R. V. Court, Bristol, England
Omniscience is an attribute belonging to God alone. In the Old Testament, on more than one occasion God is represented as challenging the gods of the nations to prove their right to claim deity by questioning their power to see into the future and, by contrast, asserting His own complete ability to do this. In Isaiah 46. 9-10, after pointing out the helplessness of the gods of Babylon to deliver those who trusted in them, almost derisively describing their being carried away on beasts of burden, He says “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done”. Later, as God deals with the continued obstinacy of His own people, He reminds them, “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them”, 48. 3; “I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee”, v. 5. This knowledge of the future, “the end from the beginning”, is an attribute possessed only by God, and the One who possesses it can alone claim deity. Since this is so, it is surely of considerable significance that this knowledge is claimed on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ during the period that He spent upon earth. Without question, there were self-imposed limitations with the Lord, bound up with the deeply solemn mystery of the incarnation. But it is also clear that at no stage did He renounce His Godhead, and side by side with self-imposed limitations there were demonstrations of a knowledge which could only be possessed by God.
The Gospel of John is specially useful in studying this feature of the Lord’s life among men, and as we turn to it to learn more of Him it should be remembered that John’s purpose in writing was “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name”, John 20. 31.
1. The Lord’s Knowledge in Relation to Men.
In John 2. 24-25 we are plainly told that, although there were those who believed as the result of seeing His miracles, He “did not commit himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man”. In the Old Testament we find God saying, “I the Lord search the heart”, Jer. 17. 10, but here we have the same ability to know men predicated of the Man, Christ Jesus. This knowledge is again evidenced in John 6. 61, where we read, “When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured . . .”. This was an inward knowledge, not conveyed to Him by listening to their conversation but surely a knowledge which was His by virtue of who He was. Other Gospels tell us of the Lord responding to unspoken questions, see Luke 5. 22; 6. 8; 7. 39-40; 9. 46-47; 11. I7, but John plainly states, “he knew what was in man”. Such a knowledge is withheld from man, lovingly withheld, for the burden of knowing the innermost thoughts and reasonings of others would be too great for man to bear. Equally the realisation that others could read our thoughts would be shattering: but He knew, and He still knows.
2. The Lord’s Knowledge in Relation to Judas.
John 6. 64 reminds us that Jesus “knew from the beginning . . . who should betray him”. Again in 13. 11 it is said, “he knew who should betray him”. It is agreed that here is an insoluble mystery, inextricably tied up with the divine purpose. When the Lord chose twelve, He chose among them Judas “who also betrayed him”, Matt. 10. 4. For three years this man companied with the Lord and the other disciples, and during the whole of that period the Lord knew that ultimately his would be the hand that would reach out to take the pieces of silver, the price for betrayal. What infinite patience the Lord displayed! The ignorance of the other disciples as to the existence of a traitor among them makes it clear that at no time had the Lord indicated by word or attitude that there was anything wrong with Judas: He did not expose him to the contempt of others and He admitted him to that inner circle of privilege to whom He unfolded the things of God. It is likely that this persistent knowledge that the Lord Jesus possessed brought in this instance an added burden to Him. Infinite holiness must feel more keenly the approach of sin than a corrupt nature would, and the nearness of the deceiver, who was later to be described as “a demon”, must have been felt deeply by the Lord. Otto Borchert rightly says, “The hour in which He called the twelve demanded an immense sacrifice from Him: He took the serpent into His bosom”, The Original Jesus, p. 225. Let it be remembered, with all the implications associated with the truth, that “he knew who should betray him”.
3. The Lord’s Knowledge in Relation to His Work.
As the Lord contemplated the hungry multitude and challenged Philip as to what his action would be in the particular problem facing them, He was fully aware of what He Himself would do, John 6. 6. But surely these words reach beyond the immediate circumstances. As He accepted the service committed to Him by the Father, He knew what He would do. His life of service was not one of continually adapting Himself to prevailing circumstances, and at no time was a change of plan necessary. With calm dignity He moved on, for He knew what He would do. There was an occasion when, on the mount of transfiguration, He demonstrated this. The three chosen disciples, as they listened to the amazing conversation with Moses and Elias, heard Him talking of the “decease (exodus) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem”, Luke 9. 31. He was talking about what He would do, not what He hoped to do. When He said that the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for many, He knew what He would do. This is more than human knowledge.
4. The Lord’s Knowledge in Relation to Himself.
The opening verses of John 13 are particularly rich in relation to the Person of the Lord. John is clearly led of the Spirit as he pens these words which give us further glimpses into the more than human knowledge of the Son of God. “Jesus knew that his hour was come”, v. 1. Time after time He had said “mine hour is not yet come”, but now, according to the divine timetable, He knew that the time had come for the completion of His task and He was able to look beyond the cross to the moment when He would “depart out of this world unto the Father”. What confidence! No thought of failure at the cross, but He was looking for His Father’s acceptance and approval, and in relation to this He knew. John adds that He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. What an amazing knowledge! We cannot even start to understand what is involved in “all things” here, but how these words emphasise the tremendous dignity of His Person, and it is against the background of this that we must contemplate the narrative that follows and watch the Son of God as He washes the disciples’ feet.
Following on the statement that all things had been given into His hand John adds, “and that he was come from God, and went to God”. He knew His origin, He knew His destination - from God, to God. When in His human experience the knowledge of His divine origin came to Him Scripture is silent, but certainly at twelve years of age He could say, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke 2. 49. In John 6. 38 we have His recorded words “I came down from heaven” and lest it should be argued that this could also be said of angelic messengers He adds, “this is the Father’s will which hath sent me”. He came from God in a way that no created being could come - His origin was from God and He knew this and that He would return from whence He came. John 8 bears further testimony to this truth. To the Pharisees the Lord speaks “I know whence I came, and whither I go”, v. 14. And note the majestic words of verse 42, “I proceeded forth and came from God”. He was fully aware of the Satanic opposition that would seek to block His pathway, but He not only knew whence He came but also whither He was going: in spite of the opposition He was going! Verse 20 implies a desire to lay hands on Him and a divine restraint because God’s time had not yet come, and verse 21 follows with words of calm dignity, “I go my way”. Yes, not only did He know whence He had come, He also knew that He was on His way and that no power could prevent Him reaching that which was purposed in the divine counsel.
John 18. 4 is exceedingly solemn and revealing. John does not speak of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane but he draws attention to the Lord’s action at the termination of that agony, and the words here used concerning the Lord Jesus, “knowing all things that should come upon him” illumine the experience in the garden and enable us to understand in some measure what it was that caused that deep suffering - the “things that should come upon him”. Dread knowledge! Christians can gratefully sing, “I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes”, but the Saviour could not say that. He knew of the arrest, He knew about the mock trials, He knew about the scourging, He knew about the crown of thorns, He knew about the cross, He knew about the hours of darkness and the bitter experience of forsakenness, far more terrible than anything that man could do to Him. His knowledge of the inner meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures linked with His knowledge of the future which He possessed as the Son of God made these things plain, terribly plain. This makes it all the more wonderful that with this knowledge He “went forth”.
Our last thought in this connexion is found in John 19. 28, “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished . . . saith, I thirst”. For three dread hours God and His Son had been deeply involved in dealing with human sin and during that period, to use the mysterious words of 2 Corinthians 5. 21, God “made him to be sin for us”. Only those involved in this will ever know what these words mean. God was making to meet “on him the iniquity of us all”, Isa. 53. 6. But there came a moment when every just requirement of God was fully met, when the mighty, costly work of redemption was fully completed, and the Lord knew that moment. Only then did He think of His own needs and “that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst”, and a moment later the mighty cry “finished” rang through earth and heaven.