Although the incarnation of God the Son in human flesh is a mystery beyond our ability to grasp, I wonder if most Christians have ever come to terms with the true humanity of Jesus. Because we are rightly taught from childhood that Jesus is God, I think most Christians grow up believing that Jesus’ personal consciousness was of a different kind altogether from ours. We might imagine, for example, that the infant Jesus, while he cooed and cried outwardly, in his mind possessed absolute knowledge of all things.
In a sense, I would say that is true. But I think there is an important distinction to draw here. I hold to what is called a “two minds” Christology. That is, I believe that, as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus, because he has two complete natures, has both a divine mind and a human mind. We might imagine the relationship between his two minds as similar to the relationship between our own consciousness and subconsciousness. The science of psychology has taught us that the thoughts that occur to us consciously are merely the tip of an iceberg full of information and emotion that resides below our ability to access consciously at any given time. I think that serves as a helpful analogy for understanding how Jesus’ own personal consciousness might have worked. While his divine mind always has and always will possess omniscience, his human mind, due to the limitations of human nature, maintained normal human limitations during the time of his humiliation on earth. The only exceptions would be those instances when Jesus evidenced supernatural knowledge (see, for example, John 1:47-50). These instances, we might assume, were instances when the Father permitted the Son (for the Son submits to the Father willingly in all things) to access information from his divine mind and move it to his human consciousness. I believe this explanation makes the most sense of Jesus’ admitted ignorance of the day of his return (Matthew 24:36). Although in his divine mind he certainly would have known all things, the limitations of the incarnation entailed that he restricted his human consciousness only to what the Father willed him to know at any given time.
If this understanding of Jesus’ human consciousness is on target, I think it opens to us a chance for greater understanding of how great a cost the cross was to him. For if what I have argued here is correct, then we must imagine the human consciousness of Jesus developing much the same way that ours developed. It took Jesus time to become self-aware as an infant. It took time for him to begin to make sense of the relationships he shared with his parents. And it took time for him to begin to understand who he himself was. Clearly, Jesus had a sense that he was specially related to God by the age of twelve (Luke 2:49). Just how much he knew at that time, we cannot know.
Certainly, by the time of his baptism Jesus would have known much more clearly who he was and what his mission was. But in the years leading up to that event, as Jesus was in his early, mid, and later twenties, I wonder if he ever had dreams about the kind of life he might live. Did he ever desire to marry and begin a family? Did he envision the possibilities for his future the same way that we do in our lives? And at what point did it become clear to him that such a future could never be if he was to walk in obedience to the Father? Was that moment a struggle for him? Did he feel the impact of what he was losing—his own life? Could he see the possibility of another fifty years or so on this earth vanishing before him as the shadow of the cross came ever nearer?
On that dark night in the garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed that the Father might remove the cup of his wrath if it were at all possible, did Jesus imagine that his Father might find some other way and allow him the future he had dreamed about years before? We can only speculate. But if this mental experiment of mine is anywhere near the mark, it gives me greater reason to praise my Savior. For it reveals that his act of obedience was truly an act of faith. It was a course of action he pursued, knowing exactly where it would lead, knowing exactly what it would cost him, and yet having weighed the options, he determined that the cost was worth it. He knew the Father would vindicate him three days later and make him the heir of the cosmos. He knew his Father would certainly not fail to deliver to him the Bride he was shortly to purchase with his own blood. He knew that the dreams of an earthly marriage and an earthly future paled in comparison with the Heavenly, eternal marriage he would enjoy with those the Father had given to him from eternity. Obedience cost him dearly. But he saw that the cost was well worth it.
If this speculative suggestion rightly captures something about the human consciousness of Jesus, then we can see how the call to take up our cross and follow Jesus must cost us in a similar way. To be sure, it will not cost us in exactly the same way as it did Jesus, for only Jesus died a substitutionary death for his people under the wrath of God, a wrath we will never face because Jesus has taken it for us. But the similarity lies in the fact that we truly must die to ourselves, to our dreams, to our plans, to our hopes for the future. We must relinquish the entitlement mentality that has infected Western culture in the 21st century, a mentality that views any deviation from the dream of at least 70 years (if not more) of fulfilling life as an unthinkable tragedy, a robbery that deprives me (the center of my universe, and thus my deity) of my God-given rights, which is surely an offense of cosmic proportions. The thought of missing 20 or more of those years due to an early death, perhaps a death related in some way to the path of faithfulness one has chosen, sounds utterly horrifying to the one who owns most of his stock in the present age. But to the one who belongs to the age to come, where 70 years is scarcely the blink of an eye, what will it matter ten million years from now whether I had 85 years on this earth or a mere 35?
I do know this: as Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the Father, now rules over creation as the promised Son of David, he sits there with absolutely no regrets about the decision he made at Gethsemane. When the moment arrived at which he could have summoned the armies of Heaven to deliver him from the pain of obedience, he chose death to self and life for us. But that was only because he was absolutely certain that in losing his life, he would find it. Three days later, he did.
Father, grant me the same assurance of your promise, that I may lose my life by faith and look beyond the fleeting dreams of this age to a better country, a heavenly one.