It’s a foundational truth of Christianity that Jesus is both 100% man and 100% God. He is not a demi-god like Hercules or Percy Jackson but rather fully God and fully man. He is the god-man, uniquely qualified to become a substitution for us on the cross, bearing God’s wrath for our sins so that we may live, be forgiven and be reconciled to God.
What this means is that Jesus also possessed all the qualities of God. During Jesus’ time on earth He willingly laid down his right to use some of these qualities or He imposed limitations on himself but they were always there to be accessed if He so chose. One of these qualities was his omniscience.
On multiple occasions Scripture records that Jesus knew the thoughts of those around him (Matt 12:25, Luke 6:8, 11:17). Like Professor X but with hair and the ability to walk (on water!), Jesus could read minds.
This has got to be one of the most disconcerting things about being a disciple during Christ’s time on earth. As humans, we don’t seem to be too perturbed by the concept of an invisible God far away in heaven who knows everything and sees our thoughts, but I believe we would feel somewhat differently when confronted with the reality of living with Jesus and knowing that He could read our every thought. I don’t know how keen I would have been to make eye contact with Christ.
Considering that Jesus knew the thoughts of those around Him it is somewhat surprising then, that the gospels record at least 70 questions Jesus asked those He was with.
Why would a man who can read minds ask questions?
Jesus explained to His disciples why He spoke in parables but I’m not aware of Him giving any explanation for why He asked questions. We must always be careful about attempting to answer questions that Scripture is silent on, but in this post I wish to submit my hypotheses as to why Jesus used questions in His ministry. As you read through please weigh this against what you know of Christ and His Word.
I think it is clear that Jesus was asking questions for our benefit not His. He knew the answers. He had nothing to gain from hearing the people’s answers, but inevitably they did.
Many of Jesus questions were said in response to a question that He was asked himself. Jesus asked ‘Why do you call me good?’ in response to the rich young rulers question on how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:18). Jesus’ question about whether John the Baptist’s authority was from God or man came in response to the Pharisees question as to where from His own authority came (Luke 20:1-8). Jesus responded to Peter’s question about the fate of the Apostle John by asking him ‘what is it to you?’ (John 21:22-23).
Jesus often used questions like these as a means to uncover something that was going on inside the questioner’s own heart. Whether it was the rich young ruler’s pride, the Pharisees hypocrisy or Peter’s jealousy, Jesus used questions to reveal what was happening in their hearts.
Jesus also used questions to help His hearers grasp a fundamental point He was making. In regards to paying the temple tax Jesus asked Simon Peter whether kings tax their sons or others, and when Peter answered ‘others’, He declared that the sons then were free (Matthew 17:25-27). He involved Peter in the teaching process. Jesus did the same with Simon the Pharisee when He taught about the dangers of self-righteousness by asking him which of two debtors would be most grateful for being freed from their debt (Luke 7:40-47).
At other times Jesus sought to ask questions to encourage someone to speak out what was already in their heart. He asked his disciples to tell Him who they thought the Son of Man was (Matthew 16:13-15); when the bleeding woman touched Him for healing He asked her to declare herself (Mark 5:25-34) and when the blind men called out to Jesus upon the road, He asked them specifically what they desired (Matthew 20:29-34). Each of these was a declaration of faith that was made in response to Christ questioning them.
Finally Jesus asked questions that forced the disciples to confront their lack of faith. Whether it was in the boat during the storm when Jesus asked ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ (Matthew 8:26) or when He asked the crowd ‘Why are you anxious about clothing?’ (Matthew 6:28) Jesus asked questions that showed that His hearer’s thinking was incompatible with the Way of Christ.
I believe that the reason that Jesus asked questions was to allow us to realise an answer for ourselves instead of only didactically communicating a point. We almost always remember and understand a lesson better when we can deduce the answer for ourselves. It’s the same reasoning behind educational shows such as Sesame Street and Blues Clues as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, The Tipping Point.
The questions that Jesus asked forced a response from His hearers. He engaged them and continues to engage us with His penetrating questions. As we read them today we must ask the same question of ourselves to gain understanding of why we do what we do, what our motivation is, what our reasoning has been and what is in our hearts.
I would encourage you in all things to regularly stop and ask yourself questions like –
Why do I feel this way?
What is my reasoning behind this decision?
What is my motivation?
Am I acting in a way that is compatible with the Way?
Where does my lack of faith come from?
Am I honouring God in this?
By asking ourselves questions like these and following Christ’s example we can learn much more than if we simply act without stopping to think why we act, feel and think the way we do.