39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2:39-52 ESV
Once Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all the requirements prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law, they were able to return home to Nazareth in Galilee. But for some unexplained reason, Luke chose to leave out the family’s flight to Egypt. Not only that, he also fails to mention the visit of the wise men who traveled all the way to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV). When these foreign visitors had arrived in Jerusalem seeking the newly born king, they sought aid from Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea. But Herod was surprised by their news and made plans to eliminate this new competitor to his throne.
After the wise men had paid their respects to Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream in which an angel of the Lord warned him about Herod’s plan to kill Jesus.
“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV
The angel’s warning proved true, as Herod “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16 ESV). Joseph would keep his family in Egypt until he received another dream alerting him to the news that Herod had died, and it was safe to return home. But Joseph’s initial plan had been to return to Bethlehem.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.– Matthew 2:21-23 ESV
Bethlehem was located in Judea, the province over which Herod had been given jurisdiction by the Romans. Since Herod’s son, Archelaus had taken his place as king of Judea, Joseph was directed by God to take his family back to Nazareth.
So, there was a lot that had happened in the young life of Jesus before we reach the events recorded in today’s passage. Luke simply picks up the story after their return, stating, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 ESV). Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus had failed. The infant soon became a healthy young boy, growing up in the small town of Nazareth. Luke seems to want his readers to understand that Jesus had a childhood. The Messiah of Israel had been born and raised just like any other Jewish boy of His day. He had been taught by His parents and provided with instructions in the Mosaic Law and introduced to the sacrificial system of Israel.
Luke reports that, for 12 years, Jesus and His family made the annual trip to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. This was one of three festivals that required all Jewish males to travel to the capital city where the temple of Yahweh was located. Many would bring their families with them so that they might experience the sights and sounds of this important national commemoration of Israel’s deliverance by God from their captivity in Egypt.
But on this particular occasion, Luke reports that something significant happened. When the feast had ended, the family joined the thousands of other pilgrims who filled the streets leaving Jerusalem. It was likely that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were traveling with friends and other extended family members. And it was common practice for the men and women to travel in separate groups. This may help explain how neither Mary or Joseph seemed to notice that Jesus had stayed behind and was not part of the caravan that made its way back to Nazareth. Each of them just assumed that the child was traveling with the other parent. It was not until that evening that they discovered Jesus was missing. In a panic, they made the long trek back to Jerusalem.
But all the while, Jesus had been “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46 ESV). This young boy of 12 had been quizzing the religious leaders, most likely peppering them with questions about the law and other matters of faith and religion. And this seemingly precocious pre-teen from the backwater town of Nazareth left an impression on His elders.
…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:47 ESV
But while Jesus had been busy in the temple, His poor parents had been in a panic, searching for their “lost” child all throughout the city of Jerusalem. When they finally discovered Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph were dumbfounded. Luke uses the Greek word, ekplēssō, which can be translated “to strike with panic, shock, or astonishment.”
You can sense Mary’s concern and consternation in her response to Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48 ESV). Like any concerned mother, she is relieved and, at the same time, a bit put out with her son. For three days she has had to suffer all the anxieties and fears that accompany the realization that your child is missing. And Mary had the added pressure of knowing that her son was to be the long-awaited Savior of Israel, and now she had somehow managed to misplace the Messiah.
But when Mary confronted Jesus about His behavior, the young boy answered confidently, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). There was no disrespect or dishonor in Jesus’ words. He simply stated what appeared to HIm to be obvious.
What Jesus actually said was something along the lines of “Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father’s?” The Greek word that ends the sentence is patēr, which is translated as “father.” With this statement, Jesus is revealing that He understands the identity of His true Father. He knows that He is the Son of God, and He is asking His mother why she seems so surprised to have found Him in His Father’s house. Where else would He be? Where else would He go?
But Luke reveals that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. It was all too much for them to take comprehend. So, with great relief, they took their Son and started the long journey back to Nazareth. And Luke notes that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51 NLT). This statement seems to indicate that, at this point, Jesus fully understood who He was and what God had planned for Him to do. But He realized that His time had not yet come to begin His earthly ministry. So, He willingly submitted Himself to His parent’s care, waiting patiently for the preordained time His Messianic ministry would begin.
And for the next two decades, Jesus would remain in Nazareth, growing from a young boy into full adulthood. Luke makes note that, during those years, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). There was a natural progression to Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. He grew up just like any young man would do. He learned and experienced life. And it would seem that His awareness of His true identity and future mission became increasingly more clear over time. God was preparing His Son for His eventual mission.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.