How Did Jesus Become Aware of His Divinity?


At what point was Jesus “aware” of his divinity? Now I mean that as, was he always aware of himself and from the time he was born was he just waiting for his body to catch up with his mind? Or was his divinity something that someone would have had to tell him early in his life, prior to the accounts of him when he is 12 at Passover.


You ask an interesting question and one that has set Christian pens ablaze in speculation over the years. As you state, there’s almost nothing we know of Jesus early life before he started his ministry, and so into that gap in our knowledge, people have inserted some amazing mythology and speculation. Some early Christian works (2nd Century), have stories of the boy Jesus making birds out of clay, striking other children dead and raising them again. Clearly these writers thought Jesus was aware of his divinity right away, and not afraid to use his powers like we might imagine a kid would act if given superman’s abilities.

But what do we actually know from the more sober, earliest sources? The account in Luke says the boy Jesus, “grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” (Luke 2:20). Later, after the incident in the Temple you mention, Luke again says, “as he grew up, he increased in wisdom, and in favor with God and people.” (2:52). Clearly, if Jesus is growing in wisdom, his upbringing is much like a normal child in the growing awareness of people, things, limits, language, and knowledge. He did not come out of the womb with the Scripture (which he had, in one sense, inspired) all memorized, for example. He had to learn to walk and talk and read.

The most startling thing about him would not have been his supernatural powers (which no reliable source says he ever used until he was 30), it would have been his moral perfection. Anyone who has raised a 2 year old knows how astounding it would be to have a sinless child! Imagine a child perfectly compliant once a rule or moral limit had been absorbed. We know that some teaching would have been needed – for the baby Jesus was fully human. He did not come out of the womb knowing not to use sharp knives, or stand on tables. He likely scraped his knee and felt all the pain of learning. But it must have startled everyone to have a boy who was curious, but had no innate rebellious streak, was a survivor, but had no desire to impose his will was self assured without an inherent violent urge or anger.

When he is twelve, he stays behind at the Temple, and his parents, worried, lose him for 3 days. Luke alludes to the fact that by this time, he knows that he is the Son of God, when he responds to his parents, “did you not know I had to be in my Father’s House?”. In fact, his response baffles his parents (2:50). Surely, his “father’s” house (Joseph) was in Nazareth! But Jesus said it was really in Jerusalem – showing a self understanding of his intimate tie to God. While his parents likely told him about angels and prophesy surrounding his birth, and infused a belief in his specialness early on, they could not fathom that their son was indeed FULLY God

So I think the evidence shows that Jesus awareness of his full Sonship grew as he grew. it may not even have been complete until his baptism and it required the voice from heaven in that moment (3:22) to fully convince/remind Jesus of his true identity and preexistence. We know that he went from this stirring moment directly to temptation which surprisingly focused on questioning this one thing: are you REALLY God’s Son? Perhaps it was because Satan knew that having been made fully aware of his true Self, Jesus only now was the preeminent threat to his hold on the earth, and not before. All we can be sure of is that from that moment of baptism and temptation, Jesus walked forward with an unshakable conviction that he was “one with the Father” – a belief he carried through the horror of abandonment in Gethsemane and the cross until he was vindicated resurrection Sunday.

I recommend you read Anne Rice’s book (yes the former erotic horror writer, turned committed Christian recently), Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt – which is some very fine historical fiction. She writes about that tantalizing gap in our knowledge, Jesus early years, using Scripture and extra biblical sources, and she focuses on this very question of when he knew his Identity. This is of course, speculative, and a bit audacious as she writes in the first person from inside Jesus’ mind – but I think it’s the most sober and reasonable guess out there as to the inner journey of Jesus as he discovers he is in fact, the Christ.