“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18, ESV)
All of us have experienced temptations in our lives. Some of these are greater than others. It may have been the temptation to hold back a bit of truth when asked or perhaps to do that certain thing we knew was wrong. Perhaps it was a temptation in the area of our thought life. But what are the greatest temptations that we could experience?
The Scriptures state that Jesus was tempted in every respect just as we have, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). Consider His temptation in the wilderness. Matthew records that Satan tempted Jesus after fasting forty days and forty nights. I cannot even imagine the hunger and the weakened state that Jesus was in at that stage. Then in the midst of what would have to be insatiable hunger, Satan tempts Jesus to resolve the hunger issue by using His divine powers to turn stones into bread. Then he tempts Jesus to reveal his divinity by throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple because the angels would care for Him. Last Satan tempts Jesus by offering Him the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship him, that is the devil. Jesus, as we know resists these temptations and demonstrated that He was qualified for the duties He had as the incarnate Son of God. (Mat 4:1-11)
As we look at these temptations, we wonder. Could there be any greater temptations than these? I believe that the writer of Hebrews points us to the greatest temptation. All the temptations that Satan threw at Jesus in the wilderness were designed to cause Him to transgress from the plan of God and thus disqualify Him as the Savior. These were aimed to use divine power and position to shortcut the way of the cross. This points us to what I would consider the greatest temptation.
Imagine you were in great agony, the greatest agony that you could ever imagine. What if you had the power to deliver yourself from such suffering, but to do so meant doing something heinous, very evil. Would this not be the greatest temptation? I believe the martyrs throughout history experienced something like this. Many were tortured and killed, while all they had to do to save their lives was renounce their faith.
Yet, not to soften the severity of their temptation, theirs pales in comparison to what Jesus experienced when He went to the cross. In His suffering He endured much more than the physical agony of the beating, the humiliation, the scourging, and the pain of crucifixion. On the cross Jesus experienced devastating things that He had never experienced before. Upon Him was placed all of our griefs and sorrows. He bore the guilt of our transgressions, that mean all of the compounded sins of all humanity for all time (1 Jn 2:2). He had never been separated from the most comforting and beautiful connection with the Father, but on the cross, He was forsaken of God Mt 27:46). Moreover, through all this, Jesus had the power to deliver himself and escape the pain and suffering (Mt 26:53; Jn 10:17-18).
Jesus endured the greatest temptation. Knowing the pain and suffering that He was to endure, and that He had the power to stop it, He over came the temptation and fulfilled the divine purposes laid out for Him. He endured the cross obediently and for our sake. For the joy set before Him, He endured the suffering (Heb 12:2).