Please read Luke 2:39-52.
Two of the key doctrines of Christianity revolve around the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is, first of all, 100% God. He always existed and never came into being (John 1:1; Colossians 1:17), and He shares the same glory and power as the Father (John 1:14). Secondly, He is 100% man (1 Timothy 2:5). He came to this earth through a normal human birth via a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27). He lived a human life. He experienced the pains, sufferings, and temptations of humanity (Hebrews 2:17). He died a human death (John 19:30). He is not two persons; He is one person who has two natures: the divine and the human.
Those doctrines are two of the core doctrines of Christianity. We believe them unquestioningly; we affirm them heartily. However, sometimes integrating them into our understanding is a little more challenging.
Our current passage in Luke presents us such a challenge – a challenge that we might not necessarily be able to answer. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a legitimate and credible answer. It simply means that the answer is temporarily withheld from us.
This passage details the early years of our Lord Jesus Christ. It gives us a short glimpse of one particular event in Jesus’ childhood. Though He is God, He willingly set aside the independent exercise of His divine powers, and allowed Himself to experience the limitations of humanity. On the human side, He had to grow physically. He had to grow intellectually. And He had to grow spiritually.
Luke’s description of Jesus’ early years begins in verses 39-40.
Early Years (vv. 39-40).
These two verses are a continuation of the previous narrative, and provide a transition to the next.
Luke said, “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.” Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus returned to their home in “Nazareth.” They did so “when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord” – another reference to their obedience to God’s Law.
Summary of His childhood (v. 40).
Because these verses describe Jesus’ human development they have an air of mystery.
Luke tells us that “the Child grew” – emphasizing His physical development. We are told three things about Jesus’ spiritual development. First, He “became strong in spirit.” Jesus developed in His inner person. This is a description of His mental development.
Secondly, He was “filled with wisdom.” He deepened His perception of God’s will and His fear of God.
Lastly, “the grace of God was upon Him.” This phrase emphasizes the fact that God’s favour was upon Him. Jesus was the object of God’s special attention.
This description is important. The mystery of the incarnation involves the normal human growth and development of Jesus. There are a few extra-biblical writings which contain fanciful tales about Jesus, such as His supposed performing of miracles during His childhood. However, this passage, and the Gospels in general, do not make such claims. His miracles were performed later in life, after He had entered His earthly ministry.
The next section, in verses 41-45, describes a situation to which every parent can relate.
Passover in Jerusalem (vv. 41-50)
Every parent has experienced losing a child at least once; usually in a store or such. This family lost their young son while on vacation. Imagine losing your child while in Mexico. This wasn’t quite a vacation – it was a religious holiday; however they did travel by foot 144 kilometres, and while away, they misplaced their child. This is one of the high points in the gospel because Luke recorded Jesus’ response in order to teach his readers a valuable lesson. Jesus’ words demonstrate His own self-awareness.
Arrival in Jerusalem (vv. 41-42).
Luke said in verse 41, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Male Jews were required to go to Jerusalem three times a year: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Ex 23:14-17; 34:22-23; Dt 16:16). This particular festival was that of the “Passover.” Joseph went one better and took along his wife Mary. The journey was roughly 140 km long and usually took 3-4 days to travel.
We are told in verse 42, “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.” I don’t believe Luke is suggesting that this was the first time Jesus went to Jerusalem. He is simply introducing the following narrative – that the events which followed took place on a trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old.
Departure Home (vv. 43-44).
Verse 43 says, “When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.” The Passover was past; the parents returned. But Jesus “lingered behind.”
If you want to know whose fault this was, consider verses 43 to 44. At the end of verse 43 we read, “And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.” Mary and Joseph “did not know” that Jesus was not with them. They assumed he was in the “company.” Typically, those in Palestine would travel in larger groups because of the dangers from highwaymen. Assuming them to be somewhere in the company, they “went a day’s journey.” After travelling for a day and assembling for the night, they “sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.”
Many commentators suggest that we should not blame his parents. Typically, their reasoning revolves around assumed travel arrangements: They assume, based upon recent customs, that people in those days would travel in large groups, and these large groups would be separated into smaller groups with the women and children ahead, and the men behind. Some suggest that towns and families travelled together and therefore, it was natural to assume Jesus to be with other relatives or acquaintances. This system of grouping, and Jesus’ intermediate age, would have led Mary and Joseph to naturally assume Jesus to be somewhere in the company.
However, as attractive as that theory might be to scholars, it seems incredible that people knowing the hazards of travel would have set out without verifying the presence of their entire family. Obviously, they had enough concern to look for Jesus at night. This would indicate that group travel did not normally cause parents to be inattentive to their children. Furthermore, since Jesus was twelve years old, it is very likely that Mary and Joseph already had their other children (at least 4 sons) – so it isn’t as if they were novice parents.
To me, it seems best to assume that Mary and Joseph were negligent – you are free to have your own opinions about that.
In verse 45 we read about their frantic return to look for Jesus.
Return to Jerusalem (v. 45).
“So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.” They searched throughout the company and did not find Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem to look for him there.
Temple (vv. 46-47)
Verse 46 says, “Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple.” On the first day they traveled away from Jerusalem. On the second day they traveled back to Jerusalem. On the third day (“after three days”) they looked for Him and found Him.
When they found Him in the Temple they witnessed an unusual event. Jesus was, “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” He had assumed the posture of a student, “listening” to the instruction. The custom of the day was that the students engaged in a time of instruction with a question-and-answer format. This involved “listening.” Some non-biblical writings suggest that Jesus was doing the instructing, but that is not what Scripture states.
But He was also an eager student since he was “asking them questions.” As a boy, Jesus had a thirst to understand and discuss spiritual questions.
The level of His understanding at this early of an age was astonishing. Verse 47says, “all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Luke’s comments should not be understood in terms of the Son of God’s omniscience (that Jesus knows all things) – because Jesus had limited His use of divine attributes. Luke was referring to Jesus’ human development. As a human He had to learn, and by the age of 12 he had already astounded people with His understanding of God’s Law.
Like most parents, Mary (and presumably Joseph) was relieved to find the child; but she was also irritated by the incident as seen in verse 48.
Mother’s Response (v. 48).
They, like most parents, failed to express joy in finding the child, but managed to express the irritation. Luke tells us in verse 48, “So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’”
First, notice that they were “amazed.” The word “amazed” is closer to the idea of being overwhelmed – it included relief in finding Jesus and astonishment regarding His deep conversation with teachers. Jesus was a 12-year old boy. Though we know He was and is God, His divinity was restrained. Furthermore, Mary and Joseph did not know Jesus was God. Based upon revelation they received, Mary and Joseph simply believed Jesus to be the Messiah – but in this narrative they are astounded by the depth of his perception at an early his age.
Secondly, notice that Mary said, “Why have you done this to us…Your father and I have sought you anxiously.” Jesus’ absence had caused anxiety. If they actually knew that Jesus was God, then their anxiety makes no sense. They were anxious and this is one of the many times they would have a sword pierce their souls due to Jesus’ decision to follow God completely (2:35).
In verse 49 Jesus’ reply addressed their need to grow in their understanding of Him.
Boy’s Answer (v. 49).
Jesus said in verse 49, “And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
First, let’s try to figure out what Jesus’ meant. The word “business” does not appear in the original (it is supplied by translators). Jesus’ reply is literally: “Did you not know that I must be in the …of my father.” The challenge is to determine to what Jesus was referring. Various views are promoted:
Some commentators state that Jesus was suggesting that He must be among those of His Father’s house – among Jewish teachers.
Some commentators state that Jesus was implying that He must be about His Father’s business. The idea being that God’s ministry was paramount and they must understand that.
However, the context of the immediate passage has to do with the anxiety of the parents in searching for Jesus. Their question was essentially, “Why have you treated us like this by making us search for you?” Therefore, the supposed reply from Jesus, “I must be about my Father’s business,” doesn’t make complete sense.
The last option was that Jesus meant that He must be in His Father’s Temple. Jesus must be involved in the instruction of divine things. Therefore, Jesus’ answer would have been “Why did you diligently look for me, you should have known I needed to be in the Temple.” The parents needed to know that Jesus had to be engaged in discussions about God’s will and work. This seems to be the best interpretive option.
The last interpretive option is supported by two other features in this passage. First, the phrase “Did you not know?” demands an affirmative answer: “surely you know that I must be in My Father’s Temple.”
Secondly, the phrase “My Father’s …” is instructive. The Jews did not refer to God using such an intimate term. They might have referred to God in a corporate sense: our Father. But they did not refer to God in on a personal and intimate level: My Father. Since Jesus used the term “My Father,” He was showing that He had a unique and intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus understood His unique and strong identity with the Father – He knew himself to be God the Son. By the age of 12 Jesus had a strong sense of His identity with the Father and was committed to the mission the Father had send Him to do.
Jesus’ response was filled with implications for others. His parents needed to come to understand Jesus and His mission fully – they did not understand this yet. Similarly, the disciples in the gospels, who though they readily grasped Jesus’ Messianic identity, took much longer to understand His unique connection to God the Father. Lastly, the readers need to recognize Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father and be willing to listen to what the Son has to say.
The point of this passage is Jesus’ unique attachment to the Father. His attachment to the Father has priority over all other relationships. Simeon (2:35) said that Jesus’ devotion to the Father would affect others – his own mother would be pained by His devotion to the Father. His attachment to the Father involves painful obligations – obligations to the Father which involve tough choices with regards to other lesser relationships.
Therefore, carrying out His task shows His resolve and His recognition that God is sovereign (2:49). Jesus is an example for us to follow. We must be faithful to follow our sovereign God even if, in so doing, others are offended or pained.
How did Jesus’ parents react to His response?
Parents’ Pondering (v. 50).
Luke tells us, “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” What Jesus said to them was cryptic – and complete comprehension eluded them. They understood to some degree, that He was the Messiah. However, the exact nature of his mission and His identity puzzled them.
This uncertainty about Jesus’ mission and His person was typical in the early years of Jesus’ life and ministry. As mentioned earlier, the disciples had to wrestle with various new concepts. At first, they were confronted with Jesus’ identity as Messiah and they embraced that truth. However, throughout the Gospels, as they listened and watched Jesus, their understanding of the person of the Messiah grew. The disciples were able to finally conclude that Jesus was God following His resurrection (John 14:20, and others). Evidently, now Theophilus was also wrestling with those ideas.
This passage shows us that early in Jesus’ life He had already gained an understanding of His identity and His role. However, other issues related to Jesus’ early life are not important. Therefore, Luke summarizes His following 20 years in two short verses.
Later Years (vv. 51-52)
Verse 51 summarizes His obedience. First, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth.” Jesus returned to Nazareth to live with His parents. However, though He was God in human flesh, He “was subject to them.” He obeyed them. This is a good example to all children: even the perfect Son of God was obedient to His imperfect human parents.
Verse 51 also describes the continual development of Mary’s comprehension. Luke tells us that “His mother kept all these things in her heart.” She did not know everything about Jesus – she kept on growing in her understanding of the unique person and role of Jesus Christ.
Verse 52 summarizes Jesus’ maturity. Luke said that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature.” Obviously, this statement is to be understood from a human perspective – Jesus as a man continued to increase in wisdom. Again, this is the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus never ceased being God, but in some matters He veiled His divinity in accordance with the Father’s will. The Son of God voluntarily put Himself in the position of needing to assimilate knowledge as a man. He subjected Himself to physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual growth.
In light of His human growth and development we find two results. “Jesus increased… in favor with God.” He grew in understanding of God’s will. He completely obeyed God in all things and God was completely pleased with Him.
Secondly, “Jesus increased in …in favor with…men.” His reputation as a just and righteous man developed. Men held him in high regard for His just and righteous lifestyle.
In this passage Luke shows us two things. First, Jesus’ human development is emphasized – His physical, intellectual, and spiritual growth. As He grew up He was a model man. Secondly, Jesus’ early knowledge of His own identity is revealed – early in life He had a sense of His unique relationship to God the Father.
When did Jesus know that He was God? From the heavenly perspective, the Son knew from eternity past who He was and what His earthly work was to be. From the earthly perspective, the incarnate Jesus came to that realization at some point early in life. Just when that point was, we cannot know for sure.
The example of Jesus is our example. Jesus grew in His understanding of God and His will – and He was obedient. We too need to grow in our understanding of God and His will, and we need to be obedient to what we know, as we grow in knowledge so must our obedience.
- Faith in Jesus Christ is based upon the revelation which God has given us about His Son. God has revealed Jesus as fully God and fully man. Faith is believing and trusting that Jesus is God.
- Are you growing in your knowledge of God and are you obedient to the knowledge you have?