What is a subordinate? In our language it is clear that to be subordinate to someone is to be “under” that person’s authority. A subordinate is not a peer; a subordinate is not on an equal level of authority with his or her super-ordinate. The prefix sub- means “under” and super- means “over” or “above.”
When we speak of the subordination of Christ we must do so with great care. Our culture equates subordination with inequality. But in the Trinity all members are equal in nature, in honor, and in glory. All three members are eternal, self-existent; they partake of all aspects and attributes of deity.
In God’s plan of redemption, however, the Son voluntarily takes on a subordinate role to the Father. It is the Father who sends the Son into the world. The Son obediently comes to earth to do the will of the Father. We must be careful to note, however, that there is no sense of begrudging obedience. As they are the same in glory, the Father and the Son are also of one will. The Father wishes for redemption equally as much as the Son. The Son is eager to perform the work of salvation, just as the Father is eager for Him to do so. Jesus declared that zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him (John 2:17) and that His meat and His drink was to do the will of the Father.
Finally, it should be noted that Christ’s subordination and obedience was not only unto suffering. The plan included all aspects of Christ’s work for us and Christ’s ultimate glorification. The Westminster Confession explains the interconnectedness of the Father’s purpose and Christ’s work:
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest and King, the Head and Savior of His Church, the heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified and glorified.1
By submitting Himself to the perfect will of His Father, Jesus did for us what we were unwilling and unable to do for ourselves. He obeyed the law of God perfectly. At His baptism Christ told John, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus’ entire life and ministry demonstrate this perfect obedience.
By obeying the law perfectly, Jesus accomplished two vitally important things. On the one hand He was qualified to be our Redeemer, the Lamb without blemish. Had Jesus sinned, He could not have atoned for His own sins, let alone for ours. Second, by His perfect obedience He earned the rewards God promised to all who keep His covenant. He merited the rewards of heaven that He bestows upon us. As the subordinate One, He saved a people who had been insubordinate.
FATHER = SON
Equal in being and eternal attributes
1. Although Christ is equal to the Father in terms of His divine nature, He is subordinate to the Father in His role in redemption.
2. Subordination does not mean “inferior.”
3. Christ’s subordination is voluntary.
4. Christ’s perfect obedience qualified Him to be the sin bearer for His people and earned the rewards of heaven promised to the redeemed.
Son subordinate in economy of redemption
Biblical passages for reflection:
1 Westminster Confession, chap. 8, sec. 1.