If you’re old enough to read this, you are an experienced veteran of sinful temptation, having encountered it every day of your life since you began to discern right from wrong. As an experienced veteran, you’ll surely agree that we need all the help we can get when sinful anger begins to boil, or when we find our eyes pulled toward a forbidden desire, or when indulging laziness looks very appealing, or when some icy fear of death draws us in a faithless direction (more on this in a moment).
The good news is that strong help is available: Jesus is a “merciful and faithful high priest” who is “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18). We could say he is mercifully eager and faithfully able to help us.
But what exactly does this mean? How does Jesus’s ministry as our high priest help us in the heat of a tempting moment?
How Our High Priest Helps Us
The author of Hebrews addresses this question in Hebrews 2:14–18:
Since . . . the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Let’s examine the three primary ways this text explains how Jesus, as our high priest, helps us in temptation.
1. He makes us offspring of Abraham.
First, our merciful and faithful high priest “helps the offspring of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).
The New Testament makes clear that the offspring of Abraham are not primarily his genetic offspring, but those “who [share] the faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16). This may sound simple, but it required some serious high-priestly work on Jesus’s part.
Jesus had to “be made like [us] in every respect” so he could (1) obey his Father perfectly on our behalf, and (2) offer himself as a “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27) to make “propitiation for our sins” (Hebrews 2:17). In doing this, he “[broke] down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:14–15). Now, all the eternal covenant promises of God are included in the new covenant — the better covenant our high priest mediates (Hebrews 8:6) — and therefore apply to all who are in Christ. In Christ, then, God fulfilled his promise to Abraham that “in [him] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Jesus is faithfully able to help us because he mercifully made it possible for us to become Abraham’s offspring, allowing us to marshal all of God’s promises against temptation, since they all “find their Yes” for us in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). The fear of death provides some examples of how this works.
2. He liberates us from the fear of death.
Second, our merciful and faithful high priest partook of “flesh and blood . . . that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).
The fear of death is a gateway through which all manner of temptation enters to enslave us. And this fear occurs on two levels. The first is our awareness of our mortality. We all fear death. Our desire to live and not die isn’t itself sinful, just like it wasn’t sinful for Jesus. But the devil knows how to tap into our instinctive fear of death.
This side of the fall, Satan often tempts us in the opposite way he tempted Adam and Eve. Now he may tell us, “You shall not surely live. Eternal life is a delusion, and your life is a vapor. So, you better grab as much life as you can while you have it.” To the degree we believe him, we will waste inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money trying to mitigate death’s threats. We might orient our lives around postponing death as long as possible by seeking first the preservation of our health rather than trusting Jesus’s promise that if we “seek first the kingdom of God . . . all [we need] will be added to [us]” (Matthew 6:33). Or we might prioritize “bucket list” experiences and pleasures for fear that we’ll miss out on life rather than trusting Jesus’s promise that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Or we might try to distract ourselves from the thought of death through numbing, banal entertainment and obsession over current events and controversies rather than trusting Jesus’s promise that in him is where we will find peace, for he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).
But Jesus is faithfully able to help us by mercifully becoming “the resurrection and the life” for us. He promises abundant life for those who believe him, beginning now and extending through eternity (John 11:25; 10:10; 3:16).
“The devil does his best to convince us that Jesus’s atoning work will not save us from the guilt of our sin.”
The second level where we experience fear of death is our awareness of our sinfulness. Knowing that “after death comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), when “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12), we can become vulnerable to the tempting fear of condemnation. The devil does his best to convince us that Jesus’s atoning work will not save us from the guilt of our sin, and thus he seeks to enslave us to the endless pursuit of trying to achieve our own righteousness.
But Jesus is faithfully able to help us because he mercifully has taken away our guilt of sin, which is the “sting of death,” by “becoming a curse for us,” so that through love, we now can have “confidence for the day of judgment,” thereby “[giving] us the victory” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57; Galatians 3:13; 1 John 4:17).
On both levels, Jesus is mercifully eager and faithfully able to deliver us from a lifelong enslavement to the fear of death.
3. He always intercedes for us.
Third, our merciful and faithful high priest was “made like [us] in every respect,” and so, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18).
This means that Jesus is mercifully able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” having “in every respect . . . been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And since “he always lives to make intercession for [us]” with the Father, he faithfully provides us “the way of escape” for each temptation we face, so we can faithfully endure it (Hebrews 7:25; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
And even when we do fail and succumb to temptation, because of the whole scope of Jesus’s high-priestly ministry, “if we confess our sins, [the Father] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). He is both faithfully able and mercifully eager to forgive.
Help in Every Temptation
This is the good news we have when facing temptation: strong help is available. Jesus, our Great High Priest, is eager to help us because he’s merciful and sympathetic, and he’s able to help us because he’s faithful in his service to God on our behalf.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
“This is the good news we have when facing temptation: strong help is available.”
When we’re tempted, Jesus helps us keep the true Story of redemption in view so we’re not sucked into the distorted, deceiving story the temptation is telling us. And when we do keep that Story in view, we discover the escape our high priest provides for us.
And when we fail and sin, we don’t need to wallow in condemnation (Romans 8:1–2), but confess our sin, receive our promised forgiveness, and get back up and back at it.
So, when we’re tempted today, “Let us . . . with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Because our high priest is mercifully eager and faithfully able to help us.