There's an old expression, which I first heard during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s: "What did he know, and when did he know it?"
In regards to the Watergate situation, this question referred to President Nixon, as investigators sought to know how much he knew about the crime and cover-up, and when he became aware of it.
I've also heard this question asked in more mundane situations, such as a miscommunication at work when someone (possibly me) gave a truck driver the wrong delivery address. "What did he know, and when did he know it?" they asked. In this particular case, I could honestly answer, "Nothing" and "Never."
This classic question is often asked about Jesus. It's a fascinating discussion to ponder what exactly Jesus knew about His ministry and destiny, and when exactly He knew it.
We learn from Scripture that Jesus is the "Word" through Whom all things were created. We know Jesus proclaimed that He saw Satan cast out of Heaven, which occurred far before Adam and Eve lived.
We also know from Church teaching and tradition that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and that He has existed one-in-being with the Father and Holy Spirit from all of eternity.
But we also know that Jesus willingly lowered Himself to take on human flesh. When He was born of the Virgin Mary, surely as a little infant He did not yet know His true identity. As a seven-year-old boy, He most likely did not know exactly what would happen to Him in Jerusalem at age thirty-three. He likely did not know He would be arrested, tortured, and nailed to a tree, and three days later rise from the dead, conquering death once and for all and reconciling sinful mankind back to the Almighty Creator.
If we fast-forward to the final months of Jesus' earthly life, the gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus did know what ultimately would happen to Him in Jerusalem and why. By the time He was in active ministry, He predicted His passion and death, and explained how it would usher in a new covenant of forgiveness and mercy for all humanity.
So, the question is, during the time between Jesus' childhood and His adult ministry, what did He know about His identity and mission, and when did He know it?
Was He aware of His destiny when He was 13, or 18, or 26? Did He find out all at once, when the Father in Heaven gave Him a crash course on His future? Or was it slowly revealed to Him in bits and pieces?
By the way, just so you're not disappointed at the end of this essay, I have no idea of the answers to these questions. I'm asking now simply as an interesting topic for discussion.
And while we're pondering unanswerable questions, I wonder if Jesus was stunned and a little horrified when His destiny became clear. Did He, as comedian Jim Gaffigan quipped, look toward Heaven and say, "OK, Pop, that crucifixion thing is an interesting idea. But hear me out. How about instead we do it ANOTHER way?"
My list of questions to ask God when I get to Heaven (most likely after a detour through Purgatory for a few millenia) is getting rather long. I'm up to over 4,500 questions, many of which are situational variations of, "What are women really thinking?"
A couple of questions I have to add to the list are, "What did Jesus know?" and, "When did He know it?"
Fortunately, it's not necessary that we have the answers. The most important thing is that we know who Jesus is, and what He's done for us. That's the heart of the Gospel message.