If Jesus is God, then why did He say in John 14:28, “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. ”
The starting point to answering the question, “If Jesus is God, why did He say, ‘My Father is greater than I?” is to understand that Jesus is God. Next we need to understand what Jesus meant by His statement, “My Father is greater than I.” Two apparently conflicting statements are not necessarily in conflict. What follows is an explanation of His comment in John 14:28.
Jesus Was and Is God
The overwhelming message of the Bible is that Jesus is God. In fact earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus has already declared that He was and is God. In John 5:17-18 He said,
But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. John 5:17-18 (NASB)
Some today may be confused as to what Jesus claimed about Himself, but it is clear in this passage that the religious leaders understood Jesus claimed to be God.
In John 8:58-59 Jesus declared,
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. John 8:58-59 (NASB)
Notice that Jesus said He was “I AM.” That is, the same statement Jehovah God gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14. He used the verb “to be” to declare that He was eternally existing. He is deity. He is Jehovah God.
Again, Jesus declared He was God in John 10:30,
“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” John 10:30-33 (NASB)
Those who are confused by Jesus’ statement, “I and the Father are one,” should notice the Jewish leaders were not confused. They understood He had declared that He was God.
The next similar statement He made is in John 14:9,
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 (NASB)
Jesus Was Also a Man on Earth
Jesus made all of these declarations that He was and is God before He made the statement, “the Father is greater than I” in John 14:28,
“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” John 14:28
Therefore, how we do we understand His statement? Obviously, Jesus is not contradicting Himself. So, how do we understand this? The answer is given in that when He was on earth in a human body, God the Father was greater. As the God-man, He was also a man in human flesh. During His time on earth in a human body, God the Father was greater.
Romans 1:3-4 reminds us that Jesus was both man and God.
. . . concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . (NASB) Romans 1:3-4
Even though He was God and man, He was living life on the earth in human flesh. Consider Hebrews 1:5-9 which teaches that Jesus is God, and then Hebrews 2:9 states that Jesus was made lower than the angels for a little while when He became a man.
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 (NASB)
Philippians 2:5-8 teaches that Jesus humbled Himself when He became a man and died on the cross.
My Father Is Greater Than I
This helps us understand, “the Father is greater than I.” God the Father was greater in the sense that He was in heaven in His glory while Jesus was made a little lower than the angels while on earth in human flesh (Hebrews 2:9). God the Father was greater in the sense that Jesus, as the God-man, had humbled Himself when He became a man. God the Father was greater in the sense that God the Father had the responsibility to make all the decisions, while Jesus was committed to absolute obedience (Philippians 2:7-8; Hebrews 2:9, 14). Jesus was modeling obedience for us – how we should obey God. Jesus was committed to showing us what that looked like. While here on earth, Jesus showed us how to submit to God.
God the Father was greater in authority, responsibility, position, but not in essence. Jesus was still deity.
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