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A Study of Luke 2:21-52


A Study from the Second Chapters of Luke and Matthew

We know very little about Jesus as a child. There are only a few remarks and hints in scripture. Now that we have celebrated Christ’s birth this past week, I thought it would be informative to examine his growth as a child from the evidence we have from the Bible.

Barnes comments, "It is remarkable that this is all that is recorded of the infancy of Jesus. And all that we know of him for thirty years of his life. The design of the evangelists was to give an account of his public ministry, and not his private life. Hence they say little of him in regard to his first years."

Luke 2:21-24

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord")

and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

Verse 21 begins with the circumcision of Jesus when he was eight days old. This is when the new baby was named by Joseph. Joseph would have been the only one allowed in the temple at the baby’s young age. The circumcision is recorded in verse 21. The presentation of Jesus is recorded in the next verse, but this event occurred much later. After giving birth, a Jewish woman had to wait forty to eighty days before going through the process of purification. Then she would enter the temple. It was at this time that verse 22 tells us about Jesus being presented to the Lord. So the child was anywhere from one and a half to three months old at the time of his presentation. The first-born son was always dedicated to service for the Lord. In the event of the father’s death, the first-born son assumed the spiritual leadership of the family.

There were two possible offerings that Joseph and Mary could have brought. Verse 24 tells us they brought the offering provided for poor people. Barnes comments, "By Mary offering these [turtledoves] she showed her poverty. And our Saviour, by coming in a state of poverty, has shown that it is not dishonourable to be poor. No station is dishonourable where God places us. He knows what is best for us, and he often makes a state of poverty an occasion of the highest blessings."

Matthew 2:11

and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

This verse records the visit of the wise men. Notice that it says the wise men went into the house and saw the child. Christ was no longer in the manger at this point. The Greek word used here for child is paidi,onpaidion and it usually indicates a young child under the age of 13. It may refer to an infant, but it is usually used concerning younger children. From verse 16 it seems that the child may have been as old as two years since it says that Herod reckoned the age "two year old or under according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men." It was during this time in Bethlehem that Jesus learned how to walk and possibly even talk.

Matthew 2:13-15

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt,

and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son."

Next, we find the young child moving to Egypt with his family. He stayed there until Herod was dead. At that time his family returned to Nazareth. Barnes suggests that Jesus might have been in Egypt two years so he could have been in Egypt until he was four years old. The prophecy Matthew gives is from Hosea 11:1. Certainly by the time Jesus left Egypt with his family, he was a young child running around with other children and his personality of caring and compassion was already beginning to manifest itself.

Luke 2:40

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

While in Nazareth the child grew and apparently learned the carpentry trade from his earthly father, Joseph. In Mark 6:3 Jesus is identified as a carpenter. He must have enjoyed working with his hands. Here in Luke 2:40 we have a description of Christ’s growth as a child. The first thing this verse tells us is that Jesus "became strong," in other words he grew physically. He was not weak or frail. Working in the carpentry trade no doubt helped to strengthen him. He was the kind of person that rugged fishermen would feel comfortable being with.

Verse 40 also tells us Jesus was "filled with wisdom," in other words he grew mentally. Many of his followers were educated people. Levi and Zacchaeus were financially astute. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were learned men.

And finally verse 40 tells us that Jesus had "the favor of God" upon him, in other words he grew spiritually. So we see in this one verse that Jesus grew physically, mentally, and spiritually. This is how God wants us to grow. Let us not neglect any part of our development.

MacDonald remarks, "The normal growth of the Child Jesus is set forth.... He passed through the usual stages of physical development, learning to walk, talk, play, and work. Because of this He can sympathize with us in every stage of our growth."

Luke 2:41-44

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.

And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom;

and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,

but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances.

Now we come to the one extended story of Jesus as a child found in the Bible. He was twelve years old. Apparently Jesus was a very outgoing child who made friends with others easily. Mary and Joseph didn’t even realize he was missing until a day later. They had simply assumed he was with the other relatives or friends. This indicates that this was not an unnatural occurrence. It also indicates the trust his parents placed in him. They must have considered him a responsible child to leave without knowing his exact whereabouts.

Luke 2:45-47

and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions;

and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

We find that for three days Jesus had been in the temple sitting with the teachers. This indicates he had a profound knowledge of scripture. We would expect that the Son of God would have a deep understanding of the divine word, but this indicates that Jesus was conscientious in studying and learning scripture. He was, after all, limiting his deity to our human frame.

The best time for a person to learn God’s word is as a child. When we are young, we retain things for the rest of our lives. If our children have a strong knowledge of the Bible, it will act as a framework for their intellectual development and a foundation for their understanding of God as they learn more about him through the years.

Have you ever wondered why the Rabbis did not wonder about Jesus’ parents? If Christ had slept at the temple, they would have wondered where his parents were since Jesus had been there for three days. It is possible that each night, Jesus left the temple and found a place to stay. We know nothing of those encounters or the families he may have been able to minister to. Perhaps there were older residents of Jerusalem with whom he lodged those two or three nights. Maybe it was one family or perhaps even more than one. It could be that it was an older couple who would not live long enough to see Jesus’ ministry revealed twenty years later.

Whatever occurred, it is obvious that the Rabbis were not suspicious. He was a confident young man who could take care of himself at this young age.

Luke 2:48-51

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously."

And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

As we discussed a few weeks ago in our study of Joseph, it was not God’s time for Christ to begin his ministry. So Jesus returned with his parents to Nazareth. Notice verse 51 tells us that Jesus "was obedient to them." He was an obedient child. He placed his messianic ministry on hold to support his earthly father Joseph in his trade. God did not want Christ’s ministry to overshadow the importance of Joseph’s life work. Joseph had sacrificed many things for God. God would wait for Joseph’s life to be completed before Christ would begin his ministry.

Apparently Jesus did a good job of blending in with the carpenter’s lifestyle. When he came to Nazareth after his messianic ministry had begun, the people knew him only as the son of Joseph and Mary and the brother of his siblings. They knew him as a hard-working carpenter, but not as a religious teacher. This indicates that Jesus understood the importance of supporting other family members. Even though his mission was the most important event in the history of the world, it would not interfere with the ministry God had given to Joseph to bless others with his woodworking skills.

Luke 2:52

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

It was during this time in Nazareth that the boy became a man. We see that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature. The Greek word used here for stature ish`liki,a| helikia which indicates maturity. In verse 40 it tells us that Jesus before the age of 12 grew in strength and wisdom and in favor with God. But now here in verse 52, after age 12 Jesus grew in wisdom and maturity and favor with God and with man.

Before beginning his earthly ministry, Jesus had to grow in maturity. From verse 40 we know that he already understood how to deal with spiritual matters – he grew in favor with God. But now in his young adult years he learns how to deal with others – he grew in favor with man. His years of working with his family and neighbors gave him an acute understanding of the human condition.

McGee writes, "Jesus was subject unto His parents. This is interesting in the light of the fact that young people today are rebelling and are demanding to be heard. ... I personally do not think a college student has much to say. He is still green behind his ears, regardless of his I. Q. The information he has been given is limited and biased, and he does not have the experience to evaluate it. It is remarkable to see that this Boy, Jesus, the Son of God, obeyed His parents and was subject unto them!"

As Christians we need to learn this lesson from Jesus. We may understand spiritual matters, but we need to be able to relate to others in their human condition. We need to be willing to help the hurting, offer comfort to the hopeless, and reach out to the powerless.

That is the conclusion of what the Bible teaches about the young boy Jesus. Many have speculated as to what kind of child he was. Some have even wondered if he performed miracles as a child. We are left with no other information about this time of his life. But we do know that his childhood prepared him for his adult ministry. And so let us also raise our children, that they may be prepared for adulthood. May we help them to grow in strength and wisdom, may they grow in maturity, and may they find favor with both God and with man.


This Study on Jesus as a Young Boy 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1971, A. J. Holman Company

Barnes Notes on the New Testament pg. 192, Kregel Publications (unabridged and re-typecast from original 11 volumes of 1871)

MacDonald: Believer’s Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 192 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers

Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 4, pg. 256 1983, Thomas Nelson Publishers

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