Jesus: The Missing Years

[Note:  This is the prepared text for a message that was given in the United Church of God congregation in the Dalles [1] on Sabbath, January 13, 2018.  It was later given in the Portland congregation on Sabbath, January 27, 2018.]

Today I would like to discuss one of the biblical mysteries that readers encounter when reading the Gospels.  Let us turn in our Bibles to Luke 2:41-52, and we will read an incident that occurred when Jesus Christ was twelve years old:  “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”  And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.  Then 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 favor with God and men.

When one is aware of the context of this passage, there are a lot of fairly obvious questions that appear.  After all, this is the only incident recorded in the Gospels for the life of Jesus between his infancy and his baptism and ministry beginning at the age of 30.  For the entire period between Jesus’ infancy to this story, the Bible tells us almost nothing, except some brief mentions of his time in Egypt and his parents moving to Nazareth.  Nor does the Bible say anything about the period between this story and his adult ministry some seventeen to eighteen years later.  What did Jesus do during this time?  The Bible does not say much.  In the face of this biblical silence, all sorts of wild stories and speculations have developed.  In ancient times people created stories about Jesus’ supposed miracles as a child and a young person, and some have speculated that Jesus spent many of the years between his youth and adulthood working with relatives in Great Britain.  The Bible does not say.  What this story does tell us is that at the age of twelve and a half, Jesus Christ astounded the leaders of the Jews with His knowledge and wisdom about the Bible, and that He was already aware that He had to be about His heavenly Father’s business, and that his relatives were not aware of the repercussions of this at the time.  The Bible does not even give details about how Jesus managed to escape the awareness of his parents for several days–something that would make any conscientious parents feel worried sick if it happened to them, or about how Jesus expected to get home if His parents had not come to Him.  There is one aspect of this mysterious story, though, that the Bible does allow us to answer without speculation or inventing stories.  And that question is perhaps the most relevant, a question relevant not only to our understanding of Jesus Christ and His life on earth, but also about our own lives and experiences as well.  And that question is:  why was Jesus silent about His identity and purpose in the period between the age of twelve and the age of thirty.  As is often the case in the Bible, the details are very important.  It is not accidental that Jesus was quiet during precisely this period of time, even if it is mysterious to us today, and I would like to spend the remainder of my time today unraveling precisely this mystery and then applying its relevance to our lives.

The author of Hebrews spends a great deal of time pointing out the importance of Jesus Christ being a High Priest.  Let us first turn to Hebrews 4:14-16.  After a lengthy discussion about the Sabbath and its continued relevance, Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us:  “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  If you wish to read the continuation of this passage in the next chapter, the author of Hebrews has more to say about Jesus Christ as a High Priest, if you wish to read this on your own.  [In the next chapter over, quoting Psalms 2 and 110, Hebrews 5:1-11 tells us:  “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.  Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.  And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.  So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:  “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.  As He also says in another place:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,  called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.“]

We may gather from this that it was very important that Jesus Christ qualify through His obedience as a high priest in the order of Melchizedek.  We are not used to dealing with priests, but in the times of the Tabernacle and temple, the priesthood was vital in dealing with the sacrificial system that allowed Israelites to be forgiven of their sin and restored to the good graces of their neighbors and fellow citizens after having committed sins.  These sacrifices were a shadow of the perfect sacrifice given by the lamb of God for the sins of the world by which mankind can be reconciled to God and other people against whom we have sinned.  Jesus Christ serves as both the sacrifice that brings God and man and mankind and other people together as well as the mediator of that covenant.  There are many verses in the Bible that deal with these sacrifices and the scope of them is far too large for a short message like this one.  However, are there any laws regarding the priesthood involved the age at which Jesus could begin His ministry as a priest in the order of Melchizedek?  In Numbers 4:46-49, we are told that those who served in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) to work were between the ages of thirty and fifty.  As it is written:  “And Moses, Aaron, and the leaders of the congregation numbered the sons of the Kohathites by their families and by their fathers’ house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, everyone who entered the service for work in the tabernacle of meeting; and those who were numbered by their families were two thousand seven hundred and fifty.  These were the ones who were numbered of the families of the Kohathites, all who might serve in the tabernacle of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron numbered according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.”  We know that Jesus Christ was not of the priestly order of Aaron, but He was of the priestly order of Melchizedek, and so he was under the same laws, being unable to serve independently as a priest until the age of thirty.  

If Jesus Christ could not serve as a priest until the age of thirty, though, why did he have to remain quiet about His identity and His purpose on earth after the age of twelve?  During the centuries between the end of the biblical period in the late 5th century BC and the time of Christ, Jewish oral tradition became strongly influenced by Greco-Roman law that put a great deal of emphasis on puberty as the dividing line between maturity and immaturity, and there were a great many arguments over how many signs of puberty were needed for children to be considered as adults and held to the same responsibility as adults were concerning the law.  We know from the Gospels that when Jesus did speak about His identity as the uniquely begotten Son of God and performed miracles on the Sabbath and spoke authoritatively about the law and ritual practices that divided Jews then and now, He faced rising opposition and eventual condemnation to death.  It is not hard to see, if we indulge in a bit of counterfactual history, that if Jesus had made the same claims about His identity and purpose at thirteen or sixteen or twenty or twenty-five, it would have had the same result as it did after He was thirty years of age.  Jesus Christ, in order to serve as our high priest, had to survive until the age of thirty, but He could not have survived had it already been known that He was the Son of God, something that many pious Jews claimed to be blasphemous and worthy of death.  So we see that Jesus Christ could only survive by being silent and growing in grace and knowledge with God and others until it was the proper time for Him to fulfill His purposes for existence and to publicly proclaim that to a largely unbelieving world.

We should note here that Jesus Christ was aware that he needed to live a certain length of time because of the complicated set of prophecies that He was to fulfill.  Sometimes the task of obeying God’s law without putting himself prematurely in harm’s way with the corrupt rulers of His time required a certain degree of savvy to pull off.  Let us look at one such story very briefly today in John 7:1-10.  John 7:1-10 gives us a strong indication that Jesus knew when it was time and when it was not time for Him to make Himself known as the Messiah in Jerusalem:  “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him.  Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”  For even His brothers did not believe in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.  You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.”  When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.  But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. “

How is this of relevance to us?  Many of us may have talents and abilities that we know of and that others recognize in us but which must await the proper time for God to fulfill His purposes in our lives and the lives of others.  If we are impatient at how long it takes for God’s timing to be ready for certain things that we would wish for in life, let us remember that Jesus knew at twelve that the temple was His Father’s house and that He must be about His Father’s business, and it was not until thirty years of age that He was free to be about that business.  For more than half of His earthly life, Jesus Christ knew who He was and was unable to say it openly because to do so would be to jeopardize another part of that purpose which required Him to survive long enough to be able to serve as a priest on our behalf.  At times we too feel a great conflict between that which we know to be true and that which we are free to say openly and publicly.  It may be a comfort to us to know that Jesus Christ knew this struggle and is able to encourage us in how to be wise and discerning about the times in which we live.

[1] The Dalles is the successor congregation of Hood River, where I have given a few sermonettes:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings, Sermonettes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jesus: The Missing Years

  1. Pingback: The Nature Of Jesus Christ As High Priest | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    This really gives pause to think and makes sense. The pieces fit together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s