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The early wisdom of Jesus

Oct 19, 2013

After Simeon and Anna had borne witness to Jesus as a baby of forty days, Joseph and Mary returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke 2:39, 40 says,

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

As an example of His increase in wisdom, Luke tells the story of their observance of Passover when Jesus was twelve. He was not precisely twelve, of course, having been born at the feast of Trumpets. If Luke meant Jesus’ twelfth year, He would have been eleven-and-a-half, and his cousin John would have been exactly twelve. Or this might mean Jesus was twelve-and-a-half, and John was just turning thirteen.

Learning the Father’s Affairs

Luke 2:41, 42 continues,

41 And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;

We are told nothing about the feast itself, so we may assume that it was observed normally and without incident. It was mandatory that all men should attend the feast, but for women it was optional, as their husbands or fathers could represent them.

Lightfoot tells us that the rabbis wrote,

Let a man deal gently with his son till he come to be twelve years old; but from that time let him descend with him into his way of living. That is, let him diligently, and with severity (if need be), keep him close to that way, rule, or art by which he may get his living.” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 48)

In other words, it was customary in those days to begin teaching sons the skills of the father’s profession or trade. It is in this context, then, that the incident occurred in the temple and the force behind Jesus’ words.

When Did They Leave the Feast

Luke 2:43-45 says,

43 and as they were returning after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.

The wording in verse 43 implies that they remained in Jerusalem for the full seven days of Unleavened Bread. In those days it was mandatory that they remain there at least until the third day, but most stayed throughout the full seven days. The law itself seemed to allow them to return home on the fifteenth of Abib, the day of Passover, after eating the Passover the previous evening. Deuteronomy 16:5-7 says,

5 You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. 7 And you shall cook and eat it in the place which the Lord your God chooses. And in the morning you are to return to your tents.

The precedent for returning to their “tents” was when the Israelites left Egypt on the day of Passover. However, that first day, along with the seventh, were Sabbaths (Leviticus 23:7). The rabbis had ruled that 2,000 cubits was the maximum distance that people could travel on a Sabbath, and so this distance was called “a Sabbath day’s journey” (Acts 1:12). It was this distance to the top of the Mount of Olives just outside the city. So the rabbis had concluded that when Moses said, “you are to return to your tents,” he meant they should return to their tents near Jerusalem where they were abiding during the days of the feast. No one should return home on the day of Passover.

Perhaps God was not as concerned as the rabbis of determining the precise distance that men could walk on a Sabbath. Nonetheless, the custom of the day was that the people had to remain in or near Jerusalem on the day of Passover. Further, the rabbis said there were three things commanded in regard to Passover: the peace offerings on the first day, the appearance in the court on the second day, and the rejoicing on any day.

And so it was commanded that the people remain until the third day, but strongly recommended that they stay throughout the full seven days of Unleavened Bread. The removal of leaven from their houses was still part of it, because in many cases some women remained at home. Those who came to Jerusalem simply did not leaven their bread while living in the tents.

Anyway, it seems clear that Joseph and Mary remained in Jerusalem for the full seven days as recommended by the rabbis before starting their journey back to Nazareth. These feasts were times when family and friends could fellowship, for otherwise, many of them might not ever see each other. Joseph and Mary were thus able to see their relatives from Bethlehem and Hebron a few times a year, and this provided powerful motivation for the women to come to the feasts as well.

It is likely that Jesus often spent the night with friends and relatives in their tents, as young people often do even today. When the feast concluded, and the caravans began to move down the roads in all directions, Joseph and Mary would have assumed that Jesus was with some of them on the Nazareth caravan. It was not until the end of the first day’s journey that they became concerned. Lightfoot says,

“The first ordinary day’s journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee, was to Neapolis, of old called Sychem, distant thirty miles. But was this the day’s journey that Joseph and the company that travelled along with him made at this time? The place where Christ was first missed by his parents is commonly showed at this day to travelers, much nearer Jerusalem, by the name Beere, but ten miles from that city. You may believe those that show it, as you think fit” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 45).

Sychem is the Greek word for Shechem. It is mentioned in Acts 7:16. Sychem is now the West Bank city of Nablus. Being thirty miles from Jerusalem, it does not seem probable that a caravan would travel that far in one day. In the wagon trains of the American West, a good day’s travel was about twenty miles. So it seems more likely to me that the caravan stopped at the town of Beere just ten miles north of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary could not find Jesus among their friends and relatives, they returned the next day to Jerusalem. No doubt they searched for Him during the remainder of that second day. They found Him the third day in the temple, as Luke 2:46, 47 says,

46 And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

Jesus had apparently been invited into the Sanhedrin itself and was sitting on the floor, surrounded by the seats of the elders. It is said that he was asking them questions. It was not uncommon for men to come to the temple to ask questions to clarify various points of law. What was unusual was for a twelve-year-old boy to do this. Luke implies that Jesus’ questions showed His deep understanding of the Word. When they questioned Him, His answers were original, and not mere quotations from other rabbis.

Luke 2:48-50 continues,

48 And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

The Greek text literally reads, en tois tou patros, which The Interlinear Bible renders, “in (the affairs of) my Father.” Luke’s wording says only that Jesus had to be in His Father’s SOMETHING. Whether that would be His “affairs” (Interlinear) or “business” (KJV) or “house” (NASB), or even in His Father’s school is deliberately unclear, because it is all of the above.

Jesus was twelve, and so He was learning the business affairs in the house of His legal father, Joseph. But in a parallel manner, Jesus was also learning the business affairs in the house of His Heavenly Father.

These are also the first recorded words of Jesus. The words establish His calling and purpose in life. Luke 2:51, 52 finishes this passage, saying,

51 And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

This is the second time Jesus’ mother “treasured all these things in her heart.” The first was when the shepherds came and told them about their angelic visitation (Luke 2:18, 19). On that occasion, the angels revealed that Jesus was to be “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The second was when she saw how Jesus had handled Himself at the temple, as well as His revelation that God was His Father.

This would have reminded them of the fact that Jesus did not have a biological father and that Joseph was only raising Him so that Jesus’ real Father would not lose His inheritance in the earth.

And so, Jesus grew physically and spiritually and was well liked and respected in His youth.


This is part 8 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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