Yet there he was all the time, safely 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” (Luke 2:41-52).
What was going on in Jesus mind? What was he thinking, especially during the night hours when, like the boy Samuel in the tabernacle, he was alone with God and his thoughts? (Where did Jesus spend those couple of nights? The text is silent. Perhaps he hid away somewhere in the temple precincts during the hours the temple was closed.)
We don’t know what was going on in Jesus’ mind and spirit. But perhaps there are some clues.
It would be plain silly to think Jesus already fully knew precisely who he was and exactly the future that lay before him. The very next verses in Luke say that Jesus, returning with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, “increased in wisdom and in years [or stature], and in divine and human favor” (Lk. 2:52). Already he was “filled with wisdom” (Lk. 2:40), yes, but certainly only as a human child.
Jesus (like Mary) must have pondered many things in his heart as he grew in his sense of his own identity and calling. Being fully human, and at this point fully a child, he could not possibly have known his full vocation as Messiah, the one on whom all Israel’s hopes rested.
So here he is in the temple, sitting with the elders, asking questions and giving amazing responses.
What is going on here? Can it be precisely here, in these temple discussions, that Jesus is working out who he really is and what he is called to do?
Speculation, and yet it makes sense. We perhaps get a clue much later, in the gospel of John, when Jesus speaks with Pilate. Pilate says, “So you’re a king?” Jesus replies, “You say I’m a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37-38). By the time his public ministry began Jesus understood very well the reason he was born and why the Father had sent him, as he emphasizes constantly in the gospel of John.
Surely Not Me!
So here perhaps is what is going on with Boy Jesus in the temple:
He asks them about the Law and the Prophets.
They explain, and at some point they speak of the Messiah.
“Tell me more about the Messiah,” Jesus says.
The scribes and elders explain the prophecies. The Messiah who is promised; who he is; what he will do. Son of David; promised King; suffering servant; bringer of a new covenant.
Descendant of David! Born in Bethlehem! Perhaps Jesus begins thinking about all Mary had told him, all she’s stored up in her heart of hearts. The private, quiet conversations between mother and child that the gospels leave unrecorded.
Then come the quiet night hours. Jesus thinks and prays and ponders and thinks some more.
Messiah? Descendant of David, born in Bethlehem? Could it be . . . ?
No! Surely not me.
But by now Jesus knows the Isaiah scroll. He knows the Pentateuch. He knows the Messiah will come, child of promise, the one to fulfill the promises; the one fulfilling the law, to be like a lamb led to the slaughter. A unique person who in his one person combines all the themes of prophet, priest, and king. The promised Lion of the tribe of Judah who will have first to be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Son of man who will receive an everlasting kingdom.
Could he really be one greater than the temple, “one greater than the Sabbath”? Wow!
Here’s what I think happened. By the time Mary and Joseph find him, Jesus has figured it out. “It is I.” Yes. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”—the truth of God; the full meaning of the law; true love and obedience; the true, unique, and only possible way to the coming of the kingdom, the Jubilee, God’s will fully being done on earth as in heaven.
Did Jesus struggle with this, possibly a preparation for the 40 days in the desert? Pride. Presumption. Arrogance. Absurdity. I am only a twelve-year-old boy in Roman-occupied Judea!
Yet in the night hours perhaps the Father spoke to him, like God to boy Samuel. (We think of the link between Hannah and Mary.) And perhaps here was a foretaste of Gethsemane. Can it be? Am I called to this? Whatever: Father, not what I want, but what you call me to.
Surely Jesus’ attitude was precisely that of his dear mother Mary (unlike that of Uncle Zechariah): “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). Your word: that is, all those Old Testament prophetic words of the coming Messiah.
So Jesus returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. The matter settled; the steep road ahead becoming clear. Later through his years of public ministry Jesus takes many deliberate steps “in order that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.”
And finally that marvelous post-resurrection burning-heart scene on the road to Emmaus.“Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [the risen Jesus Messiah] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk. 24:27).
Perhaps it all traces back to boy Jesus in the temple, beginning to be about his Father’s business.
The Father’s Business
The story of the boy Jesus is not given to tell us how brilliant or how special or self-consciously divine Jesus was. Rather it is given to show how normal, fully human, all-boy he was as he grew and perhaps struggled to understand “his Father’s business.” “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted [or tested] as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
May God help each of us to understand and fully commit to the Father’s Kingdom business, as did our Apostle and Forerunner and Great High Priest.
This post was written by Dr Howard Snyder. You can find the original post with comments here: http://howardsnyder.seedbed.com/2013/05/23/my-fathers-business-boy-jesus-in-the-temple/