I was meditating through John 13-17 recently and a startling question popped into my head. Did Jesus in his humanity ever have an inkling of his pre-incarnate life? We know that at the age of 12 Jesus had some idea of his special mission: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Surely, Jesus didn’t mean Joseph’s house. At his baptism when he was about 30 years old, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit and heard a loving affirmation of the Father (Luke 3:21-22). Jesus’s mission was made clear in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:17:21). These messianic stirrings, I understand, may be considered realities that Jesus grew into. I have no problem with that.
In John 13:1-4 we are introduced to Jesus’s knowledge. He knew his special time (hour) had come, v. 1. In v. 3 Jesus …ειδως οτι …απο θεου εξηλθεν… . “Jesus knew…that he had come from God…” He also knew he was returning to the God. It might be said, “That’s true of all believers.” I don’t think John would clutter up this important text with what is common to all Christ-followers. Is this “came from God” knowledge based on stories about his birth learned from his mother Mary? Moreover, added to this knowledge about his origin is Jesus’s awareness of possessing present cosmic authority: “the Father had put all things under his power.” I’m just asking: could these be inklings of his pre-incarnate life?
Why ask? I am not implying that Jesus walked through life with an eternity-past memory bank in his frontal lobe. I think Paul’s description of Jesus’s humiliation counters that idea (Philippians 2:5-8). If Jesus relied on a resource like that, we could never be conformed to his likeness. I have no eternity-past memory bank. But what about inklings; about darting hummingbird-like, lightning flashes of awareness? Does John, the Apostle, struggle with kenotic understandings?
Jesus is going to embrace his greatest challenge: enduring the rejection, abandonment, mockery, shame, and agony of the cross. He will wrestle with the Father’s will and finally surrender to it.
He will sweat blood. In his deep agony, an angel from God will appear to Jesus and strengthen him (Luke 22:43). Did strobe light flashes of his eternal past also strengthen Jesus in those final hours before his cruel death?
Jesus repeatedly declared his death and resurrection ahead of time (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). We know he was driven by an incredible eschatological vision. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” We have that hope, too. Could there be buried in our own past some inklings of glory? Might those darting memories, if we may call them that, strengthen us for what lies ahead? I’m not suggesting any kind of preexistence like Jesus-the-Logos-made-flesh had. I’m asking simply if there might be flashes of past reality that blink in our memory in which God says to us, “I’ve been here all along. I got you. Face the challenge. Face the pain”?
What do you think?