Consciousness of Christ

CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRIST. The term is used to describe how Christ in His life on earth thought of His own person and vocation.

The Sources of Knowledge

Can one obtain any dependable knowledge of Christ’s self-consciousness? There are those who would say that this is concealed in the mystery of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. But conscious being may be known through its expression in behavior. The record of the gospels is that of a real man, who by the whole course of His words and deeds revealed at least something of how He thought of Himself. An attempt to discover this from the record is both legitimate and essential to any valid understanding of the Person of Christ.

Others question whether one can recapture Jesus’ words and deeds with sufficient accuracy for this task. We do not know for certain the ipsissima verba of the Lord. Variations between parallel accounts show that the evangelists can only be said to give us the gist of what Jesus said, prob. in original Aram. But even the accuracy of their record as to essential meaning is questioned by the form critics, who regard the record as expressing the faith of the Early Church rather than the actual events that occurred or words that were spoken. There is little doubt that the material was seen in relation to the life of the Church when the evangelists wrote; but it is fallacious to argue therefore that the words and deeds recorded do not give us an accurate picture of the historic Jesus. The impression of that life was indelibly etched on the memory of his young disciples; thirty or even fifty years would not erase it. Perhaps one cannot recapture the exact words of the Master, but the words may be trusted to give a true picture of His personality, and in particular of the way He thought of Himself.

Information from the Synoptic Gospels

His words and deeds.

That He was conscious of a divine authority resting upon Him may be seen in His ethical teaching, as in the repeated phrase, “You have heard that it was said...but I say to you...” (Matt 5:17-48), and in His public preaching, such as when He announced His mission in terms of the words of Isaiah 61:1, 2 (Luke 4:18-21).

The titles applied to Christ

by Himself, or accepted when used by others, indicate much as to His consciousness of His own person and mission:



It is evident that people called Jesus Κύριος, Lord, and that in His view such use demanded implicit obedience (Matt 7:21; Luke 6:46). Once He used the term directly of Himself (Mark 11:3); on another occasion He referred to Himself as Lord indirectly in quoting Psalm 110:1 with reference to the Messiah as son of David (Mark 12:35-37 and parallels). While the word is sometimes little more than an honorific title for “Teacher,” our Lord’s use of Psalm 110 suggests that He saw in the title something of His Messianic dignity.

Servant of God


Jesus rarely used the title “Christ” of Himself (Matt 23:10; Mark 9:41), but two places where others used it of Him are significant. The first is Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; cf. Matt 16:16, Luke 9:20). Jesus’ reply as recorded by Matthew, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father...” lays His specific imprimatur upon Peter’s words. Mark and Luke do not record this, but join Matthew in Jesus’ enjoinder to secrecy which in itself implies acceptance. Immediately then He spoke of His sufferings and death. Peter, not understanding, rebuked Jesus (Matt 16:22; Mark 8:32), earning His, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” It seems specious to argue as Fuller does (Foundations, p. 109) that the intervening command to silence, the Passion prediction and the mutual rebukes are later insertions not in the original narrative, thus changing these words into a vehement rejection of the Messianic title Peter applied to Him. Clearly Jesus accepted the title, Messiah, but reinterpreted it in terms of the suffering servant.

The other occasion was when the high priest asked “Are you the Christ?” (Mark 14:61; cf. Matt 26:63; Luke 22:67). In Matthew and Luke Jesus’ reply, “you say that I am,” may perhaps be interpreted as non-committal (so Cullmann), but in Mark it is indisputably clear, ἐγώ εἰμι, I am. All three gospels record that it was on this testimony of His own lips that He was condemned.

Son of David.

Jesus never used this Messianic title directly of Himself, but the title was proffered to Him by blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47f.) and the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22), and implied in the cry of the crowd at the triumphal entry (Mark 11:10). Probably its nationalistic overtones made it less acceptable in Jesus’ own thought of His mission, and this underlies His questioning in Mark 12:35-37.

Son of man.

This was the title Jesus constantly applied to Himself. Its significance is not merely “man” (as in Num 23:19; Pss 8:4; 146:3; Isa 56:2) or “representative man” (as, possibly, in Ezekiel). The origin is rather from Daniel’s vision of the Messianic figure, “one like a son of man” (Dan 7:13f.), a phrase popularized by Enoch (c. 70 b.c.) who wrote of the Son of man as a divine, superhuman, preexistent figure hidden alongside God, but ready to march forth in powerful judgment against God’s enemies, and exaltation of the righteous. Jesus used the title in three main connections: (1) general statements about His life and mission, (2) with reference to His sufferings and death, (3) with reference to His parousia and the coming judgment. Numerous examples of the third type demonstrate that the eschatological picture was part of Jesus’ thought of the “Son of man,” but His constant use of the phrase also with reference to sufferings and death shows that, for Him, the Son of man was also the Servant, who would attain His place of ultimate power through His self-sacrifice as representative of all mankind (Mark 8:27-31).

Information from the Fourth Gospel

John’s gospel was written with a specific Christological purpose, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). For this reason, and on account of its late origin, many will not accept the words of Jesus recorded in it as authentic; certainly the portrait of Jesus therein is in many ways different from that in the synoptics, and it is prob. true that the author desires to give the inner significance of Jesus’ words rather than an exact verbal recollection. But allowing for that, in general John makes explicit and public only what is already implicit and private in His self-consciousness as shown by the synoptics.


H. P. Liddon, The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1885); A. M. Fairbairn, The Place of Christ in Modern Theology (1898), 334-372; P. C. Simpson, The Fact of Christ (1900); C. F. D’Arcy, “Consciousness,” HDCG (1906); A. E. Garvie, Studies in the Inner Life of Jesus (1908); P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (1910), 35-133; H. R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ (1913), 5-35; A. E. J. Rawlinson, The NT Doctrine of the Christ (1929), 238-264; R. Bultmann, Theology of the NT, I (1952), 26-32; G. Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus (1954); L. Morris, The Lord from Heaven (1958), 26-43; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the NT (1959); W. Barclay, The Mind of Jesus (1960), 139-157; R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of NT Christology (1965), 102-141; E. G. Jay, Son of man, Son of God (1965), 19-51.