Some believe that Jesus Christ was incapable of sinning. They reason that since He was prophesied to succeed, it was impossible for Him to fail.
But if Jesus were above being tempted, incapable of sinning and not subject to death, then we would not have a High Priest who understands our plight, who makes intercession for us day and night before the throne of God.
The Bible clearly reveals that Christ divested Himself of the spiritual glory He previously possessed and became a flesh-and-blood human being. By doing this, He put Himself at risk of failing in His prophesied role as our Savior. He was subject to the pulls of the flesh—He had to overcome temptation to sin.
Reviewing several critical scriptures on this topic will help explain the nature of Jesus’ battle against—and victory over—sin.
God in the Flesh
As a human being, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. Though He was God incarnate, He did not possess the full amount of glory in His physical state as during His former spiritual state as the Logos (John 1:14), the God of the Old Testament. This is made plain in John 17:5, from the Moffatt translation: “Father, glorify Me in your presence with the glory which I enjoyed in your presence before the world began.”
Some believe Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” means that Christ had at His disposal full powers of a Spirit being. The Phillips Bible translation sheds light on this scripture by providing parenthetical commentary along with the biblical text: “Yet it is in Him that God gives a full and complete expression of Himself (within the physical limits that He set Himself in Christ).”
This explanation correctly shows that God had empowered Christ to the full—but within the limitations of a physical being.
Overcoming in Death
On the night after His last Passover, Jesus stated, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus had concluded His ministry, and established and trained His disciples, who would become the nucleus of the Church. He was now prepared to die for the sins of the world.
When Christ died, His spirit (the “spirit in man” – Job 32:8) returned to God. A physical Christ did not die while a “spiritual phantom” of sorts continued to live, as some believe. Some, misunderstanding I Peter 3:18-19, even think that Jesus preached to fallen angels in “hell” when He was dead in the grave for three days and three nights. (To learn more, read The Bible’s Difficult Scriptures Explained!)
The Gnostic belief of Docetism, adhered to by many in the early centuries AD, stated that Christ did not have a human body like other human beings. He supposedly appeared to have died on the cross. The physical Christ is said to have been a reflection of the real “Divine Christ” who remained in heaven. The Gnostics taught that the spiritual Christ continued to live while the inferior physical Christ died.
Yet Romans 14:9 states, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Only one Christ died and was resurrected—not two separate beings.
Probable, not Infallible
In John 18:37, Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus: “Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears My voice.”
A number of other scriptures (Matt. 17:1-9; I Pet. 1:18-21; John 11:25; Heb. 8:10, along with many references to the Old Testament prophets) seem to stress the certainty of Christ’s victory during His physical life as well as the assurance of His future Millennial reign. Some have mistaken this certainty to mean there was no possibility of Christ failing.
If there were no danger in completing His earthly work, then why did Jesus fast for 40 days and nights (Matt. 4:2)? Why did He need to draw closer to His Father prior to confronting Satan? The Bible states that Jesus was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). If one is capable of being tempted to sin, then there must exist a possibility of sinning!
Christ frequently cried out to God and offered up prayers and supplications, with tears (Heb. 5:7). He learned obedience through the things He suffered (vs. 8). Does this sound as if there was no possibility of Jesus sinning?
Jesus not only carried out His ministry successfully, He also resisted temptation. By doing so, He qualified to be our perfect sacrifice, taking away the world’s sins (John 1:29; I John 2:2). He endured the pressures and pulls of Satan, society and self—setting a perfect example for His servants to follow.
Going to the Source of Power
Why then did the Scriptures prophesy Christ’s victory beforehand? Because the perfect willpower and determination of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ meant that victory was all but certain!
Isaiah 59:15-17 reveals how Christ was to fulfill His work: “Yes, truth fails; and he that departs from evil makes himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment. And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His arm brought salvation unto Him; and His righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head; and He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.”
This prophecy, along with many others, describes Jesus Christ’s success in overcoming the world. Due to God’s determination and strength, failure was not an option—though it was possible! Jesus knew that if He went to the Ultimate Source of power in the universe, He would receive all He needed to succeed.
Jesus Christ was vulnerable to temptation, subject to death and capable of sinning, and He carried out the greatest and most demanding ministry the world has ever seen. Only by relying on God’s strength, not His own human power, was He able to overcome insurmountable odds.