The Boy Jesus at the Temple
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
As we have previously seen, Mary and Joseph were interested in obeying God’s commands and living a life dedicated to Him. So at the time of Passover they would travel each year to Jerusalem for the 7 day long feast and celebration. They would travel in a large group of family and friends from their town and the entire process would take days of fellowship and walking. Just as today when we get together for a party the children wander off, so in Jesus’ time the children would most likely be gathered together while traveling, and the parents just assumed they were all there. At the age of 12 Jesus would be expected to be able to watch over himself as this year would mark the first time he would participate in the Passover. Jewish tradition deemed that age 12 was when boys would take on the adult responsibilities of faith and the next year become a religious adult striving to fulfill the law.
“The Mishnah (the written record of the oral traditions of Jesus’ time and after) recorded that the gifted student began study of the written Torah at age five, studied oral traditions at age 12, became a religious adult at 13, studied the application of Torah and tradition at 15, learned a trade at 20, and entered his full ability at 30. Although this was written after Jesus, it represents the practice of his time. It is significant that he came to Jerusalem at age 12, already wise; then he learned a trade from His father until his ministry began at age 30. His life seemed to follow the education practices of his people quite closely. He surely attended the local school of Nazareth and learned from great rabbis as well. Being addressed as “Rabbi” certainly indicated someone who had learned from a rabbi.” – Follow the Rabbi (ref. here)
After that first day of traveling back Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with them. For 3 days they searched for him (by now probably panicked) and finally found him in the temple courts discussing the Torah with the teachers there. What was remarkable about this was not that he was there, but that the people were amazed at his understanding. It would have been normal for a 12 year old boy to be learning from the teachers and rabbis, but not speaking with authority over them. His parents saw him and were astonished, and expressed their anxiety over their search for him. Jesus’ answer may seem like rebellion because of it’s directness and curtness, however he was simply telling the truth.
Mary and Joseph both knew the origin of this boy, though 12 years had passed since his miraculous birth. No doubt, as we will see later, Mary knew the power Jesus held back, but he was her son. She looked lovingly at him and thought not about what future plans may hold for her special child, but what was happening in the moment. She was rightly concerned about her son who was missing, but as Jesus reminded her, he was where he was supposed to be – in his Father’s house. He was not sinning against his parents by being in the temple because he was right where God wanted him, but he left there to show obedience to his earthly parents until the time would come for his ministry to begin. Mary and Joseph were confounded at the time at what Jesus said to them and in the moment did not understand why he would need to be in the temple, or why it was his Father’s house.
The text says that Mary treasured all these things in her heart, just as she had done when the shepherds came to exclaim what the angels had told them regarding the baby Jesus. We can almost get a glimpse that Mary is trying to hold on to these truths but not speak them aloud because Jesus is her son. She knows that God has promised great things about him; she was told by the angel Gabriel herself that he would inherit the throne of David, and that his kingdom would never end. She knows that he is truly God’s son as her conception of him was miraculous while still a virgin. But as his mother she clings to his humanity and grasps for him to belong to her. So she puts these things away for a future time, one that she may not enjoy.
In the last verse we read that Jesus grew in wisdom, and in favor with God and men. As part of our Christology (our doctrine of who Christ is) we must understand that he was both fully human and fully God. He literally hid or put off his divine being so that he could grow and live as a man on earth. We will get a glimpse of who he really is during the transfiguration in Matthew 17, but for now we must understand that this person lived a life just as we live it. He went to school, he did his chores, he suffered heartache and loss, and he grew up – just like we do. He became wise in the knowledge of the scriptures and in life, and because he was willing to put off his divine nature he gained favor with God. This man would eventually take that same stance at the end of his sinless life and put off the ability to pass up death. He willingly took on the wrath of God for each and every sin his sheep would commit. He would pay the punishment for sin – death. But because of his selflessness God would pour out his glory upon him and raise him to life to be able to make atonement for those he would call his.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5:7-9
“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:27-28