by Thomas Wilson, Scotland.
"BEFORE MANY WITNESSES" 1 Tim.6.12
"ANOTHER … BEARETH WITNESS" Jn.5.32
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LORD’S TEMPTATION
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: NOT ABLE TO SIN
The apostles did not conspire to delude any with "cunningly devised fables" 2 Pet.1.16. Being eyewitnesses, they provided testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. John, one of those eyewitnesses, insists twice in his Gospel that his record is true, 19.35; 22.24 and see also 3 Jn.12. His testimony also carried the seal of the other apostles, so he comments, "… we know that his testimony is true" Jn.21.24. Luke, not one of the apostles, who accompanied the Lord whilst He "went about doing good" Acts 10.38, asserts that "those things that are most surely believed among us" were delivered to us by those who "from the beginning were eyewitnesses" Lk.1.1-2. Luke had embraced the apostolic testimony and under the guidance of the Spirit, made it accessible in writing to the saints of many generations. Everyone that "knoweth God" has also embraced that testimony as it is now found in the New Testament. Indeed, John provides the following test of reality, "We (the apostles) are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" 1 Jn.4.6. It is to the testimony of the apostles in the New Testament that we look, as we consider the impeccability of Christ. Any teaching that does not conform to the apostolic testimony we have in the New Testament, we know is not of God.
The apostle John testifies about the Lord’s Deity in his Gospel, but, in so doing, includes specific references to His humanity. However, it is from his first epistle that we learn that the truth of the Lord’s incarnation is one fundamental aspect of "the faith once delivered to the saints" Jude 3. He states emphatically, "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God" 1 Jn.4.2-3. John testifies that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" 1 Jn.4.14. He also testified to the deity of Christ, "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" Jn.20.31. In 1 Jn.1.1 his witness is to the Lord having become Man; for that stoop he provides evidence that it was a permanent, irreversible step:
- He was audible, so John says, "… we have heard."
- He was visible, so John could say, "… we have seen with our eyes … we have looked upon."
- He was tangible, so that John recalls, "… our hands have handled."
John and the other apostles knew that the One they accompanied for more than three years was not a phantom. They handled Him. On His resurrection from the dead, they heard Him say, "… it is I Myself: handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have" Lk.24.39. In the light of their experiences, the apostles knew that their Lord was truly God and truly Man. They also knew that, unlike themselves, this Man was sinless, pure and righteous. They had observed closely a real man who was not liable to sin.
In 1 John chapter 1 where the reality of Christ’s humanity is established, John leaves no room for the pretence that even professing Christians have no sin or that they have not sinned, 1 Jn.1.8,10. John proceeds to assert that in Christ "is no sin" 1 Jn.3.5. What a contrast to us! John also shows that the Lord is "pure", not because He has purified Himself, but in an absolute sense, 1 Jn.3.3. He is also righteous, 1 Jn.3.29; 3.7, again in an absolute sense. To John, the most devoted of saints is not sinless, but, whether examined for ceremonial acceptability or forensically, the Lord is absolutely sinless.
The title of this chapter uses the noun ‘impeccability’, which Scripture does not use. Its root is the Latin word impeccabilis, meaning ‘sinless.’ Indeed an English dictionary will offer the meaning ‘sinless’ for the adjective ‘impeccable’. We recognise, however, that in speaking of our Lord Jesus, care must be taken to attach to a word like "impeccable" or "sinless" the full meaning of what the Holy Spirit has revealed about the character of Christ. This chapter will oppose the blasphemy of those who say of the Lord Jesus Christ, "We know that this man is a sinner" Jn.9.24. It will also oppose any who subscribe to the view that, although the Lord did not sin, He could have. The human mind may find that kind of thought attractive, but it should be repugnant to the spiritual mind. This chapter will seek to glorify the perfect Man who glorified His God in every circumstance. We shall scrutinise reverently the character of Christ and conclude:
- There only can the Spirit trace
- A perfect life below.
- (M. Peters)
"BEFORE MANY WITNESSES" 1 Tim.6.12
A man like Timothy professed a good profession before many witnesses, or "… confessed a good confession" (R.V. and J.N.D.). Doubtless those witnesses included both Christians and others opposed to God and Christ. Our Lord witnessed a good confession before both those who were sympathetic to Him and those virulent in their opposition. He did witness a good confession before Pilate, which confession will be considered later, but other witnesses also noted His faultless witness.
First we hear the witness of one ordained of God Himself to point others to Christ. That bold witness was John the Baptist. He wrote no epistles. Although we know little of the sermons he preached in his period of public ministry, violently cut short by Herod, he did leave eloquent testimony to a life that was faultless, and so to One to Whom a "baptism of repentance" Acts 19.4, was wholly inappropriate. John’s confession of his own unworthiness before that sinless One was such that on the banks of the Jordan he owned before Christ, "I have need to be baptised of Thee" Matt.3.14. John recognised something of the infinite distance that separated the holiest of saints from the altogether-sinless Christ. Gladly, we concur with the people as they assessed in their own feeble way both John and John’s Lord, "John did no miracle, but all things that John spake of this man were true" Jn.10.41.
Not all witnesses were as sympathetic to Christ, but not one of them could rise to the challenge the Lord Himself presented, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" Jn.8.46.
The voices of those other witnesses we should also hear. Pilate’s wife, much troubled by her dream, described Him as "that righteous man" Matt.27.19, J.N.D. She was not even associated with Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, not to mention those other women who ministered to Christ of their substance, Lk.8.2-3. No need had ever drawn her to Christ, rather she would gladly have increased the separation between her household and the homeless Stranger of Galilee. Yet she knew heaven’s interest in this One she knew as "that righteous man".
Pilate’s wife did try to distance Pilate from judging that righteous Man, concerning Whom she suffered many things in a dream. But the experienced judge Pilate did meet Christ. He had the professional skills of a trained judge, so more than most he could evaluate the evidence and form impressions of the accused. The Spirit’s record of that mock trial is given through the four Gospel writers. However, it is Paul who sums up the meeting of cruel, cynical Pilate and the sinless Christ; he notes how "… before Pilate" the Lord "witnessed a good confession" 1 Tim.6.13. Pilate had looked into the eyes of many an accused, but never had he been so certain that he looked upon an innocent Man. Three times over he announced his verdict: He found no fault in the accused King of the Jews. But that thrice-repeated verdict inadequately represents what the Spirit of God says of Christ.
Next we seek a witness not drawn from those who were among those who had forsaken all to follow Christ. This witness was not a graduate of any respected law school, but over a period had had first hand experience of Roman legal procedures. He was on the "wrong side of the law" and about to pay the ultimate price for his crimes. He was now past the point of protesting his innocence. To another he acknowledged the justice of the proceedings against them, "We indeed justly …". Between those two convicted criminals, as they conversed on that occasion two thousand years ago, was Another; of Him the speaker added, "… but this man hath done nothing amiss" Lk.23.41. His statement was absolute; it required no qualification. He, a convicted criminal, bore unsolicited testimony to the sinlessness of Christ. The Man at his side was altogether without sin.
The witness just cited is variously described in the New Testament. He is called:
- One of two "thieves", better "robbers", in that they had used violence, Matt.27.38,44; Mk.15.27.
- One of the "transgressors" with whom Rome’s travesty of justice dared to number Christ, Mk.15.28.
- One of the "malefactors" who were crucified with Christ, Lk.23.32,33,39.
The language Scripture uses to describe his nefarious deeds is unambiguous. We shall note that the language Scripture uses about Christ is equally unambiguous.
Even Judas, who betrayed the Lord, spoke of having "betrayed innocent blood" Matt.27.4. Only the blinded can fail to detect that the unique opportunity Judas had to observe the Lord in public and in private, must have allowed him to scan that life as few others could. Judas saw the Lord Jesus as guiltless. Judas saw the even tenor of His ways, and that it was lived at a level wholly out of reach to every other man. It has been said, "In high moments of resolve, we rededicate ourselves to God", but Judas saw that there were no periodic fluctuations in the Lord’s devotion to His Father. Judas’ evaluation of that life and of Christ’s character was flawed, or else his evaluation of the blood he caused to be shed would have been "precious" rather than "innocent". Before he sinned in disobedience to the one express commandment of God, Adam had been innocent. He had never sinned nor had he encountered anyone who had. Consequently, he had neither known nor observed the effects of sin on the sinner. But, as Judas should have known, the Lord was holy. Even in a society corrupt through sin, the Lord was untainted by sin, whether in act or word or thought or motive: He was holy, as holy as He was when prior to His incarnation, the seraphim cried of the holiness of the triune God: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" Isa. 6.3. Nevertheless we note that Judas provided unsolicited and unqualified testimony to the sinlessness of Christ. Sadly, the adequacy of his testimony fell far short of what his experience should have revealed of One who knew good and evil as no other man could, yet remained intrinsically holy.
Even taken together, the testimony of those many witnesses fails to adequately convey the uniqueness of Christ in respect of His impeccability. Yet, admittedly, their words leave an impression of the deep conviction that they had as to the stainless life they had observed.
"ANOTHER … BEARETH WITNESS" Jn.5.32
To the sinlessness of Christ, the Spirit of God bears eloquent testimony elsewhere in Scripture. There are three verses in the New Testament that rightly are quoted when this important truth is taught:
- "… Who did no sin" 1 Pet.2.22
- "… Who knew no sin" 2 Cor.5.21
- "… in Him is no sin" 1 Jn.3.5
These verses come from different authors, each more fully equipped to write of Christ’s sinlessness than the robber who received the due rewards of his deeds at Calvary. They allow no compromise as to the impeccability of Christ – in deed or word. But the profound terms used also indicate that He knew no sin, that is, that He had "no consciousness" of sin in His personal experience and no presence of indwelling sin in His being. The Lord Jesus carried no sense of personal unworthiness. Indeed, conversely He could lift up his eyes and say publicly because of the people that stood by, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always", before proceeding to command Lazarus to come forth out of death, Jn.11.41-43. Every other man with increasing desires to please God has an increasing consciousness that causes him to confess tremblingly, "Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance" Ps.90.8. But the Lord did speak of being troubled in soul. It was not the soul trouble that conspicuously swept over great men like David and Peter, when the consciousness of their sin began to appal them. It was the consciousness of what He must undertake because of others’ sins that explains the words, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour." There was no consciousness of sin in the One Who then added, "Father, glorify Thy name"; the One to Whom the unqualified approval of heaven rang out from heaven, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again" Jn.12.27-28.
We recognise above that in speaking of our Lord Jesus care must be taken to attach to a word like "impeccable" or "sinless" the full meaning of what the Holy Spirit has revealed about the character of Christ. The robber, whose testimony is cited above, spoke of the Lord Jesus having "done nothing amiss." The phrase simply means that there was nothing out of place, or out of line, in the life he had briefly observed. His was not the language of the theologian, but it was a clear testimony to what he meant by sinlessness, as he testified of the Lord Jesus. This paper will discuss what the Scripture teaches about the impeccability of Christ. Its meaning is to be found beyond external blamelessness.
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
We should underscore that the Lord Jesus did not become sinless. From the time He entered this world as the Babe to be wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger until He hung upon the cross, He never repented of word or deed or thought. He never corrected a statement, never revised a thought process and never apologised for a sin, whether of omission or commission. He never sought pardon from God or man. Many have looked in wonder at the uniqueness of Christ and asked Nicodemus’ question, "How can these things be?" Jn.3.9. From the moment Christ entered this world, He was absolutely holy. David learned painfully "the plague of his own heart" 1 Kgs.8.38, after lust drove him to adultery and murder. The visit of Nathan exposed his sin to others, and his own state to David himself, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" Ps.51.5. But not so David’s Lord: As we shall note, the machinations of man and demon only revealed the uniqueness of the Man without a trace of Adam’s sin. In His supernatural conception and subsequent birth of a virgin mother, He inherited no taint of transmitted sin. The importance of the Virgin Birth is evident as we observe a Man sinless from birth. Such is its importance that it is attacked vehemently.
When Gabriel was sent to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, it was to announce to Mary that she would bear a son to be called the Son of the Highest. She asked a question so like that Nicodemus asked thirty years later, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Lk.1.26-35. Gabriel spoke of the Holy Ghost coming upon her and of "that holy thing", who would be born, being called the Son of God. The miracle of that Child’s conception was not explained in the detail that carnal men seek – and it remains beyond the gaze of unholy eyes. But faith delights to acknowledge that the Lord Jesus’ holiness was attested by heaven even before the chosen vessel said, "… be it unto me according to thy word".
The narratives of the Virgin Birth of Christ are not later additions to the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. They were part of, and integral to, those inspired Gospels from the beginning. The distinctiveness of those two Gospels dispels immediately any question of collusion in the claims they make that a virgin conceived and brought forth a son. Each of the two accounts of how Christ Jesus came into the world describes in a way scenes that complement the narrative the other presents. There is little repetition and certainly no artificially contrived similarities. Each is authoritative and not subordinate to the other. The independence of their testimony is unassailable. Each defies any to claim it was borrowed from the other. Both wrote of Christ when hundreds of witnesses to Christ and His testimony were still alive to challenge any false claims and hundreds of manuscripts in several languages contain their assertions that Christ was born of a virgin. The apostle Paul’s references to the Lord’s down-stooping are devoid of import if the Lord came in by the normal processes of procreation. He writes of the Lord emptying Himself and taking His place in the likeness of men, Phil.2.7, R.V. Paul also points to One Who was "born of a woman" Gal.4.4, a statement robbed of any meaning, if the Lord was not born of the virgin, but, if the consistent teaching of Scripture is accepted that the Lord was the Seed of the woman Mary but Joseph was not His father, a statement announcing the fulfilment of the first promise made to Adam and Eve after the Fall.
Nor were Matthew and Luke building on Jewish expectations that Messiah would be born of a virgin, despite Isa.7.14, "… behold, a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which, being interpreted is, God with us" Matt.1.29). As Orr notes, "The Jews do not seem to have applied this prophecy at any time to the Messiah – a fact that disproves the theory that it was this text which suggested the story of the Virgin Birth to the early disciples." Failure to accept the revelation of the Virgin Birth of Christ undermines the gospel, and so often has been accompanied by a denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
But adding to the revelation of God has also dimmed the glory of God that shines in the miraculous conception of Mary’s firstborn son. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, propounds that Mary was "preserved free from all stain of original sin". That dogma, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on 8 December, 1854, sets Mary apart as the only sinless one to come out of humanity, "her sinlessness preceding, and being warrant for, the sinlessness of Christ". It asserts that because of original sin, she stood in need of redemption, requiring that she be redeemed from the moment of conception. Thereby, it is claimed, Mary was preserved from original sin. How serious an interference with the Word of God that would make Christ share His unique glory with another! In different contexts there is stern warning against adding to, or taking from, the Word of God, see Deut.4.2; Prov.30.6; Rev.22.18-19. That warning is needed in respect of the Virgin Birth.
The Scriptures define the limits of human involvement in the Saviour appearing once in the end of the age to put away sin. It is equally clear that the Holy Spirit was involved in the conception that led to Mary being "found with child of the Holy Ghost" Matt.1.18. The angel of the Lord was therefore able to assure Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband, "… that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost" Matt.1.20. Heb.10. 5 cites Psalm 40 to confirm that the formation of the body in Mary’s womb was divine preparation, "… a body hast thou prepared Me" in order that He might say, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" Heb.10.5-9, citing Ps.40.6-8; and that the Word might become flesh and tabernacle amongst men. So great was the miracle of the Incarnation that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were engaged in the outworking of Divine counsel. We read that God sending "His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" Rom.8.3; "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" 1 Jn.4.14. But the Son was also involved, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" Jn.1.14; He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men" Phil.2.7, R.V. Already noted is the Spirit’s action in respect of Mary’s conception.
Rom.8.3, cited above, sets out the importance of the Virgin Birth to the purpose of God. The Holy Spirit superintended the words used to convey the necessity of the Virgin Birth. We note that:
- the Lord is not said to have come in the likeness of flesh, else the reality of His humanity might be questioned;
- the Lord did not come in sinful flesh, else He would have been unable to offer Himself without spot unto God, Heb.9.14; but
- He was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh "for sin".
When God sent forth His Son, He came of a woman, Gal.4.4, R.V., thus giving Him links with the race. Without that link, He could not have been our Daysman, Who might lay His hand on both God and man, Job 9.33. Paul adds in that Galatian passage that He also came under the Law, to give Him links with the nation requiring redemption from the bondage of the Law. Elsewhere he reminds Timothy that the Lord came of the seed of David, so that royal dominion might one day be His, 2 Tim.2.8. It was His coming of a woman that assures us of Christ’s true humanity – He could be looked upon, touched and handled, 1 Jn.1.1; He could hunger, thirst and be weary. But His birth of the virgin also brings the assurance that He did not partake of the corruption that marked Adam’s race. He was "that holy thing." We freely confess "Jesus Christ come in the flesh" 1 Jn.4.2, but we assert equally forcibly that He Who partook of flesh and blood, Heb.2.18, did not partake of Adam’s sin. Of this His Virgin Birth is the assurance.
- Without a trace of Adam’s sin,
- A Man unique in origin,
- All fair without, all pure within,
- Our blessèd Lord!
- (I. Y. Ewan)
But in what way is the Virgin Birth of the Lord Jesus associated with His sinlessness? If He was born of a virgin, certainly there would be no human father, but would the corruption that marks the human race not be transmitted through the mother as readily as by the father. There being no human father involved in the conception of that "holy thing" meant that the normal process of human generation was set aside. God moved in a way described by the angel Gabriel, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee" Lk.1.35. Thus God ensured in that miraculous conception in Mary’s womb that from the earliest beginnings there would not be the slightest taint of sin. God has not revealed how that miracle was accomplished. Gabriel announced that the Holy Spirit’s work would be untainted by sin, "… that which is to be born shall be called holy" Lk.1.35, R.V. The evidence of the Lord’s sinless life is confirmatory of Gabriel’s revelation, allowing us to conclude that the Virgin Birth was essential to God’s great plan of salvation.
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LORD’S TEMPTATION
What do we know about the nature of temptation? We are indebted to James for setting out in Jms.1.12-15 the doctrine of temptation with evil as it applies to men today. He traces three factors with which sadly we are all familiar: Lust, sin and death. The nature of temptation, as it is known by "every man", or better "each one" v.14, RV, involves these three factors. James’ generalisation takes account of every man since Adam first sinned until now, with the exception of the Lord Jesus. When Satan places temptation before any other man, there is always a starting point for the evil one to use. James identifies that starting point as lust, and identifies that lust with the person being tempted; it is "his own lust". But calmly the Lord announced to His own in the upper room on that night in which He was betrayed, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" Jn.14.30. He was saying that in His character and ways Satan would find no foothold; there was no evil passion; there was no indwelling sin, no lust to which Satan could appeal. The Lord Jesus did not sin, as many eyewitnesses have confessed. The Lord Jesus could not sin when tempted of the devil, for there was no propensity to sin, as there has been in every man from Adam onwards.
What happened when Adam fell? Was there already lust within his heart? There is no Scriptural warrant for asserting that before Adam was tempted, there was already lurking there the lust that James identifies within the chain of shame that leads to sin and death. And there is no Scriptural warrant to substantiate any claim that there was the potential to sin in the Lord Jesus. What we can conclude from Adam’s fall is that there were two features of that initial entrance of sin into the race; these are identified by Paul as: Deception, for "the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression" 1 Tim.2.14, and "one man’s (deliberate wilful) disobedience" Rom.5.19. Only those taken captive by Satan would suggest that the Lord Jesus was able to be deceived or capable of deliberate wilful transgression "after the similitude of Adam’s transgression" Rom.5.14. Was it possible to deceive the One Who "knew what was in man" Jn.2.25, Who testified that the devil "abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him" Jn.8.44? Neither man nor demon could deceive Him. Was the One Who did "always the things that please" the Father, Jn.8.29, capable of deliberate, wilful transgression? Given that not "all deceivableness of unrighteousness" 2 Thess.2.10, could appeal to Him, where is the evidence that the One, Whose life was characterised by not pleasing Himself, Rom.15.3, was capable of deliberate, wilful transgression?
What has been revealed of the Lord’s temptation? That the Lord was tempted is affirmed explicitly in both the Gospel records and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, He "was in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin" Heb.2.18; 4.15 (Newberry). It should be underscored that our High Priest is equipped to sympathise with us, beset as we are with infirmities. He has experienced the rejection of men, misunderstanding even in the home where He was bought up and the privations of life known by so many. But He has never fallen into sin, so as our High Priest He does not sympathise with us, when we have sinned. But as our Advocate with the Father, He is active from the moment a Christian sins to bring him to confession and restoration.
To three of the four evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke was given the task of recording with supreme accuracy one of the most amazing scenes ever enacted in human history. In the context of James’ teaching on the nature of temptation considered above, James emphatically states, "God cannot be tempted with evil" Jms 1.13. Therefore with his emphasis on the Deity of the Lord Jesus, John does not include the record of the temptation of Christ.
The scene is unlike the Lord’s transfiguration in that no human witnesses were present, and like the miraculous conception in Mary’s womb in that we cannot satisfy the carnal appetite with explanations as to how the temptations took place. None of the apostles was granted access to that wilderness where the Lord was being tempted of the devil forty days. Nor do we know if the Lord Himself spoke of those forty days to His own. Nevertheless the Spirit of God has been/pleased to give us three inspired records of what happened over that period of forty days. Therefore what we have before us are not "the reverent speculations" of the apostles, but a direct revelation of God to three chosen men – Matthew, Mark and Luke.
There was nothing superficial about the temptations that the Lord faced, nor was the range of them limited. There were three areas of temptations that He faced at the climax of the forty-day period of testing He faced; these relate to:
- Satisfying the natural cravings of the body for food;
- Engaging in a spectacular display appealing to an unbelieving nation by casting Himself down from one of the turrets of the temple Herod built;
- Yielding to spiritual wickedness to worship Satan in exchange for the kingdoms of this world.
The Lord was then about thirty years of age. These were not the only areas of temptation He endured during that period. Mark and Luke point out that the three temptations specified were the culmination of forty days of testing, during which the Lord fasted, Mk.1.13; Lk.4.2, He was tempted over the whole forty-day period. /We are not allowed to enter into the initial period of temptations, but we recall our Lord’s phrase of a period of testing which has not yet arrived in the world’s history, "All these are the beginning of sorrows" Matt.24.8. We know nothing of the intensity of the initial period of temptation He met, but we do know that temptation caused Christ suffering. Those temptations that marked the forty-day period were initial as would be indicated by Luke’s phrase, "… and when they were ended" Lk.4.2. W. Kelly insists that the earlier temptations were beyond our grasp and for that reason not recorded by the evangelists. Certainly, the Spirit has not given us the detail of those initial temptations but we mark the character of the Man Who could endure such a prolonged onslaught of the devil for forty days. No other man could have/remained untainted after forty days’ temptation from the devil. That His temptation was real is evident from the very language of Scripture, "He Himself hath suffered, being tempted" Heb.2.18. As another has commented, He was not a "mailed champion, exposed to toy arrows". He faced the full fury of Satan’s power and boasted wisdom. All the malevolence acquired over centuries of tempting men from Adam until Christ was unleashed against the Lord. And, we must note, it was Satan himself who tempted Christ in the wilderness and came again to tempt Him in those hours before and during the Saviour’s passion. The task Satan knew to be too great for his mightiest angel, was also to prove too great for the one Paul calls "Satan himself" 2 Cor.11.14. Satan himself was no match for the Son of God.
Satan’s intention was to introduce into the heart of Christ desire that was not of God, as he had "succeeded in insinuating a lust"into Adam’s heart. Satan was certainly not engaged in non-destructive testing; he sought to destroy the very Son of God. With malevolent intent he tempted Christ, only to find this was not another Adam, but One Who could not sin. Even after forty days, in which most likely a number of devices were used, the Lord remained unassailable.
It is worth emphasising that the Lord was without human company in the wilderness, where He was tempted forty days. Not one of the three Gospel records identifies the particular region of wilderness to which He was driven by the Spirit. Mark’s word "driveth" may suggest that the Lord did not just enter the fringes of the desert adjoining the Jordan but climbed up into the lonely wilderness to the west side of the Jordan. (Tradition locates the Temptation near Jericho.) The location of the Temptation was in an isolated wilderness where there were wild beasts, Mk.1.13, that could only be found after the Fall. In that wilderness, there was no human companion to support the Lord or offer Him counsel, as He was exposed to the wicked one’s wiles. There the perfect Servant, wholly removed from human fellowship, endured the presence of the evil one for forty days. We are again reminded that this was not Eden as Adam knew it before the Fall, as both Matthew and Luke note that over those forty days the Lord ate nothing, Matt.4.2; Lk.4.2. The wilderness had no garden wherein grew "every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food" Gen.2.9. It was not that food was not available; although Luke chooses to speak of Him hungering, Matthew employs the verb "to fast religiously". Therefore, we conclude that during those days of temptation our Lord continued in holy exercises before His God.
Men did not know where the Lord was during those forty days, but heaven directed Him to the place and maintained oversight over those remarkable days. We know heaven’s eye was on that scene, for to that isolated wilderness scene "angels came and ministered unto Him" Matt.4.11, but they came after the devil had left Him. We conclude then that the devil was able to tempt the Lord Jesus with those three final temptations when the body had endured hunger for forty days, when no human companion was near and before angelic ministration became the Lord’s portion. Anything that some critical opponent might have seen as a prop had been removed, and yet the devil had to withdraw from the contest a defeated foe.
We admit that there is "a great gulf between external blamelessness and sinless perfection." What the temptation in the wilderness proved is not only that the Lord was externally blameless, that is, there was no stain of sin in that life, but also that this One was totally sinless, both internally and externally.
BEYOND EXTERNAL BLAMELESSNESS: NOT ABLE TO SIN
So many hold "vague and misty conceptions" of Christ’s Person that they eagerly speculate about the most serious of matters. A prevailing tendency where such conceptions are fostered is to try to divide the Lord’s thoughts and actions into categories, some related to His Deity, others to His humanity. They fail to acknowledge that all the Lord Jesus’ thoughts and all His acts were those of one indivisible Person.
The doctrine of the N.T. is not presented "in terms which would dissolve the Redeemer into two distinct agents", so He is heard to say; "I and the Father are one" Jn.10.30, but, as Liddon notes, never "I and the Son are one" or "I and the Word are one". The indivisibility of the Lord’s Person is a fundamental of the faith. In that one Person "manifest in these last time for us," 1 Pet.1.20, there was a distinct will. Men owned it to be so when they said, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean" Mk.1.40. They knew that when the Lord spoke or acted, there was the expression of that will. There were not two wills at work in that one Person. The will at work was of course always in perfect harmony with the will of God. In Gethsemane the Lord did not speak of two wills at work in His Person. When He spoke of His will, He used the singular possessive pronoun; He cried, "Not my will." As one indivisible Person, He willed. His will was to do the Father’s will. Then, and indeed throughout that sinless life, His will answered fully, and with unwavering accuracy, to the will of God. His will, "although a proper principle of action, was not, could not be, in other than the most absolute harmony with the will of God. Christ’s sinlessness is the historical expression of this harmony."
When the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, we know that, coming into the world He said, "Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God" Heb.10.7, citing Ps.40.6-8. The single will of that one indivisible Person is expressed in these words without qualification. That single will was exercised constantly to the pleasure of the Father. When He was hungry in the wilderness, He did not exercise the power that was His to turn stones into bread. He would not do so, without express command from His Father. To have done so would have been to do His own will, but He had come to do the Father’s will.
Because of the indivisibility of His Person, it would be a grave error to suggest that as God the Lord could not sin, but as man He could have sinned, although He did not. Such a defamatory suggestion assumes that His will as God would never countenance sinning, but there was another will at work which could have willed to sin. It would require two wills in that one blessed Person, if He were to be capable of sinning.
We know from the New Testament that God cannot:
- lie Tit.1.2; Heb.6.18
- deny Himself 2 Tim.2.13; Heb.11.11
- be tempted Jms.1.13
There is clear evidence that our Lord could not lie; otherwise we must find that He did lie when He used absolute terms to declare, "I am the … truth" Jn.14.6. The term was intended to convey what Christians hold dear, the comprehensiveness of what the Lord alone could convey to man, as well as the absolute dependability of His word. After His resurrection, the Lord continued to describe Himself in terms that are incompatible with the potential to lie; He introduced Himself to the Laodiceans as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" Rev.3.14.
The faithfulness of God, Who could not deny Himself, was effective in Sarah when she was past child-bearing age, Heb.11.11. Sarah was not alone in her conviction that God was faithful. In perhaps the darkest era that the OT records, Jeremiah owned, "Great is Thy faithfulness" Lam.3.23. The evidence of it was provided in compassions that were new every morning. Paul affirms to Timothy that such is the character of Christ, "He cannot deny Himself" 2 Tim.2.13. He knew whom he had believed and was persuaded that He was able to keep that which he had committed unto Him against that day, 2 Tim.1.12. Paul’s eternity depended on the One Who was always true to Himself, Who could not deny Himself.
A third characteristic of God that is also expressed in terms involving negatives such as ‘cannot’ or ‘impossible’ was directed by James to those who blamed God for tempting them with evil, Jms 1.13. As we survey the four portraits of Christ provided by the Holy Spirit through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we see nothing that would allow the most perverted of minds to manufacture the allegation that the Lord tempted anyone with evil. The four portrayals of Christ also show that He Himself could not be tempted with evil. Men could have said of Him, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" Hab.1.13.
We conclude that, as "God cannot be tempted with evil", so Christ cannot be tempted with evil. We are equally persuaded that, as God cannot sin, so Christ cannot sin.
The testimony left by the apostles concerns a real Man, Who not only did not sin, but Who could not sin. He was sinless and He was not capable of sinning. That He was impeccable is the unerring witness of the New Testament. The impeccability of Christ is a fundamental to our understanding of Christ’s person and work. His virgin birth, His sinless life, His being made sin for us, and His glorious resurrection are all accepted by faith through the apostolic testimony. We need not be asked, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible, that God should raise the dead?" Acts 26.8. Nor do we need to be asked, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible, that God’s eternal Son could not sin?"