Muslims often point to John 14:28 as proof that Jesus denied that he’s God. According to John 14:28, the Lord Jesus Christ said that “the Father is greater than I”. On the basis of this passage, Muslims assume that Jesus cannot be co-equal to the Father in essence if the Father is greater than he. However, the problem with that objection is that it ignores the fact that the term “greater”, not just in Greek but even in English, can have one of two possible meanings. First, it can mean someone who is better in essence as well as in position and rank. For example, I’m greater than my dog not just in position and rank but also in essence. Or the term “greater” can simply refer to someone who holds a higher office or status for example my boss is greater than me, the president is greater than the vice president. However, both my boss and myself as well as the president and the vice president are fully human and we have the same human dignity and value in the eyes of God. So clearly “greater” in those examples cannot mean someone who’s superior better than someone in essence and nature.
When Jesus says “the Father is greater than I”, did he mean that the Father is better than him in essence, not just superior to him and rank, or did he mean that the Father is greater than him by virtue of the status in heaven because when Christ uttered these words, he was on earth and had assumed the status, the position of a servant? How do we know the answer? The way that you find what Jesus meant is by looking at the context of the verse itself. And by context, I mean either the chapter itself, the chapters before or the book as a whole. After all, John 14 comes 14 chapters later. John has a lot to say about Jesus Christ in the 13 preceding chapters. But for the sake of time I’m going to focus and limit my discussion to the immediate context of John 14 as well as look at a passage from John 17:5. Let’s see what Jesus said earlier in John 14 in order to demonstrate whether “greater than” means that the Father is superior in essence or greater in rank by virtue of the Father remaining in heavenly glory and Christ on earth in the form of a slave. Let’s go to John 14:12-14 where our Lord says to the disciples the following “Truly truly I say to you. Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Notice Christ is saying whoever believes in him will do the same miracles, the same kind of works that Jesus has been doing while he was on earth and greater works than these he will do because “I’m going to the Father.” Notice that Christ also says not only will they be doing the works “I’ve been doing” but they’ll actually end up doing greater works than these, same Greek word is used in John 14:12 that later on Jesus uses in John 14:28. Here “greater” cannot mean greater in terms of quality, that the disciples will be doing better works than the Lord Jesus. Greater can only mean in terms of quantity. They’ll be doing more miracles than Jesus did but they’ll be performing the same kind of miracles that Jesus did while he was on earth. How do we know that? Because of the line before that, the preceding sentence. Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do. Notice it’s the same works that Jesus has been doing but a greater number of them and that makes sense. After all, the disciples spread throughout the entire earth, reached more people, preached the gospel to more nations and did more miracles than Jesus did when he was on earth. So here “greater” can only mean in terms of number, quantity not quality. But then Christ gives the reason why they’ll be able to do greater miracles than him because “I’m going to the Father”.
What’s the connection with the disciples doing a greater number of works and Jesus going to the Father? Continue reading in verse 13 and 14 and Jesus gives you the answer. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do. Notice what the Lord did not say “If you ask in my name, the Father will do it.” No, I will do it myself. I will personally do the things you ask, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” You see what Jesus said here? If you ask me, in other words pray to me directly, I will do it personally. Christ is not only making himself an object of prayer, which would be blasphemy if he was a creature. After all, the bible and the Quran agree that all petitions, all invocations must be directed to God alone because God alone can answer all prayers – dua (Arabic word for prayer), invocations etc. But Christ says “you can pray directly to me and I will do it”. In saying that he is able to hear all prayers directed to him and in answering those prayers Jesus is presupposing the omni- attributes of God. What do I mean by that? In order for Christ to know who’s praying to him, where they’re praying to him, when they’re praying to him, and what they’re praying for, he must be omniscient. He must know who’s praying, when, where and what. And it doesn’t matter how many are praying to him. Christ is saying if all of you ask me, I’ll answer all of you. So that requires omniscience. It also requires omnipresence and omnipotence. In order for Christ to personally guarantee that he will answer all the prayers offered to him, he must have the ability to fulfill all requests. However only God is omniscient, only God is omnipresent, only God is omnipotent. Yet Jesus’ statements here in John 14 presuppose that he believed he was all of these things i.e omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.
He goes on to reiterate that he has these essential divine attributes that belong to God alone in John 14:23. Jesus answered him “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we (i.e. Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him.” Did you see what Jesus just claimed? Christ says not only will the Father spiritually dwell and have fellowship with anyone who truly loves Christ, Christ says that he too will spiritually dwell with anyone and everyone who truly loves him. In other words, Christ is not only claiming to be omnipresent, he’s claiming to be present with every believer in the same sense and to the same degree that the Father is. And in saying that, Christ shows that he believed he was co-equal with the Father in essence and nature, that he was just as present with every believer as the Father is. Therefore he’s just as omnipresent as the Father is, something that no mere creature could utter. Now in light of these statements in John 14, in light of these explicit statements to deity, Christ claiming to possess the very omni attributes that belong to God alone, clearly in John 14:28, Jesus could not be saying that the Father is greater than him in essence. If Christ is claiming to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and only God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, then Christ is clearly claiming to be God. If he’s clearly God, then he’s equal to the Father in essence and nature. Then in what sense is the Father greater than the Son? Christ gives us an idea in John 17:5 which says “Now Father glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had (notice used to have with you) before the world existed.” Christ claims that he shared the very divine glory that the Father has and he shared this with the Father even before the world began. And yet while on earth, he had set aside this glory. This passage helps us to better understand what Jesus meant in John 14 28 that the Father is greater than I.
John 14:28 You heard me say to you I’m going away and will come to you. If you love me, you would have rejoiced because I’m going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Notice what Jesus is telling his disciples. You shouldn’t be sad at the fact that I’m leaving you. If you really love me, you would be happy because I’m going to the Father for the Father is greater than I. What’s the connection with the disciples rejoicing that Christ will return to the Father and that the Father is greater than he? In light of John 17:5, it’s obvious why Jesus said what he said. The point to the disciples is this: If I remain on earth, the Father will be greater than me in terms of glory and status. Because Jesus already told us in John 17:5 that he set aside the very divine glory that he possessed with the Father before the world was, in order to come to the earth and redeem his people from their sins. However once he returns to the Father, he will once again receive that glory which was his, which he voluntarily set aside. Basically what Jesus is telling the disciples is this: If you love me, then you would desire for me to return to glory and cease to be on earth because while I’m on earth I will continue in the state of humiliation but if I return to the Father, not only will the Father no longer be greater than I, I’ll be basking in the very divine glory that the Father possesses, which belongs to me and the glory I had with him before the world was. That’s what Jesus means when he says “the Father is greater than I”, not in terms of essence or nature but in terms of status and glory.
Finally it is ironic that Muslims would point to John 14:28 to try to disprove the deity of Christ when this passage actually proves that Islam cannot be a revelation from the true God. Notice Jesus says he will return to the Father. However, according to the Quran, Allah is a Father to no one and he’s definitely not the Father of Jesus Christ. Just look at the at the following passages in the Quran 5:18, 9:30, 6:101, 19:88-93, all of which say Jews and Christians are not the sons of God, that Jesus is not the son of God and that God has no sons and that the highest relationship a person can have with Allah the God of Muhammad is a slave to master relationship. Yet here, the God that Jesus proclaimed, the God that Jesus is returning to is his blessed Father. Jesus is returning to God the Father, something Muhammad denied. Therefore Muhammad cannot be a true prophet. So it’s ironic that the very passage that they’re trying to use to disprove Christianity actually ends up proving Islam is false.