There is only one biblical reference to Jesus’ childhood—a curious record of family trauma when Jesus was 12. What does this story tell us about Jesus?
John 21:25 tells us that there were so many remarkable incidents in the life of Jesus Christ, that if they were all written down, the number of volumes would be beyond measure. What He accomplished in the 3½ years of His ministry is astounding. Thankfully, we have four Gospel writers who record a great deal of what took place, including specific details surrounding His birth.
Interestingly, Luke’s account of Jesus’ life tells of something that took place when Jesus was 12 years of age. No other Gospel writer includes this story or mentions anything about Jesus’ childhood. There is much we can learn from this fascinating story.
An exceptional Child
Luke 2:40 gives a summary statement describing Jesus’ development from infancy to age 12: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
Jesus experienced a natural maturing process similar to any growing boy, but He was especially endowed with God’s Spirit and grace from birth so that He was far advanced beyond other 12-year-olds when it came to grasping the Word of God and spiritual principles.
We also see that Jesus was reared in a devoutly religious home, as shown in the next two verses. His family faithfully followed God’s instruction concerning the annual religious festivals. The story we are exploring involves a family pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread and what took place shortly after.
Jesus’ family life
Learning at an early age that there is a God and that each person is made in His image provides a healthy atmosphere for well-adjusted children. Joseph and Mary furnished a home centered on God’s love, His commandments and His way of life, which is undoubtedly one reason God selected them to provide His Son’s early childhood development.
Luke 2:43-44 begins to give some interesting insight into the dynamics of this special family. After the festivals, as the family caravan was a day’s journey from Jerusalem on their way toward home, it was discovered that Jesus was not with the group. How could they have gone so far without realizing this?
First of all, Jesus must have been a boy who had earned His parents’ confidence and trust. Joseph and Mary were obviously relying on Jesus to act in a responsible manner during the trip home from Jerusalem. They had learned by this time that their oldest child was a very reliable, capable and dependable youth. Had He been unpredictable or immature, then they would have felt the need to oversee His whereabouts more closely. But apparently they had no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary.
Joseph and Mary assumed He was traveling with another family or relatives and didn’t inquire as to His whereabouts until later that day. This was understandable behavior on their part since there was no way they could have envisioned anything other than reliable conduct from their Son and a normal trip home to Nazareth after the Passover festival.
They were startled to find that He was not with the caravan; and then, filled with concern, they spent the next day traveling back to Jerusalem amid great consternation hoping to find Him safe.
Found in the temple
It appears it was on the third day after the festival that they found Him in the temple area. He was not playing with other boys, lost or even scared to be on His own. He was instead involved in serious discussions with some of the learned teachers of the law in Jerusalem, “both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
Rather than being annoyed by one so youthful, these intelligent men were astounded by Jesus’ questions and responses and, most importantly, by His grasp of deep theological topics. Luke’s account says, “All who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (verse 47). Truly they were in the presence of a very divinely gifted young man.
Once He was located, Joseph and Mary were relieved to find Jesus safe. Yet at the same time they were bewildered by their Son’s surprising behavior and seeming lack of appreciation for the anxiousness He had caused.
Mary took the lead in asking what it all meant. It seems Joseph remained quiet for the moment and allowed her to speak for them both. Perhaps it is because Jesus was conceived in her womb or, being a woman, she was the one more emotionally distraught after the days of searching, but Mary now sought an answer from her Son.
Jesus’ mother showed wisdom and self-control in that she first inquired about her Son’s intent. She asked in verse 48, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
Many parents would automatically allow their frustration or anger to dictate their action and might lash out at their child for causing such distress, but she apparently knew her Son had never been irresponsible or rebellious and so she sought an honest understanding of what He was doing.
Jesus responded to His mother’s inquiry by saying, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (verse 49). Jesus did not give prior warning that He intended to remain in Jerusalem. Perhaps He hoped, that Joseph and Mary would conclude that He had important work to accomplish and that they would not worry when He turned up missing.
Jesus must have had some very profound conversations with His parents growing up. His mother would have related the story of His birth and what Gabriel said when he appeared to her nine months prior to His birth. Jesus also had His Father’s Spirit without measure (John 3:34). He had a strong grasp of His own purpose for being on the earth. The zeal to please His Heavenly Father and do the work of God would have burned strongly in Him even at this time in His young life.
So, perhaps Jesus felt His parents, on this occasion, would consider all this and that it would allay any anxiety concerning His whereabouts. Of course, parental concern for their 12-year-old was so strong that they were not fully able to understand what He said to them (Luke 2:50).
Now that His parents had returned for Him, Jesus knew He would later launch into His life’s work and undertake His Father’s business. But for now Jesus determined to return to Nazareth and continue to be subject to Joseph and Mary (verse 51).
Jesus’ Heavenly Father did not intend His Son to begin His great public ministry for another 18 years. By then He would be ready to face the greatest challenge any man could ever face.
Why did Luke record this event?
There is a reason God inspired Luke to record this amazing account in Jesus’ childhood. We see from this circumstance that this extraordinary family went through life experiences as any normal family does, with real feelings, emotions, cares and sometimes confusion felt by family members, including Jesus’ brothers and sisters (see John 7:3-4).
All three of the key players in this account showed godly responses to the circumstances they faced and ended up maturing as individuals. Joseph and Mary had much to ponder concerning their Son and His special gifts, and Jesus grew in understanding of His role as a son and emerged with a greater grasp of God’s will for Him. Yet, through it all, no one sinned and the parent-child relationship was strengthened not damaged.
What guided these three individuals are the principles found in God’s Word, the Bible. They were also helped by the Holy Spirit that came from our Heavenly Father.
If you would like to learn more about God’s purpose for your life and how that Spirit and truth can guide your life, then continue to explore the information found on this website. We hope you do.