What was Jesus like when he was a child? It’s a logical question but the Holy Bible tells very little about him from his birth till he started his ministry. In fact the only firsthand account we have of those middle years comes from his mother, Mary.
The Gospel According to Luke
When Luke was writing his account of the life of the Christ (which experts say was in the early 60’s A.D., since the destruction of the Temple which came in 70 A.D., isn’t mentioned) he interviewed as many eyewitnesses as he could find.1 Naturally Mary, who was still alive at the time, was someone he wanted a perspective from. Like all godly mothers her memories were vivid, for even in her seniors years when Luke met her she still “kept all these things in her heart.”2
A Boy Like & Unlike Any Other
Why didn’t Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, just come into the world as a full grown man? Could the answer be that he wanted to experience human life as we do so he could identify better with us and we with him? From what we know of the culture and customs of the 1st Century, Near East, we can put together a pretty reliable picture of what his childhood was like.
To begin it’s important to know that despite his miraculous conception Jesus grew up like any other child. He had to learn to talk, walk, to count, and to run and jump. He learned life lessons, and right from wrong from his parents and like all Jewish boys when he was of age he regularly went to the local synagogue to learn the Holy Scriptures. Like all fathers did, Joseph taught him the skill he knew, carpentry. When he wasn’t working with his dad he had all the usual duties to help around the house too. One thing he experienced that most children don’t was the loss of a parent.
Joseph disappears rather early from the Scriptures most likely because he died. That means the young Jesus experienced grief, and since he was the oldest son he had to learn to deal with great responsibilities as the succeeding head of the family. He developed compassion too as he worked to support and care for his widowed mother. He endured these things despite being “special.” But still he surely had issues unique only to him since he was part human and part deity.
For instance, how often did he feel lonely, wishing he could “fit in” with other young people? He probably suffered resentment from his peers, and siblings too; after all he was faultless! He was never betrothed to a Jewish girl and never married. Still that doesn’t mean they weren’t interested in him or maybe he in them despite having to be humble, never letting on to the secret only he and his mother knew.
He kept that secret well too. He never used his special powers to benefit himself or his family. He didn’t use his divine abilities to play tricks or get an upper hand on anyone, or to repair something he may have broken to stay out of trouble. We know this because John’s gospel tells us his first miracle came early in his ministry when he turned water into wine.3 So its not too far fetched to conclude that he never, ever sinned since the Bible tells us so.4
He never got into trouble, misbehaved, stole, or dishonored his parents, the things everyone in their youth does sometimes. He wasn’t just a good boy he was a perfect sinless boy just as predicted.5 Therefore, even before reaching the age of reason Jesus deliberately refused to do any evil, any sin.
His First Jerusalem Passover
With his background established, Mary’s account to Luke starts when he was 12 years old when he went with his parents for his first Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread observance in the great city of Jerusalem.
Jewish Law required males of 13 and over to go there for three of the major festivals (Passover, Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles). So, many men took their families with him especially their 12 year old sons with them to help prepare them for the rights and responsibilities that would come with their Bar Mitzvah the next year. That’s probably why Yeshua was allowed to go. So, they left the younger children with relatives or friends and began the three day journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem.
Since it was the highest festival of the year the caravan may have started small but people from all the surrounding communities, farms, villages and hamlets eventually joined it. So its likely that eventually there were hundreds of people stretched out over a great distance with pack animals loaded with provisions for the over two weeks away. The getting there in a large group was a social occasion all its own too but with a practical purpose. The route was fraught with highway robbers and there was safety in numbers.
The women would occupy the front half of the caravan. Walking single file or maybe in groups, they passed time making small talk and catching up on each others lives, while watching over the children as they entertained themselves. The men lingered in the back half, discussing crops, taxes and the weather. They too were enjoying the reprieve from the back breaking, day to day routine but were also looking out for any sign of danger. Thankfully this trip was uneventful and they arrived in Jerusalem without incident.
Jesus had probably never seen so many people, all of them rushing here and there in the streets with their preparation day business. He must have marveled at the sight of the great Temple complex, the huge Plaza and the covered courts that lined it. Then there was the great Temple itself, the place where God makes his presence known!
He must have been filled with amazement as his father took him by the hand and walked the floor of the Women’s Court, his mom looking down on them from the balcony. Together they peered into the Court of the Priests with little Yeshua standing on the tips of his feet to see over the other onlookers, or maybe his dad holding him. Together they watched the priests as they handled the sacrificial animals, collecting their blood for sprinkling on the sacred altar and roasting them with fire as God instructed their ancestors in Egypt to do.
Then maybe he saw the chief priest ascend the 12 steps to the entrance of the Temple, two 60 foot high double doors, to make the once a year venture into the inner sanctuary. “He is taking the prayers of God’s people to God in the Holy of Holies,” whispered his father. Did it lead Jesus to ask his father about the significance of it all, or did he know already?
The eight days of worship, remembrance and praise came and went and the caravan began the trip home. Joseph and Mary took their separate positions again, each probably thinking little Yeshua was with the other. It was only when they camped for the night that they couldn’t find him! “I thought he was with you!” cried Mary. “Well, I thought he was with you!” yelled Joseph. Oh the thoughts of dread they had! Was he lost? Maybe he was kidnapped or dead! They asked and looked all over the camp but eventually concluded they had to start a search in the direction of Jerusalem. They got no sleep that night.
They set out just before daylight the next day, leaving the caravan behind. All along the route they constantly scanned in all directions yelling his name, “Yeshua! Yeshua!” but there was not a sign, no response at all. A full day later they reached Jerusalem.
They searched the streets of the lower and upper city, begging anyone they saw if they had seen a 12 year boy, about this high, who looked lost. Another full day passed, it was nearing dusk and they were at their wits end. There was only one thing to do- make a guilt offering to the Lord and ask for his help.
The Temple mount was a short distance away but they were so exhausted, so stressed over the last two days it seemed so much further. They trudged their way there, hoping, praying they would find an animal vendor so they could buy what they could afford, a pigeon or dove. They would then offer it to the Lord in exchange for forgiveness of whatever they had done wrong to cause their son’s disappearance. They were sobbing, trying to comfort each other, not really sure if this final act of desperation would be any use.
They climbed the south side staircase to the complex. With each step elevating them higher and higher and they looked behind and to each side back out over the city for any sign of him. Nothing. They entered and walked along the covered courts.
They came near a group of men, at least a dozen of them, probably rabbis seated in a circle. One of them was standing, questioning someone sitting, someone they couldn’t see. They paid it little attention. In fact they were trying to be as quiet as possible to not disturb them. They heard the man go silent then the sound of a young boy’s voice. Was that their Yeshua?
They moved in closer still not quite believing their ears when they reached the edge of the gathering. Yes! Yes, it was Yeshua! Their little Yeshua was sitting in the middle of these men, the giants of the faith! They were taking turns quizzing him then marveling at his understanding and insightful answers!
Joseph and Mary were astonished by the entire scene! Relief giving way to anger Mary broke in with “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”6
Yet he responded respectfully. “Why is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about My father’s business?”7 See the implication? He was saying he felt perfectly at home in the Temple where his heavenly father makes his presence known. Was their little Yeshua fully aware of the implications of this event in his life? Was he aware that he was taking the first steps towards a three and a half year walk to fulfill what the prophets had predicted centuries ago?
If not how and when did he know? See, an angel told Mary and Joseph who he was, but not Jesus. We have no indication either that he experienced a dream or vision that revealed his true identity. Could it have been a holy intuition?
In our lives don’t we sometimes fit things together by logically piecing together certain precise pieces of information that lead us to know certain things? Jesus at a young age must have had this feeling within himself; after all he was part man and God. Learning the scriptures, heeding the internal deity and the Holy Spirit’s direction within himself perhaps he had a slightly blurred, not totally focused knowledge of who he truly was and what he was born to do. Could it be that this trip to Jerusalem is what brought him to a sharply focused, full revelation?
As for Mary and Joseph as much as they loved him they still didn’t understand but we must not fault them. Maybe they forgot what the angel told them? It was 12-13 years before. Even His future disciples after spending three years of close personal contact with Him wouldn’t totally “get it” until after His resurrection.
At some point they got their little Yeshua on his feet, navigated him away from his audience, took in the congratulatory comments and well wishes lavished on them, paid their respects then said their goodbyes. They returned to Nazareth where “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”8 Then the Scriptures go silent on Jesus aka Yeshua as a boy.
Jesus’ Final Act of Honor to His Mother
Mary then told Luke about how her full grown Yeshua, while dying on the cross remembered her. In one of his final statements he appointed the apostle that He loved to take charge of her. “Woman, behold your son!” “Behold your mother!”9 he said nodding to John who was standing near her as they looked up at him.
How blessed Mary must have felt to play a role in shaping and molding her little Yeshua in the grand scheme of salvation for all humanity.
I hope my idea about what the boy Jesus was like from the Gospel of Luke has made you feel just a little bit closer to Him, and I thank you for taking the time to read it. If you care to please take the steps to “follow me” for future postings about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and his positive influence on the world all around us.FOOTNOTES: 1. Luke 1:1-4 (NKJV)
2. id. 2:51
3. John 2:11 (NKJV)
4. Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)
5. Isaiah 7:14-16 (NKJV)
6. Luke 2:48 (NKJV)
7. id. 2:49
8. id. 2:52
9. John 19:26-27 (NKJV) CONTRIBUTIONS: Caldwell, Richard, Jr., Pastor, Founders Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, “The Boyhood of Jesus” (a sermon presentation, January, 2012. Daniel, Curt D., Pastor, Faith Bible Church, Springfield, Ill., “The Boy Jesus” (a sermon presentation, February 2014). jewfaq.org Packer, J.J. & Tenney, M.C., editors, Illustrated Manners & Customs of the Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, © 1980) p. 457. Sproul, R.C., President Reformation Bible College, Co-Pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel, Sanford, Fla., “The Boy Jesus” (a sermon presentation, February 2012). PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: freedigitalphotos.net sephirot.com courtesy of utube.com Bible History Online at bible-history.com
Christimages.com http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Rel211/jerusalem.htm lifeintheholyland.com