In his remarks this morning at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, President Obama reflected on Jesus’ suffering and said that Jesus experienced “doubt” and “fear” in the same way that we do. Of course the Bible does teach that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are and that He is therefore able to sympathize with us (Heb. 4:15). But does that mean that He himself doubted God and feared death? Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript of the President’s remarks:
Like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection [underlines mine]
I appreciate that the President wants to highlight the courage of Jesus. But does it not diminish Jesus’ achievement to say that He experienced “doubt” and “fear” as He approached His crucifixion? Does the Bible really teach that Christ had doubts and fears on the same order as our own? The Bible in fact never teaches such a thing, and it diminishes Christ’s achievement to suggest otherwise. Here’s why.
In the Bible, doubt and fear are sins. In fact, Jesus Himself describes doubt as the opposite of faith (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; Mark 11:23). In very explicit terms, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to “fear” those who persecute them (Matt. 10:26, 28, 31). No less than seven times, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to be “anxious” about their lives (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34; Mark 10:19; 13:11; Luke 12:11, 22). And then of course, Jesus’ half brother James had this to say about doubt:
James 1:6-8 The one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
To say that Jesus had doubts and fears is to make him into a transgressor. But that is not at all the biblical depiction of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can sympathize with all of our weaknesses and, yes, he was tempted in all things as we are. But He did it without sin! (Heb. 4:15)
What was amazing and spectacular about Jesus’ suffering is that he never doubted His Father, and he never feared man. “When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23). Not only that, the Bible says that Jesus was motivated by joy to endure the cross:
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus knew how awful the crucifixion would be before it happened (Matt. 16:21). There’s a reason that He prayed, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39). The anguish of the cross was real, and He knew it. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ vision never stalled-out on death. Jesus saw right through the cross to the resurrection on the other side. You and I may fear death, but Jesus never did. You and I may doubt God’s purposes in suffering, but Jesus never did. Ever! What was definitive for Jesus was the joy set before Him, not death.
Imagine that. Jesus knew that they would tear His skin from His body, that they would nail Him to a post, and that He would asphyxiate while enduring cruel pain. He knew that He would be betrayed and forsaken by His best friends. He even knew that the cup of God’s wrath would be poured out on Him in full (Isaiah 53:10; Matt. 27:46). Yet He never feared man or doubted God. He was all courage and all love all the time. If you worship the Jesus of the Bible, that is the Savior that you worship.
The model that Jesus gives us is not that he had doubts and fears like we do. The model that He gives us is perfection. We don’t ever have to give in to doubt and to fear. Doubt and fear have no place in those who are trusting in the promises of the God who resurrects from the dead, and they certainly never had any place in Jesus.
So let’s be jealous for what Jesus accomplished for us. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin! He was obedient to His Father, even to the point of death on a bloody cross (Phil. 2:8). He never gave up, never lost heart, never flagged in zeal. And neither must we. We can take heart. Where you and I have failed, Jesus has overcome. Indeed Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33)