The Childhood Of Jesus


In a sense we read the life of Jesus backwards, knowing how everything turns out. In the time of Jesus, no one but God had a clue about the future. It seems that even certain information was withheld from Jesus.

What we are trying to do in these lessons is to take you back as if you are a bystander and you are observing what took place without knowing what will happen.

Many times, people in the Bible would be fulfilling prophecy without realizing they were doing so. When Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, little did they know they were fulfilling a prophecy. It is interesting to see the atmosphere that existed when Jesus spoke or performed miracles.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

 We continue to study how God’s ways completely confound the wise of this earth. We see this in the early life of Jesus.  For example, God chose the place and time for Jesus to come into this world which in many ways was a dangerous time.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” Galatians 4:4

 God also chose the city where Jesus would be raised and where he would spend his adult years until he was thirty years old. Herod died in March-April of 4 B.C.

Josephus describes Herod’s death as gruesome. He had stated earlier that Archelaus (a son) was to rule in Galilee and Perea. But on his deathbed, in a deranged state, Herod changes his will.

He gave Archelaus control of Judea, and Herod Antipas was switched over to Galilee and Perea. This was a significant move (undoubtedly under the providence of God).

Archelaus was a vicious and power-hungry man. It would have been dangerous for Joseph to have returned to Archelaus’ territory. So, God moved Archelaus out of Galilee, into Jerusalem and Herod Antipas into Galilee.

What city would you have chosen in order that your son might have the best advantages in life? Especially what city would the worldly wise choose if they had been living in His day, no doubt they would have chosen Jerusalem where all the advantages seem to be.

God chose Nazareth an obscure village in a remote part of the Roman Empire. It lies directly west of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. It sat on a hillside 1,300 feet above sea level.

The view from its rim allows a sweeping panoramic view all the way from Mount Carmel to the snowy peaks of Mount Hermon to the north.

At that time eight million Jews lived in the Roman Empire but just over a quarter of them lived in Palestine. Of the sixty-three Galilean towns mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, Nazareth did not even make the list.

Nathaniel expressed the disdain for Nazareth when he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46. Is this the proper place for a King to be raised? Again, we see how God defies all human reason.

A mere three miles north, in easy view of Nazareth, sat the gleaming city of Sepphoris, which was in the process of being built during the lifetime of Jesus. His father, being a carpenter, could have sought work in the building of that city, Matthew 13:55 / Mark 6:3.

Sepphoris served as Galilee’s capital, second in importance only to Jerusalem in all of Palestine. Yet not once do the Gospels ever record that Jesus visited Sepphoris or ever mention the city.

What Was It Like Growing Up As A Jewish Boy?

After the return of the family from Egypt to Nazareth we have nothing describing the childhood of Jesus, Matthew 2:19-23. We can make some assumptions. We know he was raised in a poor but pious family.

His family could not afford a lamb for the sacrifice at the temple and offered instead a pair of doves or two young pigeons which the poor were allowed to substitute in place of a lamb, Leviticus 12:8 / Luke 2:24.

He had half brothers and sisters, John 2:12. His brothers are mentioned as, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, Matthew 13:55 / Mark 6:3. There were sisters but how many and what their names were the Scriptures do not tell us, Matthew 13:56.

He certainly had good parents. In fact, they must have been extraordinary for the fact God hand-picked them to be the parents of Jesus, Luke 1:46-55 / Matthew 1:18-25.

The village itself was an insignificant place. Like all people in Galilee, their speech sounded hillbillyish. They had a tendency to “swallow” their guttural vowels, thus giving them a dialect different from those who lived in Judea. They were not called upon to read from the Torah in synagogues in Judea.

Jesus probably spoke in the Galilean dialect which would cause skepticism about him from the educated class of Jerusalem. Certainly, worldly wisdom would not have the Messiah to come from such an insignificant and obscure place.

Galilee was known as a breeding ground for revolutionaries. Some years earlier a man named Judas, incited a revolt urging the people not to pay taxes to Pagan Rome.

He helped found the Zealot party which would harass Rome for the next six decades. Jesus would have been familiar with these reactionaries.

Palestine was under the rule and authority of Rome. Garrisons of Roman soldiers were stationed throughout the land. No doubt Jesus would have seen these soldiers from time to time. The Jews deeply resented Roman occupation, but Jesus never involves himself in political affairs.

Once Jesus was put to the test by the Herodians when they asked him “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:15-22. This is about as close as he ever got to politics.

It is well that we keep in mind that Jesus came into this world as an infant. He had to grow and develop in the body and in mind. As a child, he would have acted like a child. He would have played their games, sung their songs, and gone to the synagogue school as this was the only education available to them.

He would have had the same childhood diseases and sicknesses as other children. He was as human as any child in the village of Nazareth.

Like all Jewish boys, he would have learned a trade from his father which in his case was carpentry.  No doubt he was a very intelligent child as we shall see later on.

“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” Luke 2:40

The Trip To The Temple

All Jews were required to attend the yearly Passover feast in Jerusalem. This was always an exciting time. When Jesus was twelve years old the family made their annual trip to Jerusalem, Luke 2:41-2.

This was special for Jesus because at age twelve a Jewish boy became a man. At this age, a Jewish boy is expected to keep the law, learn a trade and attend the great Jewish feasts. Thus, this is probably his first trip to the temple as a child. Today this event is celebrated by Jews.  It is called “Bar Mitzvah.”

What an exciting experience for a young boy as he came into sight of the temple gleaming in the distance. On the way to Jerusalem, the line of worshipers sang the Psalms of Ascent found in Psalms 120-134, as they approached the city.

When they arrive in Jerusalem the local citizens would invite them into their homes. The residents were generous, the pilgrim’s needs were very simple and provisions for the feast were abundant. He had heard about it all his life and now he was seeing it. He had been there as an infant but now he is fully aware of its significance.

In a crowd of thousands of people, Jesus would see for the first time the priests offering sacrifices in their colourful robes. He would have observed the washings in the great basin before the temple, he would have seen the animals being sacrificed and certainly the money changers. The temple was an awesome edifice, especially for a child from the little village in Galilee.

I can remember the first time I visited Chattanooga. It was an awesome sight for me. The tall buildings, the mountains and the valleys. I can understand the feelings Jesus had when he visited the big city of Jerusalem.

Luke tells us that “After the festival was over” they went back home to Nazareth, Luke 2:43. The feast lasted for a full seven days, but the people were only required to stay for the first three.

They would have already eaten the Paschal supper, offered their offerings, and taken part in the major ceremonies of the feast. Thus, it was time to go home.

When Jesus Realized He Was God’s Son!

The family starts the trip back home. People from Galilee generally travelled in large groups of friends and family. It is not surprising that a mature twelve would not need constant watch among a caravan of friends and family. At this intermediate age, it could be assumed that he would be with family members or other boys his age.

After travelling for a day, the caravan stopped for the night. Mary and Joseph look for their son. Luke says, “Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Luke 2:44-46.

It took three days, Luke 2:46. The first day was their journey away from Jerusalem. The second day was on their way back and the third day they found Jesus in the temple. In Jewish terminology, this would constitute three days.

Talk about a precious child. Jesus was not only asking mature questions and listening to the answers, but he was also giving answers to their questions. We are told that “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers”. Luke 2:47.

This was the normal Jewish form of education. It was very common for a teacher to be interrupted in his teaching by someone questioning what he was saying. No doubt some of the questions revolved around the Passover and its meaning.

There were probably questions about the Messiah. When they asked Jesus questions, they were probably testing Him to see what He knew. Certainly, Jesus was a brilliant child, so much so they were “astonished.” Luke 2:48.

Why did Jesus stay behind? One reason was that the Jewish teachers would come out and teach in the courts during the feast but would not have been available afterwards.

Thus, Jesus would have had to meet them in the temple courts during the feast, apparently from the fourth through the sixth day, Luke 2:46. In other words, after the three days of the feast, he would have further opportunity to hear the teachers.

No doubt these were some of the great teachers of that day. Wonder who was in the audience listening to Jesus? Interestingly, Annas was the high priest at that time, the very one who would try Jesus some twenty-one years later, John 18:12-14. Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, would have been living then, Acts 5:34-39.

The real answer can be found in what was said when his parents found Him. “When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Luke 2:48.

The word “anxiously” comes from a word often associated with acute pain. Joseph and Mary were hurting while they looked for Jesus.

One translation says, “We painfully searched!” Can you think of a more human reaction than Mary’s? We can all sympathize with Mary.

What parent has not panicked when a child suddenly disappears, maybe into a crowd of people and you do not know which direction to look?

The answer that Jesus gives is an amazing one to Mary and Joseph. He said, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Luke: 2:49. Some translations have the words, ‘My Father’s business?’

These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and we get a glimpse of his first “messianic consciousness.” I believe that it was on this occasion (the visit to the temple) that Jesus realized who he was, the Son of God. “My father’s business” was a powerful statement from a twelve-year-old boy. His parents are mystified by his answer, Luke 2:50.

Up until this time Joseph had been called “father,” but from this time on Jesus will probably never speak of Joseph as his father. Jesus’ statement does not imply a rebuke but rather refers to their state of anxiety as to where he was. Did they not know where he would be?

The word “must” means “it is necessary” to be doing those things of God. Mary, as with so many other sayings she had heard, kept these things in her heart, Luke 2:51. No doubt she was wondering who is this child God has given me. What is he destined for?

This is powerful stuff for a twelve-year-old boy to learn. How did he receive it? How does a twelve-year-old boy handle the knowledge he is God’s Son? Being fully human he could have become conceited.

He could have shown off in some fashion. Instead, he shows complete humility. He also shows complete subjection and obedience to his parents. Jesus understood God-ordained authority. We cannot obey God if we do not obey his properly ordained authority which involved obeying his parents.

We are told, “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” Luke 2:52.

It is clear that he was outwardly a very normal Jewish boy, under pious parents. Yet inwardly he knew who he really was.


As far as we know Jesus does not divulge his identity to anyone until many years later in his public ministry. He waited until God was ready to use Him.

You never see God get in a hurry. It would be eighteen years before He would begin his divine mission here on earth, Matthew 3:13-17.

A child prodigy is always a source of great pride to parents. They are ready to show off his abilities while he is young.  There is usually much talk, and the child is called upon to demonstrate his talents and abilities. Not so with Jesus. Until called by His Father Jesus went about the business of being a carpenter.

After this Joseph is never mentioned. What happened to Joseph, God has not been revealed to us. Due to the fact Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters, Matthew 13:55-56, Joseph must have lived some period of time before he died.

Jesus’ growth and development were well-rounded. He grew spiritually, physically, socially, and mentally. As parents, we do not always see to it that our children grow in the same way. Too often we neglect the spiritual growth to an emphasis being on the other aspects.

What an amazing story. Truly God’s ways are not man’s ways, Isaiah 55:8-9. Under the humblest conditions, Luke 2:1-20, God brought about the greatest story ever told.