How Jesus Expresses His Relationship to the Father

If you like please read disclaimer in the post “The Trinity – Jesus as God – The Names Used”

When looking at the idea of “one God in three persons” it’s important that we look at the words Jesus uses to describe his relationship to the Father.  The significance of this resides in understanding not only the words Jesus uses, but how these words are understood: For example, as in John 10:32-36, when Jesus talks about the “good works” he had shown the people along with the Jewish leaders, they accuse him of blaspheming. Jesus inquires “for which of (the works) are you stoning me?”  Their response centers not on the “works” but that Jesus, “being a man,” made himself out “to be God.”  After quoting a portion of Psalm 82 Jesus goes on to say with precision, “…Do you say of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said ‘I am the Son of God?’”  Jesus did not claim to make himself out to be God even though they may have understood his words and actions as such. But he does make it clear that he is the Son of God.  This distinction is not an exception but a consistent rule throughout the Gospels.

Let’s look at something radically different than the above example.  In Matthew 12 there is a discussion of the unforgiveable sin. Jesus said with specificity, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the (age) to come.”  Why the emphasis on the Holy Spirit?  Why does Jesus specifically differentiate himself from the Holy Spirit? If Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God are one, why didn’t he simply say “whoever speaks against us or God, it will not be forgiven him?”

When it comes to the Trinity – “God eternally exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God and there is one God”[1] – we should not lose sight of two things: 1) The relationship between Jesus and the Father as outlined in the Gospels and 2) the relationship between Jesus and the Father as outlined in Acts and the Epistles. Although not entirely different, there is more fodder for the Trinitarian concept in the later than the former. At least that’s my observation. As indicated earlier, Acts and the Epistles are not my focus at this juncture. They will be considered separately. The reason for that is fairly simple – I want to know and understand how Jesus describes his relationship with his Father more than I want to understand how Paul, Peter, James or others explain that relationship as their own expressions of theology.

As part of the description of the Trinity, it is said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same abilities; omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. If this is so, even in Jesus’ earthly ministry he would have the availability to those attributes since he is fully God and fully man. But you will see and may already know that on more than one occasion Jesus admits his limitations and authority.

In order to put some flesh on the bones of this area of study I’ll list a number of passages from each of the gospels.  These verses are not necessarily conclusive when it comes to marking a clear and present distinction between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son of God and their relationship, but they do move the needle.  Also, this list will not be exhaustive by any means and if it seems context is necessary, I’ll note it. If the passage can stand on its own, then so be it.

  • Jesus notes that it is the Father who knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt 6:8)
  • The Lord’s Prayer is “authored” by Jesus but directed to “Our Father who is in heaven…” (Matt 6:9)
  • If we forgive others it is our “heavenly Father” who will forgive us. Jesus does not claim that action for himself at this point. The same is true if we do not forgive others our “heavenly Father will not forgive” our transgressions. (Matt 6:14-15)  It is true that later in his ministry Jesus does forgive sin.  Nothing remarkable about his ability to do that or contrary about that.
  • It is those who do “the will of my Father” who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 7:21)
  • If we confess Jesus publicly, He (Jesus) will confess us before his Father.  (Matt 10:32-33)
  • Jesus gives praise to the Father, “Lord of heaven and earth…” (Matt 11:25)
  • Note this one carefully; “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal (him).”  ( Matt 11:27 ; Luke 10:22; John 14:7,9)  This is a significant passage when it comes to relationship and authority.  It seems clear, even when looking at the verbs used, that Jesus is noting both an intimate relationship with the Father and a shared responsibility to make the other known.  It seems apparent that Jesus is not claiming anything close to equality with God. He is simply stating that the Father knows the son precisely because he is his Son. The Son knows the Father precisely because he is his Father.  This passage also echoes what Jesus was referring to when he said “you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  It seems not so much an issue of oneness as much as affinity.
  •  When asked by James and John to have special seats in the Kingdom, Jesus’ reply exposes His limited authority; “…To sit on my right and on my left is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matt  20:23)   Speaking further to the idea of “limited authority” or limited knowledge, Jesus confesses that he does not know the day or hour when end time events will take place – that knowledge is reserved for the Father alone.  (Matt 24:36; Mk 13:32)
  • In Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer he prays as follows: “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what you will.”  (Mk 14:36, John 12:27)
  • During his final moments with the twelve, Jesus makes this commitment to them; “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and just as my Father as granted me a kingdom, I grant you…” (Luke 22:28-30)
  • On the cross, Jesus says “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)   Why didn’t Jesus simply say, “I know you don’t know what you are doing, so I forgive you?”  Why did he make the request of the Father if he had that ability and power himself?
  • In Luke 24:49, regarding the Holy Spirit, Jesus said “I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you…”   (see also John 14:16)
  • “My Father is working until now and I myself am working.”  (John 5:17)  Both are working – It’s not a work in unison as equals, but each has a “job” to do in ushering in the Kingdom.
  • Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
  • “…so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5:23)
  • Jesus said “I have come in My Father’s name…”  (John 5:43a) This also speaks to their relationship not so much their oneness.
  • In an oft quoted passage Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”  (John 6:44)
  • Jesus was “taught” by the Father. (John 8:28)
  • Jesus indicates that he came as Emmanuel not of his own initiative but because he was sent by the Father.  (John 8:42)
  • In John, after a lengthy discussion with the Jewish leaders about works, Jesus makes a titillating statement; “…believe the works so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father.”  (John 10:38; 14:11)   Now on the surface this seems to be a dead bang no brainer that Jesus is equal to the Father.  However, it must be pointed out that according to Paul, Christ is “in” us and we are “in Christ.”  Does that make us equal to God?  Does that make us God?   (Rom 6:11; 8:1-2, 10-11; 12:5; 1Cor 1:2, 30; Gal 2:16, etc.   See Also John 14:20)
  • Jesus indicates that he “…Did not speak on his own initiative, but the Father himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.”  (John 12:49-50)
  • Keeping Jesus’ commandments is an expression of our love for him. In addition to that, Jesus said “…And he who loves me will be loved by my Father…”  (John 14:21,23)
  • Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes whom he will “send from the Father.”  He also makes special note that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.”  (John 15:26)
  • Note these words of Jesus: “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”   (John 16:25-28)
  • Jesus speaks to his divinity (if he understood it in that way) or at least his eternal presence with the Father in John 17:5.  He does not speak of their equality, but of his presence with the Father “before the world was.”  This passage does NOT speak against Jesus having been created before time began or the creation process began, it simply speaks to his presence with the Father “before the world was.”    Don’t flame me on this one yet.   I did not say Jesus was created, I said “this passage does NOT speak against Jesus having been created…”

It is apparent there was a special relationship between Jesus and the Father. Nevertheless, it is indeed a relationship and it does not seem to imply a co-existence or equality.

Jesus praises the Father, is taught by the Father, gets his words from the Father and mimics the actions of the Father.  Does that equate to being equal to the Father – being God?  That may be proved as we go along, but it does not seem to be evident from much of what Jesus said about his relationship to God the Father.  This is significant in order to help us avoid reading too much into the text or the words that Jesus used.  It is also important to help us lay a proper foundation when looking at specific passages that seem to speak to a Trinitarian view.

What do you think?  How would you describe Jesus’ relationship to the Father based on Jesus’ words?

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.226



Filed under Bible, Bible Study, Blasphemy, God, God the Father, Gospel of John, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew

10 responses to “How Jesus Expresses His Relationship to the Father

  1. I admire your persistence Norm! Can’t contribute to this since I have no background in Christian theology.


    • Norm


      I wouldn’t think a lack of background in Christian theology should prevent you from commenting.


      • Dear Norm I appreciate your invitation for me to comment, so I am going to say the following:
        – I could say lots of things and comment on any number of areas, however, in my paradigm, one has to know for which purpose one is talking? If the purpose from my comments is to add knowledge to your search, then I have already done so by telling you about Dr. Dirk’s book. However, if the purpose for commenting is to increase my self-worth and my image, then I would not.
        – Trained as a scientist in the area of genetic engineering, if someone asked me to comment on an article in nuclear physics, my comments would be very limited and not directed at evaluating the plausibility of the presented data. Hence, I really am not qualified to discuss Christian theology, except from what I know of it from my own paradigm which I have already stated. Jesus is not GOD or the son of GOD, he is a great prophet that all Muslims believe in. We also believe in his miraculous birth, his miracles, but he was still human and did not die on the cross.
        – I also teach Islamic culture since I did two years in a higher diploma (after doing my Ph.D.). I teach my university students that when one is seeking knowledge concerning metaphysical information, then one has to go back to sources that came from the metaphysical (from GOD) . However, one first has to authenticate the origin of his metaphysical source. Then we go through the process of authenticating the Quran. As far as I know (and please don’t be offended, I am merely trying to explain why I can’t comment further) the bible you have today was not written by Jesus, so the authenticity of it does not compare to that of the Quran , hence for me as a Muslim, I take the metaphysical knowledge concerning Jesus from the Quran.
        – My last point is, if you want to hear about if Jesus is GOD or not, I refer you back to Dr. Dirk who has a masters of divinity from Harvard, and this is his facebook link for some videos where he actually discusses this very topic.
        All the best Norm, I hope I didn’t offend you in any way, that is certainly not my intention. I feel we are all brothers and sisters in our path of seeking the Lord.


  2. Ben

    A couple of quick responses. There are different models of the Trinity that are ‘orthodox’. As I mentioned the Eastern Orthodox and Greek patristic writers often worked from a hierarchy-with-mutuality model that allowed for equality of being but subordination of roles in response to the very texts that you refer to here. As such, I think you are right to go back to scripture, but this doesn’t preclude Jesus (or the Spirit) being divine if they are in a subordinate position.

    I may have missed them, but I don’t think I saw any of the John passages where Jesus affirms that he and the father are one?

    Again, to the kyrios identity of Christ, the Johannine I am statements would also point directly to Jesus’ own affirmation of this Yahweh identity.


    • Norm

      Thanks for your thoughts Ben.

      “…equality of being but subordination of roles…” is partly correct based on what I’m thinking out loud about. This particular post would challenge the “equality” part.

      Regarding passages such as John 10:38 “I and the Father are one.” It seems that there are more potentially potent passages which I have tried to note in this post. Just as you pointed out in an earlier post regarding the Deut. passage, “one” may not mean what it appears to mean on the surface.

      Regarding the “I am” sayings of Jesus, it seems there is really only one that might be read to imply or state a correlation with Yahweh, that would be John 8:58.

      I appreciate your push back.


  3. Ben

    Here’s food for thought … In response to whether Jesus of Nazareth would have been aware of his own “deity” N.T. Wright says the following (from Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 653):

    “Jesus did not….’know that he was God’ in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His ‘knowledge’ was of a more risky, but perhaps more sufficient sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot ‘prove’ it except by living it. Jesus’ prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion. His messianic vocation included within it the vocation to attempt certain task which, according to scripture, YHWH had reserved for himself. He would take upon himself the role of messianic shepherd, knowing that YHWH had claimed this role as his own. He would perform the saving task which YHWH had said he alone could achieve. He would do what no messenger, no angel, but only the ‘arm of YHWH’, the presence of Israel’s god, could accomplish. As part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture, only YHWH himself could do and be. He was Israel’s Messiah; but there would, in the end, be ‘no king but God’.”

    This fits more with an ‘economic’ view of the Trinity, we know who God is by the way that he acts, and Christ knew that he embodied the activity of Yahweh though not as an existential knowledge of divine being. But that gets into the kenosis, here seen narrativally and in the letters explained didacticly.


    • Norm

      When you send a follower to the water to cast a line, pull in a fish and retrieve a coin from its mouth so you can pay the taxes to the Roman Empire it seems there would be little doubt you know something about yourself that no one else knows – or at least had grasped up to that point. Whether or not Jesus understood that as “divine” or an expression of “deity” seems open to question.

      Thanks for the NT Wright quote. I have his book but haven’t conquered the whole.


  4. Ben

    I asked CK Barrett his opinion about Jesus’ consciousness a couple of years back and he had a couple of responses: 1) we can’t really get inside anyone’s head to know what they thought, but 2) since he is the only person in history that is fully divine and fully human, we don’t have a model or comparator to understand how a consciousness like that would work. If he truly grew in knowledge as a human (and as the gospels relate), then before the resurrection I think the assumption would be that he would not ever achieve omniscience. Thus we are left with a question about where Jesus’ consciousness fell (between knowing everything and nothing), which is very difficult to answer definitively in one way or another. However, I think the knowledge statements are about the best evidence for your reading.

    However, I’m not sure what ‘your reading’ is? What you seem to be working towards doesn’t seem to match is not what you state in your disclaimer about not questioning whether Jesus is God. I imagine you’ll make that clear at the end of the series, but it would be helpful to clarify what you think the gospels are presenting about Jesus. Do you think they present him as a spiritual being like an angel that became human? Or was he just a man who was specially empowered? Or …? I suppose a positive construction on your part would help me understand where you think things lie if the traditional interpretation is not the best.


  5. Norm

    It seems the observation by Ck Barrett puts the whole issue in perspective. If there is no definitive answer to whether or not Jesus was conscience of his being God and therefore omniscient or any other of the “omnis” then how can one speak definitively to the Trinity?

    If Jesus “knew” there was a fish with a coin in it’s mouth, what does that say about his knowledge level? If, as in Luke 5, Jesus knew there was a large catch of fish just off shore did that mean he simply knew they were there or caused them to be there, speaking to idea of omnipotence?

    Speaking to a “positive construction” on my part as to where I stand regarding Jesus as God, I think that would be premature at this point. As I had hoped to indicate in my disclaimer this is a learning process for me. There are times when reading the scripture that I think “This seems so obviously Trinitarian”. Then again, there are times when I say, “how could this statement/context be ignored in the conversation of the Trinity?”


  6. Ben

    I think it’s the tension you mention from the last bit that is at the core of the church’s affirmation of the Trinity: sometimes we see the Bible speaking of three agents and sometimes as one agent, and so we need to maintain that balance in our theology. There is leeway as to how that gets explained, but it is when we try to relieve the text of this tension–choosing oneness or threeness, rather than oneness and threeness–that we cross the boundaries of 2000 years of orthodox Christianity.

    If in a trial of evidence regarding the Trinity we find particular evidence that is unclear, that doesn’t necessarily mean the whole idea is called into question; it just means that we can’t use that evidence to prove one side or the other. We must rely upon other evidence that is more clear.


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