04.06.02 Lk. 2:41-50 Jerusalem
JESUS VISITS THE TEMPLE
41 Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When He was 12 years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival. 43 After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. 44 Assuming He was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him. 46 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.
48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.”
49 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked them. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what He said to them.
“Every year his parents traveled to Jerusalem.” This refers to the annual celebration of Passover (Heb. Pesach) in the Holy City. Those who lived great distances away, such as Nazareth, were not required to make the long journey. However, Mary and Joseph, being righteous Jews, chose to observe all seven of our Lord’s feasts which were condensed into three festival periods. Local residents observed them three times a year, those of a moderate distance observed only Passover in the month of Nisan, and those who lived in distant countries might only observe the Passover in Jerusalem once in a lifetime. Originally, attendance was required of all men (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16). Women were free of the obligation, but frequently attended with their husbands. The fact that Mary chose to go reflects upon her dedication to worship her Lord at this sacred festival.
Traveling was dangerous, as Zealots and bandits were in the countryside waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. For this reason, pilgrims going to and from Jerusalem for religious observances traveled in festival caravans. The village was, in effect, an extended family and closely-knit community. Children would play together as they traveled the long journey which skirted around the District of Samaria. It was common for parents not to know where one or more of their children were, as it was assumed that they were in the good hands and care of someone else from the village. So when Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing, the news was a major concern for everyone. Child abduction was virtually unknown, so they returned to Jerusalem and searched for Him. That meant they had to travel alone, without group protection, along the roads where there had been many robberies and wild animals roamed freely. They also had to cross the Jordan River known to have crocodiles. So when they eventually found Him in the temple, they were understandably quite upset.
On a related issue, if all the villagers went to the temple in festival caravans that meant that their homes were unprotected and vulnerable to the bandits. Then the bandits would not need to rob the travelers, they just had to wait until everyone left and they could help themselves. Therefore, not everyone went to the temple. And for that reason, designated families offered sacrifices for friends who stayed home to protect the village. The families that went to the temple were considered to be the honored, the most observant families of the village. That makes the family of Mary and Joseph rather stunning – they went to the temple every year, not only for themselves, but probably to give sacrifices for other families as well.
“When he was 12 years old.” During a child’s twelfth year he or she was examined by rabbis to determine if the basics of Judaism and the responsibilities of adulthood were understood. Reciting the Shema was how a pre-teen acknowledged that he was under the rule of God and, in fact, had taken upon himself the “Kingdom of God.” In essence, the child examined his or her own heart for the need of God in their life. Then, on the day after the thirteenth birthday, he or she became responsible for his or her own spiritual welfare and a son/daughter of the commandments. On the New Testament side, anyone at any age can come to God when they recognize their need for God. In both Judaism and Christianity the adult, not the child, makes the decision to accept or reject God, rather than a choice being made by parents for an infant. Younger children, however, are still dedicated to God in both Judaism and Christianity.
As such, the young adult entered a new phase of life with new responsibilities and privileges. For boys these included the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, its interpretation, and reciting the Shema with its benediction. While this usually occurred in the village synagogue, it appears that Jesus, of His own accord, had a similar discussion with the priests on the temple steps. The Mishnah gives evidence of the customary examination:
A boy twelve years old and one day – his vows must be examined; if he is thirteen years old and one day, his vows are valid, but they must be examined throughout his thirteenth year.
Mishnah, Niddah 5.6
According to a second century (B.C.) rabbi, Eleazar ben Simeon, a young man became responsible for his own actions from the age of thirteen and one day, although still under the guiding hand of his father for another year. At age 13 and 1 day he became a ben hat-torah, or Son of the Law. As such he began to wear the tephillin (Heb.), or phylacteries (Greek), and was presented in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He became responsible for fulfilling all the commandments and legal actions, with the exception of the purchase of real estate, payment of taxes, and military duty, which began at the age of twenty. Prior to this rite of passage he was known as a katon, meaning little, but afterwards he was known as a gadol, meaning grown-up.
The discussion Jesus had with the priests would have been mainly about the Torah. Matthew said that Jesus met with the temple priests, who found Him to be mature far beyond His years in the understanding of the Torah and other Old Testament books. What an unusual sight to have seen Jesus sitting on the temple steps with the best teachers of the Law. Normally, children were gathered around their teachers who taught them, but on this day, Jesus was on the temple steps and the teachers were gathered around Him. What could these teachers have been thinking? There is little question that they would watch him carefully in the years to come.
Here lies an example of Old Testament law and New Testament grace. It is the similarity of becoming a son of the Commandment for a Jewish boy and becoming a believer for a Christian.
04.06.02.A. MODERN BAR MITZVAH CELEBRATION IN JERUSALEM. A thirteen-year old boy carries a Torah Scroll as the men of his family celebrate his Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls) at the Western Wall. The women are nearby and look on. It is a time of celebration when a son or daughter becomes responsible for their spiritual destiny. This rite of passage has become more celebratory today than it was in the days of Jesus. Photograph by the author.
Finally, some Christian teachers have incorrectly said that at this time, the Jewish rite of passage known as the bar-mitzvah occurred at the age of 12, but that was changed to 13 in the Middle Ages. That is an inaccurate understanding. During the 12th year the pre-teen was examined and after the 13th birthday, there was a small bar-mitzvah celebration for boys and a bat-mitzvah for girls. Only in the Middle Ages did this rite of passage become a significant family and congregational event.
“Sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” It is rather astounding that a twelve-year old boy would have a dialog with the doctors of theology and Jewish law (both Written and Oral), especially since He only attended the local synagogue school and had no further training. This leads to a very interesting question:
04.06.02.Q1 How did Jesus attain the incredible knowledge that He displayed at the temple when He was merely twelve years old (Lk. 2:41-50)?
Scholars have long debated the “messianic consciousness” of Jesus. In other words, when did He realize that He was the Messiah? Since Jesus had both the human nature and divine nature, He would have access to His Father in heaven that was unknown to mortals. Another question then is, “At the temple, did He ask questions to discover answers or did He ask questions to have the scholars reflect upon Isaiah? According to Isaiah, every morning God awakened Jesus and instructed Him (Isa. 50:4-5). That instruction included knowledge of the events that would eventually inflict horrific pain (Isa. 50:6-9). Furthermore, Philippians 2:5-11 and Acts 1:6-7 state that the incarnate God was willing to be separated from His full use of divine knowledge, thereby making human development and maturity a necessity.
4 The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are instructed to know how to sustain the weary with a word. He awakens Me each morning; He awakens My ear to listen like those being instructed.
5 The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn back.
6 I gave My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who tore out My beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting.
7 The Lord God will help Me; therefore I have not been humiliated; therefore I have set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
8 The One who vindicates Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!
9 In truth, the Lord God will help Me; who will condemn Me? Indeed, all of them will wear out like a garment; a moth will devour them.
Therefore, when Jesus met the religious scholars in the temple, He not only offered thought-provoking answers, but questions that challenged the best scholars of the entire second temple period (515 B.C. – A.D. 70). Little did they know that the Boy who was before them was divinely taught every morning.
The dynamics of the temple dialog were heightened in light of the fact that the two greatest theological schools of the entire Second Temple Period existed at this time. These schools were the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. Their founding rabbis are believed to have been still alive and were probably in the temple when Jesus came. It was in Solomon’s Portico where the greatest of teachers taught, as if trying to capture some of the proverbial “Solomon’s wisdom.” Anyone who seriously desired to learn would have studied in one of these schools (a/k/a “houses”).
It was considered a point of academic excellence to have graduated from one of these two schools, as exampled by the Apostle Paul who had studied under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel. There can be little question that the twelve-year-old Jesus challenged the most important and influential rabbis when other twelve-year old boys were challenged by their local rabbis.
“His understanding.” The phrase means not only facts, but also the relationships of those with whom He was speaking. He had the gift of discernment to understand those with whom He was speaking.
“Son, why have you treated us like this?” The question reflects a tone of contention in the family. One can understand why parents would be upset if a child was missing for three days. On the other hand, maybe Mary and Joseph should have been aware that since the 12th year was a special year in a child’s life, something unusual should have been expected. However, His parents were not only upset that they spent three days looking for their Son, but they had to return to Jerusalem and then Nazareth by themselves. In doing so, they risked themselves to the dangers of robbers who knew that festival pilgrims always had offerings and sacrificial money. But Jesus was already focused on His divine calling while His parents were still expecting a somewhat normal child in spite of His unusual birth and calling. His family did not completely understand Him until after the resurrection.
No wonder Mary would later ponder these things in her heart. She did find Jesus at the temple, yet in another sense she may never have found him; she may never have felt that this young Man was really hers. They may have wondered if He was to be another Onias ha-M’agel, a/k/a Honi who performed miracles and was killed.
When Jesus said that “I had to be in my Father’s house,” He implicated more than a physical presence; He had to be involved in the work of Him who awakened and instructed Him every morning. At the age of 12, or possibly 17, every boy became an apprentice – he worked with a craftsman or tradesman from whom he learned his future occupation. So when Jesus said that He had to be about His “Father’s business,” or His “Father’s house,” He clearly understood His purpose and divine calling at an early age and was eager to prepare for it.
. See Appendix 5 “Levitical and Non-Levitical Feasts.”
. Mishnah, Hagigah 1.1; 1 Sam. 1:7; 2:19; see Appendix 5, the Jewish Sacred Calendar.
. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1(118); Wars 2.15.6 (232).
. Tosephta, Megillah 4.15; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59, 75, 249; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:278; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 364.
. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:220-21; Farrar, The Life of Christ 59-60.
. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 2.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 228.
. Mishnah, Megillah 4.6.
. See also Babylonian Talmud, Seder Moed. Yoma 82a; Babylonian Talmud, Seder Tohoroth 45b.
. Mishnah, Avot 5:1; cf. Yoma 82a; Kaplan “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia.
. A thirteen-year old, even in ancient times, was not considered knowledgeable about buying and selling real estate. See Maim. Yad., Edut, 9:8; Kaplan. “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia.
. Wice. “Bar Mitzvah.” 2:73; Kaplan “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia; The earliest writing of a bar mitzvah is known today is from the work of Mordecai ben Hillel, a German Halachist of the 13th century.
. See “Christology” and “Messianic Consciousness” in Appendix 26.
. Hillel had a son Simeon who served in the temple when Jesus was dedicated. Simeon had a son named Gamaliel, who had a son also named Simeon. See Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:31.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:278.
. Honi was a miracle worker of the first century B.C. and is noted for making it rain one time. See comments on Jn. 19:25-27, and 03.05.10.
. See “Education” in 02.03.04.