Why?!? This is one of the first questions raised in the minds of those who begin to realize that Jesus not only prayed, but He also led a religious life with God. Why did Jesus pray? If He was God He wouldn not need to pray would He? Yes He would! He would because He was also flesh.
Under the discussion of Jesus' humanity we saw Him as growing "in favour with God" (Luke 2:52). This means he had a progressive and ongoing relationship with God. This was a relationship He acquired. He did not bypass the need for a relationship with God because He was God in the flesh. His deity was divinely limited so that His human life might be lived in the same manner as ours. Jesus had to grow into a relationship with God, and of the many things this included, prayer was one of them.
That Jesus had a relationship with God is evidenced by statements He made such as, "For I do always those things that please him," and, "I know him, and keep his saying" (John 8:29, 55). This need for a relationship with God arose out of the genuineness of His humanity. Truly Jesus learned to love, obey, and know God (John 8:55; 10:15; 10:17; 15:10; Hebrews 5:7-9).
Jesus prayed because He was human. If He would not have had need for prayer, indeed we would be justified in doubting the genuineness of His humanity because it is said in the Psalms, "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come" (Psalm 65:2).
Some attempt to "play off" or even deny the genuineness of Jesus' prayers to protect His deity. This camp relegates Jesus' prayers to a mere moral example given by Jesus for us to follow. They contend that Jesus had no real need for prayer. Is this Scriptural?
If Jesus was not praying because He truly needed divine assistance, then His prayers were deceptive because He made them seem like genuine prayers. Jesus was nothing more than a good actor, a hypocrite. If He faked His prayers for the sake of being an example, then did He fake His love and compassion toward those who came to Him seeking help for their souls? Jesus was not deceptive, and neither were His prayers.
The author of Hebrews attested to the genuineness of Jesus' prayers when He said, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared" (Hebrews 5:7 italics mine). The author validated that Jesus did indeed pray, and those prayers were prayed to the One Who was able to save Him from death (God). Jesus did not pray to Himself, but He prayed to the Father. These prayers were with strong crying and tears. Clearly these adjectives and verbs demonstrate true action on the part of Jesus, and intense action at that. There would be no reason for such expressive language if Jesus' prayers were not real.
To explain the prayers of Jesus as the human nature of Jesus praying to the divine nature of Jesus poses problems. For one, natures do not pray, people do. Secondly, the Scripture declares that He prayed to the Father, not Himself. It would make no sense for Jesus to pray to Himself. Surely if this was the case, there would have been no need for verbal expressions of prayer because Jesus could have communicated to the deity within Him in some transferable, telepathic manner. This is not the view of Scripture.
To explain the prayers of Jesus as one divine person praying to another poses even greater problems. If this were the case, then there is a subordination of one divine person to another. Prayer is addressed to one who is superior in power and ability, or else there would be no need for prayer. If this is a case of deity praying to deity, then there is a hierarchy in the Godhead, and a ditheistic Godhead at best.
It seems best to understand the prayers of Jesus in light of His humanity. Jesus possessed a complete human psyche through which He communicated with man and with God as all other human beings do.2 The verse quoted above demonstrates this well when it explains Jesus' prayers as being prayed "in the days of his flesh." This does not mean that the body Jesus possessed during His earthly ministry was dissolved somehow upon His glorification and ascension, but was speaking of the days in which Jesus walked in this earth before His ascension into heaven. It was during that time that Jesus prayed in the manner the author described.
The best place to demonstrate the genuineness and sincerity of Christ's prayers, and His real need for prayer is in His own personal prayer life. One of the first indications given that Jesus' prayers were genuine and sincere is that they were prayed in solitary places in the midst of the night or at other times (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). John chapter seventeen is the prayer Jesus prayed to the Father just before His betrayal and subsequent suffering. The prayer is filled with personal and intimate statements made by a man to His God. If Jesus' prayers were mere moral examples He performed for our benefit there would have been no need for Him to pray alone.
Not only did Jesus pray alone, but He prayed all night long at times (Luke 6:12). For Peter, He prayed that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32).
There is probably no greater example of the genuineness of Jesus' prayers than those recorded of in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and crucifixion. It was here that Jesus prayed so earnestly that it is said "his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).3
Those who contend that Jesus' prayers were only for an example to others often cite John 11:41-42 for support. Jesus prayed, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." This prayer was just prior to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The mourners and family members around the tomb were the audience of this prayer (vs. 19, 31-32, 39, 41).
I do not believe that the prayer at Lazarus' tomb gives evidence to the idea that Jesus prayed as an example for others. This is not to say that Jesus never intended to be an example of a praying man to His disciples, but this would only be a secondary, not a primary purpose. It might be compared to a prayer leader in a church, who prays before the church as an example. The purpose of this is to help the church/newcomers know how to pray, and/or to help them pray. Even so, however, the prayer leader's prayers are sincere and genuine. They are directed first to God, and only secondarily to the people.
If Jesus' primary purpose for praying at Lazarus' tomb was for an example to the people, then Jesus' prayer was a deceptive charade. He addressed the prayer to the Father as though He was actually praying to Him. If Jesus was not sincerely praying to the Father, then He was only acting. The Scriptures do not portray Jesus' prayers in this light. I confess that Jesus may have had secondary purposes for His prayers, but His prayers were genuine nontheless.
At first glance, the Lazarus episode does seem to indicate that Jesus' prayer was for an example. Looking more closely at the passage, however, it indicates otherwise. There are two probable interpretations of this prayer. The first sees the prayer as consisting of two parts. Although the text does not make this disctinction, it appears to be possible that the prayer was broken up into public and private portions. Jesus spoke the phrase "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me" where those gathered around could hear Him. The second phrase, "And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me," was spoken privately to the Father. If the latter part of the prayer was spoken publicly, it might lay Jesus open to the charge of being a shallow phony. In modern vernacular Jesus said: "Dad, I am really glad that you always hear and answer every prayer I pray, this one being no exception. I did not pray it because I do not believe you are going to answer it, but because of the people standing around Me. I want them to believe that You have truly sent Me, and that I am here doing Your will." If we were to hear a minister pray a prayer like this we would be turned off. Our response would be, "Does he think his faith is so big that he does not need to pray?". It seems that Jesus might have spoke this last part quietly to the Father, saying "I am not doubting you, just reassuring the people," whereas the first part He prayed so that all could hear. It was a prayer of honesty and intimacy with God, private in its very nature.
The other interpretation, and more likely of the two, understands the purpose of Jesus' prayer to be a genuine prayer of thanksgiving to the Father, but that it also served as a confirmation of Jesus' identity as the Son of God. This view sees Jesus as praying the entire prayer publicly so that the onlookers would hear Jesus praying to the same Father that they prayed to, thanking Him for what He was about to do, and when the Father did do what Jesus had just thanked Him for, it would serve to confirm the message and person of Christ, that He was truly sent by the Father. The purpose of Jesus' prayer was not for an example to the onlookers, but to serve as confirmation to the message of Jesus, and bolster faith in Him, that He was indeed the Son of God.
Jesus had no reason to pray for the raising of Lazarus. This was due to the fact that He already knew it was the will of God to raise him from the dead. When Jesus received word of Lazarus' condition, He purposely lingered around in the place where He was at for two days (John 11:6, 15). After two days, He decided to journey to Bethany with His disciples, knowing through the word of knowledge that Lazarus had died two days previous (vs. 11-15). It must have been a two day journey to Bethany from where Jesus was at, because Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus arrived (v. 17).
Jesus purposely allowed Lazarus to die (v. 11) and waited to arrive in Bethany until four days had expired since His death, so that He might raise him from the dead. He specifically waited for four days because the Jews believed it was possible for a man to be resurrected from the dead during the first three days after his death, but impossible thereafter because the body starts to decompose after three days.1 Jesus wanted to demonstrate the power of God to them by raising a decomposing body from the dead, thereby confounding the Jews' wisdom and glorifying God through those who would believe on Jesus through the miracle.
When Jesus arrived at Bethany He did not have to pray to get the Father to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew that it was His purpose for being there. He was being obedient to God's direction, not seeking after it. This can be the only reason why Jesus said what He did in His prayer to the Father.
Since Jesus knew it was the Lord's will to raise Lazarus from the dead, there was no real purpose in praying for it to happen. Just as with us, the Lord knows what we have need of before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). Maybe Jesus prayed simply because it is a Scriptural principle that we will receive an answer when we ask for it (James 4:2). Jesus demonstrated His faith in God by addressing Him in a word of prayer before performing His will. If you notice, Jesus never asked the Father to raise Lazarus from the dead. He thanked God that He was always heard by Him. Jesus was assured of the Lord's will, and was merely giving thanks for it. This is what He said for the Jews' sake. He prayed to the Father to demonstrate to the Jews that, indeed, what was about to transpire was a work of God done through Him, and not a work of His own apart from God. If they believed it was done by God, then Jesus' claims as to His identity would be justified and believed too.
In conclusion, Jesus needed to pray as much as we do, and He did. We should follow His example, but He did not pray merely for the purposes of His actions being exemplified by others. He prayed because He needed a relationship with God, and depended upon God's strength and power that comes from His anointing to minister to the world and finish the works the Father gave Him to do (John 4:34; 5:36).
A Oneness View of Jesus' Prayers
Jesus' Prayers: It Doesn't Take Two Persons to Tango
If Jesus Was the Father, Why Would He Pray to the Father?
Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son
The Dual Nature of Christ
1. Jesus was raised within three days. The Scripture said concerning Him, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (Acts 2:27; See also 13:34-37). The reference to "hell" means the state of death and not the place of the wicked dead. The Greek word can mean "death" or "hell," but it is best understood here to mean "death" since the resurrection of Jesus' physical body from the dead is in view. Since he was raised within three days His flesh did not see any corruption, thus the Scriptures were fulfilled. <back>
2. Daniel L. Segraves, Systematic Theology I (Stockton, CA: n.p., 1997), 52. <back>
3. It is not said that Jesus actually sweat blood. Luke said His sweat "was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." The Greek hosei means "nearly or similar to." Jesus' perspiration was so abundant that its drops fell to the ground as do drops of blood. Although it is medically possible to be in such agony as to burst the capillaries in the upper layers of skin, thereby "sweating blood," this does not seem to be what Luke intended to say Jesus experienced. <back>
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