QUESTION: We proclaim God the Father and Jesus to be co-equal and yet in John 14:28, Jesus says the Father is greater than Himself. Please explain “co-equal” in light of this passage.
ANSWER: We confess in the Athanasian Creed, “And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another” and “For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.”
On Christmas, God became a human baby. The Christ has two natures: divine and human. Jesus also humbled Himself, as Paul taught: 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 (Philippians 2:6-8). The Catechism explains Jesus’ humiliation: “Jesus humbled Himself by appearing in great lowliness, not always and fully using the divine attributes communicated to His human nature and becoming obedient to the point of death” (Question 141, page 109).
The incarnation and humiliation explain remarkable things concerning God in the person of Jesus the Christ. The God-man who is eternal became flesh in Mary’s womb and that flesh became visible at His birth. He who rules all things placed Himself in His mother’s care. He who instituted the eternal Law put Himself under that law in order to obey it as a Man on behalf of all sinful human beings. He who cannot die is the sacrificial Lamb of God who gave His life to take away the sins of the world. Jesus is the God-man.
God knows all things (omniscient). Jesus is God. He knows all. During His humiliation, between His conception and His burial, Jesus was equal to the Father, but set aside the use of His divine abilities. He temporarily set aside the use of His omniscience. The Gospel for the first Sunday after the Epiphany shows the omniscient God learning. He who knows all things according to His divinity also said, “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).
So we come to Jesus’ discourse to His disciples on the night of His betrayal. As the only begotten of the Father, Jesus is equal to the Father as each person in the Holy Trinity is equal. As the Son of Mary, Jesus can say, “You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
He went away for a little while to the cross. Because the Lamb who died is God, His sacrifice is sufficient to propitiate, or cover, the sins of all people. Because the Lamb of God is human, blood was shed for the sins of all people. Each one of us can know and believe that we are forgiven for His sake. Jesus is equal to the Father and the Father is greater than Jesus.
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL