The Present Knowledge of Christ
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus' knowledge was limited. He did not know the timing of His own second coming (Mark 13:32), or how long an epileptic suffered from his condition (Mark 9:21). Neither did He know who it was who touched His garment when healing virtue came forth from Him (Mark 5:30). If Jesus' knowledge was limited during His earthly sojourn, the question arises as to whether His knowledge continues to be limited even now in His heavenly, glorified state. Does Jesus know all things at this present moment? Is the glorified Christ cognizant of our prayers and thoughts?
The answer to these questions depends largely on our understanding of human nature, glorification, the permanence of incarnation, and the nature of the kenosis. Regarding the latter, was the kenosis a temporary state willingly taken on by Christ during His earthly ministry but relinquished upon His glorification, or is the kenosis a permanent state of being necessitated by Christ's human existence? If the kenosis was only a temporary state, then it follows that upon glorification Jesus acquired omniscience. If, however, the kenosis is an essential prerequisite for an incarnation of God in human existence-and the incarnation is permanent-then it follows that Christ's limitation of knowledge is permanent, even in His glorified state. I will argue that the latter position is the more tenable of the two.
I intend to challenge the common assumption that upon glorification Jesus gained unlimited divine knowledge, and provide a detailed argument demonstrating why Jesus' knowledge is limited in heaven just as it was on earth. I will also discuss the implications this view has on the question of Christ's ability to hear our prayers.
Before delving into the question at hand, a word of intent is in order. Some will object to the question being posed as a worthless pursuit of speculative knowledge. This charge is reminiscent of Paul's admonition not to pay attention to things which cause speculation, but rather those things which bring edification by faith (I Timothy 1:4). I heartily agree with the apostle, but disagree that the topic at hand is meaningless speculation. The question is valid, answerable, and of practical importance to every believer. The answer to this question holds the potential to broaden our understanding of, and faith in the resurrected Christ, and hence broaden our relationship with God. This paper is an attempt to understand the present nature of the incarnation based on the Biblical material and the nature of humanity. While there is an element of speculation here, such speculation is well-founded and meaningful.
The fact of the matter is that the question I am posing is impossible to avoid. Every believer has already answered the question to one extent or another, whether by uncritical and passive assumptions, or by critical and active reflection. The cat is already out of the bag, so to speak. All that remains to be determined is whether our own personal answer accurately reflects reality, or if it is a product of our own imagination. The only way to sort out fact from fiction is to consider our assumptions more carefully. That is precisely what I hope to do.
The question I am posing is not merely permissible, but arguably necessary to develop a well-rounded Christology because it seeks to understand the present nature of the glorified Christ, not just His earthly, pre-glorified nature. After all, it is not the pre-glorified Christ we are worshipping and with whom we will dwell for time immemorial-it is the glorified Christ. Seeking to understand what Jesus is like post-glorification is a worthwhile theological and devotional endeavor.
The Kenosis: Divine Self-Limitation
Jesus Christ is God incarnate in human existence. To become man, God willingly limited the exercise of His divine prerogatives, attributes, and powers (referred to as the kenosis-Philippians 2:5-9). By limiting Himself to the confines of human existence God was able to enter into, and experience a genuine and complete human existence. These limitations were not apparent, but real. The exercise of God's knowledge, power, and presence in Christ were truly limited to those of an ordinary man. Such limitations were not due to a loss of divine attributes, but rather the acquisition of human attributes.
Jesus' limitation of presence goes without saying, but what about His knowledge? Did Jesus know all things? No. The Bible clearly attests to Christ's epistemological limits. According to Jesus' own confession the content of His teaching was received via revelation from His Father. The very words He spoke were echoes of what He had first received from the Father (John 8:28, 38, 40; 12:49-50; 17:8). Jesus was the recipient of divine revelation, not the originator. We can only make sense of these passages if Jesus' knowledge was finite.
The locus of these limitations is the incarnation. They apply to God's human existence, not His cosmic existence. As God continues to exist transcendent to the incarnation He continues to exercise His divine prerogatives, attributes, and powers. Insofar as He is man He is limited in knowledge; insofar as He is God He is unlimited in knowledge.
Having established the earthly limitations of Christ's existence, let us now turn to the question of His post-glorification existence. Is Jesus limited in knowledge even now, or were all such limitations eradicated upon His glorification? I will argue that the nature of humanity logically necessitates that Jesus' epistemic limitations continued beyond His glorification into the present time, and will continue for time everlasting.
The Nature of Humanity
Humanity is limited by nature. Only God is infinite. How, then, could the infinite God take on a finite human existence? He could only do so by submitting Himself to the limitations of human existence. God's becoming man was contingent on His acceptance of the limitations inherent to a human existence. It follows, then, that God's remaining man is contingent on His continued acceptance of human limitations. So long as Christ remains human, He remains limited; so long as the incarnation is permanent, Jesus' knowledge will continue to be finite.
It is impossible for Christ to remain human and yet experience infinite knowledge. The finite is simply incapable of the infinite. Finitude cannot experience infinity without being swallowed up by infinity. If Christ gained infinite divine knowledge upon glorification He would have ceased to be human. And yet we know the incarnation is permanent. God became man, and will forever remain man. It follows, then, that Jesus' knowledge will forever be finite in capacity and scope.
Logical Necessity of Christ's Present Limitations
Christ's knowledge was limited during His earthly ministry. While God was omnipresent and omniscient as He existed transcendent to the incarnation, in Christ He was spatially and epistemically limited. What reason is there to believe this state of affairs changed from Christ's earthly dwelling to His heavenly; from Christ's pre-glorified state to His post-glorified state?
Some feel that to admit Christ continues to be limited denigrates His divine identity. That is a peculiar view given the fact that those same individuals concede that Christ experienced limitations in the past while on earth. If He could experience limitations in the past, and it did not detract from His divine identity, why must those limitations be removed in the present lest they detract from His divine identity?
Ironically, many of those who believe Jesus' epistemic limitations were removed upon glorification do not believe His spatial limitations were removed. They believe His presence is still finite, while His knowledge is infinite. How is admitting a limitation of Christ's presence any less denigrating to His deity than admitting a limitation of His knowledge? If limitations denigrate Christ's deity, then continued spatial limitations would denigrate His deity as well. If Christ can still be God and yet be limited in one area, then He can still be God and be limited in another.
The fact that even one divine attribute continues to be limited in the post-glorified Christ lends creditability to the notion that Christ's knowledge remained limited as well. This understanding fits well with the Biblical affirmation that the Son will forever be subject to the Father (I Corinthians 15:25-28). Whatever else this verse might mean, it is clear that the Son continues to experience limitations the Father does not, otherwise it would not make sense for the Son to be subject to the Father.
Glorification Does Not Change Nature
Many are under the impression that Jesus' glorification eliminated His epistemic limitations. Although glorification most assuredly heightened Jesus' knowledge, it did not bring Him omniscience. Glorification may enhance the nature of humanity, but it does not change the nature of humanity. Human minds are finite; incapable of omniscience by nature-glorified or not.
It must be understood that glorification is different from deification. Glorification enhances one's nature; deification changes one's nature. Jesus was glorified, not deified. To say He gained omniscience is to affirm a deification, which in turn affirms a change of His human nature. As Donald Macleod wrote, "In the case of Jesus glorification brings his humanity to its Omega-point, but it remains humanity, finite, time-bound and space-bound, even though it is the humanity of God. To render it omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent is to destroy it." He went on to say "it is important to remember, however, that although his human nature is neither omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent, he himself is. His personal presence is not limited to his bodily presence. His humanity is limited and localized, but it exists only in union and conjunction with his deity."
We will be glorified after the pattern of Christ (Philippians 3:21; I John 3:1-2), and yet we have every reason to believe the process will not bring us omniscience. If our glorification will pattern Christ's, and we will not gain omniscience, then neither did Christ gain omniscience upon glorification.
The Nature and Means of Christ's Present Knowledge
If Christ's knowledge continues to be limited, how is He aware of our affairs? Does He hear our prayers?
It would appear that Jesus obtains His knowledge now in much the same way He did while on earth: sense perception and divine revelation. He either perceives something with His five senses, or it is revealed to Him via divine revelation. Seeing that our affairs and prayers are not immediately perceptible by Him, they must be selectively revealed to Jesus by the Father.
Scriptural support comes from Revelation 1:1. John begins his book saying, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him, to show to His servants things which must shortly come to pass ." Here we have a clear post-glorification, post-ascension context in which Jesus' knowledge is contingent on divine revelation. Apart from the Father's revelation of these matters to Jesus, Jesus would have been ignorant of them, and unable to communicate them to John. Just as we saw on earth-so too we see in heaven-Jesus is limited in knowledge, and the recipient of divine revelation.
Practical Impact on Our Relationship with Christ
How does this understanding of Christ's present knowledge affect practical matters of devotion such as prayer? Does He, or does He not hear our prayers? Should we, or should we not pray to Jesus?
The answer to the first question is rather obvious given what we have discussed thus far. Seeing that Jesus still possesses a finite human mind, and seeing that Jesus still acquires knowledge via sense perception and divine revelation, it follows that Jesus does not hear our prayers. Jesus qua Jesus can no more hear our prayers in heaven than He could while on earth. That did not detract from His divine identity then, nor does it now.
If Jesus does not hear our prayers is it proper or worthwhile to pray to Him, then? Christians commonly direct their prayers to Jesus, and sometimes envision Him as listening to their requests from His throne in heaven. If Jesus cannot hear our prayers, are such endeavors worthless and misguided? I don't think so. Given our understanding of Christ's identity I am persuaded that it is perfectly legitimate to address Him in prayer. That may sound counter-intuitive to all I have said heretofore, so let me explain.
While God's knowledge is limited to that of an ordinary man in His incarnate existence as Jesus Christ, God Himself is not limited to His incarnate existence. The same divine person who exists as limited man (Son) also exists transcendent to the incarnation as the unlimited God (Father), simultaneously. God, as He is conscious of Himself in Christ, has limited knowledge and thus cannot hear our prayers; yet God, as He continues to be conscious of Himself as God transcendent to Christ, knows all things including our prayers.
Seeing that the divine person in Christ transcends His limited human existence, and seeing that He knows all things in that transcendent mode of existence, there is a sense in which Jesus does hear our prayers. But He does so, not as Jesus, but as the Father. Jesus qua Jesus does not hear our prayers. Knowledge of our prayers is transcendent and external to His human mind. Jesus only hears our prayers and knows our thoughts indirectly through His divine mode of existence as the Father. Why? The divine person who is incarnate as Jesus Christ is omniscient, but He exercises that omniscience via His divine mode of existence transcendent to the incarnation, not via His human mind/existence. In His finite existence as man He is not capable of infinite knowledge, but in His infinite existence as God He is. In His human mode of existence/consciousness His knowledge is limited (Son); in His divine mode of existence/consciousness His knowledge is infinite (Father).
God is one person. Father and Son are two distinct modes of existence occupied by that one and self-same person, so whether we direct our prayers to the Father or the Son, the same person is being "reached." To pray to Christ is to pray to the Father because Christ is the selfsame God in human existence. The personal subject of Christ-God-hears our prayers as He continues to exist beyond the incarnation; as He continues to know as God. It can be said, then, that while the human mind of Jesus is unaware of our prayers, Jesus Himself (who is the person of God) is not. When we direct our prayers to Jesus (God existing as limited man) those prayers are "veered" in a sense, to the personal subject of Christ: God Himself. As such, it is proper to direct our prayers to Jesus.
No choice needs to be made as to whether we should direct our prayers to Jesus or the Father. In fact, if we see it as a choice to be made we have an improper understanding of Christ's identity. When we pray to Jesus we are praying to the Father because Jesus' humanity is God's humanity.
If there is a sense in which Jesus hears our prayers (indirectly as Father), should we say Jesus hears our prayers? While a case could be made for a leaning in either direction, I think it is advisable to avoid such terminology for two reasons. First, it confuses the Biblical terminology and God's two distinct modes of existence. "Jesus" specifically refers to God's human mode of existence, whereas "God" or "Father" specifically refers to that same person's continued mode of existence transcendent to the incarnation. To say "Jesus hears our prayers" is to refer to Jesus' human cognition, and it is simply false that Jesus qua Jesus is cognitive of our prayers. He is cognitive of our prayers as Father, but not as Son. An affirmation that Jesus hears our prayers, then, confuses God's divine mode of existence for His human mode of existence. While the same person is the ontological grounding for both modes of existence, they are functionally distinct. It is to our own peril if we try to eliminate that distinction by using the Biblical terminology indiscriminately.
Some will be uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus is unaware of our prayers, but I believe this is due to the fact that too often we have tried to make it so that whatever can be said about the Father can also be said about Jesus. Unfortunately the Bible does not follow this same hermeneutic. There are many things that can be said of the Father that cannot be said, and are not said of the Son. This is not because the Father and Son are two different persons in the Godhead, but because of the incarnation. In God's incarnational condescension He acquired a new way of existing and a new manner of consciousness that was thoroughly human, all the while continuing to exist and be conscious of Himself as He always had prior to His incarnational act. Subsequent to the incarnation, then, God exists in two distinct modes, and is conscious of Himself in two distinct ways: as God, as man. In His continued mode of existence transcendent to the incarnation He functions exclusively as God; in His incarnate mode of existence He functions exclusively as man.
Given the nature of humanity and the permanence of the incarnation, Jesus was and remains limited in knowledge; however, as the divine person in Christ continues to exist transcendent to the incarnation, He was and remains omniscient. Jesus' glorification surely enhanced His knowledge, but it did not render Him omniscient anymore than our glorification will render us omniscient. The finite is incapable of the infinite. So long as Jesus remains a human being He will forever be limited in knowledge.
Jesus' epistemic limitations mean He cannot hear our prayers or be cognizant of our affairs apart from a specific revelation from His Father. Be that as it may, it is acceptable to pray to Jesus seeing that His person is not limited to His human existence. He continues to exist as the unlimited Father simultaneously. While Jesus qua Jesus does not hear our prayers, Jesus qua Father does. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to direct our prayers to our risen Lord.
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