Pastor David B. Curtis

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My Father is Greater Than I

John 14:28

Delivered 03/11/18

Last week in our study of chapter 14 I skipped over a very important phrase. Well, I'm in good company because many commentators skip right over this phrase never giving it a comment. The phrase is, "My Father is greater than I." Why is this an important phrase? This is a key text for those who deny and attack the deity of Christ.

You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28 ESV

I would hope that in light of all we have seen thus far in this Gospel that we would realize that when Yeshua said, "for the Father is greater than I"—He did not mean He was less than God, or an inferior god. This phrase has caused much christological and trinitarian debate throughout church history. And it is this phrase that was used as a spoof text for those who held to Arianism. Just to be clear Arianism needs to be distinguished from "Aryanism" of the "Aryan Brotherhood," which formed the core of Nazi racial ideology during the twentieth century.

Arianism was a 4th century heresy named after Arius (c.250-336), a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius' clashed with Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria who believed in the co-eternality of the Word of God while Arius taught that the Word was created by God. In Arius's words, "there was [a time] when He ( the Son) was not." The Arians inferred from this passage that Christ is a creature of the Father, though existing before the world.

Because Alexander understood this as a dangerous threat to the church, he publicly condemned Arius' teaching and removed him from all church posts. This led to the calling of the First Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea. At the council, Arius' teaching was formally condemned. The debate lasted from May 20 until June 19, at which point the council produced an initial form of the Nicaean Creed, which condemned Arianism and established the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Arius, was excommunicated and banished to Illyria and all of his writings were ordered confiscated and burned. After being in exile for a decade, Arius sought to be restored to the church, and appealed directly to the emperor. Constantine became convinced of Arius' return to orthodoxy and soon ordered Alexander, the patriarch of Constantinople, to reinstate him. Alexander was wary of letting Arius back into the church and, according to a letter by Athanasius, prayed that God would somehow prevent it. Very soon after this prayer, before Arius could be reinstated, he died.

Nathan Busenitz summarizes Arius' impact in this way: "In ancient times, Arius' teachings presented the foremost threat to orthodox Christianity—which is why historians like Alexander Mackay have labeled him 'the greatest heretic of antiquity'." This gives you some idea as to how dangerous the church took the teaching that denied the deity of Christ.

Arianism had all but vanished by the seventh century, but later on in the 16th Century and 17th Century, the Socinians who also denied the deity of Christ used, "for my Father is greater than I," as a spoof text. We find its heretical teaching today among the Jehovah's Witnesses. Ryan Turner says, "Despite the best efforts of the Orthodox Church to stamp out Arianism, there are branches of the belief that continue to this present day. One of them is the Jehovah's Witnesses. … Like the ancient Arians, these modern day Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God."

So the Jehovah's Witnesses carry on the Arian false teaching that Yeshua is a created being and not God the Son from all eternity. They teach that Christ is not God, but "a god."

On the Jehovah's Witnesses web sight, www.jw.org it states; "Is Jesus Almighty God? Jesus' opposers accused Him of making Himself equal to God." (John 5:18; 10:30-33) However, Jesus never claimed to be on the same level as Almighty God. He said: "For the Father is greater than I."—John 14:28."

Please notice what they say, "Jesus never claimed to be on the same level as Almighty God." Anyone who says that doesn't know the Bible.

So the JW's use this statement that Yeshua made in our text as a spoof text to deny the deity of Christ. What is mind boggling is the number of times prior to this verse that the deity of Christ has been taught. Yet some want to take these seven words as canceling out all that has been stressed so far.

To understand this phrase, "For the Father is greater than I," we have to begin with the primary rule of hermeneutics which is? The Analogy of Faith, or Scripture interprets Scripture. Which means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. So let me ask you, in our study of John thus far have we seen any teaching that tells us that Yeshua is equal to Yahweh? Yes, over and over, so we can't throw everything out over a statement that we don't understand.

Before we look at what this statement, "For the Father is greater than I" means, I want to review what we have seen thus far in this book that clearly teaches us that Yeshua is Yahweh the Son, co-eternal, co-equal with Yahweh the Father.

Since we're talking about Jehovah's Witnesses let me say a word about the name Jehovah. In Hebrew Scripture the personal name of God is written with four Hebrew letters—yod, heh, vav, heh (YHWH)— and therefore called the tetragrammaton. This name appears 6,829 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the First Temple period, at least until the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C., the divine name was regularly pronounced in daily life. By the third century B.C., although the tetragrammaton was pronounced by priests in certain Temple liturgies, Jews avoided its use, employing instead many other substitutes. When reading or reciting Scripture, the custom was to substitute Adonai (LORD).

Until the early Middle Ages, Hebrew was written without vowels. By the sixth century A.D. a system of vowel signs was developed by the Masoretes, the Jewish scholars of the period, to aid the reader in pronunciation. They superimposed the vowel signs of the word "adonai" upon the four consonants of God's name.

In A.D.1518 in his monumental work of Christian mysticism, the Italian theologian and Franciscan friar, Galatinus, not realizing that the Masoretes had placed the vowel signs of another word with the consonants YHWH, fused the vowels of adonai with the consonants of the divine name and thus gave the Church "Jehovah," a word which has no meaning in Hebrew. So strike the word Jehovah from your Christian vocabulary, it is not biblical at all. God's name is Yahweh!

So the very name Jehovah's Witnesses is wrong! But their doctrine is horrible. They take the truth of Scripture and manipulate it to suite their doctrines. We see this is the very first verse in the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV

"And the Word was God"—this statement could not be much clearer! In fact these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi, (was) means: "to be" or "to exist," and suggests continued existence. So the Word always existed as Yahweh.

Lazarus does not say, "and the Word was divine" or "the Word was like God." He makes the bold statement, "the Word was God." He here leaves no room for anyone to see Yeshua as less than God in some way, or to some degree.

Herbert Lockyer says "What a tremendous phrase this is—The Word was God! Language has no meaning if these four words do not clearly teach that Christ is 'Very God of Very God.'"

Barrett wrote, "John intends that the whole of his Gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous."

I agree, and that means we must read, "for my Father is greater that I" in light of this verse. Lazarus is saying the Word literally was Yahweh. Yeshua is God in a body. Nothing less:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

Yeshua is God in a body, the full mysterious deity of Christ exemplified in humility, and unbelievable condescension. And so at the very beginning Lazarus lays it down that Yeshua is the living Word, and He alone is the perfect revelation of Yahweh.

It is at this point, that Yeshua is Yahweh, that Arius' modern disciples, the Jehovah's Witnesses, argue that Yeshua was not eternal; rather, He was the first created being. On the basis of a flawed and inconsistent interpretation of the Greek text this last phrase in verse 1 is translated "the Word was a god," reducing Christ to a being less than and different from God.

The Jehovah's Witnesses mistranslate this verse in their 2013 revised "New World Translation" —"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." (Online perversion)

If a Jehovah's Witness or a Muslim says to you: "That what we have in our Bible is a mistranslation, It should not read, "The Word was God." It should read, "The Word was a god." Tear your clothes, throw dust in the air and run away from them screaming, "heretic!"

They claim that the Greek here has no definite article or "the," so that "a god" is more literally correct. This view of theirs comes from knowing "a little" Greek. There is a good reason why theos has no definite article in John 1:1 and why the New World Translation rendering is in error. If you want the technical details of the Greek see the message on John 1:1-2 entitled, Yeshua is Yahweh.

Got questions says this: "The New World Translation is unique in one thing—it is the first intentional, systematic effort at producing a complete version of the Bible that is edited and revised for the specific purpose of agreeing with a group's doctrine. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society realized that their beliefs contradicted Scripture. So, rather than conforming their beliefs to Scripture, they altered Scripture to agree with their beliefs. The 'New World Bible Translation Committee' went through the Bible and changed any Scripture that did not agree with Jehovah's Witness theology…The most well-known of all the New World Translation perversions is John 1:1. The original Greek text reads, 'the Word was God.' The NWT renders it as 'the word was a god.'"

The NWT intentionally changes the rendering of the text to conform to Jehovah's Witness theology. The New World Translation is a perversion, not a version, of the Bible.

Let's look at several other instances where Yeshua clearly claimed to be God:

In chapter 5 Yeshua heals the man who was by the pool of Bethesda and had been there for thirty-eight years. Our Lord commands him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." And immediately the man is healed and takes up his bed and walks. It is this healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda which draws considerable attention to our Lord. This miracle, which was done on the Sabbath, prompts the Jewish leaders to view Yeshua as a Law breaker. The healing of this lame man and the following Sabbath controversy have brought the nature and identity of Yeshua to a climax:

But Yeshua answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." John 5:17 ESV

Yeshua justified His Sabbath healing by reminding the Jews that they admitted Yahweh worked on the Sabbath. They knew the sun came up, they knew the wind blew, they knew the rain fell, they knew the grass grew, they knew Yahweh continued to do His work of judgment and His work of redemption. They knew Yahweh was working on the Sabbath. This explains the violence of their reaction in verse 18. The Sabbath privilege was peculiar to Yahweh, and no one was equal to Yahweh.

In claiming the right to work even as His Father worked, Yeshua was claiming to be Yahweh, the I Am! Now the Jews knew exactly what He was saying. He is saying that as the eternal God does His work all the time, so He is claiming to do the same thing, to work the same pattern that Yahweh works. This shocked and angered the Jewish leaders, but it shouldn't surprise us after just looking at John 1:1.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18 ESV

Yeshua's contemporaries clearly see Him as claiming to be equal with God. JW interpreters who say that Yeshua never claimed to be God have a difficult time with this passage. He has clearly claimed to be God! There was never any question in the Jews minds that He said He was God. They got it. That's what they said was His ultimate blasphemy. They said He makes Himself equal with God.

Notice something very important that is NOT in this text, Yeshua doesn't respond by saying, "No, no, no you guys have me all wrong, I'm not claiming to be God, that would be blasphemy." Instead of disagreeing with them Yeshua's response in this text is to defend His deity. Do you remember what Thomas said to Yeshua after his resurrection:

Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 ESV

What was Yeshua's response to Thomas calling Him God?:

Yeshua said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 ESV

Yeshua doesn't correct Him, because He is God.

David Flusser, who was a devout Orthodox Jews, and a professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said, "You poor Christians, you wonder why the Bible doesn't say Jesus is God more often. It says it all the time, you just don't understand Jewish thought."

The heart and soul of the Christian faith, the heart and soul of the Gospel is a right view of Yeshua who is the Christ. There are some who see Yeshua as a man only, a good man, a great teacher, an excellent example of moral conduct. But you can't say any of these things about a man who claimed to be God. We have already seen in this Fourth Gospel that Yeshua took the sacred name of God and applied it to Himself, the I AM, over and over again. He referred to Himself as the "I AM." the very sacred name of God that a Jew wouldn't even speak because it was too sacred. Yeshua took it and claimed it for Himself. Yeshua claimed to be Yahweh, not to be another God equal to Yahweh, but to be Yahweh.

that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. John 5:23 ESV

Subordination usually results in less honor. The Father has guaranteed that the Son will receive equal honor with Himself by committing the role of judging entirely to Him. Therefore failure to honor the Son reflects failure to honor the Fathe,r and honoring the Son honors the Father.

How can Yeshua say this is light of:

I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 ESV

Yahweh will not share His honor with another. So for Him to share His honor with the Son must mean that the Son and the Father are one in essence. What man or what created being could say that we should honor Him just as we honor the Father? Clearly, Yeshua is claiming to be Yahweh!

When you read a JW who says, "Well Jesus never claimed to be God." Anyone who says that doesn't know the Bible. Over and over Yeshua claims to be Yahweh. He does it all through this text. He insists that He is to be worshiped in the same way Yahweh is. He is to be honored, praised, adored, respected, trusted, obeyed in the same way as God the Father.

So, when the person says, "Yeshua is not God of very God," he's not only not honoring the Son, but he's dishonoring the Father. Now that's a serious thing. So when a man says, "God is God. But Yeshua is ONLY the Son of God," denying Him the honor of the Father, he's not only not honoring Christ; he's dishonoring God the Father:

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." John 8:24 ESV

What Yeshua says is, "Unless you believe that I am" the translators add "He" but it is not in the Greek text. So what is Yeshua claiming? He is claiming to be "I Am." And by doing so was asserting equality with God Himself, who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" —the self-existent, eternal God:

Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." John 8:58 ESV

Yeshua is saying that He eternally existed as Yahweh:

I and the Father are one." John 10:30 ESV

The Jews had asked Yeshua for a "plain" statement about His messiahship. Yeshua gave them far more: a claim that He and the Father were one. The Jews understood this as a claim to deity and said, "You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."

Since Yeshua is God, then people can know what God is like. To know Yeshua is to know God, for Yeshua said:

Yeshua said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? John 14:9 ESV

If you want to know what Yahweh is like, you should study the life and teachings of Christ in the Bible. Let me give you one more:

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8 ESV

Yeshua says that He is the Alaf tav. If we go back to Isaiah we read:

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Isaiah 44:6 ESV

In light of Isaiah, clearly Yeshua was claiming to be Yahweh of hosts, the only living and true God! Now with that in mind let's look at our text:

You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28 ESV

So by applying the hermenutical law of the Analogy of Faith to what has been taught this far in this Gospel we know that, "for the Father is greater than I" CANNOT mean that Yeshua was less than God as the Arians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians proclaim. So what does Yeshua mean by this statement? If Yeshua and the Father are one, how can the Father be greater than the Son?

Yeshua is speaking of Himself in His humanity, in His limited capacity as a human being. He is not speaking ontologically (dealing with His essential being, His nature), since He had stated repeatedly that He and the Father were one ontologically. He is speaking of the Father's relative glory compared to His glory. Yeshua had laid His heavenly glory aside in the Incarnation and so the Father had greater glory than the Son during Yeshua's earthly ministry:

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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 2:6-8 ESV

The word "was" is the Greek word huparcho, it is a verb that stresses the essence of a person's nature, it is to express the continued state of a thing, it is unalterable and unchangeable. Paul said, "Yeshua unalterably and unchangeably exists in the form of God." This speaks of His pre-existence.

The word "form" is morphe. It has nothing to do with shape or size. Multin and Milligan say that "morphe" is a form which truly and fully expresses the being which under lies it. It refers to the essence or essential being. Yeshua pre-existed in the essence of God.

When Paul uses hupareco; was, and morphe; form he is saying something very specific; he is saying that Yeshua Christ has always existed in the unchangeable essence of the being of God:

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:7 ESV

The word "but" here is a contrastive—"not this, but this." The word "emptied" is the Greek word kenoo, it means: "to make empty." Figuratively, it means: "to abase, naturalize, to make of none effect, of no reputation."

What did Yeshua empty Himself of? If He emptied Himself of His deity, He would cease to exist. He didn't exchange His deity for humanity. "The Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union" teaches us that Yeshua had two natures, human and divine in one person. Yeshua was the Theanthropic person, the God-man. And He didn't empty Himself of the attributes of deity—it is impossible to surrender an attribute without changing the character of the essence to which it belongs. God cannot change. He is immutable! So what did Yeshua empty Himself of?:

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:5 ESV

In His incarnation, Yeshua temporarily laid aside the glory that He shared with the Father from all eternity. He is asking to have His glory restored because His glory was put aside when He became man. Philippians 2:7 says, "by taking the form of a servant"—he became a slave. He laid aside His glory and became a slave. But now Yeshua was about to return to the Father, and to the greater glory that He would again share with the Father. In His humanity Yahweh the Father is greater; in His divinity the Father and Son are co-equal and in His essence, He and God the Father are One.

Think of it like this, if I were to say to you, "Mike Heiser is greater that I." What would you assume that I was saying? Without a context it would be difficult to tell. Do I mean that he is a better husband that I am? Do I mean that he is a better father than I am? I hope that no one would take this to mean that he is more of a human being than I am. The "greater than" category should not be presumed to refer to ontology, apart from the context indicating it. I would guess that you would think that he is a greater theologian that I am.

Let's say the conversation is on biblical scholarship, and I was to say, "Mike Heiser is greater than I." You would probably laugh and say something like," No kidding, or That's an understatement, or, How arrogant of you to even put yourself in a class with Heiser."And you would be right. But what if I said, Yahweh is greater than I? Then what would you think of me? For a mere man or creature to say: "God is greater than I," is blasphemous nonsense almost as much as if he said: "I am equal with God." Just to make that comparison would be ludicrous! For Yeshua even to make such a statement assumes the essential oneness between Him and the Father that He directly stated in John 10:30. You see when you compare; you compare things that are alike, of the same nature. You don't compare a person and a dog for example, but you compare people, you compare dogs, and the very fact that he said, "My Father is greater than I," is saying that he belongs to the same category as the Father. Instead of us taking, "for the Father is greater than I" to mean that Yeshua is not deity is backward, because He compares Himself to the Father, His divine nature should be taken for granted.

What, then, does "for the Father is greater than I" mean in this context? Well D.A. Carson writes this:

"It is better to take for the Father is greater than I to refer not to the immediately preceding clause, but to the main clause: 'If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I'… If Jesus' disciples truly loved him, they would be glad that he is returning to his Father, for he is returning to the sphere where he belongs, to the glory he had with the Father before the world began (17:5), to the place where the Father is undiminished in glory, unquestionably greater than the Son in his incarnate state." [Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 506-508). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans].

So with that statement, "for the Father is greater than I," Yeshua is focused on His humiliation in His earthly life, a humiliation which now, in His death, reached both its climax and its end.

The Athanasian Creed reads this way: "Christ is equal to God as to His Godhead, and inferior to God as to His manhood."

Believers, we cannot let the phrase, "for the Father is greater than I" be used to cancel out everything that Yeshua has taught about His deity so far. This subject is extremely important. To deny the deity of Christ, is to not believe in who He is, which is not to believe in Him, which is to not have eternal life.

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." John 8:24 ESV

What is He saying that people have to believe so that they don't die in their sins? The conditional clause provides the proper object of faith: "If you do not believe that ego eimi. Yeshua, in claiming to be "I Am," was asserting equality with Yahweh Himself—the self-existent, eternal God.

Listen to me, people, Yeshua is Yahweh. To deny the deity of Christ, to deny that He is in fact Yahweh in the flesh, is to die in your sins. Is that too strong? This is what Yeshua is saying, "Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins." You cannot reject Christ's deity and be a Christian.

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