In John 6:38, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but the will of Him who sent me.” What was the nature of that submission? Does it reach back into eternity? Is it natural to his sonship or is a new category introduced by virtue of the son’s incarnate state?Jesus determined to live an obedient life before his father in every area where we have failed.
To consider these questions, I want to go with you to Luke 2:41-52. Here it is recorded that Jesus went up with his parents at age 12 to Jerusalem at the time of Passover. His parents were on their journey home with a caravan of relatives and acquaintances when they finally realized that their son Jesus was not with them. Now, in the temple he had been wowing the teachers and others there with his questions and his understanding. Mary, though, is not impressed. She is in great distress. She wants to know how he could have treated them, his parents, like this. Surely, he knew of their concern.
Note Jesus’ response in verse 49, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” Jesus returned with his parents to Nazareth and was “submissive” to them. Here we have the incarnate Son of God not simply being submissive to his father, but to his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary. There was something right and righteous about his submission to his parents because it was a part of his higher submission to the Father. Jesus determined to live an obedient life before his father in every area where we have failed. Why? For our salvation.
As we follow him through the Gospels, we learn this obedience will actively take him to the cross where he will then passively receive the penalty our sins deserve. This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But let us remember that this is the incarnate Son of God obeying in our nature, submitting to the father so that the divine plan of salvation can reach its blessed fulfillment.Without Jesus’ submission we would not experience the results of the plan of salvation.
Remember Jesus’ answer to his mother though, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” He is the eternal son of the eternal father. When Jesus prayed his high priestly prayer in John 17, he prayed for the glory he had with the father before the world existed. This glory is an element of his status as a member of the Trinity where he is equal with the father and the spirit in power and in glory. Before his assumption of our human nature, the Son never needed to submit to the father because the son and father in spirit share one blessed nature with one divine will. When the Son assumed our nature in the incarnation in space and time, he submitted to the father, but it was a submission enabled by his redemptive mission in the capacity of his humanity.
We give thanks that the son of God submission to the father is not eternal because this would mean that in some way the divine will is divided. We do give thanks that the incarnate Son of God submitted to the father as our head. For without his submission we would not experience the results of the plan of salvation, which is knowing the father by grace even as the son does by nature.