What Did Jesus Know?

“Jesus was God, so he knew everything, right?”

Does that include knowing of his own divinity? The best accounts that we have of Jesus’ life–that is, what we call the gospels–depict a Jesus who “somehow . . . both prayed to the Father and took upon himself a role which, in the ancient prophecies, was reserved for [God]–that of rescuing Israel and the world” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian).

We see a Jesus who shakes in agony before his death, praying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This same Jesus, just hours before, confidently takes hold of the Passover meal, declaring that the bread and the wine that once symbolized God’s provision for a people returning from exile now is his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

How do we explain that Jesus willingly submits himself to the God of the monotheistic, Jewish tradition, while also performing acts that identify him with that same God? How did Jesus, who within the tradition he birthed is widely considered to be both fully human and fully God, understand himself?

Wright offers a fascinating suggestion in Simply Christian: that Jesus did not “know he was divine” in the way that we know basic human facts about ourselves, such as gender or emotion, but in the sense that we understand our vocation. He writes,

For Jesus, this seems to have been a deep “knowledge” of that kind, a powerful and all-consuming belief that Israel’s God was more mysterious than most people had supposed; that within the very being of this God there was a give-and-take, a to-and-fro, a love given and received. Jesus seems to have believed that he, the fully human prophet from Nazareth, was one of those partners in love. He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully.

Wright admits the limitations of language in talking about the character and calling of Jesus. I find his description, though, a compelling resting place in understanding the paradox of Jesus’ nature as both God and man.

If Jesus’ fulfillment of his divine purpose exists at the place of his obedience to the Father, even unto death, how then shall those people that receive him live into their inheritance as children of God?

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