Here’s John Piper’s answer to Justin Taylor’s question based upon Hebrews 4:15.
Can Jesus really identify with me when he doesn’t know the experience of indwelling sin raging war against the Spirit? Aren’t our temptations more powerful than those faced by Christ on earth?
I preached on this recently and suggested three illustrations to help understand this verse:
The Arithmetic Illustration
When we learn arithmetic, we don’t learn every single possible sum that can ever be learned. Instead, we learn formulas, methods, and techniques that we then practice using a sufficiently large representative sample of numbers.
In the same way, Jesus did not need to experience every single temptation possible, but only a sufficiently large representative sample that enabled Him to comprehend and understand every possible temptation in the world. In that sense we can say that He was tempted on all points through a sufficient sample, yet without sin.
The Temptation Meter Illustration
When we connect electricity to a voltage meter, the needle rises to a level that reflects the power of the supply. But imagine a voltage meter that was strong enough to resist the power; no matter how much voltage was applied, the needle didn’t move even a milimeter. The voltage is turned up until the power supply is maxxed out at 100% and still not a hint of movement.
When the power of temptation comes into our lives, we often succumb so easily. The power level hardly reaches 20% or 30% when the needle starts to move as we incline towards the temptation and then give in to it. We, have no idea what it is to be tempted with 100% power because we cave in heart or in word or in action way before then.
But the power of temptation was turned up in Jesus’ life again and again until it maxxed out in in the wilderness temptations and in the Gethsemane temptations; and His needle didn’t budge. He knows what it’s like to be tempted at 100% power because He was able to resist perfectly all along the scale. In that sense, we can say He was tempted on all points of the temptation scale, yet without sin.
The Stress Illustration
Every day we face temptations that challenge our minds, our emotions, and our bodies. Most of the time, unless we are climbing Everest perhaps, we are not stressing every part of us to the maximum. Sometimes, very rarely, perhaps we are close to 100% of our mental capacity or 100% of our physical capacity or 100% of our emotional capacity. But we are never maxxed out in every domain at the same time, or at least for a long time.
However, the temptations that Jesus faced continually pushed him to the maximum of his mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual capacity and did so for lengthy periods of time. In the sense we can say that He was tempted and pushed on all points of His human nature, to the max possible level, yet without sin.
Because Jesus was tempted by a sufficiently large and difficult sample of temptations, because He was tempted to the highest point on the temptation scale, and because He was tempted to the maximum stress of His whole human nature, we can say he was tempted on all points and therefore can sympathize on all points.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15.).