**Was Jesus a good kid? Did he mature & learn? Are these the 2 most unpopular episodes from Jesus’ life?**
Let’s look at the 2 least popular events of Jesus’ life recorded in the Gospels.
Okay, I’ll admit, saying these are the two most unpopular events of Jesus’ life is an inflated claim and a claim I can’t back up. But bare with me: I only claim this because they fall outside the umbrella of the Christmas story (which is famous not just with Christians but all western society) and they fall outside the umbrella of Jesus’ ministry (which is the primary focus of all four Gospels).
The two episodes I’m talking about are…
(1) Jesus being presented in the Temple as a child
(2) Jesus in the Temple at 12-years-old.
Since neither of these events are essential to the Christmas story nor Jesus’ ministry, it’s no surprise Luke is the only Gospel writer to record them. Regardless, both events are fascinating and give us another glimpse into Jesus’ family and his “humanness.”
The first episode takes place when Mary and Joseph present Jesus, since he’s their first born, at the Temple and offer a sacrifice according to the Law of Moses in Exodus 13:2. (Read about what Mary and Joseph’s sacrifice tells us about their economic status in my earlier article here.) The Holy Spirit had revealed to a devout, righteous man named Simeon that he wouldn’t die before seeing the Messiah. Led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon immediately recognizes the child Jesus as God’s “salvation” and “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [God’s] people of Israel.” He praises God and blesses Joseph and Mary. Similarly, a widowed prophetess named Anna in the Temple “at that very moment” began thanking God and telling all who were waiting for the Messiah about Jesus.
The second episode is recorded in Luke immediately after the first, but first we’re told, “And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”
In the second episode, Jesus is twelve-years-old. This is the only story we have from Jesus’ youth, when he’s neither an infant nor a grown man. This is also the last time we find any mention of Joseph in the Gospels, which leads most to assume he had passed away before the start of Jesus’ ministry. (Read more about this in my earlier article here.)
Jesus’ family had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. This would’ve been done in a large caravan with others, most likely with their extended family. (There’s no mention of Jesus’ siblings here, but it could be because they weren’t important to the story.)
When returning home to Galilee, it takes a day’s journey before Mary and Joseph realize Jesus is not with the caravan. This may give us a good idea about the size of the caravan. Perhaps Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus’ was safe with relatives. I’ve always visualized them assuming he was off playing with his cousins, probably because I was close to my own cousins growing up and always looked forward to our families getting together. Or maybe they assumed Jesus was off playing with some of his brothers and sisters, and when they located his siblings, we can imagine the conversation:
“James, Jude — where’s Jesus?”
“We thought he was with you!”
However it happened, Luke tells us Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem and looked for Jesus for 3 days. 3 days! Can you imagine how worried they were? But, finally, they find Jesus in the Temple “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”
Luke ends this episode similarly to how he ended the other: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
About 700 years earlier, in a prophecy of the future Messiah, Isaiah 11:2 tells us:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear [awe, respect] of the Lord.
These episodes are beautiful because, like the other aspects of Jesus’ family and early life we looked at in this series, it shows the humanness of Jesus Christ. Later, we will look at Jesus’ godliness, but Jesus was human also. Christians believe Jesus is 100% man and 100% God – two natures in one person. How these two natures commingle in one person is hard to wrap our heads around (and beyond the scope of this article), but these two episodes show us that Jesus, though also God, grew not just physically but mentally.
We also see self-awareness of his unique identity when Mary and Joseph find him in the Temple after 3 days. Mary scolds him, and Jesus replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” By referring to the Temple as “my Father’s house,” Jesus is showing an understanding of his one-of-a-kind relationship to God.
Though “Our Father” is a common way Christians refer to God, this was not the case for Jews in Jesus’ time. The Old Testament does refer to God as the Father of Israel, and the father metaphor for God is used at times elsewhere in the Old Testament, but it is irregular.
“Father” is the primary way Jesus refers to God; his frequency (and the intimacy) of referring to God in such a way would surely have caught the attention of his 1st Century audience. If fact, the Jews of Jesus’ time understood correctly that by doing so he was making himself equal with God, an understanding lost on many of us today and those not from the Jewish faith.
This is clearly seen in John 5, where Jesus calls himself the Son of God many times. John 5:18 tells us, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” For instance, Jesus says, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Proclaiming oneself to be equal with God was a blasphemy worthy of public stoning and death to the 1st Century Jews.
Jesus is the unique Son of God, and only through our relationship with him do we get adopted into the family and are given the privilege of calling God our heavenly Father.
Finally, through these episodes, we see that Jesus was no ordinary boy. Yes, he is a boy that grows in stature and wisdom, like all boys; he is even a boy who gets into trouble with his parents. (Since Jesus is without sin, we can infer this wasn’t an intentional disobedience of his parents. Immediately afterwards, Luke — very intentionally, I believe — is sure to tell us Jesus returned to Nazareth and was “obedient” to them.) But he is also the God-man. And only someone 100% human could represent us and die for our sins, and someone 100% God could take the punishment of the sins of the world on himself and defeat sin, evil, and death.