DID LITTLE BOY JESUS KNOW HE WAS GOING TO DIE ON CALVARY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Someone recently asked me if Jesus Christ—as a “preteen” and/or teenager—knew He was going to suffer and die so graphically on that awful Roman cross. Did our Lord live His entire earthly life with that macabre awareness? Or did such cognizance come near the end of His life? Beloved, there are various verses that shed light on this most tantalizing subject, and we would do well to consider them.
The Incarnation—the process of God becoming Man—is perhaps the most difficult Bible teaching. We will never fully understand it in this life because our minds are finite, limited. Even though we cannot explain that doctrine 100 percent, that does not mean we have license to be totally ignorant of it. The Bible affords us certain clues about the Incarnation: if we are diligent Bible students, we will look for and find them in the Scriptures. We need not sit in spiritual darkness when God’s Word can shed light! “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
In relationship to the question at hand, we know that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man. He was not 50 percent God and 50 percent Man. (One common misconception.) He was not 0 percent God and 100 percent Man. (Another common misconception.) He was not 100 percent God and 0 percent Man. (Yet another common misconception.) Friends, the Lord Jesus Christ was 100 percent God and 100 percent Man. He was not diminished Deity: He simply added humanity to that Deity. Jesus Christ has always been God, but He has only been a Man for about 2,000 years. From the Scriptural record, we learn that Jesus grew physically, spiritually, and mentally… no different from us. Just like us, He had to learn by experience. Leaving the virgin Mary’s womb as a small Baby, Jesus grew up little by little to become a 30-year-old Man (see Luke 3:23).
Look at Luke chapter 2, especially verses 40 and 52: “ And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.  Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.  And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.  But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.  And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.  And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.  And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.  And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
Again, read verses 40 and 52: “ And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him….  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” The Lord Jesus, up until the age of 30, is said to have “waxed [grown] strong in spirit,” “filled with wisdom,” “the grace of God being upon him,” “increasing in wisdom and stature,” and “increasing in favour with God and man.” His body grew taller and stronger physically. He grew mentally and spiritually as well. Like other little Jewish boys, He had school to attend. Also, we know He began to follow His foster father, Joseph, in carpentry. That is, He began to learn a trade of architecture and manual labor. For that reason, the common Jews were accustomed to referring to Jesus as “the carpenter, the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3).
Isaiah 50:4-6, circa 700 years before God became a Man, provides a small prophetic glimpse into Jesus’ life, especially His innermost feelings: “ The LORD God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.  The LORD God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.  I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”
Father God “wakened” and taught Jesus Christ “morning by morning.” That is, every morning, the Lord Jesus reflected on the Scriptures and communed with His Heavenly Father. Remember, at that time, all Israel had access to was what we call the “Old Testament,” the Books of Genesis to Malachi. Still, whatever limited divine revelation there was, Jesus was willing to hear it and obey it. He wanted to be in perfect accordance with His Father’s will for His life. There was complete, unwavering loyalty. It was in that point that Jesus, though Man, was completely unlike us. He never failed; He was humanity as God had created Adam (before Adam’s fall into sin).
“The LORD God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” Friends, we could never say such a thing and mean it! However, the Lord Jesus could and did! The writer of Hebrews told Israel: “Jesus the Son of God…. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Even when it came to His suffering, He was willing to obey His Father’s will, fully compliant to shed His blood (see Hebrews chapter 10 in its entirety). Isaiah quoted Jesus centuries in advance: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”
The Holy Spirit, in retrospect to Christ’s earthly ministry, commented through the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 2: “ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
According to the Prophet Isaiah, as we read earlier, Jesus read the Scriptures every chance He had, especially in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Just as we would read the Bible and better understand where we fit in it, Jesus would read the Bible and better understand where He fit in it. He became more and more aware of His mission to be Israel’s chief spiritual Teacher, and He was willing to teach Israel of her mission and His as well (see Luke 4:16-21—the beginning of His ministry). His Father was training Him, just as a son would serve his father as an apprentice in the family business. (In a similar incident, a divinely-ordained parallel no doubt, His foster father had trained him in his own trade.)
We saw earlier how Luke 2:46-47 says Jesus was sitting at the Temple, with the rabbinical (Jewish religious) scholars around Him, listening to them and asking them questions. The Bible says: “And it came to pass, that after three days they [Joseph and Mary] found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” Verse 42 claims Jesus was merely 12 years old here! These (probably aged) doctors of theology were amazed at how wise and articulate this little boy was. He surely put them to shame when it came to knowing and understanding Bible doctrine!
Luke 2:48-50 says: “And when they [Joseph and Mary] saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.”
Joseph and Mary were also surprised to find Jesus sitting amongst such “scholars” and engaging in dialog with them! When Mary rebuked Him for staying behind, saying He had giving His “father” and mother a hard time, He corrected her: “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” That is, “Do you not know that I must be concerned with My Father’s business?” Jesus objected to Mary calling Joseph his “father.” (Yet the modern English versions call “Joseph” just that—Jesus’ “father”—on one occasion in the passage [verse 33]. Furthermore, when our King James reads “Joseph and his mother” in verse 43, modern versions say “his parents!”)
Even at age 12, Jesus said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” Surely, He did not know everything in the Bible at this point in life. Still, He knew enough to communicate it to others and amaze them with those words of life. From here onward to age 30—another 18 years—the Lord Jesus came to better understand that His Father’s “business” involved three years of Him preaching, teaching, and performing miracles.
My own personal belief, which you can accept or reject, is Jesus gradually began to understand the concept of death like any other person. It did not come in His first few years of life, but it surely came by the time He reached adulthood. There came a day when young Jesus finally saw the cross in His future. As He studied the Scriptures and prayed to His Father in light of them, it became increasingly clear. Eventually, He began to see Himself in those Old Testament verses that talked about Him as Messiah suffering and dying (Psalm 22, Isaiah chapter 53, and so on). As a child, Jesus probably did not know about Calvary. No child can understand the horrors of such a graphic death. Father God may have shielded young Jesus from that as well. There is nothing in the Bible to cause us to assume Jesus spent His childhood fearful or depressed because of the cross. But, we do know that, toward the end of His life, He began to speak more and more to His disciples concerning His impending death. On the night of His arrest, and hours before His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus came to fully understand the immense suffering He would experience shortly—not just physical, but spiritual as well. Being a Man, He had great difficulty coming to terms with it.
We find the first hint of this in Matthew 26:37-39: “ And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.  Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.  And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The Lord Jesus is deeply troubled, far beyond words. Mark 14:33-34 is the companion passage: “ And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;  And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.”
The Lord Jesus can only pray that His Father give Him strength to do His will rather than His own will. Luke 22:37 says: “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.” Verses 40-44 are most difficult for us to read: “ And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.  And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,  Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.  And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” There is great distress here, fear and anguish. He realizes He is about to experience the undiluted wrath of His Father! His soul will be offered as a sacrifice for our sins! He sees it now as never before! He knows the Cross is just hours away!
In the above prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus, although equal with the Father, willfully submitting to the Father’s will. That is, the Incarnation was Jesus’ submission among His equals (Father God and God the Holy Ghost). For sake of brevity, we stop here and present a summary.
The Lord Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent Man. It is important that we not overlook either nature, as some have done and still do today. We do not fully grasp that but we believe it because the Bible makes it abundantly clear. Notice these sample verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1,14). “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
The Bible is not clear just how much spiritual understanding Jesus had as a child—as in pre-adolescent and early adulthood (late teens)—with respect to Calvary’s reality. Yet, there are things we DO know from the Bible. He, a human like us, grew every which way we do. There was physical maturity, spiritual maturity, and mental maturity in the life of Christ. He grew taller and stronger. Also, by careful study of the Scripture, and daily prayer, He increased in understanding Father God’s will for Him. Even at age 12, He definitely had a profound grasp of the Scriptures.
Jesus Christ lived the next 18 years of His earthly life studying and praying, preparing for His ministry. By age 30, He had matured enough to become a mighty spiritual leader. Surely, He grew exponentially during those final three years of life. Just moments before His arrest, and hours prior to His crucifixion, He had the clearest grasp of His Father’s will He had ever had. We can see that most clearly in His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. His Father’s will was that He die for Israel’s sins (and ultimately, for all of mankind’s sins), and He resolved to go through with it all the way.
My own personal idea is that Jesus did not have knowledge of Calvary until several years into life. I do not believe He spent His childhood despondent concerning His death. However, perhaps as early as in His teenage years, He realized He would have to die the most horrible way ever devised. Whenever He finally reached that point of maturity—where He could fully cooperate with His Heavenly Father in accomplishing everything He wanted—He entered the ministry. The more He studied and prayed, the more He saw His Father’s will for Him, and when He saw that that will would lead Him up to that Cross, He submitted Himself and did it! 🙂