Question: At what age did Jesus understand His identity as the Son of God?When did He know that He was the Messiah?
The Bible says little concerning Jesus’ childhood. Extra-biblical texts claiming knowledge of his childhood are unreliable.[i] The Bible does shed some revealing light, however.
Jesus was human, like us in every way, “yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). As an infant, he did not understand his identity as God incarnate. This ignorance of his divine nature and messianic role was a temporary choice made in heaven, a choice to strip himself of such divine qualities as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence:
Phil. 2:6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Jesus matured gradually. At the age of twelve it was said:
Luke 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Unlike other children, Jesus’ unique nature as the virgin-born Messiah of Isaiah 7:14 had been revealed to his earthly parents:
Matt. 1:20b-23 …what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
They knew he was the Son of God and eternal King of Kings:
Luke 1:31-33 “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Jesus grew up hearing of the angel visits to his parents, and later to the shepherds in Bethlehem. He heard the story of the Wise Men from Persia and saw the carefully preserved treasures they had brought.
And as Jesus learned to read and understand the Scriptures his mind awakened to the words he himself had given to the prophets from heaven—prophecies of his birth, death, resurrection and return in glory. Reading Scripture triggered his memories as God prior to his human incarnation, memories that would then guide him throughout his adult life. For, as he reminded the two disciples on the road to Emmaus just after his resurrection:
Luke 24:25-27 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
[i] Several non-canonical documents contain fanciful legends about Jesus’ infancy and early childhood. Most were composed between the second and seventh centuries, A.D.: “The Infancy Gospel Of Thomas,” “The Infancy Gospel Of James,” “The Syriac Infancy Gospel,” “The Infancy Gospel Of Matthew” and “The History Of Joseph The Carpenter.”