By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the LORD, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth, and the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. When He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast, and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem and His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey, and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him. It came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting amid the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. When they saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been seriously looking for You.”
“He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” They did not understand the statement which He had made to them, and He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them, and His mother treasured all these things in her heart, and Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
- Luke 2:39-52 (NASB)
In what few retail bookstores are left, there seems to always be in the Religion section a collection of works by authors and Biblical scholars who have made it a point of interest or speculation about what some intellectuals refer to as “the lost years of Jesus”, specifically the years between the events that are written in this passage from Luke 2 up to the start of His ministry at the age of thirty. Some writers with vivid imaginations have theorized that the young Jesus went on a pilgrimage to India and sat at the feet of gurus, or shamans, or varied teachers of spiritual wisdom and insight in order to clarify His mission from God as He interpreted it. Other writings present stories of Jesus’ childhood, where he was reported to make birds out of clay and bring them to life, or give life to a dead animal, or heal someone. It seems that there are and have been opportunistic individuals ever since the end of the apostolic era in the first century and beyond who have bent over backwards in their varied attempts to discredit the account of Jesus’ life and work as recorded in the Gospels and render Him as just a good teacher, a moral example, a fanatical sage, a radical prophet of doom, a man who thought He was the Messiah, and a host of other tales of fiction that range from the ridiculous to those of outright devilish blasphemy.
In the Sovereign will of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit in writing this gospel, Luke saw fit to include one episode in the life of Jesus’ upbringing that was of primary relevance and importance. The period of time that Luke describes demonstrates that, at the age of twelve, He was fully aware of Who he was and what He had to accomplish in the coming years where He would be ministering and teaching, as well as to fulfill the mission of redemption for the sins of humanity, planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-12). Luke also makes it clear in his account that Jesus was as much human as He was divine. He looked like every other Jewish child. There was no halo or supernatural glow around Him as He grew up. He didn’t behave like some mystic who stood out and above His peers. He lived as any other person did in that time, yet without sin.
As He grew up, He learned the trade of carpentry from Joseph and no doubt went with him on job sites, working with other skilled tradesmen on varied building projects. He probably helped Mary fix dinner for the family at times, played with His siblings, laughed at pranks that harmed no one and were in fun, played games with the other children of Nazareth when He was not at work, went to the local synagogue on the Sabbath, learned to read and write His native language of Aramaic, and learned the other languages of the region, such as Hebrew, Latin, and Greek for business and for conversation as the occasion called for it. He read and memorized the Scriptures and learned the history of Israel from Joseph and the rabbis in the synagogues, and probably ran into Roman soldiers patrolling the region, but did not possess the disdain for them that His peers had towards them, seeing them as the enemies of God and their way of life.
The Scriptures also present that the grace of God was upon Him as He grew. He developed a special and unique relationship with His heavenly Father that was also intimate and personal. He merited favor with God and was under His divine protection. He remained obedient to both Mary and Joseph as well as towards God. This episode in the life of our LORD is singled out due to the significance of his age and what it means in terms of responsibility towards God and men.
At this time, Jesus was in the beginning stage of preparation in order to undergo the ritual that would be known later in contemporary Judaism as a bar mitzvah, or the time where a boy was seen as a man by His parents and peers and declared a “son of the Law”, meaning that when the time came, should he get married and have children, he would be responsible for teaching them the principles of God’s Law as written by Moses (Exodus 12:1-28; Deuteronomy 6:1-10). In the ancient world, the concept of a “teenager” was not known. Responsibilities were placed upon boys who were now men under the Law. Marriages were arranged and the young man was expected to have a trade or skill in order to provide for his family. It was also not unusual for young men to get married at the age of eighteen and young women by the age of fourteen or older. There was no room for indecisiveness, immaturity, or the shunning of expected duties by young people, and to be lazy and disobedient towards these expectations were punished by the town elders (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Proverbs 20:20; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Once a year, all Jewish families went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover to sacrifice a lamb as a symbol for the remission of their sins. The temple was the only place where these sacrifices could occur, which were under the supervision of the High Priest, as well as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Also posted within the confines of the temple area were men in charge of monetary exchange, where the regular currency of the drachma (Greek) or denarii (Roman) were traded for the acceptable currency of shekels for the temple offering. If you didn’t bring your own lamb for sacrifice, then the shekels could be used to purchase animals in the temple for a nominal fee as well as paying the obligatory temple tax (Matthew 17:24-28). It was nothing more than a money-making racket that Jesus would grow to hate and condemn (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22).
That would come later. Luke tells how, with the Passover celebration concluded, Jesus stayed behind in the temple, while his parents thought He was with the other young people in the caravan heading back to Nazareth. Mary and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem in order to look for their boy, whom they believed was lost and frightened among the crowds and dangerous streets. After some time, it would have occurred to them that if their Son was preparing for the coming bar mitzvah, and the start of Jewish manhood, the obvious place where they could find Him would be the temple. There they found Him, sitting among the teachers of the Law and Prophets, listening and asking questions demonstrating His keen knowledge of the Scriptures but also wanting to hear the interpretations and explanations of God’s Word from the elders as well.
Not only did Jesus know that He was being ushered into manhood and its responsibilities, but He was also aware of Who he was in terms of both His divine and human nature and the mission that He was to undergo at the appointed time. He knew that God was His Father, but also respected and obeyed the parental authority and direction of Mary and Joseph. The time would come when His parents knew that He was not only their child entrusted to them by the LORD, but that He was to be their Lord and Savior as well. From this time on, Jesus continued to grow in Spirit and knowledge, learned the carpentry trade, and lived a normal, unassuming life in Nazareth. Then, in God’s perfect timing, His mission would commence when His cousin John undertook the role of the One crying in the wilderness, preparing the remnant hearts for the arrival of their Messiah, which will be explored in the next study.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.