You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. (John 14:28 ESV)
Why was this statement necessary? It is possible some of the disciples thought Jesus could be greater than the Father. To prevent that misunderstanding, Jesus says the Father is greater than I.
At the time Jesus spoke the disciples had already heard Jesus say I am ---- many times. Without co-equality with the Father, an I am statement carries additional meaning:
- I (not the Father) am the Bread of Life
- I (not the Father) am the the Living Bread
- I (not the Father) am the Light of the World
- I (not the Father) am the Door
- I (not the Father) am the Good Shepherd
- I (not the Father) am the Resurrection and the Life
- I (not the Father) am the Way the Truth and the Life
After hearing Jesus make His I am statements, especially the last two, the disciples might believe Jesus is greater than the Father. To prevent that misunderstanding, Jesus makes a statement which may be paraphrased:
The Father is not the Way. The Father is not the Truth. The Father is not the Life. I am. The Father is greater than I. Yet I and the Father are one.
After making this statement, Jesus immediately makes another I am claim which illustrates the paradox of co-equality with another who is greater:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. (John 15:1)
The vinedresser may be greater than the vine, but without a vine there can be no vinedresser. The vinedresser is "greater" yet it is the vine who makes the vinedresser, the vinedresser.
It is flawed reasoning to understand superiority of a vinedresser who lacks a vine. Likewise it is flawed reasoning to attempt to understand the superiority of the Father without the Son, because since there is a Son, there is a Father. Co-equality is not determined by who is greater; it is determined by their existence. Because they exist and may be called, Father, Son. Jesus is able to say I am because Father, Son, Spirit, are.
From the human vantage point, co-equality is explained in chapter 14. The Father is greater than Jesus, but without Jesus there is no resurrection or life. For mankind, if Jesus is not the resurrection and the life, the Father's superiority is meaningless. That is, man's ability to eventually be in the presence of the Father will result from that which only Jesus is, the resurrection and the life.