Shortly before Passover in 1991, a sermon in the Worldwide Church of God stated that Jesus Christ’s success in overcoming Satan and sin was a foregone conclusion. Since dozens and dozens of prophecies foretold of Christ’s victorious reign over the Earth, Joseph Tkach wrote, “There was no risk that God’s promises might not happen or come true. There was no risk that Jesus would sin” (Worldwide News, Oct. 28, 1991).
This unbiblical teaching, my father said in response, would inevitably result in a “once saved, always saved” belief. And he was right.
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that the encounter between Christ and Satan in Matthew 4:1 was perhaps “the most important, momentous, decisive confrontation and battle ever fought in all time in the universe” (Mystery of the Ages). He wrote, “Satan knew well he was now fighting to prevent his dethroning over all the Earth.” He was convinced that he could out-maneuver and ultimately defeat Jesus Christ.
In preparation for this titanic battle, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2). What an extreme measure to take if it was already pre-determined that He would win the battle! In truth, Christ knew the God-ordained potential for mankind was hanging in the balance. And what did He do to prepare for this supreme test? He fasted and prayed before facing the devil!
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (verse 3). Had Christ not been so close to God, it would have been easy for Him to angrily shoot back, What do you mean, “If I’m the Son of God?” You know I am. Answering Satan that way would not have helped Christ in this trial.
“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (verse 4). Jesus answered by not only quoting God’s Word—His response reflected how submissive He was to God’s Word. This must be our same approach in battling Satan.
The devil then took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple and told Him to jump off. Satan quoted Scripture, saying the angels would rescue Christ (Psalm 91:11-12). But Satan twisted and misapplied the meaning of that passage in Psalms.
“Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:7). Again, Christ quoted God’s Word in its proper context (Deuteronomy 6:16)—and He obeyed it.
Satan then offered Jesus rulership over the kingdoms of this world (Matthew 4:8-9). He offered Christ a temporary, physical reward.
“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (verse 10). Now, Jesus—righteously indignant—was the one giving the orders.
Now think—would Christ have won this battle had He not cried out to God in fasting and prayer? Jesus knew the stakes were enormous! The fact that He fasted for a full 40 days in the wilderness before the temptation suggests that He had set aside this time, planned for the confrontation, and prepared for it.
After the great temptation, Luke adds that Satan departed from Jesus for a season ( Luke 4:13). Again consider—was Satan really stupid enough to devote his life to trying to tempt Christ if it was impossible for Christ to sin?
The Worldwide Church of God’s doctrinal change on this subject revealed an early problem within the Laodiceans: They underestimated Satan and his awesome power—not to mention the much stronger power of God.
In The God Family Vision, my father says the main reason Plan B (God reproducing Himself through man) wasn’t enacted until after the angelic plan failed is because Plan B was so risky! Plan B is far superior to Plan A, he wrote. “But always remember the incredible risk involved in this plan! What brutal suffering the Son had to endure” (emphasis mine throughout).
Passover is an annual memorial that we observe in memory of Jesus Christ’s final agony and death. It also reminds us of the incredible risk involved in God’s plan. Jesus Christ’s life, as my father once wrote, was the greatest risk in the history of man!
Made Like Unto His Brethren
Jesus Christ was a partaker of flesh and blood just like us (Hebrews 2:14). Think, for a moment, about what that means. He endured the same trials and tests in human flesh that we do now. That ought to make our relationship with Christ incredibly intimate!
“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” (Hebrews 2:16-17). The Revised Standard Version says He was made like us in “every respect.”
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The only difference between Jesus and any other human is that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Therefore He obeyed God’s laws from birth—and never had to go through the process of repenting of going the wrong way, of unlearning wrong ideas and habits, and of gradually learning to exercise His will to do right continually” (Plain Truth, November 1963).
Verse 18 says, in the Amplified version, “For because He Himself has suffered in being tempted (tested and tried), He is able [immediately] to run to the cry of … those who are being tempted and tested and tried [and who therefore are being exposed to suffering].”
Jesus Christ does understand. Romans 8:3 says God sent Him “in the likeness of sinful flesh” in order to condemn sin in the flesh. He is sympathetic and able to give wise, merciful counsel to God on our behalf. He is our Mediator—our Intercessor and High Priest.
Mr. Armstrong continued, “[B]y exercising the will to always obey God, and by receiving the extra help He needed to master His fleshly desires, Jesus repudiated the sway of sin in the human flesh and showed that the law of God could be kept.” He then said emphatically, “The Satan-inspired doctrine that Jesus was not human … that He did not have all the normal human passions and weaknesses against which all of us have to struggle—in a word, that Jesus did not really come ‘in the flesh’ as a normal human being—this is the doctrine of the anti-Christ.”
Christ, by His life, condemned sin in the flesh. He lived perfectly. His death is the greatest proof there is that God’s law is still in force. His awesome sacrifice upholds and reinforces the law of God. Christ had to die because God could not overlook the fact that we have sinned. Sin results in death. There is a way of escape—but a penalty still has to be paid. God the Father honors Christ’s death in our place.
Jesus Christ came in the flesh to set for us a perfect example (1 Peter 2:21). He then offered His life in payment for our sins to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God the Father and to receive the Holy Spirit—the very nature and character of Almighty God! (Romans 5:10).
Jesus Christ Totally Relied on God’s Power
What a perfect example our Savior set for us! How ridiculous it would be to think of Him as some kind of robot—that it was somehow “impossible” for Him to sin.
Jesus prayed to God all night long before selecting His disciples—those who would make up the foundation of God’s Church (Luke 6:12-13). Another time He rose up “a great while before day … and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus didn’t just pray—He prayed fervently with every fiber of His being.
The night before His crucifixion, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). This is the only place in the King James Version where the word “agony” is mentioned. It means to be “engaged in combat.” The agonizing, blood-sweating fervency of His prayer at Gethsemane is what thoroughly prepared Him for the immeasurable suffering He would experience in “combat” the following day.
As we ask in Lesson 29 of the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course, “Can we comprehend the intense mental agony our Savior must have experienced that night? Three times He asked His Father if it would be possible for Him to avoid the suffering that was to come—if it were possible to begin His plan of salvation for mankind in some other way (Matthew 26:39-44).”
“[N]evertheless,” Jesus prayed, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Do you think the Apostle Paul thought this was some kind of Hollywood act Jesus was going through? In Hebrews 5:7, Paul said about Christ, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.”
Notice—this doesn’t refer to the heartrending prayer at Gethsemane alone. Christ prayed this way all the days of His flesh. He knew that He could not commit one sin! He offered up heartfelt sacrifices in prayer—with strong crying and tears. Christ was totally dependent on God and the power of His Spirit. He wasn’t a spirit being camping inside a physical body just going through the motions. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.
Christ prayed to the only One who could “save him from death”—the second death. The very thought of sinning struck terror in Christ’s heart! Meditate on this as we approach the Passover. Jesus knew that if He sinned just once, there would be no God Family!
Verse 8 states, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Here was a man who never sinned, and yet He was always learning. Jesus took obedience and submission to another dimension.Of course, as the Word, He had always submitted to God’s lead. But when He came in the flesh, He was subject to the downward pull of Satan’s influence. As God in the flesh, He learned how to yield to God as a human. In doing so, He set a perfect example for us. He also learned how to better help us as our High Priest!
Verse 9 continues, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Obviously Christ was perfect to begin with, but this refers to the resurrection. The Greek word means to “carry through completely”—all the way to the end! He was made a perfect Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.
Christ emptied Himself in prayer—pouring out His whole being. He prayed with strong crying and tears! How often do we pray like that? Christ pulled out all the stops. He didn’t hang back. He didn’t pray half-heartedly or lethargically as so many tend to do today. He prayed with intensity and boldness!
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The temptation to do wrong, the idea of sinning entered Jesus’s mind. Yes, it did occur to Him to disobey God. He was tempted in all points like we are! But from birth, Jesus would always reject these wrong ideas, these temptations. He said, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ He willed to do right. He went to God the Father for power to do always right. And, praying for the strength He needed through the Holy Spirit, He always did right. But it wasn’t easy! Jesus had exactly the same day-to-day battle with sin that we do ” (Plain Truth, op.cit.).
Notice how the Amplified Bible translates Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but one Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning.”
Jesus Christ, after He had been beaten, started out carrying His own stake, but He nearly collapsed under the weight of it. He couldn’t carry it on His own. He knew what physical weakness was. He suffered. He fought. He resisted. Jesus Christ was human.
What a wonderful, added dimension Jesus Christ is for us when we pray! How much more boldly and confidently can we approach God’s throne knowing that our Advocate is pleading for God to extend grace during our time of suffering and need (verses 15-16).
Jesus Christ Humbled Himself Even Unto Death
To become God, we need another mind—the mind of Jesus Christ, as it says in Philippians 2:5. God the Father wants us to be like Jesus Christ—where we give no thought to our own reputation, position, status or self-exaltation. We have to let this mind in. We have to let God’s Word dwell in us (Colossians 3:16). Christ might apply a certain amount of pressure—but He cannot force us to submit to God’s will.
Philippians 2:6 continues, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Revised Standard Version). Christ did not look to His own things—He looked to the things of others.
Think on this! Jesus was equal with God in every respect except authority. They were both of the Godhead. And yet, the Word was humble enough to give that up in order to be made in the likeness of men. Verse 7 reads, “but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (rsv).
Jesus Christ impoverished Himself—He made Himself of no reputation. How utterly unconcerned Jesus was with reputation, position, status, people-pleasing, or doing His own thing.
What a gigantic step down this was for a member of the Godhead—the Creator of the universe! He was fabulously rich, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9, yet He became poverty-stricken for our sake!
This is the humble mindset God wants to develop in our minds. Philippians 2:8, in the Amplified version, states, “And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!”
It was humbling enough just to go from spirit to clay, becoming a single cell inside of a woman. But then, as a man, He humbled Himself yet further—even unto ignominious shame and death. This was Christ’s final humiliation: obedience unto death. God laid all the sins of the world on His shoulders. (See Psalm 22:7‑8 and Matthew 27:43).
In the March 7, 2009, Pastor General’s Report, my father wrote, “Christ did trust in God. When we do the same, can we sin? Of course we can. And so could Christ have. Saying that it was impossible for Christ to sin takes all the majesty out of His achievement; it destroys His sacrifice! Christ totally turned Himself over to God—He trusted Him in a way we’ve never learned to do. He walked by faith, as we must. If there was no risk involved, it wouldn’t be faith! Why would He have had to walk by faith if it was impossible for Him to sin? He would have been a mere robot.”
How ridiculous it would be to think this was some kind of act: “They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Psalm 22:13-15).
Commenting on that passage, my father continued, “Does that sound like someone who couldn’t sin? No—those are the words of a man who was on the edge, giving everything He possibly could to keep from losing His faith! Christ was on the edge because of our sins!”
The same PGR also stated, “If Christ had failed, God the Father would have been sitting in solitary confinement for the rest of eternity! That’s the kind of sacrifice these Gods made for us. We can forget that in our callous, carnal thinking. But God the Father and Christ did it—and they did it for you. They want you to be aware of that. Not out of their vanity, but so that you will recognize that repentance must be toward God! We must understand repentance if we are to enter the God Family.”
What tremendous risk there was involved in the execution of Plan B! What unfathomable love there is in God’s purpose for man! What an awesome and perfect sacrifice Jesus Christ was for all of mankind!
Hebrews 12:2 states, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We must be “looking unto Jesus” and running the course that God has set before us. Christ is the pacesetter. He ran the course Himself. He was our starter, and He also gives us the strength to finish. It is because of the dead Christ that we have been given the opportunity to enter the race in the first place, but it is by the living Christ that we can run this race—and finish it!
A more accurate translation of the words “author” and “finisher” is Pioneer and Perfecter. Jesus led the way, setting us the supreme example of what it means to live by faith. And today, the living, resurrected Jesus Christ is working to perfect that same faith in us.
How did Christ endure all that He went through—how did He go on? By looking beyond the present to the joy that was set before Him. By totally relying on His Father in heaven and the power of the Holy Spirit.
King David said, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. … Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:8, 11).
We should think on these things whenever we face a trial or test. Christ knew that real joy could only be found in the presence of His Father. Lesson 29 of the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Coursestates, “Seeing the end result, Christ endured the pain and suffering with joy! His supreme sacrifice was made out of love for each of us, to open up the Family of God to all mankind! What tremendous LOVE was required for this sacrifice!”
And when we consider what our sins did to Christ, we realize that we cannot become casual about it (Hebrews 12:3). We have to rid our minds of sin!
As we approach the Passover season, we should deeply consider the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our own spiritual lives. How much do we appreciate Christ’s sacrifice? How much do we live to perform God’s will? Do we rely upon Christ’s example to resist sin? Christ poured out every drop of His blood resisting sin. None of us have ever come close to this type of resistance against sin (verse 4). That is why we should “consider him” when going through a sore trial (verse 3).
God expects us to expend every effort to quit sinning. If we are to become a part of God’s Family and receive the gift of eternal life, we must prove our obedience now in the flesh by getting the leaven of sin out of our lives! This is our part in God’s great plan.
Jesus Christ, at age 33, was the most perfectly developed man—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally—who ever lived. He faithfully obeyed God to the very end—even unto death! As we draw near to the Passover, let us study His life, follow His example, and live as He lived.