The Gospels say almost nothing about Jesus’ young adult years. But we do have a couple of details that can help us learn about Jesus as a young man.
In our last article, we explored Jesus’ childhood years. We ended that article with Luke’s summation of the next 18 years of His life: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
That is all that we are told about Jesus’ life from the age of 12 to 30.
But is there anything else we can know about those 18 mysterious years of His life—His teenage and young adult years?
Though we don’t have specific details about this period of His life, we can put some pieces together from other information we are given in the Gospels.
Jesus the carpenter
In Mark 6, we read about Jesus’ visit to His hometown of Nazareth early in His ministry. To sum it up, it didn’t go well.
We are told that after hearing Him preach a powerful message in their synagogue, the people were amazed and offended at the depth and power of His preaching. Mark records that many of the people said, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!” (Mark 6:2).
This tells us that Jesus did not spend those 18 years in Nazareth preaching and performing miracles. This is significant to note because there are various apocryphal stories about Jesus as a young boy doing supernatural things, such as making a clay bird and breathing life into it.
But these legends are certainly false. If Jesus had been performing small miracles as a boy and young adult, they would have had no reason to be surprised by what He was doing during His ministry. Stories and rumors of His exploits would have surely spread around Nazareth. But instead, when He returned and spoke with such authority, they were shocked. The miracle of turning water into wine formally began His public ministry around the age of 30 (John 2:11).
But if He wasn’t preaching or performing miracles during those 18 years, what was He doing?
The answer is revealed in the next thing the people of Nazareth said: “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).
From this statement, it appears Jesus spent most of His late teens and 20s working as a carpenter. He likely apprenticed under His stepfather Joseph, who was also a carpenter (Matthew 13:55).
As High Priest, He can sympathize with our temptations and physical suffering, and He also can empathize with the deep pain and grief we experience when we lose a father, mother, spouse, brother, sister or close friend.At that time, boys typically entered the workforce around the age of 13. So, Jesus may have begun apprenticing with Joseph a year or so after the temple incident (Luke 2:41-50). This means Jesus likely spent about 17 years of His life working this trade.
Being a carpenter in the first century required learning complex skills and developing physical strength. Carpenters were responsible for building both physical structures like homes (working mainly with stone and wood) and smaller objects like furniture.
His carpentry background undoubtedly helped Jesus develop into a physically strong man who knew how to work hard and keep up a rigorous physical pace. Sometimes artists picture Him as a soft, slender and pale man. But the real Jesus would have been strong, somewhat rugged, with tanned skin and tough hands. He spent much of His life outdoors, working and walking under the hot sun of the Middle East.
The Gospels present Jesus as very physically active—constantly traveling up and down Judea and Galilee on foot. Not only did He constantly travel, but He frequently climbed mountains and hills, could survive for extended periods of time in the wilderness, and even had the strength to physically remove unsavory people from the temple. He had stamina that allowed Him to maintain a challenging schedule. We read that when He needed to address something, He “turned around” (Mark 8:33; Luke 7:9)—implying that He typically walked ahead of the disciples.
The point is: Working for about 17 years as a carpenter helped Jesus become physically fit.
But being a skilled carpenter would also have had an impact on His mind. Skilled carpenters develop strong mental skills that help them solve problems, think outside the box, plan and mentally envision different outcomes. They usually are strong in mathematics, develop fine motor skills and are creative. This may help explain why Jesus often used building metaphors during His ministry (Matthew 7:24-27; 16:18; Luke 14:28-30).
Not only did working as a carpenter give Him physical and mental strength, it also helped Him have financial security throughout these years. It seems Jesus owned a home in Capernaum (Mark 2:1) and wore quality clothes (John 19:23). He wasn’t wealthy, but He wasn’t poor either.
What can we learn from Jesus’ example?
First, Jesus learned and developed a marketable skill to support Himself before He began His ministry. Second, He worked hard. Both of these examples are firmly rooted in the Bible as keys to physical success (Proverbs 14:23; 24:27; 22:29; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:23). Young people can learn from His example and prepare themselves for a career, get a job and work hard.
To learn more about Jesus’ physical appearance, read “What Did and Didn’t Jesus Look Like?”
Jesus experienced loss
There’s a second thing we can deduce from these years of His life: At some point during these years, His stepfather and mentor, Joseph, died.
The Gospels make no more mention of Joseph after Jesus’ ministry began. We read about Jesus’ mother Mary, but Joseph is noticeably absent. His absence during Jesus’ ministry means Joseph likely died sometime during these 18 years of Jesus’ life.
Immediately before His death at Golgotha, Jesus asked John, the son of Zebedee, to care for His mother (John 19:26). That Jesus was concerned she be cared for implies she was a widow. We are not told how or when Joseph died, but his death likely occurred when Jesus was in His 20s.
He personally experienced the piercing pain of the loss of a loved one. The Messiah was prophesied to be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The loss of His stepfather and mentor was likely a part of the grief He experienced in His life.
His experiences contributed to His service as our High Priest in heaven today (Hebrews 4:14-16). As High Priest, He can sympathize with our temptations and physical suffering, and He also can empathize with the deep pain and grief we experience when we lose a father, mother, spouse, brother, sister or close friend.
Jesus can sympathize and comfort us through this kind of grief because He experienced and felt it Himself.
Jesus trusted His Father’s will. We don’t know the circumstances of Joseph’s death, but whatever happened, Jesus trusted God’s decision not to heal or resurrect Joseph at that time.
Later in His life, Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). He expressed this same trust in God’s will at the end of His life (Luke 22:42). Experiencing the death of a loved one is one of the hardest times in a person’s life, but we can follow Jesus’ example in trusting God during these times.
Why can’t we know more?
The apostle John wrote an interesting statement that helps explain why we don’t have many other details about this period of Jesus’ life: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Simply put, if we had a comprehensive biography of Jesus’ life from birth to death, we would need thousands of pages and multiple volumes to hold it! Though we would love to have more details about His life, we can be assured we have all we need to know to . . .
Walk as He walked.