That was my reaction over twenty years ago when I was first confronted with such an idea. Today, I can’t remember who it was that introduced me to what appeared to be an insane concept, nor where I was when I first heard it. However absurd it sounded to me at the time, I decided to give it a deeper investigation. After all, as a Seventh-day Adventist who was taught that our understanding of truth is progressive, I needed to be fair and not simply dismiss the assertion out of hand.
I would be surprised if there are not a few who are reading this editorial right now whose reaction was similar and equal to mine of two decades ago—what in the world are you talking about? How could a sinless Jesus repent? Repent for what?
In fairness to the speaker that day, I gave a sympathetic ear as he/she proceeded to give coherent Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy support for the assertion. As I pondered the “shocking” subject, I decided to make it a personal study.
Perhaps like you right now, I had an immediate prejudice against the pronouncement. After all, I had, for most of my schooling, been educated in Seventh-day Adventist institutions, attended Sabbath School on a regular basis, heard hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sermons, graduated from seminary and pastored for ten years, and yet had never, ever heard such a thing broached by anyone.
Now, these years later, I can honestly say that it all makes sense. In light of the amazing gospel message bestowed upon the remnant, it fits together perfectly with what I have come to know. In this wonderful truth I now more clearly see the enormity of God’s humbleness of character and the ramifications of the gospel’s practicality for every one of us who minister in the Lord’s behalf. Its truth has the potential to eradicate the problem of self-righteousness that we all fight each day of our lives.
Let’s take a look. First, remember that John the Baptist was baptizing into a “baptism of repentance.” We’re told, of course, that Jesus was baptized by John. The question that should come to mind is this: Would Jesus have entered into a baptism of repentance if He Himself had not repented? If He had not done so, it would have made Him hypocritical.
Next, we know that Jesus Himself called His contemporaries to repentance. Mark tells us that Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15. Again, would Jesus call upon others to repent when He Himself had not done so? It would appear inconsistent on His part. After all, the One who calls us to pick up our cross did likewise. The One who calls us to die demonstrated such for us with the gift of His own life.
Then we see what Peter proclaimed in Acts 5:30,31: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” In order to give such things to Israel Jesus had to have possessed and experienced them Himself.
Finally, if you’re like me, it’s always nice to see some type of affirmation in the writings of Ellen White. Someone directed me to quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy like this one: “Christ came not confessing His own sins; but guilt was imputed to Him as the sinner’s substitute. He came not to repent on His own account; but in behalf of the sinner. . .As their substitute, He takes upon Him their sins, numbering Himself with the transgressor, taking the steps the sinner is required to take, and doing the work the sinner must do.”
Suddenly, I had a whole new and exciting perspective on the gospel. I saw a Savior who so closely identified with us that He was willing to repent in our behalf. I now reason, “Lord, let me do likewise with my fellow man!” And I better understand Ellen White’s advice that we should have an attitude of repentance for another until we can lead that person to repentance. Yes, this truth has an explosive power to it!
Of course, there are many other ramifications to this concept. May we study to know and experience them!
 See Matt 3:2,11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; Acts 19:4.
 All scriptures taken from the New King James Version.
 Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, January 21, 1873. See also Idem., The General Conference Bulletin (1901), 36.