Was Jesus Disobedient to his Parents?

Was Jesus Disobedient to his Parents?


Was Jesus disobedient to his parents when he stayed behind for three days at the Temple and they did not realize they had left him?  If so that would mean he was not a perfect child and had sinned according to a popular line of misguided thinking by non-believers.  They are generally talking about Luke 2:42 -52

To understand the passage, you would have to base it upon several factors.  If in considering our current way of life, and the threats to our youngsters, it seems around every corner and shopping aisle, leaving your child behind –no matter where- is considered a crime against the parents.  We have had several recent news stories about just that kind of occurrence (Two Chicago parents left their two children alone for the weekend while they flew to Las Vegas for the weekend with some friends: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2118184/Parents-leave-young-children-TWO-DAYS-jet-Las-Vegas-party-weekend.html )  as well as a series of movies (the “Home Alone” franchise) to make the point.

However, in regards to the social and cultural settings of Biblical times, maybe not.  Let us examine a few things.

Luke 2:40. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Joseph and Mary had obeyed God’s Word in parenting Jesus and because of their parenting; Jesus grew physically, spiritually and mentally.  Most of us have no problem with Jesus having to grow physically- He obviously had to become strong, and grow older.  I seem to struggle with Him growing spiritually and mentally.  How could He grow spiritually?  He was God.  God does not develop spiritually does he?  Moreover, since Jesus was God, how could He develop spiritually?

Hard to know, but all I can do is understand what the Bible teaches.  Down in Luke 2:52, at the end of that verse, we read that Jesus grew in favor with God and men.  He grew in favor with God.  That means spiritual growth.  What that probably means is spiritual understanding,   spiritual discernment,  spiritual effectiveness and spiritual ministry. We also see this truth over in Hebrews 5:8 where we read that Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered.  Learning obedience is definitely an aspect of spiritual growth.  Keep this n mind as we continue learning about this Bible passage.

The other way Jesus grew, according to verse 40, was in wisdom.  He was filled with wisdom, which is different from knowledge.  Wisdom is applied knowledge.  However, before you can acquire wisdom, you must have knowledge.  Therefore, as Jesus developed in His wisdom, He also developed in His knowledge.  Now, this is a challenging thought as well.  Jesus is God, and God knows all things.  How could Jesus learn if He was God and what would it be that he would learn?

I believe we have a little more understanding of Jesus’ acquiring wisdom than we do with the concept of spiritual development.  In Philippians 2, we learn that when Jesus Christ came in the flesh, He gave up, He willingly surrendered.  He emptied himself of some of what it means to be God.  He did not ever become less than God.  He was always fully God.  However, when He came in the flesh, He wanted to fully understand what it was like to be human, and so He had to give up certain aspects that would interfere with being human.  One of these was His omniscience—His knowledge of all things.

Jesus, although He was the Son of God, was also human, and so He had to learn the Bible, and learn theology, and learn obedience just like we need to.  Jesus was fully human, just like we are, and a big part of being human is the learning process.  He learned how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, how to read and write, and how to obey His parents.  He even had to learn the Bible and theology.  Moreover, there were some things that He did not learn and could not learn.  For example, in Mark 5, He does not know who touched His clothing.  In Mark 13:32 we read that Jesus does not know the timing of certain events in the future that the Father does know.  There are very few theological ideas, which have been discussed and debated more, and yet are still misunderstood.  Whether we understand the reason for it or not, Jesus did grow up just as we do.  He developed just as we do.  He experienced life just as we do.  Yet in it all, He was without sin.

Luke 2:41. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.

The Feast of Passover is the feast commemorating the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the death of all the first-born sons.   Jesus, as the first born son, has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.  Look at Luke 2:42.


Luke 2:42. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

Mary and Joseph have raised Jesus for 12 years, and during this time, Jesus will begin to show his independence from them (cf. John 2:4).  Independence is not sinful, but is something that children must go through in order to become an adult themselves- you and I did this rite of passage, probably later in life.  It was at the age of 12 that young Jewish men began their formal training in the synagogue.  They were received into Judaism as a “son of the law” and were expected to begin strict obedience to the law at this age. (NT Wycliff, p. 200; and Nelsons, p. 1254. Keener, Bible Background Commentary, 195It will get you to some of the most necessary and important insights from cultural contexts, original languages, and archeological evidence without going through an extended treasure hunt through the more traditional broadly scoped scholarly sets)

Luke 2:43. 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;

Note that it says Joseph and his mother, not His father and mother.  Joseph was not his real father remember.  This becomes important in a bit.  Very likely, Joseph and Mary had other children at this point, which they were looking after.  And since Jesus was now technically an “adult” by Jewish standards, they trusted him to keep with the caravan.  Verse 44 points this out.

Luke 2:44-45. 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.

I cannot remember having left my children behind but I remember our family’s middle son coming up missing every time we went to the state fair.  However, imagine if you were parenting the Son of God?  What is even worse is that Mary and Joseph did not realize it a couple miles down the road; the text says that they went a day’s journey.

Now maybe some of you are thinking, “I’ve never done that.  But Joseph and Mary—what irresponsible parents they were!  How could they go a whole day without realizing that they had left Jesus behind?”

Luke 2:44 tells us why.  They though He was with a relative, that He was playing with some of His cousins, or riding with them.  This feast occurred once a year, and so everybody would travel together, fellowship together, and share meals together.  Therefore, when Joseph and Mary do not see Jesus all day, they just figure He is off with His cousins, or with an uncle or grandmother.  But when He doesn’t come back to sleep with them that night, they get a little nervous.  They go around asking if anyone has seen Jesus, and nobody has.  Jesus was not with them.  They had left Jesus behind.  So they return to Jerusalem to look for Him.  However, notice that they do not find Him right away.  Maybe after a while, they decide to go pray to God in the temple, or go make a sacrifice to God in the temple.  Alternatively, maybe they just had looked everywhere else in the city.  Nevertheless, for whatever reason, after three days they go to the temple.

Luke 2:46. 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.

They finally find him – in the temple, and not just in the temple, He was involved in a theological discussion with the teachers.  He was in a Bible study with the temple leaders.  Not the place the average parent expects to find their twelve-year-old son.  However, that is where He is.

Notice what He is doing.  It says He was listening to them and asking them questions.  It was the custom of the teachers to meet in public in the temple to discuss religious and theological questions where everyone could listen and learn.  It is here that they find Jesus, among a crowd of other learners.  We must not think of it as a scene where a young boy was dominating a crowd of teachers.  What we see from this was that Jesus was learning.  Jesus was teachable.  He was there to learn.  To listen.  To ask questions.

There is a great spiritual truth here for all of us. Jesus Christ, though He was God come in the flesh, knew that before He could teach, He needed to be taught.  He knew that the prerequisite to teaching was being teachable.  Before He could begin his ministry, He needed to learn.

I discovered during my many years in school and training (a form of teaching) software developers that the best teachers are also teachable.  The best teachers are those who want to learn from others- I always knew that my students had other, possibly better, ideas than I did.  Do you want to teach?  Well, the first step is to learn.  To be teachable.  As James said in 1:19” “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  I am sure you have heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – He wants us to listen more than we talk.

Luke 2:47-48a. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed;

There is an old oil painting called “The Young Christ Teaching in the Temple” which attempts to depict this event, but the painting gets it all wrong.

It shows Jesus raised above the rest of the teachers, sitting on chair which looks like a throne of some sort, and all the other teachers are kind of groveling before Him as He apparently delivers a lecture.  However, this is not the way this event should be understood.  He was not the authority figure here.  He was there to listen and learn and ask questions.  It is true that the religious leaders were impressed by how much He knew as a 12 year old, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that He is behaving like a know-it-all, showing off His knowledge to the teachers.

They were amazed and astonished, but they were impressed at how much He knew at such a young age.  You know, Jesus had to learn just as we do, so how did Jesus become like this.  In Luke 6:40, Jesus says that a student will not become greater than his teacher will, but when he is fully trained, will become like his teacher.  This is what happened with Jesus.  Although in verse 46, He was learning from human teachers, He surpassed them, and became wiser than them, because He had another Teacher.  His other Teacher was God Himself.  Remember, verse 40 said He was strong in Spirit.  He had the Holy Spirit as a teacher.

Jesus learned His Bible through prayer and careful study and the Holy Spirit’s illumination, and now He was amazing these scholars and teachers with His wisdom and knowledge.  In addition, He was only 12.

Well, Jesus has been taught, and now He has done some teaching – showing that the promised Messiah has come. Now, from Luke 2:48-50, we see a secret to Jesus’ ministry on earth.  His secret was that He knew what to focus on.

Luke 2:48b-50. 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.

Joseph and Mary were understandably a little upset at Jesus.  He has been missing for several days, and they probably didn’t get much sleep during this time. T hey have been frantically looking for Him, and now, they find Him, calmly sitting in the temple, involved in a Bible study. Mary says, “Son, why have You done this to us?  Your father and I have sought you anxiously.”

However, Jesus answers, and kindly corrects Mary by saying, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  We see from this question that Jesus did know who He truly was.  Not the child of Joseph and Mary, but the Son of God.  His work was not as a carpenter, but as a teacher and Savior.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father.  Do not get me wrong there other things that He could have done.  We are supposed to stand up for what is right.  In addition, we are supposed to help the sick, feed the hungry, and give money to the poor.  However, Jesus knew that He was only one man, and one man can only do so much.  Jesus knew that He could have been sidetracked by so many other good things to do, that He would fail to do the one thing God had sent Him to earth to do.  Jesus came, according to John 10:10, so that we might have life, and might have it abundantly.  That is why Jesus came and that is what He focused on, because that was God’s will for His life.

Let us look at verse 50 again.  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus was doing.  They had been hurt.  They had been offended.  They had wanted Jesus to stay by their side as they thought He should.  Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

Jesus was very often misunderstood.  That is what happens when you step out to do the will of God; some people are not going to understand.  “You want to stay home and be a mother to your children?  But you would make such a great doctor.”

However, lest we think that he was disobedient to his parents, Luke reminds us that He was very obedient to His parents.  In fact, at this point in Jesus’ life, obedience to His parents was His Father’s business.

Luke 2:51. 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.

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

This verse is nearly identical to Luke 2:40.  Jesus is growing up here – in all the ways that every person does, yet without sin.  God was more and more pleased with Him every day He was alive.


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