A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Jesus says that the Father is greater than he is, proving that he is not God. There is no one who is greater than God.
Here is the passage in question:
"You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you ' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater (meizon) than I." John 14:28
Since the questioner (a Muslim) assumes Unitarianism (that God is one in being and in Person), it obviously doesn't make sense for God to speak of someone being greater than himself. Yet, if God is a Trinity, a Trinitarian Being (i.e. one eternal God existing in three distinct, yet inseparable Persons), then it is quite possible for one member or Person of the Godhead to be greater in some sense than the other members. It would be true that nothing outside of the Holy Trinity's own existence could ever be greater, but this doesn't necessarily imply that there cannot be some type of authority structure or ranking within the internal life and relationships of the Trinity itself. Lord Jesus permitting, we will develop this point more in a future article.
For now, let us deal with what Jesus intended to convey to his disciples that the Father was greater than he. In the first place, the term for "greater" (Greek - meizon) does not necessarily imply one who is greater in nature or essence. It can refer to someone or something being greater in position and/or authority, just as the following passages show:
"I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater (meizon) than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Matthew 11:11
John being greater than all those born of women does not imply that the rest were less human than John, or that they were inferior to John in nature. Here, the term must mean that John was greater in position and rank.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater (meizon) than his master, nor is one who is sent greater (meizon) than the one who sent him." John 13:16
Both the slave and the one sent are just as human as the master and the sender, having the same human essence and nature that the master and sender have. Thus, greater here must mean in position and authority, not in essence and nature.
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater (meizona) things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:12
Jesus' disciples did not perform better works, but performed a greater number of works than Christ since they reached far more people than Jesus did while he was on earth. Hence, the term "greater" refers to quantity, the amount of works, as opposed to quality since the disciples performed the same type of works but in far greater number.
The preceding data shows that the word meizon can either mean, depending upon the context, greater in nature, position, or even both. Thus, the only way we can know for certain what Jesus meant by saying that the Father was greater than him is by reading his statement in its immediate context. A careful look at the entire chapter of 14 shows the Lord Jesus claiming to have all of God's omni-attributes:
"And I WILL DO whatever you ask IN MY NAME, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask ME for anything in my name, AND I WILL DO IT." John 14:13-14
Christ is capable of personally answering all prayers that are directed to him or are addressed in his name. The only way that Christ can both hear and answer all these prayers is if he is both omniscient and omnipotent!
"On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, AND I AM IN YOU. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." John 14:20-21
Christ says that he is IN all the disciples, an impossible claim if he was only a man, or even an angel. But since Jesus is God, and since God is omnipresent, it therefore makes perfect sense for Christ to say he is able to dwell in all the believers at the same time.
"Jesus replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and WE will come to him and make OUR home with him." John 14:23
Both the Father and the Son make their home with all true believers! Christ is clearly claiming co-equality with the Father since he is present with every believer in the same way that the Father is!
In fact, even those who heard Jesus knew that he was claiming to be equal to his Father:
"And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, AND I AM WORKING.’ This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal (ison) with God." John 5:16-18
The reason why the Jews thought that Jesus was claiming equality with God is because of his bold assertion that he has the same divine right to work on the Sabbath as his Father does, being his Son. Jesus was pretty much saying that, as Gods Son, he could do things which were considered unlawful on this sacred day since he is not bound by the laws and regulations of the Sabbath in the same way that God isnt bound by them.
The following is another example of Jesus claiming to be equal with the Father:
“‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” John 10:27-33
Christ ascribes to himself the very exclusive prerogatives of Deity:
“See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39
“Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” Isaiah 43:13
As if this werent astonishing enough, Jesus says that he is one with the Father right after stating that the latter is greater than all, which in the context refers to those who would try to pluck believers from the Fathers all-powerful hand.
To more fully appreciate the implications of these statements, keep in mind that Jesus point is that there is no person who can prevent God from protecting his flock since there is no being that is as powerful as God who can thereby thwart his purposes in saving his sheep. Yet the Lord Jesus places himself in a unique position and category since he actually believes that he is his Fathers equal, being one with him in ability and power which is completely unlike anyone else!
No wonder the Jews thought that Jesus was blaspheming. They could clearly see that Christ was claiming to be God for believing that he could do things which only Yahweh could do and for actually thinking that he was just as powerful as the Father!
In light of the foregoing, it is quite clear what the Lord Jesus meant that the Father was greater than him. The Scriptures teach that when Christ became a man, he assumed the role and position of a slave/servant:
"For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves." Luke 22:27
"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.' For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, 'Not all of you are clean.' When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.'" John 13:3-15
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8
Thus, as long as Christ remained on earth in the form and position of a humble slave, enduring persecution, insults, injury, and subsequently the shame of the cross, the Father would be greater in position and honor. Once Christ returns to heaven to be seated alongside his Father, he would no longer be in that state of humiliation. He would share, once again, that same divine glory and sovereign authority that he had with the Father before he had come to the earth as a man:
"Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was... Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." John 17:5, 24
Thus, the Father was greater in position and rank, not in essence and nature. The questioner is, therefore, committing a categorical fallacy. He/she is confusing the category of position and rank with the category of essence and nature, erroneously assuming that if one is greater in one way, i.e. position and authority, than he/she must be greater in every way, i.e. essence and nature. In light of these clear biblical truths, such is not the case at all.
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