I teach Gospel Doctrine for my YSA ward. Last week we had a question come up that I do not know the answer to. Did Christ always know He was our Savior, while on this earth? If He didn’t always know, at what age did He learn that he was our Savior and the Son of God?
This is definitely a more in depth question asked by your Young Single Adult Ward (YSA). One of my favorite scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants is the following verse,
“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;” (D&C 88:78)
We have a slight variation of the above verse in another section of the Doctrine and Covenants,
“That they may be perfected in the understanding of their ministry, in theory, in principle, and in doctrine, in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, the keys of which kingdom have been conferred upon you.” (D&C 97:14)
The two of these scriptures highlight the following ways we, as Saints, are to become perfected in: theory, principle, doctrine, the law of the gospel, the understanding of our ministry, and in all things that pertain tot he kingdom of God and its keys. In light of this, the question asked by your YSA ward enters into the realm of theory. Our theories should be centered around true doctrine and true principles, and we should be transparent when we are sharing theories as they relate to doctrine found within scriptures and words of the prophets.
Let’s then begin first with Christ’s life and what we are able to find in scriptures:
1) “And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;” (D&C 93:11-13)
2) “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)
3) “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) This was done when he was twelve years old.
4) “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
5) “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall abaptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:” (Luke 3:16)
What then are we able to gather or understand from the life of Jesus when he was a child? The first thing is that he grew grace for grace. The second is that he waxed strong in the spirit and the grace of God was upon him. He increased in wisdom, stature, and favour with God the Father, and at the age of twelve he was already receiving assignments and teachings from his Father that he knew he was about his Father’s business. The experience with John surely let’s us know that before beginning his ministry he knew his mission and what he was sent to do. This is the only evidence we have that solidly confirms when Christ knew.
Now, with your question, we fully enter into the realm of theory, which we are to become perfected in. Our Savior was born in the same manner we were born in that a woman delivered him as a baby. What baby do you know that comes into life with full knowledge and full understanding of the work they are to perform and do? I would then with confidence, and theory, suggest that our Savior did not know his mission (his atonement) as a baby. The scriptures confirm he grew grace for grace and in wisdom and stature.
What about eight years old when we officially become accountable? If scriptures are correct, and they are, we have the following regarding children before they reach the age of accountability, “But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;” (D&C 29:46-47) And before the age of accountability they are not able to be tempted. This would have to work with Christ as a child also. Let’s review the following regarding parents and teaching their children, “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25) We know from scripture that our Savior was growing grace for grace, and we know by the age of twelve he was already teaching what the Father had taught and assigned him to do (Talk about an outstanding deacon!)
Our Savior was taught with perfection by his Father. His mother accompanied this teaching along with his earthly father — Joseph. So, if I had to theorize, and I do, as to when the Savior knew he was the Messiah it would have been as early as 12 years of age when he began teaching and preaching. In our “Come Follow Me” manual for “Individuals and Families” I found this insight from the Joseph Smith Translation regarding Jesus:
“And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come. And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.”
In Jesus’s childhood we have from Joseph Smith’s translation the following statement, “for he needed not that any man should teach him.” This leaves the idea open that between the age of 12 and 30 Jesus knew of what his mission was as our Savior. If I were to make a guess in this theory it would not surprise me if our Savior knew at the age of 12 his ministry and what he was sent to do as our Savior. He could have known earlier, but that age 12 works for me to be the earliest time.