If Jesus is God, how is it that he refers to the Father as “my God?” How is it that Jesus affirms that the Lord God is the only one worthy of worship? These questions are important for understanding the relationship of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, to his Father, and the nature of Jesus’ own divinity. There are several New Testament passages in which God the Father is referred to as the God of Jesus, either by Jesus himself, “my God” (Matt 27:46; John 20:17) or by the Apostle Paul, “the God (and Father) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3, 17). Before we examine these passages in their individual contexts (which is essential for any correct understanding of a passage) we need to remember the broader context of Jesus’ relationship to God and his claims about himself. Any interpretation of individual passages must not be at odds with the overall teaching of Scripture.
In summary, the New Testament testifies that Jesus shares the glory and honours due to God alone, the God who will not share his glory with another (John 5:23; 8:54; 17:5; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev 5:12–13). Jesus is worthy of worship, which is appropriate to God alone (Matt 4:10; 14:24–33; 28:17; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:12–14). Jesus is a worthy object of faith, appropriate to God (John 11:26; 14:1; 17:20–21; Acts 16:31; Rom 3:22; 1 John 3:23) and is to be obeyed (John 14:15; 15:10). In him is the fullness of God, bodily (Col 1:19; 2:9). He was with the Father from the beginning and created all things (John 1:1–3; 17:5; Col 1:15–17; Heb 1:3, 8, 10). He bears the names and titles of God (Isa 40:3/ Matt 3:3; Matt 1:23; Luke 2:11; John 8:58; 20:28; Phil 2:9–10; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8–9; 2 Pet 1:1; Rev 19:16; 21:6; 22:13). He has power over death (John 5:24; 8:51) over nature (Luke 8:25; Col 1:16–17) his teaching has divine authority (Matt 5:18; John 6:44–46). He has authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:3–12) and to judge (John 5:22, 27; Rom 14:10–12/ 2 Cor 5:10). He does everything the Father does (John 5:17–30) and reigns from the throne in heaven at the Father’s right hand (Matt 22:41–45; Rom 8:34; Rev 22:1–3).
The Bible never equates the Son with the Father as if they were the same person, and neither do believers in the Trinity. An early heresy, Modalism, confused the persons in this way. When the New Testament speaks of “God,” it most often refers to the Father (John 8:54; Eph 4:6), but can also be referring to the Son (John 20:28; or the Spirit (Acts 5:3–4), or sometimes does not appear to make a distinction. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are often grouped into triadic formulae and have a common name (Matt 28:19). There is only one Divine Being/entity/essence who alone is God, having all these attributes and who is worthy of worship (Deut 6:4; 32:39; Isa 43:11-13; 44:6). In the Old Testament there are only hints of a plurality within this unity (Psa 110:1), but Jesus Christ came to fully reveal God and from his advent we see that the Godhead, although a unity, is also manifest as Father, Son and Spirit, each of whom shares glory and worship (1 Cor 3:16; 8:6; John 12:41; 17:5; 1 Tim 2:5; Rev 21:5–6; 22:3, 6, 12–13). Nevertheless, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son; we see their differences in their working within the dispensation or “economy” of creation and redemption. Most obviously, this difference in roles is seen in the sending of the Son by the Father, and the subsequent sending of the Spirit as “another Comforter.”
Someone new came into being at the conception of Jesus Christ, when by the power of the Holy Spirit the eternal Word became flesh. Jesus Christ is not God in isolation, nor is he merely human. He perfectly combines the attributes of divinity and humanity, God with us and fully human. The Bible describes this as “becoming flesh” or incarnation (Luke 1:35; John 1:1–3; 14; Gal 4:4). The Bible does not describe this as the “creation” of a Son but as the sending of the Son, who had been with the Father (John 5:37–38; 7:28–29; 8:42; 10:36; Rom 8:3) In fact, when creation is spoken of in connection with the Son, he is seen to be no less than the Creator himself. In order for the Son, Jesus Christ, to achieve the redemption for which he was sent (John 3:16–17) he had to be made fully human, taking on genuine humanity and dwelling among us. He was made like us in order to be a merciful High Priest and to die for us, defeating sin in the flesh in which it normally reigned (Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; Heb 2:17–18; 4:15; 5:7–81 John 4;10, 14). In this incarnation the Son underwent a humbling and learnt to trust and obey the Father, empowered by the Spirit, as a man. He laid aside the honours due to him as God and became a servant (John 17:5; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:5–8; Heb 5:7–8). He was truly born, truly suffered, truly died and rose again and returned to the Father to take his place on the throne of the universe. In all this, the Son did not cease to be in unity with his Father. He continued to share the divine honours and attributes, even while he was completely submissive to his Father. This submission was essential to his atoning work and also serves as a model for us. Paul points this out in Philippians 2:5 when he exhorts the Philippians to have the “same mind” as Christ. We are to share in his ultimate humbling (Luke 9:23–24; Rom 8:17; Heb 13:12–14). Jesus’ task was to do the will of his Father, despite the inclinations of his flesh (Luke 2:49; Matt 26:39; John 5:30; 14:31; Rom 15:3; Heb 10:9). Jesus was not another God, separate from the Father. He did not come in his own name (John 5:43; 7:16–18; 10:25; 14:10) and he did not speak with an authority separate from his Father; how could he? He was eternally one with the Father (John 5:23; 8:29; 10:30; 14:10; 17:21–22).
Jesus worshiped God, prayed to God and submitted to God whilst on earth, for that was his mission and the means by which he would accomplish the salvation of humankind. It could not be otherwise. This dependence, this relationship, came to its climax when Jesus offered the ultimate act of obedience in his death on the cross (Phil 2:6–8). He did this to bear the very sins of the world (Isa 53:4–6; 1 Pet 2:24; John 10:17-18; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 9:28; Acts 20:28). In doing so, he bore the wrath of God against sin (Rom 1:18; 3:25; 5:7; Eph 2:3–6) Heb 2;17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). This is the context of Jesus’ agonised cry upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 26:47) in fulfilment of Psalm 22’s description of the cost of our redemption.
This humbling followed by exaltation, and the profound unity of the relationship between Father and Son is the context for understanding passages wherein the Father is referred to as the God of Jesus Christ. In John 8, the Pharisees challenged Jesus about the validity of his testimony and the origin of his authority, even implying he was illegitimate.
Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God…
‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge… Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’
Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’
So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” (John 8:42–58)
Jesus makes a number of astounding claims in this passage, including the claim that the God of Israel, the one true God, is his Father and that is the origin of his authority. He came from God the Father, was specifically sent by him. He is sinless. He tells the truth for he is “of God,” in contrast to the Pharisees, who are “of the devil,” their “father.” He honours his Father, and his Father (their God) glorifies him. He knows God and keeps his word. Jesus’ relationship with God results from his eternal oneness with the Father, the eternal beingness (“I am-ness”) of God which predates Abraham. The man Jesus Christ, who is also one with the Father, can truly and comfortably refer to God the Father as his father and as God; his own God in fact.
Thus Paul can exhort the Romans, “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom15:6). The way to do that, Jesus has explained, is to glorify himself, for God is glorified through Jesus (John 13:31–32; 14:13; 17:1–5; Phil 2:10–11; 1 Pet 4:11; Jude 25). Likewise, Paul proclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3). Grace, mercy and peace come from God the Father through Christ and the Father and Son sent the Comforter to be with his people (2 Thess 3:2; 2 John 1:3; John 14:16–18, 23–26). Likewise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:3, 17). All these blessings originate with God, and there is no other God than the God who was manifested in Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 14:7–10; 17:6; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 John 4:9). Jesus is the conduit for all God’s blessings because he who is one with the Father, came from the Father to share them with us. He has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever,” (Rev 1:6) These blessings came to us as a result of the work of the one sent by the Father, his incarnate word, God with us, the man Jesus Christ. This work was completed with the ascension of Jesus to rejoin his Father at his right hand. Jesus explained that would be the case (John 14:12; 16:7) which is why it was wrong for his followers to cling to him as if to keep him with them on earth. “Do not cling to me,” he gently admonished Mary, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,’” (John 20:17). This was, of course, the place from which he had been sent (John 3:13; 6:62).
Of course God the Father is Jesus’ God! This is an expression of the unity of the Godhead, not a division within it. Each of these passages exalts the Lord Jesus and reinforces his glory, majesty and unity with the Father. For only the divine Son could possibly ascend to resume his place upon the very throne of God. Only the divine Son can be the bridge between God and men, the mediator of the new covenant, the conduit of every blessing from God. To take any of these passages referring to God as the God of Jesus as somehow separating Jesus from God, downgrading him to less than God, is distortion. It is to completely decontextualise them, both from the passages in which they sit and testify to the relationship of Father and Son and unity of the Godhead, and to the New Testament’s wider testimony of who Jesus is. To assert that “because Jesus calls the Father ‘my God’ he cannot be God” is to force an illegitimate dichotomy. It is a forced interpretation on a verse from a preconceived theological standpoint that already insists that “Jesus is not God,” against scriptural evidence. Such decontextualised verse-by-verse scriptural ping-pong is not good theology, and it downgrades the one we should be exalting. Rather, let us exalt the Lord Jesus, praise him and glorify him as Lord and God, in the certainty that whoever honours him, honours the Father who sent him.