One of the greatest mysteries in all of history is the Incarnation—the Son of God becoming the Son of man. Many facets of this miraculous event are beyond our comprehension. Yet we accept it because we take God at His Word. And as we study His Word, we can grow in understanding this marvelous act.
One mysterious aspect of the Incarnation is this: How could Jesus have had divine power and yet be tempted in all points like we are? We know it was so because God said so: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). but how could this be? Would it not be easy to overcome temptation with miracle power? Whatever the temptation, divine power could just make it go away. If you could read people’s minds, turn water to wine, multiply bread and fish, heal all kinds of hurt and sickness, cast out demons, calm storms, and even raise the dead, could you face temptation as a human? To answer this question we must first answer another question: What did Christ give up when He came to earth in human form? According to Philippians 2:6,7, Christ Jesus went from “the form of God” to “the form of a servant,” and from being “equal with God” to being “in the likeness of men.”
Did Christ give up His divinity? The Scripture is clear that He did not. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus Christ was still fully God while fully man.
What then did He give up? From His words and life on earth, it is evident that He surrendered the control of His divine powers to His Father. This is key to understanding how He could face temptation as a man. And exploring this truth inspires us to higher worship of Him and deeper gratitude for His work.
Christ’s entire life on earth consisted of doing His Father’s will. He said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). He did not act independently of the Father; He did only the Father’s will. “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). He did the Father’s will in everything. In John 8:29 He said, “I do always those things that please him.” Since Christ always did what pleased the Father, He exercised miraculous power only at His Father’s direction, whether turning water to wine, healing a lame man, raising Lazarus, or calming the storm.
When it was not the Father’s will for Him to perform a miracle, He submitted Himself to the sufferings and limitations of a human. When He could have turned stones into bread, He suffered hunger instead, resisting the temptation to exercise His own will contrary to His Father’s. He walked from place to place when He could have moved at lightning speed. He was weary when He sat on the well.
The divine powers He surrendered included His omniscience. Whatever the Father did not directly reveal to Him He had to learn just like anyone else. Thus He was able to increase in wisdom (Luke 2:52). He miraculously knew that Lazarus was dead, but apparently not where his body was laid (John 11:14,34). He did not know the day and hour of His own return to earth (Mark 13:32), although I believe He knows it now.
Christ did not use His miracle powers to serve Himself. Healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, raising the dead, casting out devils+—His miracles were always for the good of others.
He did miraculously escape from a mob on several occasions (Luke 4:30; John 8:59; 10:39). But this was because His hour had not yet come (John 7:30; 8:20); the Father had more work for Him on earth. When His hour did come, He submitted to the Father, hard as it was (Matt 26:45; Mark 14:35,41; John 12:23; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).
In submitting to His Father, Christ overcame extreme temptation in Gethsemane. “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:39). He was not speaking of disobeying His Father’s will, but beseeching Him to change His will. I believe along with this prayer was a plea to the Father for strength to do His will. God heard and answered this plea (Luke 22:43).
What an awesome struggle took place in those moments in the Garden, when the Son of God, though He was sovereign, surrendered His will to His Father, and as the Son of man in human flesh, faced the deepest temptation and was victorious! He could have escaped; He could have called His Father to send twelve legions of angels, but He chose not to because it was not the Father’s will (matt 26:53,54).
On the Cross He faced His final battle with temptation, crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). Had the Father forsaken Him? Contrary to what many say, the Father did not turn His face away when His Son was dying on the cross. Christ’s offering of Himself was “a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph 5:2). The Father saw it and was satisfied.
Furthermore, Psalm 22:24 clearly states that God did not hide His face. This Psalm prophesies of Christ’s death, and begins, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then verse 24 says, “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” That this verse refers to Jesus crying to His Father is further suggested by Hebrews 5:7.
Hebrews 5:7, likely alluding to Psalm 22:24, also tells us God heard Christ’s cry on the cross: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” As He had in the Garden, God heard Jesus’ prayer and gave Him strength to do His will, even while His flesh was weak.
No, the Father did not forsake His Son. but He was now allowing Jesus to die at the hands of sinful man instead of delivering Him as He had before. And while Jesus’ flesh cried out, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” His spirit still bowed and said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” So He became obedient, even to the death of the cross (Php 2:8).
“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb 5:8). Christ had never disobeyed His Father, so how could He “learn” obedience? It was the first He experienced having to obey through suffering, struggling to submit His will to the Father’s. When the will of the flesh conflicts with the will of the Father—this is the test of submission, and the definition of temptation. because Christ faced a need to submit, He experienced temptation as a man. And by always submitting, He was always victorious.
What did He accomplish by submitting to the Father in human flesh? He became the only man who ever completely fulfilled the Father’s will (the definition of righteousness), unlike the first Adam, who rebelled against the Father’s will (the definition of sin). So by perfectly fulfilling the Father’s will, Jesus qualified to be the perfect sacrifice, able to offer His sinless blood for the sin of the world. Thus “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb 5:9).
By surrendering the control of His divine powers to His Father, Christ put Himself in the same boat with us—totally dependent on the Father for guidance and grace to do His will. Thus Jesus Christ fully understands our temptations. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
He has faced whatever we face. Are we rejected? So was He. Do we suffer pain? Do we face temptation that seems unbearable? Do we struggle with our lot in life? So did He. Yet He was always victorious.
Not only does He understand our temptations; He also shows us an example of perfect obedience to the Father. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1Pe 2:21). Can we follow His steps, even through suffering? Can we earnestly strive to obey the Father in everything? Can we make this the one unifying goal of our entire life, as He did?
In addition to understanding us and showing us, He also helps us. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb 2:17,18). The same power that enabled Him enables us; the same Father authorizes us to do His will. He helps us through the grace of Christ Jesus, who has already overcome.
Christ names as family members those who follow His example of submission to His Father—our Father. “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35).
Christ will return to earth at the hour of His Father’s choosing (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). As He came in obedience to the Father at His first coming, so He will at His second coming. He will receive to Himself all who are in Him, submitted to the Father as He is. All who enjoy eternity with Him in the Father’s house will be there by His grace, because of His perfect submission to the Father.