Thursday, March 6, 2014

When did Jesus know?

Crash Course 2
            The title song of Jesus Christ Superstar asks Jesus, “Do you think you’re who they say you are?” My question is different. I wonder instead, “When did you know who you are?”
            We know very little from the Gospels about Jesus’ childhood, and extra-biblical sources have tried to fill in the gaps. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written in the second or third century, includes an account of five-year-old Jesus breaking the Sabbath by making birds out of clay. When Joseph scolded him, Jesus clapped his hands and the birds flew away. (from the Apocryphal Jesus:  Legends of the Early Church, edited by J. K. Elliott)
            As a sola scriptura kind of girl, I discount these kinds of stories, leaving me with the silence of the Gospels.
Matthew and Luke include details of Jesus’ lineage, conception, and birth, and Luke provides the only incident from the Lord’s childhood. Mark skips all of that, choosing to start his narrative “on the day that is different,” as modern authors are advised to do. John time-travels back to “the beginning,” asserting the pre-existence of the Word with the Father, but omits any childhood accounts.
            So when did the human, God-made-flesh Jesus understand his own identity? In manhood? Adolescence? Childhood? In the womb?
            Paul wrote in his letter to the believers in Philippi that Jesus existed “in the form of God, [but] did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” (Phillipians 2:6 – 7, HCSB)
            Theologians call this “emptying” of God attributes kenosis. The Holman Bible Dictionary explains,
“According to the kenotic theory, when the Son of God was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, He ‘emptied himself’ of some of His divine attributes (for example, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence) and lived for a period on earth within the limitations of human existence. Jesus retained other divine attributes according to the theory (for example, holiness, love, and righteousness). Thus, while God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful), Jesus' power while in the flesh was limited. While God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing), Jesus' knowledge was limited. Similarly, while God is omnipresent (that is, everywhere present), Jesus was limited with respect to space and distance. This theory is, then, an attempt to understand how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. This theory takes all of Jesus' human limitations with full seriousness without questioning the reality of His deity.” (

            I’m thinking that toddler Jesus didn’t know he is God. But when did he know?
            When Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus on the way home from the Passover celebration, they returned to Jerusalem and found him in the temple complex, in discussion with the teachers of the Law. The parents were miffed (as we parents always are) that the son has wandered off. In response, the son didn’t understand why they didn’t check the temple first. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, HCSB)
            Jesus was twelve. Any of my sons would have said at age twelve, “Why didn’t you check the game arcade first?”
            How much of his identity did Jesus understand at age twelve?
            We encounter Jesus eighteen years later, having skipped his adolescence and young adulthood. He shows up at the Jordan River, asking John for baptism. The Father and Holy Spirit show up, too. “…the Holy Spirit descended on Him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:  You are My beloved Son. I take delight in You!” (Luke 3:22, HCSB)
            At this point, Jesus surely knows. But when did he know?
And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written. John 21:25

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