John 14:28-31. Greater

John 14:28    “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. 

  “Come now; let us leave.

Jesus is leaving to go to his Father. And the prince of this world is coming. Jesus is not running away; it is all under God’s control and Jesus will come back to his disciples. Jesus tells them this in advance so that, when it all unfolds, their faith in him will be unshaken.

The reason Jesus’ departure to the Father should gladden the hearts of his disciples is that the Father is greater than he (v28). Jesus’ will delight his presence. But in what sense is the Father ‘greater’ than the Son, and yet both are fully divine?

Classical Trinitarians distinguish between the Ontological and the Economic views of God. In terms of God in his essential being (that is, ontologically speaking), each of the persons of the Godhead are equal in glory, equal in divinity, equally deserving of our praise. Each gives glory to the other in self giving love. They are united and equal in majesty. But beyond the persons of God as they are in their essential being, there is the way that the persons of God act in relation to their creation. Operationally (that is, economically speaking), they have particular roles and even a kind of hierarchy in the way they work. For example, the Father purposes salvation for his people. So he sends the Son incarnate for his particular ministry– to effect salvation. The Father and the Son together send the Spirit for his particular ministry– to apply salvation. And it so within this ‘economy’ of God, each has their role and a functional hierarchy exists.

This hierarchy becomes evident in the Father’s role as giver of all things to his Son (Jn 10:29). The Giver is somehow ‘greater’ than the Receiver. The Sender is greater than the Sent. The Son does what the Father has commanded (v31), and so submits his will to that of the Father (Luke 22:42). When God is at work, Jesus willingly submits himself to his Father– even though they are completely equal in being, in status, in glory, honour and power. Submission does not imply one is less valuable or worthy– it is simply a matter of  ‘this is how it works’ within the persons of God. And so Jesus is happy to declare that the Father is greater than he. In fact, he delights in this as he contemplates his leaving.

And now the prince of this world is coming, as the agent of Jesus’ departure– his death. ‘The prince of this world’, a title also used in Jn 12:31; 16:11, refers to Satan. The Synoptics use the title ‘prince of demons’ (Beelzebub) in the same way. He is a ruler (ἄρχων) with derivative authority and yet he is not a king, not supreme, not the source of authority. But he is the active agent in Jesus’ crucifixion. It appears that he is exerting power over Jesus– but this is not the case.

Jesus describes Satan’s relationship to himself in a phrase that is difficult to translate smoothly: ἐν ἐμοὶ οὐκ ἔχει οὐδέν. Literally Jesus says, “in me not he has nothing”. Satan has no part in him, nothing in common– he’s got nothing over him or in him. Hence the NIV says, “he has no hold over me” and the ESV says, “he has no claim on me”. Jesus goes to the cross in obedience to his Father. He is willingly submitting himself to the Father’s plan even though Satan is the agent at work in this plan.

At the end of this reflection on Jesus’ readiness to go to the cross, we recognise that he calls his disciples to do nothing less than he has done himself. He asks us to do exactly as he does in relation to his Father’s command: obey, as a demonstration of love.

Dear God, you are greater than me in every way and worthy of all praise and honour. Please enrich my love for you so that I may obey your commands with joy, willingly submitting myself to your majesty. Amen.