How can God the Father have a Will that differs from God the Son?
This question was recently posed in one of our online groups:
How are we to understand Luke 22:42?
Jesus said: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not *My will,* but Yours be done.”
The poster continued – “Does Jesus have a “will” that needs to be brought in line with the Father’s will? If so, do we – in some sense – have to pray for the Father’s will to be done, in a fight for faith to humble ourselves and submit to God; casting down our will & desires for our Father’s will? If so…Where do we “hear” the Father’s will?”
Is God Schizophrenic?
There can be no doubt that even as Jesus was praying that prayer, His mind was fully made up and focused on the necessity of His going to the cross. So what is the “my will’ He refers to, which has to be submitted thus?
To be plain:
a) The will of Jesus – that the ‘cup’ of suffering would pass from Him, i.e. that He would not have to undergo the cross. That this is the thought of the moment is seen in that in so many other places, the Lord testifies to His disciples that He must die, as it is written of Him:
“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10: 33,34)
This is no pretence. Jesus is not play-acting for our benefit. At this moment, who was the ‘audience’? His disciples were all sleeping, and He had moved away from them. He was not ‘playing to any gallery’ here. This was fervent, heart-cry from Him to His Father. “(Jesus) offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.” What can be more plain? Jesus did not want to die. He shrank back from it. Foreseeing, as only He could, all of the agony and pain, the sorrow of death itself, and the torture of separation from His lifelong fellowship with His Father, and realising how this would torture His body, mind and soul to the depths, He appeals to God that if there is another way, that way rather than this be taken.
b) The will of the Father – to subject His Son to all that the cross involved to procure the redemption of those He was saving. We see this plainly stated in Isaiah 53:
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
How are we to understand this apparent bifurcation between the will of God the Father, and the will of God the Son, who is, nevertheless, in perfect conformity to the Father’s will?
God’s Strange Design
I think this must be one of those areas where we have to admit that even with Spirit-read revelation, our logic and reasoning will only take us so far. As Wesley aptly puts it:
“’Tis mystery all – the immortal dies,
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain, the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all, let earth adore!
Let angel’s minds enquire no more.”
When confronting such things, we must pause in wonder, in love, in praise. Where the ‘mystery’ is revealed to be active ‘mercy’, we at least have a reason, if not an understanding. And such a gaze into glory should rightly bring us to our knees before Him, with hearts full of bursting joy and thanks.
That said, I think God shows us something of what is going on here.
The Heart of the Father, the Cries of the Son
The best commentary on this is Hebrews 5: 7-10:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”
Let us mark the steps of this progression one by one:
a) He prays earnestly to avoid the trial, with full confidence that His Father can save Him from death.
b) But He prays in reverent submission. “Not my will, but yours be done.”
c) He was heard.
d) He learned obedience by this means
e) He was ‘made perfect’ by its course
f) He thus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, as an eternal high priest
1. This prayer of the Lord’s demonstrates the necessary part of the process by which He became our eternal high priest. Hebrews 5 says,
“Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
“… no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
This, then, is a part of Jesus appointment. In this respect, Jesus does not choose the role. Rather, He – even He – receives it. This chapter again:
“In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.””
2. So Jesus evidences that this is being conferred upon Him by His Father. Note that the ‘become’ is in this context. We might well wonder at it. When was God ever NOT Jesus’ Father? Well, here it is. It is in the aspect of His priestly ministry that He(Jesus) becomes what He was not previously – and thus God ‘begets’ Him as an eternal priest after the order of Melchizedek. And it happens here, in Gethsemane, on this night – however much it has been conceived beforehand, here is the ‘birth’ of this! Startling!
3. This process – by which Jesus becomes our perfect high priest – requires that He is able to sympathise with us in our weaknesses. Though, with the earthly, Aaronic priesthood (as this chapter makes plain) this is to do with the priest also being sinful and having to offer sacrifices for his own sin, this aspect cannot be true of the Lord, can it? So what is the ‘shadow lesson’ that this old covenant component is intended to teach us? It is that Jesus Himself had to LEARN this obedience – because of His own fleshly frailty, and His own body’s natural unwillingness to submit to suffering and death. Thus “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” … but without failing.
4. So here is the great benefit and blessing that brings us. When our ‘flesh’ cries out “NO” to the prospect and price of obedience to God’s will, this is not necessarily a failing of faith – it is a part of its path – the willing submission to His will, and the learning of obedience. And when we tread this way, we can know that we have this Lord, who has gone before us in this respect also, AND THAT HE DOES NOT DEAL WITH US HARSHLY. Because He knows what that struggle is like – He has ‘been there’. Hear this! Let it shout comfort to your soul, as it does to mine. When you face death itself, alone, stripped naked, and naturally fearful, He stands with you to strengthen. To intercede. To provide. In reality you will not be alone. Your great high priest, who has learned this very lesson, will be at your side. He faced it utterly alone, so that you will not. And in other struggles we face, the same glorious ministry to us, in our heart of hearts, is true also. When your flesh shrinks back, as well it might, for you are dust, the spirit in you can yet soar. Pray, you must, in your tent of a body, which will so soon be returning to the ground. But pray knowing that just as your Lord, your Saviour was heard, and attended by angels to strengthen Him before His terrible ordeal.
5. Now, look at the testimony God gives to this struggle. We are left in no doubt as to its outcome:- “…he was heard because of his reverent submission.” God is not in the habit of ignoring the plaintive cries of His children. Because your Lord experienced this, and here is the result, you, too, can be thoroughly assured that in your deepest, darkest trials, He hears you too – you who are in Christ. The ‘answer’ for our Lord was not rescue, it was strengthening. If your Father will not bring you out of your trial, He will bring you through it – He will!
6. Finally, we need to note this very important point. Without this struggle, our salvation would not have been procured. Look at this: “… once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” This was a part of His essential cross-work. Interesting, in passing, that He ‘becomes’ what He must, on our behalf, by His obedience to the Father. We ‘become’ what we must by our obedience to Him! But do you see the main thrust of this? That it is because He has thus become an eternal high priest that we are assured of our eternal salvation. He eternally does what we eternally need, and will never, never fail us.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t lose heart. And draw near to your Father, to your Lord, now, with joy-filled boldness.