In this part we will continue to address the “difficult questions” that Mr. Burch poses in his book. The previous two parts answered questions related to the deity of Jesus Christ regarding His death and resurrection. Now, we will shift gears to answer several of Mr. Burch’s questions concerning the humanity of His earthly ministry. Understanding the purpose and nature of the incarnation can help us to understand why the Son as deity submitted to the Father and experienced the human difficulties as we do, but without sin.
Why did Jesus proclaim that He did only what the Father told Him?
We can only guess that Mr. Burch asks this question in light of the explanations Jesus gives of Himself and the Father in John chapters 5, 8, and 12. Mr. Burch attempts to use the language of Jesus to infer that He is a creature and lesser in essence than the Father. Although Mr. Burch makes statements of Jesus that “he perfectly represents the Father,” “He Speaks What the Father Speaks,” and “He Does What the Father Does,” he does not see how these very scripturally derived statements prove the necessity of the Trinity. For, if the Son were, as a creature, an ontologically distinct being from the Father, should we not expect Him not to be these things? Shouldn’t He be able to speak and act of His own accord?
Let us look at some relevant Scriptures and understand why these apparent “limitations” of the Son are the “limitations” of perfection rather than the limitations of a creation.
The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
— John 5:15-19
Before we misunderstand “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do,” we need to view it in light of the context. Jesus just healed on the Sabbath day, which irritated the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus said that the Father continues to work on the Sabbath and He also works likewise. The understanding is that the Father continues to “work” on the Sabbath by upholding the universe and reigning over the affairs of humanity; therefore, the Son has this same prerogative. Although Jews commonly referred to God as their Father (John 8:41), this statement from Jesus showed a relationship with the Father that a mere creature could not have. The Jews rightly understood Jesus to be “making himself equal with God” (Joh 5:18). Upon the heels of this accusation Jesus does not say that they were unjustified in inferring that He claimed equality with the Father. Rather, He corrects their misunderstanding that He was claiming to be a separate deity equal to and competing with the Father.
If Jesus is God, how could He have been tempted by Satan?
This is a strange question to ask, because many verses clearly show that God was tempted. (Exo 17:2,7; Num 14:22; Deu 6:16; Psa 78:18,41,56; 95:8-9; 106:14; Mal 3:15; Act 5:9; Heb 3:8-9).
God also gave explicit command not to tempt Him (Deu 6:16; Mat 4:7; Luk 4:12; 1Co 10:9).
The question, then, is what does this mean and what does it imply in reference to Jesus? The Scriptures are clear that the temptation of Jesus was for a specific purpose. Just as the baptism of Jesus was not because He needed to demonstrate repentance from sins but to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mat 3:13-15), so the purpose of His temptation was for a divine purpose.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
— Matthew 4:1-2
And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
— Mark 1:12-13
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.
— Luke 4:1-2
Apparently, although Satan genuinely tried to get Jesus to stumble, his temptations were within God’s sovereign plan. The Holy Spirit led Him into this situation for a divine purpose. What was that purpose?
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
— Hebrews 2:16-17
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:15-16
The writer to the Hebrews is clear that the purpose of the temptations of Jesus was so He could fulfill the role of High Priest and to be merciful and empathetic in his intercessions. Although He would endure temptations to be empathetic as the God-Man Who serves as High Priest, notice that nothing is mentioned in any of these accounts of His temptations or of the Hebrews commentaries of a purpose being to discover if Jesus would endure. There is no mention of the risk of the catastrophic undoing of the Godhead and all creation that would assuredly occur if He should succumb to Satan’s devices.
Mr. Burch emphasizes that the idea of Jesus “being God” desensitizes us to the depth and reality of His temptations. He says the “He could have failed”, yet we need not belabor the point of what this “ability to fail” would entail.
If Jesus were ontologically the only creature Who could fulfill this role of Messiah, wouldn’t His failure bring the universe into ruin and make God irresponsibly risky?
However, if Jesus were a creature of God, God could create a hundred, a thousand, or a limitless number of creatures like the Son, thus diluting His significance and the significance of His temptations. Regardless how you reason, Mr. Burch’s rationale does not agree with the precedence of Scripture.
The purpose of the temptations was divine and so was the Object of them. Just as God could be tempted, but He cannot lie (Num 23:19; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18), so Jesus could be tempted and not commit sin! The temptation of Jesus is not an argument against His divinity; rather, it is an argument for it!
- Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing, 2013), 78, 109.
- Ibid., 110-112.
- Ibid., 112