A few weeks back, I wrote an article on the humanity of Jesus and the nature of temptation for him. Presently, I have been reconsidering some things regarding my Christology (understanding of Christ). Nothing that I believe is unorthodox, but I am rethinking some things in regards to the outworking of Christ’s humanity and incarnation. Anyways, you can read more by following the link.
But this article is obviously connected to the former. And my thesis is that, a) in his incarnation, Jesus did not know everything and b) this can be an encouragement to us.
For Christians, I think it’s very easy to simply say something like this: ‘Jesus was the divine, eternal Son of God. Therefore he knows everything. We have plenty examples of this in the Gospels.’
But I believe that formulating such a theology of Christ’s incarnation as a real human being actually glances over some important statements in the Gospels and having a proper Christology in regards to his incarnation.
The first thing we need to realise is that Jesus actually had to grow in wisdom, meaning he didn’t have all wisdom. Take a look at how Luke puts it:
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (2:40)
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (2:52)
For some, the former verse, 2:40, might seem to suggest Jesus was filled with wisdom in a kind of instantaneous and completed action all at once. But I think 2:52 clarifies that Jesus, as a real human being, had to grow in wisdom. Again, meaning he did not have all wisdom from his birth or baptism or whenever.
It’s simply a matter of fact. And to suggest he had all knowledge and wisdom would seem a bit ridiculous. He was a real baby born in a real world as a real human. Jesus did not have all information on all things. This was part of his kenosis, or emptying-laying aside-not grasping at the privileges of the divine attributes that he shared with the Father such as omniscience (again, more on this in my previous article).
So how did Jesus know so much? I mean, what about that instance with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26)? What about the way Jesus knew the spirit and motivations of people like we find with Nathanael in John 1:43-49 or the murderous spirit in some Jews in John 8:34-38?
Those are good questions. And here is where it starts getting encouraging. Jesus, as a full human, submitting himself to being like us (Heb 2:14; Phil 2:6), lived as a human as God intended, fully relying on the Father in all things. He was an example to us and was able to do what we actually are not able to do fully. That’s why we will find Christ making statements such as this:
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. (John 8:28)
There are plenty of other examples, especially in the Gospel where John states his point is to show that Jesus is the Messiah-Christ and Son of God (John 20:31). But what is coming through all of this is that Jesus was depending absolutely upon the Father – in what he both spoke and did.
So, again, Jesus did not walk around with a download of information in his brain (or spirit) about all things. From birth he had to grow in wisdom (like you and I), and I believe this was a part of his life continuing on into his public ministry. He had to walk with the Father, to hear the Father. And in the more ‘spiritual’ stuff, like receiving words of knowledge and words of wisdom and function in discerning of spirits, he had to hear the Father. Ladies and gentleman, this is the eternal Logos made as a real flesh and bone human being.
Of course, we all know this passage: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matt 24:36).
If anything, this shows us that Jesus didn’t know everything. Some approach the humanity of Jesus as if this was the only thing he didn’t know, that he kind of blocked out this info with his omnipotence. But I think it unfair to say this is the only bit that Jesus didn’t know in his humanity. The second Adam, to use Paul’s terminology, was like the first Adam before the Fall. Yes, Jesus was perfect in sinlessness, just as the first Adam was pre-Fall. But he did not have perfect knowledge in his incarnation, just as the first Adam would not have held all knowledge on all things but would have had to rely completely on the Father. The second Adam was a fulfilment of the first Adam, but had to submit to the life of the first Adam.
Of course, as Christ listened to the Father, the Father would speak and reveal things. But he had to give time to such, walk such out. Jesus was a real human being and submitted himself to what that meant.
Listen, I believe in all orthodox Christian beliefs – the Triune nature of our God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures co-existing in the Son; the sinless perfection of the Son; etc. But as I have re-engaged with some theology of Christ in his incarnation, starting and primarily looking to ground such a theology in Scripture, I have come to see some very interesting things about Christ’s humanity. But all of this has stirred me and encouraged me as I consider now what it means to follow the one who was the faithful Adam, the faithful Man, the faithful Human.
And so I do believe we can find great encouragement in these things. Jesus, though the Son of God, humbled himself, laid aside his grasp at his omniscience, laid aside his grasp at being served by humanity, and lived as one totally dependent upon the Father and the Father alone. And well-known passages as this come to life even more for me:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Heb 4:15)
He knows. He walked through it. He understands. But he was faithful! And we are drawn to this unique and only Son of God to draw on strength to walk in his steps. And when we fail like the first Adam, for we do and will, the second Adam remains a faithful and merciful high priest, seated on the throne of grace, full of grace and truth.