Here’s our question:
“Jeff, Recently, I was surprised by the teaching of two well-known Bible-teaching preachers. I know that you know, respect, and agree with most of the teachings of at least one of these two preachers. The sermons we were listening to were on their respective Internet websites. These two preachers probably know of each other, but I’m not aware of any particular relationship between them. They minister in almost opposite ends of the country. Each of these preachers, while teaching on Luke chapter 2, expressed a belief that, after Christ was born, it took a number of years for Him to grow to the point at which He realized He was God. They base this on Luke 2:40 and Luke 2:52 (along with the verses in between). They believe that by age 12 He was at least beginning to understand His status. They base this on His comment to Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:49. A similar thought (though less directly tied to Scripture) is also expressed in a little book by the author of the song “Mary did you know?” However, in that book, the author seems to suggest that Mary may have had an active role in “teaching” Jesus who He was. I’d be interested in your comments on this. I would not be surprised to learn that you were/are unaware of this teaching by these two individuals. Perhaps you’d as surprised as I was.”
That’s a long way to get to the question. The question is, “When did Jesus realize He is God?” There are a couple of directions we have to take in answering this question and the fundamental issue here might not be what you think at first glance – it’s the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. I’ll say this right up front – there’s a whole lot of mystery when we start discussing the incarnation. Books have been written and they’re big books and it’ll be difficult to give a summary of the issue as it related to this question in under ten minutes, but I’ll try. You might want to have your Bible open to Luke 2 because we’ll read that in a few minutes.
I’ll start my answer by asking my own question: when did Jesus become God? It’s a trick question of sorts. Jesus never became God. Jesus has always been fully God. He is uncreated, just like the Father and the Spirit. He is eternal. Jesus, never “became” God. His “godness,” to use that word, has always been who He is. We know from the first three verses of John’s gospel that Jesus created all things. We know from John 17, verse 5 that Jesus shared glory with His Father before the foundation of the world.
What happened when Jesus took on human flesh? That’s where the mystery lies and any explanation I give is going to only be able to go so far. One thing we know about God – Father, Son and Spirit – one eternal Being existing as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons – is that God cannot change. His Being, or as we might think, the “stuff” of which makes God God, cannot change and I know when I say “stuff” I immediately introduce a problem because God is not made of “stuff” – maybe “essence” would be a better word but that still falls short. Who God is cannot change because God is perfect as who He is and He cannot become imperfect. He does not have flesh and bones, as Jesus describes what a spirit is like in Luke 24:39.
Therefore, even as Jesus took on human flesh – real, flesh and blood just like you and I – who He was and is as God did not change. That is essential to the answer here. One might say, “How can that be?” It can be, because God cannot change. Jesus was still just as much God, eternal, perfect, holy, the one sitting on the throne in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 – John 12:41 tells us that. The God whom Isaiah saw…was still the same God when He took on flesh and was born of a virgin. Mysterious? Absolutely. Biblical? Absolutely.
This is the mystery of the incarnation – the hypostatic union, as it’s known. Two natures – human and divine in one Person. Two wills – human and divine – in one Person. The two natures and wills remained distinct but they both exist within as the Person of Christ.
Let’s read the passage from Luke so we know where the question came from. Luke chapter 2.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
OK. Clearly verse 40 says Jesus “became strong, filled with wisdom,” and verse 52 says He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” Our question here now is, again, “When did Jesus realize He is God?” I’m going to say that it’s a bad question, in one sense. Why do I say that? I say that because you can’t just ask the question that way. Let me explain.
Never forget that Jesus, God the Son, cannot change in His divine nature. Whatever and whoever He has always been, He will always be. Then Jesus takes on human flesh in addition to His being God. Did God forget He was God? No. God can’t forget He is God. The Father can’t, the Son can’t, and the Spirit can’t. Did Jesus know He was God? Yes – from all eternity…. In His divine nature.
But we have a Person here with TWO natures. Divine and human. Did Jesus grow in stature and wisdom? Yes. But only in His human nature. I think a more interesting question might be this: “Did Jesus, in His human nature, EVER know He was God? If so, when?” The reality of the situation is that we have to deal with the Person of Christ. When He stood there in Palestine face-to-face with people and did and said certain things, He just did and said them – and no matter what, we say “Christ” did and said them. Think about this example.
Mark chapter two. The first twelve verses. Four men lower a paralyzed man down through the roof. The first thing mark records Jesus saying is this: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark doesn’t say that when Jesus, in His divine nature, saw their faith, He forgave the man’s sins. He just says “Jesus.” The Person of Christ. You go two more chapters. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat. Jesus falls asleep. The waves come up and start coming into the boat. Jesus gets woken up and then He calms the storm with three words: “Peace! Be still!” Here we have both natures in this one Person at work. Jesus was sleeping. That’s His human nature. He calms the storm with three words. He does that in His power and authority as God the Son. Mark doesn’t say Jesus did either of these from this nature or that nature – just that Jesus did them.
When Jesus is at Gethsemane praying, His sweat became like great drops of blood – human or divine nature? Human. He prays – is He praying in His human or divine nature. He prays like a man, not like an omniscient God, doesn’t He? But He addresses God as His Father, right? He did that before and His opponents didn’t care for that because they knew what it meant – this man was claiming divinity as He stood in front of them. The answer to the question when we start talking about the knowledge He in His human nature had of His being God – I think that’s a question which gets into speculation that we ought not enter into.
You could say, “Jeff, look at Luke 2.” I have. Luke 2 doesn’t answer the question. “The favor of God was with HIM?” He “increased in favor with God and man?” Be careful. That statement in Luke 2:52 was also made about Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:26. Be careful. If we back up one chapter in Luke to chapter one, we’d see Mary is said to have God’s favor – TWICE. So the mere fact that Jesus was said to have favor, or grown in favor, establishes nothing concerning His own self-knowledge in His human nature of His being God.
To answer the question, then, of “When did Jesus realize He is God?” my answer is: He always knew He was God. The Person of Christ – Jesus, as He stood before the scribes and Pharisees, or as a young boy circumcised on the eighth day – always knew because His divine nature, which never stopped being omniscient, knew who He was. He knew His relationship to the Father and The Spirit and He has known it from all eternity.