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Jesus: The Adolescent

August 25, 2023

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from "The Message of the Silent Years"

When Jesus was 12, Dr. Luke thought it was proper to tell us one occurrence in Jesus’ life that marks a change from childhood to adolescence. It is an isolated incident, and we don’t want to miss it, for it bridges the gap from His birth to the time He began His public ministry.

The incident given to us by Dr. Luke was during the Passover feast when Jesus was 12. They traveled to Jerusalem, as was their custom, together with a great company. It was an informal sort of going, and I don’t think there was anything out of the ordinary in the fact that on the return trip they didn’t miss Jesus until they had gone a day’s journey. But suddenly they did miss Him. You can imagine the thoughts that must have passed through Mary’s mind. They traced their way back to Jerusalem and found Him in a most unusual place—in the temple, with the doctors of the Law, the scribes, and the Pharisees around Him, marveling at the questions He could ask and the answers He could give. But all this was not impressive to Mary. She barged right in, as a mother would.

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.” -Luke 2:48

“Son” is not the word used for “child” in verse 40, nor is it the word used in verse 52. It is a term of endearment—her mother-word for Him. She called Him son in a way that no one else could have: “Son, why have You done this to us?” Now note this: “Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Father? Yes. By virtue of the fact that Joseph was the husband of Mary, he was Jesus’ father.

And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” -Luke 2:49

In other words, Jesus said, “Mother, you should have known. It wasn’t necessary to look for me.” Up to 12 years of age, when Joseph said, “Go and get that two-by-four,” little Jesus ran and got it. But He’s 12 now, the age when He has a will and mind of His own. He says now, “I must be about my Father’s business.” Up to this point, He had been taught the Word of God, but I’m not sure if He ever had been asked to make any kind of decision. But at 12 years old He said in effect, “I am now ready to assume my responsibility.” The will of Jesus is now bent to the will of God.

Now we see Jesus at the time of adolescence. What will He do? Leave home? Go out on His own? Is He going to start running a gang? No. He will do His Father’s business, His Father’s will. What is His Father’s will? We read on:

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them …. -Luke 2:51

As long as He is a teenager, He is subject to His parents. Such is His Father’s will. Modern psychology has gotten us into terrible difficulty by running counter to this principle.

Then we come again to Dr. Luke’s notation in his physician’s chart that covered the period from the beginning of adolescence to manhood:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. -Luke 2:52

He increased in wisdom, mentally—the one who is omniscient grew in wisdom! He increased in stature, physically, growing as any other boy grows. He increased in favor, in grace, with God and men. That is spiritual growth. In all three areas of His total personality as a human being He grew normally from the time He was 12 years old until He came to manhood. My friend, a child who does not grow mentally, physically, and spiritually will surely have trouble growing later on. Many letters come to my desk from folk newly saved. They ask questions that to you would sound silly. But they are not silly; they are baby questions that should have been answered in their teens. Someone failed to give them the Scriptures when they were young.

I wish we could visit that carpenter shop in Nazareth. I see a little boy around there helping His dad. I see Him at 16, 17, 18. Then at some time during His young years Joseph probably died, and I see Jesus assuming the responsibility for which He had been prepared.

This excerpt is from "The Message of the Silent Years." Download yours for free.

My Turn

  1. From adolescence to maturity, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus grew mentally, physically, and spiritually. Which of those are surprising to you?
  2. No matter your age, would you like to be growing healthier in these three areas? Which one stands out as a need to you?
  3. What details of Jesus’ silent years would you wish we knew more about?

He Was One of Us

May I say to you, Jesus Christ is the God-man. He was perfectly human and perfectly God. He came and took upon Himself our humanity, made in all points like as we are—sin apart, of course.

He went through the same process we do. He came into the world through a birth, though He was born of a virgin. He grew up in Nazareth, a miserable little town with a bad reputation. He had to learn the Scriptures just as we do. That said, He confounded the wisest scholars of the day. He learned a craftsman’s trade from Joseph, the man God ordained to be Jesus’ earthly father. He made a living as a craftsman until the day He transitioned from building things to dealing with the human soul. He never knew what old age felt like, but they made an old man of Him on the cross when they crucified Him. When He bore the sins of all humanity, He became then the ancient of days.

Because He was one of us.

Jesus Christ is the perfect God-man. We will never fully understand that—we can only bow in reverence and in worship.