“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the Author signals for us a transition out of the latest warning and exhortation and into a discussion of Christ as High Priest. As is typical in Hebrews, concepts are often introduced several chapters in advance of their actual exposition. This is sometimes referred to as a “hook”, where they serve as an introduction to a topic which will be discussed in greater detail at a later point. Such is the case with Christ as our High Priest, which was first introduced in chapter 1, “…After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” Hebrews 1:3b
The verse cited above from chapter 4 is conveying three primary concepts concerning our Lord’s priestly ministry. First, He is a sympathetic High Priest. Second, He has been tempted as we are. Third, despite these temptations, He has remained sinless, a point which the Author will use as a contrast, in chapter 5, with earthly high priests who ministered under the Old Covenant.
It is the second observation that will be the subject of our meditation in this post. The ESV Study Bible highlights the significance of the Greek Word peirazo, translated as tempted. It states that this particular word can be used in either or both of two ways. The first is a reference to temptation, which seeks to bring down an individual’s faith. The second is a reference to being tested or tried, which seeks to build up a believer’s faith. Both are likely in view in this verse.
Our Lord was subject to the temptations of the world and the devil, yet resisted without sin. This is certainly true through His day to day life, but most obvious during His 40-day fast in the wilderness where His flesh was weakest and all advantages, such as those given to Adam in the garden, were removed. It was at this point that the Devil brought three temptations to our Lord, each one resisted by the power of God’s Word.
As to His trials, there can be none greater than that of His own Garden experience, where He shed drops of blood and pleaded with His heavenly Father for the cup to pass, a trial which culminated in His own death on the cross. It is this trial that the writer of Hebrews has in mind as He approaches chapter 5, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”
Our Lord faced both temptation and trial, in every way that we have, yet He is without sin. Because of this, He is able to “sympathize” with our weaknesses as we are tempted and tried. Temptation and trial is the heart of the Christian experience. Yet our chief difference between our own experience and that of our Lord’s is our besetting weakness of a sinful flesh. Not only are we faced with temptation from without, but evil desires from within which conceive with temptation to produce sin. God works through our trials to purify us of our weaknesses and conform us more to the image of our faithful and sinless High Priest.
In the midst of of our temptations, “let us draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” In the midst of our trials, let us keep our eyes fixed on the Captain of our salvation, the One who blazed the trail for our suffering yet was reverent, obedient, and submissive even to the point of death.