Jesus' prayers open our understanding to the majesty of the Incarnation, for through them we grasp the divine-human relationship between God and His Son. Trinitarians often refer to statements Jesus made about His father, including those in His prayers, in an effort to prove that two persons were involved - who they identify as God the Son and God the Father. Since they reason that only persons and not natures communicate with each other, they regard the prayers as clear evidence that Jesus is a separate person from "the Father". Moreover, they cite Jesus' remarks about the Father as scriptural support for the Trinitarian theory. However, the prayers and remarks by Jesus destroy any concept of God as being a trinity of co-equal, and co-existent persons.
The Bible clearly distinguishes God the Father from His Son. The Son was born in Bethlehem, but the eternal God does not know a beginning. The Son grew into maturity - physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. He became tired, hungry, weary, sleepy - just as other men. Although He did not commit sin, He was tempted in all points as other men are tempted. He suffered from the trials in Jerusalem and died on the cross-just as the two thieves also died. God does not grow, nor can He die. These facts alone clearly distinguish the Son from the Father.
The Bible tells us that the man Christ Jesus is the mediator between God and men (II Timothy 2:5). God is one, but a mediator serves more than one - He stood between God and mankind, effecting reconciliation. Only as a man could Jesus be our sacrifice, mediator, advocate, and high priest, acting on our behalf for our justification.
Jesus offered Himself as a spotless lamb to God. Having lived as a human being, He offered the blood from His own body as the basis for the forgiveness of our sins. God did not die on the cross, nor did a divine eternal person offer blood from a divine eternal body. As the Son of God Jesus offered His own human body and His own earthly blood to God. The distinction between God and His Son can also be seen in the events after the crucifixion. God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 1:20), gave Him all power in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and exalted His name to be above every name in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth (Philippians 2:9). If the Son had been a co-equal person in the Godhead, this exaltation would not have been possible, for He would have had these positions and attributes from eternity. It is evident, therefore, that the Son of God was not a second divine person in the Godhead.
Biblical facts reveal that Jesus lived as an authentic human being, that He did not merely assume the appearance of flesh (1). Therefore we should not be surprised that He prayed to God, seeking strength, guidance, and assurance. Moreover, we should not be surprised that Jesus had a will distinct from God (2), that He was truly human in spirit and soul, that He possessed a self-awareness of His humanity. We are not to suppose, however, that the human Jesus was not different from other people, for only He was begotten by the Holy Ghost. God was His immediate Father. He is rightfully called the "only begotten of the Father". His miraculous birth meant that His humanity was not tainted with the inherited sinful nature of the Fall, and through Him God could reveal Himself to us in redemptive love.
Jesus' prayers to God the Father came from His human life, from the Incarnation. His prayers were not those of one divine person to another divine person of God, but those of an authentic human praying to the one true God. Prayer is based on an inferior being in supplication before a superior being. If the one praying is equal in power and authority to the one to whom he is praying, there is no genuine prayer (3). A conversation can be held between two equals, but an omnipotent person does not need to pray for help from an equal. Even intercessory prayers are meaningless unless the one praying is inferior to the one to whom he prays (4). If he were of equal power, knowledge, and wisdom, he could take care of the needs of those for whom he prays without asking help of another. If Jesus prayed as "God the Son", then God the Son is inferior to God the Father. But such inferiority destroys the Trinitarian theory (5) In submitting His will to the Father, Jesus confessed that His will was inferior: "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). He also stated the he did not seek to do His own will, but the will of the Father (John 5:30). If the Son had been an eternal divine person sharing equal power and knowledge, and wisdom with two other persons in the trinity, His will could not have been inferior to theirs.
Jesus also stated that the Father was greater than He was: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). It is absurd to say that this statement was made by a co-equal, eternal person in a trinity. Jesus was not speaking as God, but as the Son of God. Moreover, Jesus said, "the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19). He credits the Father as the source of His works, as having the power to give life, and the authority to execute judgment (John 5:19-30). If the Son were an equal person in a trinity, He would have these attributes innately within himself; He could not derive them from a superior Father6.
But we should not suppose that His humanity detracted from His deity. Jesus was not the incarnation of one person of a trinity, but he was the incarnation of the fullness of God - everything that God is was in Him. Thus the Bible says the "God was manifest in the flesh" (I Tim 3:16) and that "in Him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). As God incarnate, He identified Himself with the Father: "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30; 31-33);
"If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him ... he that has seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:7-9). As God with us, Jesus revealed His deity, identifying Himself as the God of Abraham and the One who revealed Himself to Moses as the I AM (John 8:24, 58).
Jesus was both God and man. Although this union is sometimes referred to as God-man, this term may be misleading, for it may lead some people to think of Him as a demigod. On the other hand, it is equally incorrect to refer to Him as a anointed man. Although quantitatively God cannot be confined to a body, qualitatively he could reside in a body. Neither was Jesus a part-human, but he was man in the full sense. He was fully God and fully man. He possessed both the nature of God and the nature of man. He was aware that He was He was God and that He was man. He could and did speak and act as a man, and he could and did speak and act as God. As a man, he did not know the day or hour when the Son would come in power and glory (Mark 13:22); as God he forgave sins. Both His humanity and deity, although fused into His one being, remained distinct within His one personality. Admittedly, the Incarnation is a mystery beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
Did Jesus pray to Himself ? No, not when we understand that Jesus was both God and man. In His deity Jesus did not pray, for God does not need to pray to anyone. As a man, Jesus prayed to God, not to his humanity (7). He did not pray to Himself as humanity, but to the one true God, to the same God who dwelled in His humanity and who also inhabits the universe. No further explanation is given, and none is needed. Does Jesus pray now since his exaltation ? The answer is no. He prayed in the days of His flesh (Hebrews 5:7). The work of the mediation was finished through His death on the cross at Calvary (Hebrews 9:14-15). There is no more sacrifice for sins, for once and for all time His blood was shed for the remission of sins (Hebrews 10:12). Unlike the Old Testament priests, he does not continually offer sacrifices for sins. There is no more offering, but there remains remission of sins for those who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:18, Acts 2:38). His present role as intercessor consists not only of daily prayers but the application of the benefit of the cross to our lives (Romans 8:34; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:1-2).
Jesus said, "At that day ye shall ask in
my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for
you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved
me, and believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the
Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world and
go to the Father" (John 16:26-28). Jesus does not pray
now, but as God He hears and answers prayers prayed in His name.
(This article appeared in the July issue of the Pentecostal Herald. The footnotes did not appear in the original, and were added by the editor)
1. That is, he was not a phantasm, as some Gnostics held. Jesus was quite real, from birth to death.
2. As a man, while in the flesh
3. In recent years, heretical teachers have often exploited a basic misconception of the nature of God and man in proposing a form and attitude of prayer not demonstrated by scripture. Examples include K. Copeland, F. Price, and others in the "Word of Faith" movement, such as graduates of Hagin's Rhema Bible school. In the imbalance resulting from improper understanding, these people have suggested both the "commanding of God" as "co-equal heirs with Jesus", and that Jesus was indeed, no different that "born-again man". In the editor's opinion, all such distortions clearly conclude in blasphemy.
4. In the quality of inferiority, the author does not include voluntary submission. A prayer to a saint, or angel is therefor without Bible basis, except as a petition to one in authority. We are not led to believe that ascended saints have more authority that those who are flesh bound, on earth, thus there is no support given for prayers to heavenly powers, other than to God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.
5. Thus we agree that the scriptures do not teach subordinatism, such as do neo-Arians.
(6) Seeing numerous proofs that sonship is not in equality with fatherhood, the question must be asked, "In what dimensions then is the Son equal to the Father, if distinct, or does such equality only pertain to those aspects in which the Father and Son are indistinct ?"
7. While some contend that this suggests that Jesus is schizophrenic, or split in personality, once again, it is important to understand the difference between nature and person. We are also reminded that Jesus, as man, set the pattern for all "followers of Jesus" who would through the new birth become and abide as sons, or children of God. His prayer illustrates the prayer of all who are of a human nature.