The 12-Year-Old Jesus



In Luke 2:41-52 we read of the only reference to Jesus in His youth. His parents had taken Him with them as they were traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. As they were returning home to Nazareth, Jesus was lost and left behind, having been found by Joseph and Mary a remarkable three days later.

Can you imagine! But that’s not the most interesting part. Where He was found was teaching the teachers of the law at the temple, “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (v. 47). 

Tomorrow I will be teaching on the 12-year-old Jesus in our men’s Bible study; and there is no better help on the subject than Dr. Bruce Ware’s The Man Christ Jesus. I place this book in my top 10 list of those that have had a significant influence on my life. Chapter three, “Increasing in Wisdom” is a comprehensive treatise on the Son of God as a boy. Ware writes:

This remarkable account of Jesus’ interaction with the teachers of the law in Jerusalem raises a very important question for our understanding of Jesus: just what accounts for the remarkable questions, answers, and understanding that Jesus evidenced in His conversations with these learned men? I think that many of us in the conservative evangelical tradition would have a ready answer. We would say, instinctively, the reason Jesus had such remarkable understanding of the law was that He was God in human flesh. After all, we might think, those Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t understand who they were dealing with. If they had only known the truth, that this twelve-year-old boy was none other than the incarnate God-man, they would have understood that His wisdom came from His being God. So, given that He was God in human flesh, we reason, even as a twelve-year-old boy Jesus was able to astonish the greatest teachers in Israel.

the man christ jesus_thirdI believe that this evangelical intuition, as we might call it, that Jesus’ wisdom and understanding are accounted for by appeal to His deity, is not the answer that Luke, the Gospel writer, wishes us to see. Consider Luke 2:40 and 52, which function as bookends around this account of Jesus’ childhood visit to Jerusalem. Luke 2:40 records that “the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.” And Luke 2:52 reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Amazingly, what both of these verses indicate is that Jesus’ wisdom is not a function of His divine nature but is the expression of His growth as a human being.

One compelling reason for seeing this wisdom as His growing human wisdom is that Luke speaks of Jesus as growing in wisdom while also becoming stronger physically (increasing “in wisdom and in stature”). So the wisdom that Jesus has, evidently, is a growing wisdom that parallels or accompanies His growth physically. (48-49)

Ware concludes that the 12-year-old Jesus had an exemplary commitment to understand what the Word taught. “As a boy, Jesus learned, no doubt, through the instruction of His parents, and from the teaching of the rabbis in His hometown of Nazareth, and through His own diligent reading of God’s Word. It was by these means that He grew and increased in wisdom” (49).

We can learn from this. If our desire is to be like Him, then our attitude toward the written Word of God should be the same. Do I make time to read and study the Bible each day? What priority do I place in attending church and its opportunities to learn from the Scriptures? Am I a committed member of God’s family or on the fringe and perhaps even unreliable?

“Jesus understood the importance of engaging in biblical and theological discussion and learning” (55). I look forward to exploring this fascinating account of Jesus further in tomorrow’s Bible study.