At the ascension, Jesus returned to heaven and began His present ministry as our High Priest. The author of Hebrews explains Jesus’ current ministry by emphasizing His empathy: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
In the Old Testament, high priests were fallible humans. They could not take away the sins of the people through the blood of bulls and goats (Hebrews 10:4). In contrast, Christ is sinless and died to pay for our sins once and for all as the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:26-28).
High priests under the old covenant could sympathize with the struggles of others, but they could do nothing to help those who were tempted. Jesus completely resisted temptation and never sinned.
Because of His experience as the God-man, He is the perfect High Priest. He understands our struggles and helps us when we are tempted to sin. The incarnation enabled Christ to understand humanity, empathize with our temptations, and identify with our suffering.
Jesus Knows What it Is Like to Be Human
When God the Son came to save humankind from their sins, He took on human flesh. Even though He is God, He added humanity to His divinity (Philippians 2:5-8).
During His earthly ministry, Christ participated in common human experiences. He experienced hunger (Mark 11:12), thirst (John 19:28), grief (Isaiah 53:3; John 11:35), betrayal (Luke 22:1-6, 21), pain (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 27:26), and death (Mark 15:37).
Becoming human was necessary for Jesus’ mission of salvation. Without taking on human flesh, He could not have paid the price for our sins. Likewise, He could not have sympathized with our condition as humans.
Hence, the author of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of the incarnation in Jesus’ role as the perfect High Priest.
As the Bible says, “Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, NLT).
The Greek word for “merciful” can also mean “compassionate” (Strong’s 1655). Since He experienced life as a man, He relates to our struggles, temptations, and suffering. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus can empathize with us as our perfect High Priest.
He Empathizes with our Temptations
We could not have a more empathetic High Priest than Christ. The Old Testament priests were imperfect sinners like everyone else, which meant they could not help those who were experiencing temptation. Jesus completely resisted his temptations. Thus, He is the most capable Person to assist us in our struggles with sin.
Before starting His public ministry, Jesus was baptized and led into the desert, where He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:1-2).
Satan tempted the Lord Jesus at the end of this period (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Three times, the devil appeared before Christ and tempted Him in the primary areas of human temptation. Although Jesus is sinless, He was tempted in “every way” (Hebrews 4:15).
John the Apostle mentioned these universal temptations in his first epistle: “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16, NLT).
Because Jesus experienced temptations in each of these areas, He can empathize with us. Satan first tempted Jesus with a craving for physical pleasure by telling Him to turn a stone into bread (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3).
Since He had fasted for 40 days, Jesus was hungry and exhausted (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). However, He resisted the devil by quoting Scripture: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
Christ’s temptation of the ”lust of eyes” or “craving for everything we see” was done when Satan offered the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship (Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:5-7). The devil’s offer was audacious, considering Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).
However, Jesus submitted to the human test of coveting. People crave what they see, which causes them to covet.
By quoting again from Deuteronomy, Jesus displayed the proper response to this temptation (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8; see also Deuteronomy 6:13). We worship the Lord alone, not Satan or the things of this world.
Finally, the temptation of Jesus also displays the common experience of being tempted to take pride in our actions. The devil tempted Christ to find recognition in the miraculous sign of throwing Himself off the temple (Matthew 4:5-6; Luke 4:9-11).
Thus, Jesus knows what it is like to experience temptation. He was tested in every way but resisted the devil. He did what Adam and Israel failed to do when they were tempted.
Since Jesus has fully overcome temptation, He can empathize with our struggles. When we are fighting against our sinful nature, we can turn to our perfect High Priest. He will help us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 2:18).
Christ Understands Our Suffering
Based on His incarnation and experience with temptation, He understands human suffering. Unlike the imperfect high priests of the Old Testament, Jesus knows what we are going through and understands us completely.
For example, Eli, the priest, misunderstood Hannah’s act of heartfelt prayer, accusing her of drunkenness (1 Samuel 1:9-13). In contrast, Jesus never misunderstands us because He knows what is in our hearts (John 2:25).
When we experience the pain of heartbreak or a chronic illness, we know that Jesus can relate because He experienced the severe pain of crucifixion. He was separated from His Father on the cross, carrying the unbearable weight of sin (Matthew 27:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
In love, He died for us, and in His resurrection and current ministry as our High Priest, He continues to show love for us. As our Savior and Lord, Jesus intercedes for us.
When the devil accuses us, our Savior reminds the Father of His sacrifice to pay for our sin (Romans 8:33-35).
As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25, emphasis mine).
When we go through challenging seasons or times of suffering, we can know that Jesus cares about us. He is always working for our benefit (Romans 8:28).
We do not have a cold, distant god but a living God of love and grace. In Him, we can trust that we are fully known and understood (Psalm 139:14-16).
What Does This Mean?
At the ascension, Christ started His present ministry as our High Priest, who always intercedes and helps His followers. While the high priests of the old covenant were imperfect and unable to take away sin, Jesus is sinless and paid for our sins completely.
Through the incarnation, Jesus lived a human life and dealt with emotions and temptations we all experience.
He can empathize with us because of His humanity, temptation in the desert, and suffering on the cross. When we are battling temptation and the lies of Satan, we can always find help in Jesus, our Savior, and Lord. He understands our temptation and will make a way for us to resist sin.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/CreativaImages
Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.