The Father is greater than the Son - Explaining the prayers and limitations of Christ

Why did Christ say that His Father was greater than Him?

Philippians 2:8 

8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself…

Christ willingly chose to experience the world as we do. He humbled himself. The limitations were in His manifestation, but not in His person or essence.

Manifestations by their very natures are limited representations of God. We could never see God because He fills all of heaven, earth, and even hell. If God showed Himself, everyone and everything would be saturated by His presence.

Acts 17:28

28For in him we live, and move, and have our being…

The limitations of specific manifestations are exemplified in the Old Testament when God revealed Himself as a pillar of fire and as a cloud. The fire was God, but He was greater than the fire. It is proper to identify the cloud as the Spirit of God, but it is incorrect to say that God’s Spirit is a cloud. God is greater than the cloud. These were manifestations in which the Spirit of God was seen.

1 Timothy 3:16

16And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…

Just as the manifest fire of God was truly fire and the manifest cloud of God was truly a cloud, the manifest flesh was truly a man. We readily understand that specific physical manifestations of the Spirit of God will also have physical limitations. The pillar of fire and the glory cloud each filled a finite amount of space. The manifestations, not God Himself, had these limitations. It is much the same with Christ. Anything that is true for mankind was true for Christ. It is proper to identify the man, Jesus Christ as God, but God is greater than the limitations of the flesh.

As a child, He wasn’t born with unlimited knowledge. He couldn’t read, speak, or walk. He was an infant. As God, He had the ability to do all those things, but He placed limitations on His body.

While acknowledging His true humanity, we must remember that though Christ had a human nature with fleshly desires, the very Spirit of God also dwelled in Him.

Colossians 2:9 

 9For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

John 3:34 

34For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.

The limitations of His flesh explain the prayers of Christ. It is over simplistic to say that He was praying to Himself. God was in Christ. As a man, He was overwhelmed by the task ahead of Him. His flesh had all the emotions, stresses, and fears that any other human would have. This is seen in His fervent prayer in the garden. In His distress, He cried out to God.

Hebrews 5:7 

 7Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;

Just as we want to serve God in our spirits but our flesh is weak, Christ also had to battle His flesh. He experienced all the weaknesses that we experience as humans. His flesh had to yield to the will of the Spirit.

Hebrews 4:14-15 

14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Distinctions can be made between the Father (Spirit) and the Son (flesh) without compromising the Oneness of God. For example, it would not be proper to say that the Father was tempted, but rather that the Son (flesh) was tempted. The flesh cried out to the Spirit. The Son prayed to the Father. 

The limitations of the Son are further demonstrated in Mark 13:32.

Mark 13:32

32But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

God did not allow the human mind of Christ to have knowledge of the secret of His coming. We must accept the fact that He truly became a human. He did not come and experience the world as God. He humbled Himself and experienced the world as a man. He allowed Himself to take on our human nature.

Knowledge does not define a person. Physical appearance does not define a person. As humans, our knowledge and our physical appearances change, but we remain the same persons. It is our spirits and names that distinguish us. Jesus Christ while limiting Himself physically and mentally carried the name and the Spirit of the Eternal God. He was one with the Father.

John 10:30

30 I and my Father are one.

Any distinction or plurality refers only to Spirit and flesh and not to the person of God.

Hebrews 1:3 

3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person...

There are not persons in God. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible person of God. He could not separate Himself from his Spirit anymore than we can separate our flesh from our spirits. He spoke and experienced the world as a man, but it was also His prerogative to operate as the Divine. 

John 14:8-10

8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus responded, "thou hast not known me?" Jesus was not only claiming to be the visible image of God, He was claiming to be the Father. He stated that the Father dwelled in Him. He did not speak from His human wisdom, but the words of truth were actually the words of the Father dwelling in Him. The miracles that He performed were actually performed by the Father dwelling in Him. Basically, Jesus claimed to be the Father and, as a man, indwelled by the Father. As a man, He could not know the things that He spoke or perform the mighty deeds that He did, but the Spirit accomplished all of these things in the flesh. There were two distinct natures in Christ, limited humanity and unlimited Spirit. 

God is not limited, but His manifestation in the flesh was. As the Almighty God, He was greater than His role as a human servant. As the Son, He dwelled with His disciples, but as the Spirit, He could dwell in them. As a man, He had limited learning, but as God, He knew everything. As a man, He slept on the boat, but as God, He calmed the sea. As a man, He hungered, but as God, He feed five thousand. As a man, He was confined to the cross, but as God, He filled the universe. As a man, He died, but as God, He was the giver of life.

These same questions are difficult to explain from a Trinitarian perspective.

How can the Son say that the Father is greater than Him and they remain co-equal?

Does an eternal and all-powerful God need to pray to another co-equal person in the Godhead? Wouldn’t that make Him less instead of equal?

If these two persons of the Godhead are both all knowing, why doesn’t the Son know the day or hour but the Father does? If the Son is a distinct person of God instead of the limited manifestation of God, how can He be fully God and have limited knowledge? 

Why did the Father dwell in the Son of God? If they are distinct persons, why didn't God the Son dwell in the Son of God? If the Father dwelled in the Son, wouldn't this make the Father one with the Son instead of a distinct person?