything Jesus did, he did by looking at the Father. In John 5:19 Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner…” Here is my question… Is this anything different than what our own experience should be? I would say no. Jesus was modeling for us, in every aspect of his life and ministry, exactly what we are supposed to do and be. Since we are not divine beings but are indwelt by the divine, I believe Jesus modeled this aspect of redeemed humanity for us. Looking to the Father and empowered by the Spirit.
Here is another example: In Matthew 12:22 Jesus was casting out demons. The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting them out by the power of Beelzebub (Satan). Jesus accused the Pharisees of being guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Why the Holy Spirit? Why not Jesus? I believe it was because every miracle he preformed he did by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the apostles. If Jesus operated in his deity, it would seem that all of his miracles would have been done in his own power, but over and over again Jesus performs the miraculous through the power of the Spirit and by the prompting of the Father.
Last point for this short blog: Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…” I believe that Jesus is speaking of his humanity here. God has no reason to fulfill his own law, the law was created for man. God would have no problem fulfilling His own law, but man has always fallen short of God’s law. It makes sense, that in his humanity, not in his deity, Jesus came to show how a human should live under the law of God. Again, Dominion of the world was given to a man, was lost by a man, therefore I conclude it must redeemed by a man. This is why Paul says in Philippians 2:5, “ Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul seems to be saying that Christ laid aside his deity to embrace and live in his humanity. This doesn’t not mean that Christ ceased to be Divine, only that he worked from the perspective of his humanity as an example of servanthood and humility for us. Also in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is an obvious allusion back to the creation narrative in reference to the creation of man in Genesis 1:26. In 1 Cor. 15:45 Paul says, “45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” So, Paul seems to picture Jesus as the prefect human, the perfect image of God, His perfect likeness. Jesus is what Adam should have been but he sinned. Therefore, Jesus is the perfect example of what man was intended to be from the beginning.
Ask yourself this: If there is no way Jesus could have sinned, what was the purpose of the temptation in the wilderness? To prove who he was to Satan? Nope, Satan already knew who he was. Was God trying to prove it to Jesus? Nope, He already knew too. It seems to be because Jesus could have really given in to the temptations and yet he never did. Notice that the first two temptations consisted of Satan trying to get Jesus to exit out of his humanity and make use of his deity. The last temptation is Satan tempting Jesus as a human to take a short cut in reclaiming lost creation.
Jesus never sinned because, as man, he kept his eyes on the Father, keeping perfect fellowship with Him… and yet, as the Divine he was the Word. As a man, Jesus was sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in his life, and because he did these perfectly, he never sinned. Could Jesus have sinned? Sure, he was human, but because he trusted in the power of the Spirit and the Word of God and the will of his Father, he did not succumb to temptation and he never sinned. Also, from the perspective of the Divine nature, Jesus would never choose sin. The issue has more to do with capacity than it does with weakness. There are many things in my own life that I have the capacity to do, but because of my predisposition I will never act on that capacity. I believe the same is true of Christ and his nature and capacity.
These are just my thoughts, and I do see this as a third order issue. Therefore, there can be disagreement and continued fellowship. However, I believe there must be agreement that Christ was fully divine and fully human. That is non-negotiable. How those two natures were utilized (or unutilized) will always be an interesting inquiry!