DID JESUS KNOW HE WAS THE DIVINE MESSIAH?
JACK COTTRELL – FEBRUARY 2015
Question: What did Jesus know about his own identity? Did he know he was the divine Messiah?
Answer: This question is about an issue sometimes known as Jesus’ “Messianic consciousness.” Once in a while we come across people who deny that Jesus personally thought of himself as the incarnation of God and as the Messianic Savior of the world. Usually these are liberal theologians who do not accept the truth of the gospel records.
Others accept the authenticity of the records, but still wonder if Jesus always knew who he really was and what he had come to do. In a previous essay I have suggested that the joining of the divine Logos with the human Jesus resulted in some voluntary and controlled limitations on Jesus’ consciousness at any given time. This especially involved a gradually increasing knowledge of the full implications of what he would experience in completing his Messianic mission, with the full awareness being unfolded to him in Gethsemane.
Nevertheless, the gospel records give us ample evidence that Jesus knew quite early in his life and especially in his ministry years that he was indeed God incarnate and that he had a unique redemptive mission as the Savior of the world. The incident recorded in Luke 2:41-51 shows that even the 12-year-old Jesus knew that he had a special relationship with God (“My Father’s house,” v. 49). From his baptism on, Jesus was filled with the Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:1; John 3:34, KJV). This presence of the Spirit seemed to affect the knowledge that flowed into Jesus’ consciousness to some extent. (See my book, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit [College Press, 2007], 146-147.)
When we examine the gospel records, especially the red-letter statements of Jesus, we see without doubt that at least from the beginning of his ministry Jesus knew he was the Christ, and he knew that he was God in the flesh (God the Son, the Son of God). As I now set forth the evidence for this, I wish I could quote fully every statement Jesus made about his self-awareness. Space limitations allow me, however, to simply point to the relevant texts. I leave it to the reader to look up these texts.
JESUS KNEW HE WAS THE CHRIST. Here are five reasons why this can be affirmed as true. ONE, he knew he was the fulfillment of prophecy (Luke 4:18-21; 18:31; 24:27,44). TWO, he accepted the title of “Christ” when it was applied to him by others (Matt. 16:16-18; 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 4:4). THREE, through messengers, John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was “the Expected One.” In reply, Jesus cited his miracles and his message as proof that he was (Matt. 11:2-6). FOUR, in his conversation with the woman at the well Jesus specifically claimed to be the Christ (John 4:25-26). FIVE, Jesus claimed to be doing the redemptive works expected of the Messiah.
On this last point, see the following. First, Jesus declared that he was establishing the Kingdom of God (Matt. 12:28; 16:28). Second, he declared that he was in the process of conquering the devil (Matt. 12:25ff.; Luke 10:19). Third, he affirmed that he came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45); see John 3:17. These are things expected of the Messiah.
JESUS KNEW HE WAS GOD. This is made clear in many ways in the gospel records. First of all, Jesus said he was sent from heaven by God the Father, John 3:13, 17; 6:51; 8:42. He said, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world” (John 16:28).
In the second place, Jesus knew he had a special, unique relation to God the Father. He knew this even in his childhood, when at twelve years of age he referred to the temple as “My Father’s house” (Luke 2:49; see John 2:16). His reference to God as “My Father” (e.g., Matt. 26:53; John 5:17) left the impression that his relationship to the Father was different from that of other human beings, even to the point of being equal with God (John 5:18). Indeed, Jesus did affirm his equality with God the Father (e.g., Matt. 11:27; John 13:20). “I and the Father are one,” he said (John 10:30); and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
In the third place, Jesus claimed and accepted worship (Matt. 14:33; John 20:28). In the latter text the apostle Thomas said to the risen Christ directly, “My Lord and My God.” Jesus said our worship of him must be equal to our worship of the Father. All must “honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). This is all the more meaningful in view of Christ’s declaration that “you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matt. 4:10).
In the fourth place, Jesus forgave sins, which is a prerogative of God. When he forgave the sins of the paralyzed man let down through the roof, the Jewish leaders were appalled, saying, “He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Then Jesus, without protesting this claim, proceeded to heal the lame man, specifically “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:1-12). But that’s not all: Jesus declared that the blood he shed in his death on the cross was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
Finally, in the fifth place, Jesus accepted and used titles that implied his deity. These included especially the title “Lord” (Greek, kurios); the title “Son of Man,” which contrary to the usual thinking affirmed Jesus’ exalted nature more than his human nature; and especially the title “Son of God.” This last title definitely carried the connotation of deity in the minds of the Jews of Jesus’ day. We can see this from the way the Jews responded to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. E.g., the Jews sought to kill him for “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Jesus never denied that this was what he was claiming. Also, when Jesus said “I and the Father are one,” the Jews attempted to stone him for blasphemy, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:30-33). Jesus never denied that he was doing this. See also Matthew 26:63-64; Luke 22:70-71. (For more details on the significance of these titles, see my book, The Faith Once for All [College Press, 2002], 233-236.)
From all of this data as found in the gospels, there can be no doubt that Jesus was fully conscious of his identity as God incarnate, and of his mission as the Messiah who came to redeem his own.