My Father Is Greater Than I

On the last night of Jesus’ ministry before the crucifixion, Jesus Christ told his disciples something about his obedience to God the Father as follows in John 14:28-31:  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.  I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”  In this short passage, we see Jesus Christ state that God the Father is greater than He is, and also that He obeyed what God the Father had commanded Him.  That this is not just an isolated comment can be understood when we compare it with Hebrews 5:5-11, which reads:  “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:  “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”  As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,  called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”  There are some who may object to the idea that Christ was commanded, as if commandments themselves were coercive in themselves.  Yet we know that Jesus Christ was no rebel, and that He was perfectly obedient to all of Our Father’s commandments, thus demonstrating His fitness to serve as our advocate on His behalf.

What I would like to discuss today, though, is the question of whether this superiority of the Father to the Son is something that only began at the incarnation, or whether it was the case beforehand.  Is there enough discussion in the Bible to demonstrate a difference in rank (although an equality in kind) between God the Father and the preincarnate Christ?  Indeed, there is.  Let us lay out some of the verses that distinguish between the Father and the Son in the Hebrew scriptures.  Three come to mind very readily from the writings.  Proverbs 30:4 reads:  “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has bound the waters in a garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”  We know the answer to these questions, since we are aware of God the Father and Jesus Christ His son.  Notice, though, that Agur sees God not as a binitarian Godhead or as a Trinitarian one, but as a Father and Son, a relationship where there is subordination.  

Nor is this an isolated phenomenon.  When we look at God the Father and Jesus Christ portrayed in Daniel 7, we see God the Father portrayed as the ancient of days in verses 9-10 as an old man:  ““I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool.  His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him.  A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.  The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  And Jesus Christ is portrayed as the Son of Man in verses 13 and 14:  ““I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”  Let us note, though, that it is the Ancient of Days who is giving the Son of Man the everlasting dominion of all peoples, nations, and languages.  

And it is precisely this same picture we see in Psalm 110, which reads in its entirety:  “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.  Rule in the midst of Your enemies!  Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.  The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.  He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries.  He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head.”  Here again we see Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of God, obedient to Him, even being commanded to sit at the Father’s right hand until all of God’s enemies are made into Jesus’ footstool.

What does all of this mean?  It is impossible to entirely distinguish God the Father and Jesus Christ when using titles or names throughout the entire scriptures, because both are called b the same titles and the same names.  Yet because God the Father cannot dwell in the presence of sinners, and can only deal with believers because He imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us, it was the Son who has always been tasked with dealing with human beings, and so we have a variety of descriptions of appearances of God on earth where we are confident that we are dealing with Jesus Christ in preincarnate form.  Sometimes He is considered as a messenger of God, or a commander of the armies of the Lord, and sometimes He acts coy about His identity and His name when He is asked.  But from the beginning Jesus Christ was subordinate to God the Father.  Revelation 13:8 reminds us that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, because it was His place to die for the sins of mankind and also serve as our advocate before His Father and ours.  And as Jesus Christ has always been entirely obedient to God’s laws and ways, He is the perfect example for us, given that we are not so perfectly obedient on our own, all the more so because He does not obey out of coercion, but out of perfect love for the God with whom He has been working for eternity to accomplish His plans.  If that be coercion, how can we hope that any authority on any level and in any institution could be anything other than coercive?

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10 Responses to My Father Is Greater Than I

  1. Catharine E. Martin says:

    The last sentence is a great question! God commanded of Israel the free will offering–yet it was one to be given without coercion. Another term for this type of sacrifice was the burnt offering; the one that Abraham was ordered to make of Isaac. Yet he was commanded to offer him up willingly. God is not a coercive God and this is made plain by the nature of His holy spirit, one which does not force us to do the right thing. It makes the right way plain, and we decide whether or not to obey. Conversion is the process of going from self will to becoming a free will sacrifice. Making the right or wrong choice is not the exercise of free will; It is opting whether or not to allow self will to enter our converted lives.

    I John 5:3 equates the love of God with keeping His commandments because they are not grievous. Christ stated that the greatest among us is the servant (Matt. 23:11). SO many places and examples in the Bible show that coercive authority reflects a wrong attitude toward power and position, one that Christ condemned. He especially called the Pharisees and scribes out on it. Not only is not all authority coercive; God shows that no authority should be that way. But it takes God’s holy spirit to overcome that tendency.

    Our own human reasoning chafes at the thought of subordination because of its negative implications. God’s supreme authority as the Father and Christ’s role as His Son are pure in their strength and humility. I’m glad that you pointed out the scriptures in the Old Testament that anchor those in the New. We are so used to having to work for our supervisory roles or obtain degrees to qualify for management positions, that it is hard to wrap our heads around a “greater-than-I” relationship that has always been thus. It must be part of their life-inherency; something that we must simply trust Them about.

    • You’re reading this one a bit early; did our mutual correspondent let you know about this one, as we were talking about the matter yesterday, since it appeared in the keynote address to the GCE this year and is obviously a subject I think about and write about often. Subordination is something that we naturally rebel against as human beings because for human beings subordination comes with coercion from above. We don’t like being vulnerable to coercion so we tend to be hostile to that which would subject us to it. That said, the Bible is full of examples of subordination, which is the opposite of ordination, when one looks at it that way. Those who are ordained to various offices in the Bible, regardless of whether those offices are in the family, in civil authority, or religious authority, are given a responsibility of service and self-sacrifice to build up others. This is, notably, the exact opposite model that we find among fallen creatures like ourselves and the demonic world, which operate under the principles we are more familiar with. I suppose those of us who have rather personal and intimate understanding of the matter of coercion are very sensitive to these things and that is the reason why coercion and the legitimacy of authority under very specific circumstances and the requirement to honor and respect authorities while at the same time being a service-minded person in authority come up over and over again. I agree that we will have to trust God concerning the eternal nature of the greater than I relationship that exists between God the Father and Jesus Christ. I suspect it will be easier to understand as spirit beings than it is to understand now, even though it undergirds what the Bible has to say about authority in general, be it in the household, the congregation, or government.

  2. Catharine E. Martin says:

    Yes, our mutual friend sent me the link to this blog. The concept of ordination and subordination as opposites is a striking observation, but it makes complete sense. Within the Word’s subordinate role comes Christ’s ordained role as Preeminent over all things, for it was He who was sacrificed for all creation from before the foundation of the world. Christ, who unequivocally stated that “The Father is greater than I” also thought that it was not robbery for Him to be considered equal with God. This is not a contradiction, as you stated. The Father being greater than Christ didn’t make Him a lesser being, just as we becoming Gods under Christ will bring us into a co-heir relationship with Him under the Father.

    • I saw your message about that later on 🙂 A great deal of the suffering and difficulty of our lives as it relates to how we stand relative to other people would be far easier to deal with if we understood that giving honor and respect to others does not mean that we are in any way unequal to them. We Americans in particular are rather sensitive about this particular matter, given our high view of equality and our low view of the honors that are due to others. I think this sort of matter gives us plenty of scope to reflect upon issues of authority and legitimacy and respect and honor and equality and (sub)ordination, and it is a wonder that there are not more messages about it, since these issues strike to the heart of so much of what divides us as people.

  3. Catharine E. Martin says:

    Your last sentence reveals the reason for so many COG organizations. It’s a hot-potato subject that hits too close to home for the ministry, for when they preach this particular message, the fingers are pointing mostly at themselves. That’s not to say that the laity doesn’t have interpersonal problems–we all struggle with them–but when it comes to why the Church isn’t physically under one umbrella, the pulpit is a harsh mirror. Those who are aware also know that the membership are of a mind to hold them to it. People now approach the ministry in a way that no one dared to do in days gone by, and they know it. These are legitimate issues and they strike at the heart of governance and servant leadership. The membership has become more prickly because of what it has gone through and is a far less forgiving lot when it comes to the leadership.

    • I agree that the members have become a lot more prickly about this subject than was the case in previous generations–certainly its ubiquity on my blog and the fact that the subject comes up repeatedly over and over again suggests its timeliness. That said, there are a great many pastors who have a mind to talk about the issues with regards to authority in the family, but presenting a biblical model where being ordained simultaneously subordinates one to a higher authority in God and Christ and also simultaneously gives the duty of self-sacrifice and service towards those one is leading is certainly one of those matters that is of vital importance in lowering the temperature in discussions about authority. If we have a proper understanding about authority as service and self-sacrifice, then we can encourage a far less political attitude, and that is only for the better. If it requires humility from those in the pulpit, well, no one should be seeking their own glory from that place in the first place. Surely our world and all of its institutions would be a far less nasty place if we sought our own glory less and did a far better job at building others up.

  4. Catharine E. Martin says:

    Exactly–and that’s why it’s such a prickly subject for the ministry to broach, especially when it comes to vulnerability in their relationship with their congregations. There is still that turf mentality among the ministry as well. I completely agree with you regarding the solution. We all MUST become God-centered servants immersed in the humility of our calling. We, the lay membership and ministry alike, have a long way to go. Many are not yet on the same page. We need to learn from our history, shut the door on it, and create the new history you describe. The fact remains that we must subordinate our natural DNA to the spiritual one in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Playing politics can become a thing of the past if we yield to God, but the question is: will that happen? We are condemned to creating more splinter groups if we don’t bring our attitudes in line to God’s standard.

    • That’s quite true, many people are not on the same page, but seeing how Jesus Christ was able to do it should be an encouragement for us to be able to do the same, with His help always. Unless we become like God and Christ in our character, we will not be given their eternal life and divine nature.

  5. Catharine E. Martin says:

    Yes, Psalm 133 attests to that. It compares the unity of the brethren with the Kingdom of God and eternal life. The unity of the brethren can only come about when all have internalized the same concept of servant leadership.

    • We still have not reached that point. I do not know when we shall, but hopefully it will be soon. God will not grant power and authority in the world to come to beings who will not serve Him and those whom they lead.

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