When Jesus says to his Father in the garden of Gethsemane, “not as I will, but as you will” (Mt.26:39), how should we think of this relationships within the Trinity? Did the Son have a different desire or will from the Father?
John McKinley, associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and author of Tempted for Us: Theological Models and the Practical Relevance of Christ’s Impeccability and Temptation:
The theological term that Jesus possesses two wills, one divine and one human, is Dyothelitism. God the Father and God the Son are distinct persons, but they share the same divine will. The difference of Jesus’ will from his Father’s will in Gethsemane is his human will. By incarnation, God the Son took up a second way of living as a man. He now possesses two natures. Each nature is complete, including a will for each. I define “will” as the spiritual capacity for desires and choice in the exercise of personal agency. But remember, these are mysterious operations (desiring, choosing) of mysterious realities (persons, wills, Trinity) that may leave us continuing to wonder even after thinking it all through as best we can.
We will consider briefly Jesus’ divine will, his human will, the situation of Gethsemane, and how this affects our thinking about the Trinity.
Jesus’ Divine Will
Before the incarnation, the Son of God is a divine person with a divine will. By this will, the Son loves his Father (John 14:31), obeyed his Father to become incarnate (John 8:42), sent the Holy Spirit to those who believed in him (John 15:26), and, in the future, will hand over the kingdom to his Father (1 Cor 15:28). What we are calling Jesus’ divine will should be understood as a mysterious personal operation of choice that he shares with his Father and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is one God, without division or separation. A shared use of desires and choice is the way the three persons of the Godhead love each other and fulfill personal inter-relationship as co-essential, co-equal, and inseparable persons.
Jesus’ Human Will
Through the incarnation, the Son of God entered into a true human life, complete with a created human will. This will includes his desires, decision-making process, and choices as a man. For his mission in salvation, he had to have a true human will, since God cannot be tempted to sin (James 1:13). The temptation of Jesus through his human will was necessary for him to succeed where Adam failed, and to obey God as a man for our righteousness (Rom 5:12-19). His human will was operative when he was a child obeying his parents (Luke 2:51). As an adult, Jesus showed his human will by voluntarily submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leading (Luke 4:1), and by submitting to instruction from the Father by the Spirit as to what to do (John 5:30; 15:10) and what to teach (John 7:16). This dependency is also why Jesus had to pray frequently. Other examples of his human choices were to love his people (John 13:1) and to submit voluntarily to his Father’s plan that he surrender himself and go to the cross (John 10:17-18).
In Gethsemane, we can see that Jesus prays from within his life as a man, as a creature under God. He pleads to his Father because he is motivated by his natural human desires to avoid the pain of hell. He sees it, and he strongly desires to avoid it (Heb 5:7). Jesus is the Son of God embedded in a human struggle between obeying God and self-preservation. This is the culmination of many temptations to sin that Hebrews 2:17-18 and4:15-16 report: Jesus suffered because of his total solidarity with sinners. The development of his human will shows in Hebrews 5:8 that he learned obedience through his suffering, and thereby became perfect as our priest (Heb 2:10). Jesus is here leading his people to rescue them, struggling as they struggle, on our behalf, as the last Adam constructing a new humanity. Jesus is also wrestling authentically as our model, the demonstration of the painful path for them to follow him (Rom 8:17; 1 Peter 2:21-25). Jesus had to make the choice as a man to deny himself, surrender his desires for self-preservation, and embrace his God’s call and will that he suffer hell. This is the same situation for the believer who follows Jesus. These things are impossible someone who possesses only a divine will.
You can continue reading about the Trinity here.