Earlier, I discussed that a deacon in our congregation gave a sermon yesterday on a subject that demonstrated the implicit political philosophy of the Bible. I would like to go into more detail today on the way that the Bible balances what would appear on the surface to be contrary pulls, namely issues of subordination and equality. It is our tendency as human beings to emphasize one of these aspects as opposed to the other based on where we stand and based on the particular societal influences that we have to deal with. Yet the Bible does not pit these two qualities against each other but rather views them simultaneously. Where we find passages that speak of equality between God and Jesus Christ or between people and each other, we also find these same passages speaking of the subordination of Jesus Christ to our Father. The same is also frequently true when it comes to our own relationships. The very same household codes that speak of submission in ways that are unfriendly to contemporary readers also speak of equality in a way that we tend to appreciate. In other places and times, where a spirit of subordination is more congenial, the passages about equality tend to make people feel uncomfortable while those speaking about hierarchy are more popular.
What I wish to do now is to present some representative passages from the Bible that demonstrate both issues of submission to authority on the one hand as well as equality on the other. Many of these passages are familiar to us because of our emphasis on either issues of subordination or equality but these passages contain both elements. Let us consider several passages in the book of John. Here is John 6:35-40: “And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”” Here is John 10:25-30: “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”” Here is John 17:6-11: ““I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. “
All three of these passages are from the book of John, and all of them speak of both the oneness of Jesus Christ and God as well as the subordination of Jesus Christ and of His will to that of God, or of the superiority of God the Father to everything and everyone else. One the one hand, Jesus speaks of Himself as having the power to resurrect others and of the oneness between Himself and God. But on the other hand, Jesus Christ speaks of his refusal to act according to His own will but the subordination of His will to that of the Father. Nor is this a concern that is limited to the writings of John alone. Paul Himself speaks of exactly the same tension between equality and subordination in Philippians 2:6-11: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Here again we see that striking tension between Jesus Christ being equal to God the Father but also subordinating Himself to the will of the Father and, thus humbling Himself to the point of death for our sakes, is exalted by the same Father above all else in the entire universe.
It should also be noted that this harmonic tension between the discussion of the subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father is not only something discussed in the New Testament. For, after all, we see the following in Psalm 110:1-2: “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!” Here again we see equality in that both YHWH and Adoni are referred to as “Lord,” but there is also subordination in that the priest in the order of Melchizedek sits at the right hand of the Father. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we also see the same picture in Daniel 7:9-10, which speaks of God the Father: ““I watched till thrones were [d]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.” To this may be compared the account of Jesus Christ in Daniel 7:13-14: ““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.”
We even see this combination of subordination when God the Father and Jesus Christ are spoken of in Proverbs 30:4: “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?” It may be difficult for us as human beings to parse the difference between the equality of God the Father and Jesus Christ and the subordination, but even the language used in Proverbs 30:4 gives us both sides of that picture. Two beings are being described as being in a father and son relationship, precisely the sort of relationship where we find both equality (by virtue of being in the same family) as well as subordination (in that sons are subordinate to fathers). And it is precisely to that issue that we will now turn, namely that this language of equality and subordination is not only discussed as being between the Father and the Son, but also in all kinds of human relationships as well.