Why does Jesus say “my Father is greater than I”?

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My Father Is Greater Than I

The phrase “my Father is greater than I” is found in the gospel of John. Jesus said, “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Some have a hard time understanding the phrase “my Father is greater than I.” But any inferiority the statement in John 14:28 seems to assign to Christ should be understood only with reference to His incarnation. In order to fully understand the nature of Christ, we need to examine His standing in the Godhead before and after His incarnation.

The Deity and Preexistence of Christ

Christ has ever been God (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8); but, in contrast, He became man (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7). The apostle John stresses the continuous, timeless, unlimited existence of Christ prior to His incarnation.

In eternity past there was no point before which it could be said that the Word was not. The Son was with the Father from all eternity. There never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. In Revelation 22:13, Jesus proclaims Himself “the beginning and the end.” He is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is God in the ultimate sense of the word—in nature, in wisdom, in authority, and in power (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Matthew1:1, 23; Luke 1:35; John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:8).

Love Led to Christ’s Condescension

Christ became one of us to reveal the Father’s love, to suffer for our sins, and redeem us from sin (Hebrews 2:14–17). The eternal Word, who had ever been with the Father (John 1:1) became Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And now, He has become our high Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary (Hebrews 8).

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Love is the pre-eminent character of the Creator in relation to His creatures. It is the ruling force in divine government. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The ultimate expression of divine love is the Father’s gift of His own Son, through whom it becomes possible for humans to be “called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The Humanity of Christ

Jesus had earthly limitations. For example, He was subject to such things as hunger, thirst, growth (both physical and mental), pain, disease. We read in Luke 2:52 that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  Like every child of Adam, Jesus bear on consequences of the great law of heredity. He was not supernaturally endowed with wisdom above that of other normal children. He thought, spoke, and acted with the wisdom of a child. But at each stage of His development, He was perfect, with the simple, natural grace of a sinless life.

Another example is His limited knowledge in comparison to the Father. He said during His ministry, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Because of His human nature and its limitations, the Father God is greater than Him.

Even in His incarnation Jesus declared that He was one with the Father (John 10:30). The Lord Jesus Christ was a real human being except that He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21; Luke 24:39; John 1:14; Romans 1:3, 4; 5:15; Galatians 4:4; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:14, 17).

The divine nature and the human nature blended into one Person. Divinity was clothed with humanity, not exchanged for it. The two natures became closely and inseparably one. Yet, each remained distinct (John 1:1–3, 14; Mark 16:6; Philippians 2:6–8; Colossians 2:9). As a man, He could have sinned but He did not. He was “tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

The Subordination of Christ

In His childhood Jesus yielded to the will of his earthly parents, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (Matthew 26:39). And during His earthly ministry, He was subject to the Father. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). And even in His death, He again yielded to the Father. Before His crucifixion, He prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

In spite of all the suffering and the fierce temptations Satan pressed upon His soul, Jesus submitted without question or hesitation to the Father’s will. His perfect submission to God’s will provides a perfect example for us to follow (Psalms 40:8; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:7, 8; Hebrews 2:9).

Tempted in All Things Without Sin

He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). In some mysterious way that we cannot comprehend, Jesus experienced the full weight of every possible temptation the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) could put upon Him, but without in the least way, even by a thought, falling to any of them (John 14:30). Satan found nothing in Jesus that fell for his deceptive lies.

Though liable to temptation and “in all points tempted like as we are,” Jesus was nevertheless altogether “without sin.” Sin continually surrounded Him, it oppressed Him throughout His earthly life; yet it found no place in Him (John 14:30). He remained untouched by it. The Sinless One was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was accounted a transgressor (Isaiah 53:12) and handled as the worst sinner, but through no sin of His own (Matthew 4:1–11; Romans 8:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:10,17; 4:15; 1 John 3:5).

Herein lies the great mystery of the perfect life of our Savior. For the first time human nature was triumphant over its natural tendency to sin, and because of Christ’s victory over sin, we too may triumph over it. He obtained victory “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4).

In Him we can be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37), for God “giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57), over both sin and its wages, death (Galatians 2:20). “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

The Vicarious Death of Christ

Unlike Adam and Eve, who made an attempt to seize equality with God (Genesis 3:5), Jesus, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47) was “made in the likeness of men.” He humbled Himself even unto death – the death of the cross. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was crucified as an offering for our sins. He died to make an atonement for sin (Romans 3:24–26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

Christ’s redemptive death atoned for our sins, but He did not remain under the authority of death. Inasmuch as He did not sin, death could not hold Him, and He rose triumphant from the grave (John 10:17; Acts 2:22–24). The sacrifice of Jesus Christ provided complete atonement for the sins of all people (Isaiah 53:4–6; John 3:14–17; 1 Peter 3:18; 4:1; 1 John 2:2; Matthew 16:13).

The Resurrection of Christ

In His divinity, Christ had power not only to give His life but to take it up again. He declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). Jesus here declares Himself to be the Life-giver. He who receives Him receives life (1 John 5:11, 12) and is assured of a future resurrection to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:51–55; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The Ascension of Christ

The ascension was a fitting climax to Christ’s mission on earth. Our Savior had descended from heaven to save mankind (John 3:13, 16). When His earthly work was finished, He returned to His heavenly home (John 14:2), to mediate for man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1) until His second coming (John 14:3).

The Exaltation of Christ

After the crucifixion, God highly exalted His Son. Paul declared, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Because of Christ’s self-emptying (verse 7), the Father has been able to raise the Son to an even more glorious state than He had before His incarnation.The Son was all-glorious before, but His condensation has added to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5).

As God-man He lived a perfect earthly life, overcame the enemy, and won redemption for mankind. Such victories certainly added an unmeasurable weight of eternal glory to God’s Son! Upon His return to heaven, Christ resumed His status that He had with the Father before His incarnation (Matthew 28:18; John 12:23; 17:5; Ephesians 1:19–22).

Conclusion

When Jesus affirmed, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), He was not disclaiming His divine nature; rather, He was asserting that He had subjected Himself voluntarily to the Father’s will to be incarnated, suffer and die to redeem the fallen race. In that sense, the Father was greater than Himself.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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