Was Jesus aware that he was God?

  • Question from JM, United Kingdom (again)

    “Did Jesus know he was God? If so, at what stage?”

    Jesus’ self-awareness seems to have been quite high from the beginning of his ministry. In John’s Gospel he is announced as ‘the Lamb of God’ by John the Baptist (chapter 1 vs29-34) and in Matthew, Mark and Luke proclaimed as ‘the Christ – the chosen one of God’ by Peter. In Luke chapter 4 he starts off his public ministry claiming to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophetic statement regarding the ‘anointed one’ (Messiah).

    Whether Jesus regarded himself as the Son of God, as has been stated in Christian theology ever since, we simply do not know. The gospels are not tell-all autobiographies or even objective studies of the man Jesus. People who knew Jesus and were convinced that he was the Son of God wrote the books.

    Jesus often described himself using the phrase ‘Son of Man’, but then he also referred to God as Father and implied that his will and the Father’s will were inseparable (e.g. see John 5 v19). If Jesus was aware of his own divinity at this point, he was also constrained by his humanity. In the gospels he is weak, fearful, hungry, tired (napping during a serious storm on the Sea of Galilee for example) and he frequently asks questions. He is hardly the all-knowing, all-powerful God that Christians claim that he is.

    This duality of natures, divine and human co-existing caused a number of theological headaches in the early Christian debates. It was common for the aspects of Christ’s life that revealed his limitations to be ascribed to his human nature, while the miracles and other inexplicable things to be ascribed to the divine nature.

    Another, and neater, explanation of this is found in ‘kenotic theology’. ‘Kenosis’ is a Greek word literally meaning ‘self-emptying’ and is used in Philippians chapter 2. According to kenotic theology, the second person in the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son, surrendered his divine status in order to live a fully human limited life. The ‘divine activities’ of the Incarnate Son have been explained, e.g. by John Wimber, as the human Jesus acting in the power of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.

    Pre-resurrection, Jesus must have known he was different. As an empowered human working in close conjunction with the Holy Spirit to carry out the Father’s will, he discouraged people from calling him the messiah as he knew they had an inadequate earth-bound view of messiah-ship. After the resurrection he had resumed his rightful place at the right hand of the Father and his followers were left in no doubt as to who he really was.

    In between, there was still room for doubt. “Will you leave too?” he asks his disciples (John 6 v67). He prays that a different path could be shown to him (Luke 22 v42). And on the cross he cries out in abandonment (Matthew 27 v46). It was only after the resurrection that all doubts ceased, including those of his followers.

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