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Did Jesus Have a Sinful or Sinless Nature

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“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” (Matthew 4:3, italics mine)  Lucifer’s first temptation did not appear to be a temptation to do anything evil.  What commandment would Jesus’ have broken if He momentarily grasped divine power (which Jesus could have done at any time) and turn stones into bread?  The temptation was serious because Lucifer asked Jesus to violate a covenant which Jesus had made with the Father when Adam and Eve sinned.  Four thousand years earlier, Jesus had promised the Father that He would come to Earth and die in our place.  The Father accepted Jesus’ offer on the condition that Jesus would not say or so anything on His own.  Jesus would only do the will of the Father.  (John 6: 38; 14: 24)  Knowing this, Lucifer approached Jesus, and looking upon his frail target, the devil quietly said, If you are the Son of God [and you are, aren’t you?], then prove it.  Let there be no more doubt about this.  Go ahead, exercise divine power and settle the question!”

Prior to this meeting, Lucifer knew three things about Jesus:

1.  Jesus could grasp divine power at any time and perform a miracle so He would have a temptation to exercise this power.

2.  The Father had granted Jesus the freedom to terminate His endeavor to save man at any time.  As long as He did not sin, Jesus could exit from His efforts to save mankind by exercising this divine prerogative.  (John 10:18)

3. Lucifer knew that if Jesus exercised divine power to save Himself from starvation, the plan of redemption would be terminated because the salvation of sinners hinged on Jesus’ perfect submission to the Father’s will.  (John 5:30)  The level of submission required of Jesus was far more strenuous than anything God has ever imposed on human beings.  This explains, in part, why the righteousness required for salvation goes beyond anything that a human being can produce.

Lucifer had studied Jesus for thirty years before confronting Jesus with this temptation.  The devil knew that Jesus was limited in various ways by His incarnation as a human being.  Lucifer also knew that after forty days of fasting, Jesus would be so weak that He could hardly speak.  If Jesus succumbed to Lucifer’s first and best temptation, Jesus’ upcoming ministry would end before it began.  Therefore, Lucifer tempted Jesus to save Himself from hunger knowing that (a) Jesus was very hungry and fragile, (b) if Jesus had any doubts  about His identity as “the Son of God,” this temptation would encourage Him to prove who He was, and (c) there was no explicit commandment  forbidding Jesus from turning tones into bread.  BUT, Lucifer knew such an act would violate the covenant between the Father and the Son and this would immediately terminate the plan of redemption which had been under way for 4,000 years.  Lucifer is so sub tile

Do not treat this temptation as a casual affair.  Lucifer’s first temptation was perfect and fit the circumstances.  It was well prepared, sophisticated, executed at the best possible time, and clever.  The devil is extremely intelligent.  His first temptation was designed to appeal to the humanity and the divinity in Jesus at the same time.  As a human, Jesus was hungry and weak, and He had no idea how much longer the Father would keep Him in the desert.  As a human, Jesus wanted to escape the painful and lonely prison where He had been sent.  He was not in the desert of His own accord.  (Matthew 4:1)

Lucifer also knew that faith in God can evaporate since doubt can spring from a suggestion, so he decided to approach Jesus as though Jesus was in doubt.  Since Jesus had received little evidence that He was “the Son of God,” Lucifer concocted this temptation so that the humanity and divinity of Jesus could be tested simultaneously.  There was genuine hunger (humanity) and there was honest room for doubt.  Therefore, the devil challenged the divine side of Jesus by suggesting that He turn stones into bread.  Jesus had only to speak the word.  The devil insinuated, “Why not exercise divine power?  Why not end the misery?  Why not turn stones into bread?  Why not use your own authority and be filled?  Even better, why endure all of this?  Rise up, show yourself as God, shake off this bondage and do whatever you want!”  Jesus did not waver.  He saw through the devil’s game and terminated the temptation with twenty-one words.

Second Temptation

Rejected, but not defeated, the devil carried Jesus to Jerusalem and together they stood on the highest point of the temple.  “’If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down.  For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’” (Matthew 4:6)  The devil quoted Psalm 91 for good reason.  History indicates that many Jews anticipated Messiah would descend from the heavens and land in the temple courtyard unharmed.  Given this expectation, the temptation makes perfect sense.  Once again, Lucifer was not asking Jesus to do anything sinful, per se.  Instead, Lucifer challenged Jesus to miraculously establish Himself as the Messiah by descending into the courtyard below.  The devil even encouraged Jesus with a Bible text that indicated the angels would protect Him from being hurt.  Jesus and Lucifer both understood the ramifications of this temptation.  If Jesus landed unhurt below, then from the start of His ministry, the Jews would greet Him enthusiastically as the Messiah, and this daring event would eliminate the grinding campaign that Jesus would otherwise face.

Keep in mind that like the first temptation, this temptation broke no commandments or laws.  The devil had done his homework.  In response, Jesus said fourteen words, “It is written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)  Those words reveal a profound point.  There is a great gulf between faith and presumption:  Faith surrenders to obedience, presumption justifies wrong doing.  If Jesus had acted on the devil’s temptation and descended from the highest point of the temple,  Jesus would have acted on His own because the Father had not given Jesus instructions to carry out such an act.  To make his temptation sizzle, the devil threw in a “proof text” to entice Jesus.  Lucifer knew that Jesus desperately wanted Israel to hear what the Father would speak through His lips and knew Jesus knew that the leaders of Israel would be astonished if He landed in the courtyard without injury.  Jesus knew, however, that He had not come to convince the leaders of Israel, but that He had come to convince those who love God and His truth with all of their hearts.  Jesus told Lucifer that presumption is no substitute for faith.  It is offensive to put “the Lord your God” to any test.  (Note: It is interesting that Jesus identifies Himself to Lucifer as “the Lord your God.”  I am sure the devil did not appreciate being reminded of this.)

Third Temptation

After suffering two failures, the devil played his last card.  He carried Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor.  Then, Lucifer presented a fantastic offer.  “’All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’” (Matthew 4: 9, 10)  I would like to paraphrase this temptation using contemporary English.  Lucifer speaks: “Jesus, we both know why you have come to Earth.  We both know that you are the Son of God, as well as the Lamb of God.  You came here to die.  We also know that should you fail to perfectly carry out the will of the Father, which is excessively harsh; the Father will not resurrect you.  We also know that you want to redeem sinners, but if you do something which the Father does not like, your endeavor will fail.   Therefore, I am making you an offer which you should not refuse.  Bow down and worship me, acknowledge that my ancient claims against the government of God have validity and I will give the world to you.  Everything will be yours and you will not have to die.  I took this planet from you, fair and square, and I can give it to whomever I want.  Simply acknowledge that my standing arguments against the government and the ways of the Father have validity.”

A weak and suffering Jesus rebutted Lucifer’s ridiculous offer without hesitation:  “You are evil!  You are a liar, a thief, and the enemy of a generous and loving God.  You are not worthy of any honor or worship.  The first commandment forbids worshiping any other God and it condemns you to death.  Get away from me.”  “Then the devil left him, and angels [from the Father] came and attended him [brought Him food and water].”  (Matthew 4: 11, insertion mine)

Summary

If you think perfection (sinless living) is possible, then you will need a savior with a sinful nature as your model.  If you believe that perfection (sinless living) is possible until the carnal nature is removed, then the sinless nature of Jesus aligns with a much better paradigm.  When Lucifer’s three temptations are properly understood, we know that Jesus was tested as follows:

1.   Jesus was tempted to save Himself by exercising divine power (something that human beings cannot do).   This was a test to see if Jesus would die of starvation (per the Father’s orders) or save Himself by turning stones into food.

2. Jesus was tempted to act presumptuously.  If He landed unhurt in the temple courtyard below, the leaders of Israel would have immediately recognized His Messiahship.  However, Jesus had promised the Father (when Adam and Even sinned) that He would not say or do anything other than what the Father wanted.  This was a test to determine if Jesus would live by faith or act out of presumption.

3. Finally, Jesus was tempted to avoid the cross.  Both Lucifer and Jesus knew there was a possibility that Jesus could fail in His efforts to redeem mankind, but Jesus would rather risk failure for the sake than avoid the inevitable death that faced Him.   This was a test to see if Jesus loved Himself more than He loved sinners.

Jesus (having a sinless nature) was tested far beyond anything Adam and Eve encountered when they had a sinless nature.  The second Adam went on to recover all that the first Adam lost.  After considering the perfect life of Jesus and His righteousness, the topics of justification and sanctification, the curse of sin, and the severe temptations which Christ faced after forty days of fasting, I am overwhelmed with the lengths to which God has gone to save sinners.  To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Larry Wilson


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