Jesus as a Boy Teaching in the Temple

I think about Jesus’ personal life a lot. I think about it every day as a matter of fact. I am not putting myself out as some sort of Superheiligen. That I am not. It’s just something that occupies my thoughts. Often. Here’s a story I’ve been thinking about lately.

When Jesus was 12 years old, the same age as our deacons who pass the sacrament, He traveled to Jerusalem with His parents to observe the feast of the Passover. This week-long feast commemorates the exodus of the Hebrew nation from Egypt and was held during the Hebrew month of Nisan (March–April).

Traditionally, a boy would become a “son of the law” at age 12, and a trip to Jerusalem at Passover would be customary. It may have been Jesus’ first trip to the holy city for the feast. That was the custom. But we don’t know for sure.

Other than his birth and young childhood, this is the only narrative account of Jesus’ boyhood that we have in scripture. Although there are many such stories in the pseudepigrapha, Luke’s is the only canonized account. It’s recorded in Luke 2:41–52.

You’re probably familiar with the story, so I’ll just highlight key elements from it, embellishing it with unanswerable questions along the way.

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by William Holman Hunt(1854-60). Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery.

Luke says that when they “had fulfilled the days”—I suppose the feast had ended—”the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem” although his parents didn’t realize it (v. 43). I don’t think they would have knowingly left without Him. Perhaps they thought he was in the caravan with family members or friends. They must have had a great deal of trust in Him.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to bring Him up in your own home?

Also, what would it have been like to be friends with Jesus when He was that age? Did friends in the neighborhood knock on their door to ask if Jesus could come out to play? Who were His friends? What were their names? What kinds of things did they do together? Did they believe in Him when they were older?

Maybe his folks had complete confidence in Jesus or never felt a need to worry. Whatever the case, they traveled a day’s journey before they discovered that he was missing from the company (v. 44–45) and came back to the city. Then it took three days to find Him. Three days!

When Mary and Joseph searched for the lost boy, what went through their minds? What did they talk about with each other? Was there regret or recrimination? It must have been a stressful episode for them.

They finally found Jesus in the temple “in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (v. 46).  The Joseph Smith Translation says that the doctors “were hearing him, and asking him questions” (JST Luke 2:46; italics mine) and “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (v. 47).

Astonished! Imagine His insight and what it would have been like to listen to Him! What did they talk about, Jesus and the doctors of the law? Did they discuss the Passover which was symbolic of His atonement? Were the doctors or teachers listening to Him or arguing with Him? Where did He stay at night and how did He eat during the time that He spent away from his family?

When they found Him, Mary and Joseph were “amazed.” Mary said, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (v. 48).

Then came His famous answer, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v.49).  (The NIV reads “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”)

At age 12, Jesus seems to already know what His mission and purpose was, and Joseph and His mother were somewhat bemused when He began to pursue it. Is it safe to say that they didn’t fully understand their son?

I know I am leaving you with more questions than answers. That’s all I can do here. Nevertheless, this story fills me with wonder and awe. Really. What an amazing, inspiring boy He must have been.

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