The Youth of Jesus

Luke 2:52

What do we know about Jesus’ childhood

Luke 2 presents the one authentic biblical account of Jesus’ childhood, and the scene reveals a very normal boy with true-to-life parents.

Joseph and Mary were traveling with a large caravan of friends and relatives from Nazareth to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.

No doubt hundreds of people from their community went together to the feast. Men and women in such a group might have been separated by some distance, and it appears each parent thought Jesus was with the other. Jesus’ separation from His parents was rooted in this very simple misunderstanding.

The gospel account by no means suggests that Jesus was being mischievous or rebellious. He was simply engrossed in the goings-on at the temple. On the day they were scheduled to depart, however, Jesus’ parents were preoccupied with preparations for the journey home. When they left, He lingered — not out of disrespect or defiance, but simply because (like all children) He was utterly absorbed in something that had arrested His attention.

His true humanness never shows more clearly than it does in this account.

Why did it take Joseph and Mary so long to realize their Son was missing?

Because so many pilgrims descended on Jerusalem during that week, all the roads and inns would have been jammed, and large numbers of people from each community would travel to and from the feast together. From a town the size of Nazareth, there may have been a hundred or more people in Jesus’ parents’ party, some walking, some riding slow beasts of burden. A band that large would likely stretch over a mile’s distance, and the women generally traveled in a group or several small groups together, rather than being spread out among the men. So it is easy to understand how this confusion arose.

Mary and Joseph no doubt each presumed Jesus was with the other parent.

He certainly would not have been a mischief-prone child, so neither parent gave any thought to investigating His whereabouts until the end of the first day’s travel, when they suddenly discovered He was not with the group at all.

What was happening in the temple when Jesus’ parents found Him?

This is a unique picture of Jesus, seated among Israel’s leading rabbis, politely listening to them, asking questions, and amazing them with His comprehension and discernment.

Still a child in every sense, He was already the most amazing student they had ever had the privilege to teach.

He had evidently kept these teachers fully engaged for three days, and when Joseph and Mary finally came upon the scene, Jesus’ attention was still so focused on the lesson that He had not yet even thought to go looking for them. Because He was still a child — the perfect child — it is only reasonable to assume that Jesus maintained the role of a respectful student.

We’re not to think Jesus was rebuking, challenging, even instructing those rabbis. In fact, Luke seems to include this brief vignette about Jesus’ childhood precisely to stress the full humanity of Christ — how He grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Again, Luke is saying that every aspect of Jesus’ development into full manhood (intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially) was ordinary, not extraordinary.

Even though He was God incarnate, with all the full attributes of God in His infinite being, Jesus fully submitted the use of those attributes (like His divine omniscience) to His Father’s will.Consequently, there were times when Jesus’ omniscience was put on display (Matthew 9:4; John 2:24). At other times, however, His knowledge was veiled by His humanity according to the Father’s purpose (Mark 13:32).

In His incarnation, as Luke explained here, Jesus experienced the normal process of human growth, including intellectual development. All of that was part of the Father’s perfect plan for His Son.

According to Luke, Jesus was listening and asking questions, and what amazed these tutors was His grasp of the information they were giving Him as well as His answers (Luke 2:47). So the rabbis were obviously quizzing Him as they went, and they were astonished at both His attention span and His ability to perceive spiritual truth.

The questions Jesus asked those rabbis were part of His learning process, not some backhanded way of showing up the rabbis. He was truly learning from them and processing what they taught Him.

This experience surely provided our Lord’s first personal insight into their approach to Scripture and their religious system, which He would later denounce.

What happened when Jesus’ parents found Him?

Jesus’ lesson in the temple came to a rather abrupt halt when Joseph and Mary finally found their Son. Their anxiety and exasperation are certainly easy to understand from any parent’s point of view:

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.’ —Luke 2:48

This was probably not the first time — and it certainly would not be the last — that Jesus’ innocent motives would be misunderstood and misconstrued. Nor should His reply to Joseph and Mary be read as an insolent retort. Jesus was truly amazed that they hadn’t known exactly where to look for Him.

He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’  — Luke 2:49

Mary, of course, was referring to Joseph when she said “your father.” Jesus, however, was calling God “My Father.” (Plainly Jesus already had a clear sense of who He was and where His true accountability lay.) But at the moment, Jesus’ parents were so overwhelmed with relief to have found Him, so amazed to find Him at the feet of these prominent rabbis, and so fatigued from the whole ordeal that they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. — Luke 2:50

Luke ended this singular glimpse at Jesus’ childhood with this wrap-up:

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. — Luke 2:51–52

That is the end of Luke 2, and it is a perfect summary of Jesus’ boyhood.

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Your Turn

Can you imagine what Jesus must have been like as a boy and then as a young man? How he must have intrigued the rabbis teaching at the temple! What would Joseph and Mary have thought when they realized Jesus wasn’t among their caravan? So much is not told. What do you wonder about the youth of Jesus? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about the youth of Jesus! ~ Devotionals Daily

John MacArthur

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, president of the Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In more than four decades of ministry, John has written dozens of bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, and Slave. He and his wife, Patricia, have four married children and fifteen grandchildren.

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