This topic is adapted from the PursueGOD Video YouTube channel.
In John 14, Jesus makes a statement to his disciples that can cause confusion for people who are trying to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. In what sense is the Father “greater” than Jesus? And if Jesus said this, how can he be fully God?
John 14:28 Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.
Understanding the Doctrine of the Trinity
First, let’s review the doctrine of the Trinity. Here it is in a phrase: There is one God in being who exists eternally in three distinct persons. Notice the words in italics. When we say God is one, we are talking about his being or essence. When we say God is three, we are talking about his persons. The nature of God is hard for us to comprehend because we do not exist as God does. Every human is one being and one person, and yet God – in his divine nature – is somehow one being and three persons.
Understanding the Different Roles
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that each person fully possesses all of the attributes of God. Yet there is an inherent distinction in the way the three persons relate to one another and function in the world. A simple phrase that captures this idea is “equal in being but subordinate in role”. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in terms of their essence and attributes. But in terms of the roles each person plays, there is a distinction. (For example, the Son died on the cross, not the Father.)
Understanding the Incarnation
When the Son of God came to earth, something special happened. The eternal Second Person of the Trinity added a human nature to what was already his God-nature. He did not become only human, but rather was both fully God and fully human. And he voluntarily and temporarily set aside his divine attributes and abilities.
Philippians 2:6-8 Though he 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.
Hebrews 2:9 What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.
Understanding John 14:28
We’re finally ready to tackle the verse at hand. When Jesus said that the Father is “greater than he”, he was not talking about the Father’s inherent being or attributes. He was not admitting to being less than God. Rather, he was referring to his temporary role and self-imposed limitations on earth. After his death and resurrection, Jesus would leave the earth and remove his restrictions, possessing once again his full divine priveleges.
John 17:5 I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- In your own words, articulate the doctrine of the Trinity. Do you believe it?
- Read Philippians 2:6-8. What does it mean that Jesus “gave up his divine privileges”?
- Read John 17:5. What does it mean that Jesus shared “the glory” with the Father before the world began?
- If someone asked you what John 14:28 means, what would you say?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.