What does Hebrews 4:15 mean?The central figure of the Christian faith is not a remote, distant deity. Nor is it some flawed, mortal figure. Instead, the "founder" of our salvation is one who has experienced all of our temptations and did so without falling into sin. Earlier portions of Hebrews explained why Messiah had to be fully human. In order to become the perfect example for humanity (Hebrews 2:10), and our true High Priest (Hebrews 2:17), Jesus had to experience all of the struggles and suffering of mankind (Hebrews 2:14–18). Here, this idea is given even more direct expression.
Christ has a unique understanding of our plight (Hebrews 2:18). The Greek word used here is sympathēsai, which has come into English almost unchanged as "sympathize." Jesus can "feel for" us in our temptations since He has experienced those lures as well. In fact, it can be said that Jesus actually understands the weight of our temptation better than we do. A man strong enough to lift a heavy object appreciates its weight more than one who lacks the strength to hold it up. At some point, the weak man's power runs out, and he never fully bears the load: he drops it. Christ, in enduring our temptations without failure, experienced their weight far beyond the point where we would have failed and given in.
While we are tempted, and often sin, Christ was tempted in every way we are, but remained sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:19).
This verse also clarifies an extremely important point about the nature of sin: namely, that the experience of temptation is not a sin, itself. In other words, feeling the lure of sin is not a sin. The original Greek describing Jesus' temptations is pepeirasmenon de kata panta; literally, "tempted, even [nevertheless/yet] in all things."
The fact that Christ experienced the temptation to sin, but was sinless, is monumentally important for our understanding of the gospel. Too often, we categorize certain sins—usually ones we personally are not prone to—as those by which only "really bad" people are even tempted. Rather than helping others recognize the difference between temptation and action, and guiding them to react in a godly way, we act as if being tempted is the sin, itself. This, according to the Word of God, is simply not true. Christ was tempted—Christ was without sin. No matter what lures a person feels, God always gives them a way to respond without violating His will (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Instead of a cold, emotionless judge, or a flawed, fickle spirit, Christians worship Jesus Christ. He is the only One who has both experienced and overcome the power of sin and temptation. As the next verse shows, this not only takes away our excuses for failure, it gives us reassurance that, when we fail, He will offer us mercy and compassion.