If Jesus is God, Why Did He Refer to the Father as Greater than Himself?

Benjamin West, 1802

A confusing aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice for many people is His submission to the Father as a servant. Although Jesus is spoken of as equal to God in every regard, when He came to earth as the Messiah, He set aside some of His rights as God to become the servant, whom Isaiah 53 describes.

Philippians 2:6-8 Though Jesus was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

It is interesting that Paul also states this same important attribute about Jesus, in the precise chapter and verse of Hebrews 2:6-8:

Hebrews 2:6-8 For in one place the Scriptures say, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? Yet for a little while you made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them authority over all things.”

Hebrews begins with the statement that God spoke to us in times past, by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. Jesus existed eternally as God, and Paul said, Jesus is the Creator who made all that exists (see Hebrews 1).

In chapter 1 of Hebrews, Paul recalls some of the most important Old Testament scriptures to confirm that Jesus is God, in the New Testament. Citing Jesus as the fulfillment of the key Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament, Paul attributes these prophecies directly to Jesus, and states that He is not only the Messiah the prophets predicted, He is also God, Yahweh from the Old Testament. Follow the text of Hebrews 1:5-14, and notice the references Paul makes to the Old Testament Messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled, seen in Bold.

Hebrews 1:5-14

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:

Psalms 2:7:
“You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father.”

God also said,

2 Samuel 7:14:
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son.”

6 And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said,

Deuteronomy 32:43:
“Let all of God’s angels worship him.”

7 Regarding the angels, he says,

Psalms 104:4:
“He sends his angels like the winds,
his servants like flames of fire.”

8 But to the Son he says,

Psalms 45:6-7:
“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
You rule with a scepter of justice.
9 You love justice and hate evil.
Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,
pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”

10 He also says to the Son,

Psalms 102:25-27:
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth
and made the heavens with your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain forever.
They will wear out like old clothing.
12 You will fold them up like a cloak
and discard them like old clothing.
But you are always the same;
you will live forever.”

13 And God never said to any of the angels,

Psalms 110:1
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.”

14 Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

What is Paul intending by the inclusion of the Old Testament Messianic Prophecies? He is telling us as a preeminent Hebrew scholar and member of the Pharisees, that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the prophets wrote concerning the arrival of the Messiah.

Paul is also attributing the important prophecies of the Messiah that defined the Him as also the Son of God, in Psalms 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Psalms 110:1. These are scriptures that Jesus often cited Himself and used to confirm that He intends that we understand He is God.

See The Evidence That Jesus Claimed To Be God

If A Servant, Is Jesus Still God?

At no time did Jesus ever cease to be God while He was here on earth in the form of a man. He did, however, choose to make Himself of no reputation and take the form of a servant for our benefit. This is stunning when we consider who Jesus has been prior to His appearance on earth as our Savior. The Bible describes Jesus as the second member of the Godhead who spoke the universe into existence (Colossians 1:16-17). He has no beginning; and He is the One to whom all glory, honor, power and dominion are ascribed to by the Bible.[1]

A Messiah coming in the form of a servant was not what Israel expected 2,000 years ago, and it is often a place of stumbling for many Jews today.

Jesus chose not to make His arrival on earth by great ostentation and opulence. By coming as the poorest among the poor, He could make Himself accessible to all people. By His example of humility, He showed us the correct example for how we should live and serve each other.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~Matthew 20:25-28 

This example of servanthood is unfortunately missing in several Christian churches today. It is the opinion of many pastors, priests, bishops, and spiritual leaders, that the people who attend their churches are there to serve them. The example that Jesus left for us is that those who will be leaders in Jesus’ church are servants to the people of the church. As individual members of a church body, we are called to lay down our lives in service to those who are either already in a relationship with Jesus or are in the process of beginning a new relationship with Him.

The Father—Greater Than Jesus

Some critics of Jesus’ deity insist that because He constantly refers to the Father as “greater” than He, this is conclusive proof that Jesus did not claim to be God.

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 

The Greek word used here for greater, is mezion, “someone to be esteemed highly for their importance.”[2] Much in the same way that we might say of another person, in humility, they are more important than us; we are both human beings, but in my estimation of my wife’s worth, I consider her more important than myself.

In no way was Jesus declaring that He was not God, only that He was coming to earth as a servant to the Father to accomplish His will to provide a means whereby all human beings could obtain salvation. This would bring great glory to the Father and put on public display forever, visual proof of God’s great love.

This was the purpose for which Jesus came into the world: to accomplish the will of the Father.

Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. ~Philippians 2:8

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. ~John 17:4 

There are several Old Testament predictions that state that the Messiah will be God, the Great “I AM” of the Old Testament. There are also many predictions, such as the body of text in Isaiah Chapter 53, that make it clear He will be the servant of God, in laying down His life for the sins of all people.

The Messiah Will Be God.

  • Prophecy 20
    The Messiah will be the Great “I AM” of the Old Testament.
  • Prophecy 132
    The Messiah will be the eternal one who made all things.
  • Prophecy 155
    The Messiah existed eternally as God; but from eternity, in His wisdom, decided that He would offer His life for the sins of all men.
  • Prophecy 174
    The Messiah will come to earth and be called: “Mighty God.”
  • Prophecy 199
    The Messiah will be presented to Israel as “Your God.”
  • Prophecy 212
    The Messiah shall be referred to as “The first and the last.”
  • Prophecy 291
    The Messiah shall be a descendant of David, who is called “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
  • Prophecy 292
    The Messiah will be both David’s Son and God’s Son, a King and the great Jehovah God who created the universe.
  • Prophecy 348
    The common people knew that the Messiah was the LORD, Jehovah.
  • Prophecy 354
    The nation of Israel and the Jews will finally “look upon” the crucified One and understand that He is their Messiah, their God.

The Messiah Will Be the Servant of God.

  • Prophecy 73
    The Messiah will be despised, rejected, abused, and thought to be “a worm,” even less than a man.
  • Prophecy 75
    The people who witness the crucifixion of the Messiah will say: “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him…”
  • Prophecy 201
    The Messiah will make Himself the servant of the Father in order to lay His life down for those He will redeem. He will be gentle, patient, and not fail to complete the work the Father has given Him to do.
  • Prophecy 211
    The Messiah shall be given all authority to judge, and every knee will bow to Him.
  • Prophecy 215
    From His conception in the womb, the Messiah was called to be the “Servant of the Lord.”
  • Prophecy 222
    The Messiah’s obedience in giving His life will make salvation possible for all people.
  • Prophecy 228
    Through the Messiah’s humility in offering His life for the sins of all men, He shall be exalted and given a name that is above every other name.
  • Prophecy 229
    The Messiah shall have a unique position with God as “His Son” while also acting as “His Servant,” when he makes His life an offering for sin.
  • Prophecy 263
    The Messiah shall be “the servant of God,” as He submits Himself to God for man’s salvation.
  • Prophecy 337
    The Messiah will come “lowly” (humbly).

Problems arise when we fail to distinguish between the facts of the Messiah’s identity as both God and a Servant of God. Those who have not understood this inevitably develop an incorrect theology of Jesus.

Jesus’ personal statements about Himself in the New Testament reveals that He is both God as well as a servant to God. How can this be? As Philippians 2 defines Jesus, He has always been God, and He did not cease to be God when He came to earth in the form of a man. He came to us as God, dwelling in the body of a man as the servant of God, in submission to the will of the Father to make one offering for sin forever.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 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.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” ~John 10:24-33 

The leadership among the Jews wanted to know the true identity of Jesus. They brought their questions to Him and asked: Tell us plainly who you are. It is interesting that Jesus will make a statement confirming His identity as a Servant, then alternately state that He is also God.

From John 10:24-33 Above:

  • Jesus as a servant, Verse 25: The works that I do in My Father’s name

Jesus describes His works as done in His Father’s name. In other words, the things He is doing, He is undertaking as a servant, representing the Father before us so that we might know what God is like.

  • Jesus as God, Verse 28: I give them eternal life,

Jesus as the author of eternal life

  • Jesus as a Servant, Verse 29: My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all

In submission to the Father as “greater” than Himself

  • Jesus as God, Verse 30: I and My Father are one…

A statement so clear that the Jews become enraged. Finally, at the end of the discussion in verse 33, when Jesus finished His description of Himself, the Jews took up stones to kill Him, stating that they were doing so because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.

Is Jesus God?

A good point of reference to see practically how Jesus took this position of a servant in submission to the Father is found in Mark Chapter 13.

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 

One of the attributes of God that demonstrates His identity is the fact that He knows everything. Since Jesus said that He does not know the day or the hour of His return, does this disqualify Him as God?

Paul wrote that although Jesus is God, He willingly set aside some of His rights as God and made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men… (Philippians 2:5-8)

In completing the purpose of His first arrival on earth as our Servant and Savior, as Jesus is raised from the dead, He is given a name that is above every other name. By the complete context of Philippians 2:5-11, we understand that Jesus’ purpose was to be the servant described by Isaiah in His detailed description of chapter 53. At the conclusion of His sacrifice, when He rose from the dead, He retained all of the rights and privileges that He had formerly set aside for a brief moment in time.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 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, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~Philippians 2:9-11 

Clearly, after Jesus was resurrected from the dead and exalted by the Father for His great work of Salvation, He knew the exact day of His return. The fact that He stated, in Mark 13:32, that He did not know the day or hour of His return is evidence that He fulfilled the requirements of Isaiah’s prophecies of the servant who came to die for the sins of the world.

[1] Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 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, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
[2] Strong’s Greek Concordance, #3173

Categories: A Servant, Jesus is God, The Claims of Jesus, The Existence of God, The First Arrival of the Messiah, The Servant of God

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