41His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.
Under the law, all Jewish males were required to travel to the appointed place three times a year to bring sacrifices before the Lord.
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.
Two of these three required feasts were at fixed times of the year. The Passover Feast (called the Feast of Unleavened Bread here in Deuteronomy 16:16) was fixed every year in the month of אָבִיב ‘abiyb (also called נִיסָן Nisan) the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar. This month should not be confused with the first month of the modern Israeli civil calendar – תִּשׁרִי Tisri (see below). Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, adjustments need to be made occasionally to re-align the lunar calendar with the solar calendar. This is done even today by inserting an additional month of Adar (the month immediately preceding Abib/Nisan) as needed. Thus the Passover is always celebrated in the early spring of the year.
The feast of Tabernacles was fixed every year in the seventh month of תִּשׁרִי Tisri – the same month during which the civil Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are celebrated in Israel today. These celebrations always occur in the early autumn.
The time of the third required feast – by strict conformance with God’s direction in Deuteronomy 16 – would vary from year to year depending on the weather. The time of this celebration is determined by counting 7 weeks from the start of the barley harvest. Therefore, this feast is called the Feast of Weeks – שבועות Shavu’ot. Traditionally, this counting begins with the Passover, thus שבועות Shavu’ot is celebrated in early summer during the third month of סִיוָן Sivan.
Matthew and Mark report only one Passover during Jesus’ life – the Passover in the year of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In addition, John reports two other Passovers during Jesus’ ministry. From this, we know that Jesus’ ministry lasted at least two years, but (assuming John didn’t leave any Passovers out) less than 3 years. Since we know from Luke 3:23 that Jesus began His ministry when He was about 30, that means He would have been 32 or 33 when He went to the cross. Of the gospel writers, only Luke records this Passover when Jesus was 12 years old.
In Jesus’ time, the required location for these feasts was Jerusalem. After the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD, and the subsequent great diaspora of the Jewish people around the world, most Jews were unable to fulfill the requirement to go to the place appointed by God, and since the authorities had ended the temple sacrifices and destroyed the temple, they would have been unable to offer the required sacrifices even if they could have made the trip to Jerusalem. Consequently, the tradition since then at Passover Seder meals has been to conclude the ceremony with the toast – “Next year in Jerusalem.” This tradition will continue until the sacrificial system is re-established after the temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt.
You may also remember that there was a conflict between the Jewish nation of Jesus’ day, and the Samaritans. In that time, the people who lived in Samaria traced their lineage to the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Levi. After the return from the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans began to worship on Mount Gerizim in the mountains of Samaria between Jerusalem and Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem. Like the mainstream Jews, the Samaritans also awaited the Messiah. Recall Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.
20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Like all obedient Jewish men, Joseph went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the required feasts commanded in Deuteronomy 16. Although only the men were required to go to Jerusalem, families who could afford to do so often went to Jerusalem for the Passover together – an annual holiday journey of about 3 weeks.
Notice that Luke says that the family went “up to Jerusalem” although Jerusalem is geographically south of Nazareth in Galilee. As we saw when we looked at Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Lord‘s return from the direction of the East (Ezekiel 43), the Hebrew culture does not consider the North to be “up” as European and American cultures do. In Hebrew tradition, East is before, West is behind, North is to the left, and South is to the right. The reason the Jews speak of going “up to Jerusalem” is a matter of elevation.
From their home in Galilee, the family would have descended from the hill of Nazareth about 1200 feet above sea level, into the valley of Jezreel (the future location of the battle of Armageddon), then east to the shore of the Sea of Galilee about 600 feet below sea level, then south along the Jordan river down to Jericho about 900 feet below sea level. They would have then faced the arduous climb through the Judean wilderness up to the hill of Jerusalem about 2600 feet above sea level. Thus pilgrims are said to go “up” to Jerusalem. During this last leg of the journey, the pilgrims sang the so-called songs of ascents – Psalms 120-134.
43When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
The day of the Passover was followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. After these days, Joseph and his family began their return journey home to Nazareth.
From a cursory reading of this story, we might be tempted to think of Joseph and Mary as negligent parents, but we need to cut them some slack. The population of Jerusalem was always swollen significantly during the Passover celebration as it is even today. We have no way of knowing for sure, but it is most likely that Jesus’ siblings were also traveling with them. We know from Mark 6:3 that Jesus had at least four brothers – James, Joses (or Joseph), Simon, and Judas (or Jude), and that He also had sisters. Since Jesus – the eldest – was only 12, some of His brothers and sisters would have been quite young, and taken the lion’s share of the parents’ attention.
At 12 years of age, Jesus was also very nearly an adult under the Jewish law. In the Hebrew culture, a boy reaches full adult accountability at the age of 13. On his 13th birthday, the rite of his passage is celebrated, when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah – literally Son of the Commandment. Since He was so near to official manhood under the law, Jesus would have been expected by His father and mother to fend for Himself for the most part during this journey.
Furthermore, families from the same home town would usually go together for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and back for security, to share the financial burden, and to help each other carry their baggage and tend to the children and animals. Since everyone from Nazareth would have known each other, it was common for children to wander throughout the company along the road. So it is understandable that Mary and Joseph didn’t notice that Jesus was missing from the company for some time after they started out on the road home, until they made camp on the first night.
46Now so it was 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. 47And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
Here we get our first glimpse of the young man – Jesus as a “student” of God’s Word. Of course, we know that Jesus is the very Word of God Himself come to Earth in the flesh of a man.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
We can only imagine the kind of questions Jesus may have asked these teachers of His Word. As we shall soon see, Jesus held these teachers generally in contempt because of their pride and self-righteousness, and because their teachings had placed onto the common people legal burdens that the teachers were unwilling to take on themselves. We know that the law was given by God, not for salvation, but to convict sinful mankind of our need for a Savior. Yet these teachers of the law in the temple had come to worship the law itself rather than the Law Giver, and were leading the people down that same path toward Hell. Sadly, this same devotion to the law above God is still binding the Orthodox Jews today, keeping most of them from salvation in their Messiah who has already come.
The same is true of many “religious” Christian churches which have established rules and procedures that must be followed, when the Truth is that our salvation is dependent solely on what Jesus has already done, not on anything we might try to do in order to somehow make ourselves worthy. In fact the only thing we can do to earn our salvation is to recognize our own unworthiness of what Jesus has done to save us, and to throw ourselves completely on His mercy.
It would be a lot of fun to be able to listen to Jesus asking the teachers the “Adam’s navel” type of tough questions like the ones they would later try to trap Him with, and then giving them the answers that they could not give Him. We can only hope that these same teachers would remember this encounter with the boy, Jesus, when He returned as the Great Teacher to the temple years later. Hopefully, many of them remembered his questions and answers as a boy, and were thereby drawn to salvation in Him, when He returned preaching the Gospel.
48So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
49And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.
Whenever I read this passage, I always think back to when my own son was very little. While we were in a department store shopping, he just disappeared. Of course my wife and I were frantic, and searched for him in desperation. We finally found him underneath one of the circular clothes racks playing the game of hide and seek that we had taught him (and playing it very well indeed). We were so relieved to be able to hold him in our arms again, it overcame our urge to strangle him on the spot!
We should have known that our son had not strayed very far. We weren’t so inattentive while we were shopping that he could have gone more than a few arms lengths away. Mary and Joseph were, of course, greatly relieved as my wife and I were when they finally found their Son after a frantic search. Yet thinking back, they might have known where they would find Him – about His Father’s business in His temple. In this, we catch a glimpse of the thrust of Jesus’ discussions with the nation’s teachers. It would certainly have been in service of the Father’s will to seek those who would “worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him,” calling sinners to repentance and salvation. This is the Father’s business about which Jesus devoted His entire life on Earth, and it is this same business to which He calls us as His witnesses.
51Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
In order for Jesus to be worthy as the sacrificial Lamb who would take the wrath for all mankind’s sin upon Himself, He needed to be wholly without blemish. His life in the flesh of a man had to be perfectly holy. This is the standard of perfection to which God calls us all, but which only Jesus could fulfill. Naturally, Jesus could never violate any of God’s commandments. Thus we see Him here fulfilling one of them.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Here in verse 52, we see the great mystery once again. Luke proclaims that Jesus “increased in wisdom,” when we know that Jesus is God in the flesh, already possessing in Himself all possible wisdom. Yet just as his physical body grew in stature, his wisdom (or at least his reputation for wisdom among men) was growing as well. When next we see Him, He will have grown into a man of some 30 years old, full of grace and truth, as John the evangelist wrote. How tragic that although He also gained favor with God and men as He grew up among them, we will soon see that most of the people of His home town – Nazareth – failed to recognize His divinity when the hour of decision finally arrived for them.