Light of the World

Booklet 4

The Childhood and Youth of Jesus

"And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene' " (Matthew 2:23).

The town of Nazareth where Jesus spent His childhood and youth is about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. It is situated on a large hill (see Luke 4:29) overlooking the Plain of Esdraelon with the beautiful Carmel mountains and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. Its modern name is Al-Nasira. The Christians of Palestine are still known as Al-Nasara. Not much is recorded in the New Testament about Jesus' early years at Nazareth, but the Gospel writers give us a few clues that are all we need.

In Booklet 2 Jesus was being taken by His parents into Egypt just in time to escape death at the command of King Herod. Let's now join them in the land of the Nile as they wait for some divine sign that they should return to Palestine.

"After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead' " (Matthew 2:19, 20).

When Joseph learned that Herod was dead, he immediately made plans to return to his homeland. He and Mary gathered together their few possessions and, with the young child, started the journey back to Palestine.

As we watch them traveling over the caravan trails, we see that the parents are thinking and talking about the future; the safety and welfare of the wonderful Child entrusted to their care is their greatest concern.

The return of the family from Egypt had been foreshadowed centuries before Christ was born. "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 11:1), God had declared through His prophet (see Matthew 2:13-15). He did not forget His Son in Egypt, nor the earthly parents of that holy child. At just the right moment the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, telling him that King Herod was dead and that the time had come for them to return to Palestine.

As they journeyed homeward to Palestine, a second message came to Joseph, warning him to avoid the province of Judea and go north to Galilee.

"So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee" (Matthew 2:21, 22).

Joseph had planned to return to Bethlehem in the province of Judea, for that was his ancestral city (see Luke 2:1-4), but when he heard that Archelaus, the villainous son of Herod, sat on the throne, he went north "to the district of Galilee." This was familiar country, for he and Mary had lived in Nazareth of Galilee before the birth of Jesus. So they returned to "their own town of Nazareth" (Luke 2:39). Matthew tells us that "he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene' " (Matthew 2:23).

When Joseph and Mary arrived at Nazareth, they must have felt as we do today when returning home after a long, hard journey. They were glad to be back! Joseph, being a carpenter, turned his attention to his shop and tools, while Mary applied herself to the joyful task of caring for her simple, little home and the young child Jesus.

"And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40).

Jesus passed from infancy to childhood as any normal child would. His mind was active; He was thoughtful and wise, patient and courteous, true to principle, loyal to God, and obedient to His parents. He had a pleasant disposition and a spotless character. Although Nazareth was a traders' town and notorious for its wickedness, Jesus was not influenced by the sin all about Him. He was alarmed as He saw men openly transgress the laws of God, and He determined that, as far as He was concerned, He would rather die than violate His conscience. So He committed Himself fully to God and to a life of righteousness.

During His ministry, the question was asked concerning Jesus:

"How did this man get such learning without having studied?" (John 7:15).

Christ received no formal education in the rabbinical schools, yet during His lifetime He acquired a general knowledge and wisdom that made Him the world's greatest teacher. His mother was His first human instructor, and from her lips He learned the will of God through the Old Testament Scriptures.

And Jesus was a student of nature. The country around Nazareth was rugged and beautiful. He breathed the pure air and basked in the warm sunshine that fell on the mountain meadows. Through God's vast creation, Jesus learned of the heavenly Father's power, wisdom, and love. As He studied, He stored this knowledge in His heart to be used later when He would begin His public work. The education that Jesus received in this way was of greater value than the traditions and human philosophy taught in the synagogue schools.

Dean Farrar makes this observation:

The language which our Lord . . . spoke was Aramaic: and at that period Hebrew was completely a dead language, known only to the more educated, and only to be acquired by labor: yet it is clear that Jesus was acquainted with it, for some of his Scriptural quotations directly refer to the Hebrew original. Greek, too, he must have known, for it was currently spoken in towns so near his home as . . . Caesarea and Tiberias. . . . Whether he was acquainted with Latin is much more doubtful, though not impossible (The Life of Christ, page 48).

At the age of twelve, Jesus joined His parents in a never-to-be-forgotten visit to Jerusalem.

"Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom" (Luke 2:41, 42).

Think of how Jesus must have felt making His first trip to the big city so far away from Nazareth. Having passed from childhood into youth, He now wore a different kind of clothes and had greater responsibilities. At the age of twelve, a Hebrew boy was called "a son of the law" and also "a son of God." The Passover was one of the three annual religious festivals of the Jews and was well attended. Peasants and noblemen, princes and servants, all joined in the procession that approached Jerusalem from all directions. Mary and Joseph were accustomed to attending the Passover feast every year, so when Jesus reached the age of twelve He was allowed to go with them. This trip to Jerusalem is the only event recorded in the life of Christ from the time of His return from Egypt until His baptism at the age of thirty.

And what was the significance of the Passover? This feast of the Jews, which lasted about a week, was a commemorative event. Its celebration every year reminded the people of God's deliverance of their nation from Egyptian slavery (see Exodus 12). Like the Independence Day celebrated in many countries, the Passover festival represented Israel's emancipation from Egyptian bondage.

On the night that the children of Israel left Egypt and began their long journey to Canaan, a divine judgment fell upon the Egyptians—the slaying of the firstborn. God's people were instructed to sprinkle the doorposts of their dwellings with the blood of a slain lamb. Then, when the destroying angel passed over and saw the sign of the blood, the firstborn within was safe. Death struck only those homes where there was no blood. This blood was symbolic of the sacrificial blood of Christ, which would be shed to deliver us from sin. He was the true Lamb of God. And those who believe "shall . . . be saved from God's wrath through him" (Romans 5:9). The Lamb, after it was roasted, was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

"This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover" (Exodus 12:11).

So Israel was spared through the mercy of God and left Egypt an independent nation.

For about a week Jesus and His parents joined with the worshipers in the Passover celebration. Then the time came for them to return to Nazareth.

"After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day" (Luke 2:43, 44).

Why do you suppose Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem? He must have been fascinated by the Passover services in the temple. At least, He did not remain with His parents, whose minds were perhaps occupied more with the ceremonies themselves than with their meaning. We can imagine that as Jesus saw the Passover lamb sacrificed by the priest, the significance of the ceremony began to dawn upon His mind. He, Himself, was represented by the slain lamb. Probably for the first time His work as humanity's Savior began to open before Him.

Later, when Jesus began His public ministry, John the Baptist referred to Him as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). This has meaning to us because, as Peter later said:

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

After leaving Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was not with them.

"Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him" (Luke 2:44, 45).

Can you imagine the thoughts that raced through their minds? At the birth of the Christ child, Herod had tried to kill Him, and no doubt they thought that He might have been destroyed now by some enemy of God. Frightened at the possibility, they retraced their steps and began to look for Him everywhere. Their hearts were filled with foreboding, and they were angry with themselves for having been so occupied with friends and the pleasures of the occasion that they had lost sight of their precious Son.

Finally, after a long search, Jesus' parents found Him in the temple school, where He was discussing religion with the rabbis.

"After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46, 47).

When the rabbis questioned Jesus, His brilliant answers amazed them. Could it be that He, in turn, questioned those scholarly men about the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the sufferings and death of the Lamb of God? (See Isaiah 53.) The Jews were expecting the Messiah to come and free them from the Romans. Jesus doubtless directed their minds to the words of the prophets which describe the humility and sacrifice of the world's Redeemer.

When Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple school, they reprimanded him:

"When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.' 'Why were you searching for me?' he asked. 'Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?' But they did not understand what he was saying to them" (Luke 2:48-50).

These are the first recorded words of Christ—"I had to be in my Father's house." God was His Father, and He was faithfully attending to His Father's business. But Mary and Joseph had neglected their duty as protectors of the young Jesus and therefore had lost him.

What a lesson for us! The reason we lose the Light of life from our lives is that we do not take time to be alone with God. How many there are who make the mistake of assuming that a mere round of ceremonies constitutes religion and that secret communion with God is unimportant. But such mechanical worship is not acceptable to Him. True religion means fellowship with the Creator. It touches the heart and changes the life. If we will make it a practice to pray and read the Bible every day—not just one day a week—we will have Jesus with us to brighten every step of the way. It is our sincere desire that this Bible course will help make religion a living, personal experience for you.

"Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51).

The return journey to Nazareth was uneventful. For eighteen years after this Passover visit, Jesus applied Himself to the task of preparing for His ministry. His training was not acquired, however, in a parochial school or a theological seminary. By faithfully discharging the duties of a son, a workman, and a citizen, by studying the Scriptures with His godly mother and learning lessons from the book of nature, He acquired an understanding of truth that fitted Him for His mission in the world.

The Bible describes the youthful development of Jesus in a few simple but meaningful words:

"And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

He grew intellectually ("wisdom"), physically ("stature"), spiritually ("in favor with God"), socially ("and man"). In this text, we have the only clue to the life of Jesus during the eighteen years between the Passover visit to Jerusalem when He was twelve, and His baptism in the Jordan River when He was about thirty (see Luke 3:23), but the following facts are obvious:

1. The parents of Jesus were poor. Jesus understood the meaning of humility and self-sacrifice. He had to work hard to help Joseph make a living for the family. His was an industrious life, and there were no idle moments to indulge in the pleasures of sin.

2. Nazareth was a wicked place. The world's Redeemer was not reared in what we would call a church town. The inhabitants of Nazareth were notorious for their wickedness. This is proved by the proverbial saying, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46). But Jesus came out of Nazareth—and He was good. This shows that it is possible by God's grace to live a blameless life in the midst of temptation, poverty, and adversity. In fact, these things aid in developing a righteous character.

3. Jesus was an obedient son. Concerning Jesus' attitude toward His parents, the Scripture says that He "was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). Just think! He had been the Commander of heaven. The angels had found their keenest delight in obeying His will. But now He was a humble youth in a small village, subject to His earthly parents. He worked in a carpenter shop and learned a trade (see Mark 6:3). His dress was that of the common laborer. Though He was divine, He did not draw upon His supernatural power to lighten the load that He carried as a man.

4. Jesus was a perfect workman. In every way Christ was a perfect man. Not only was He perfect in physical form and character, but He did perfect work as a carpenter. No slovenliness or carelessness was seen in His workmanship. His hands were calloused, and His muscles firm and solid. His example is a lesson to the world that physical labor is honorable. It teaches that carpenters and farmers and housewives who are faithful in their everyday duties are honored of heaven.

5. Jesus was a pattern for youth. There would be no juvenile delinquency if all the young people today would follow the example of Jesus. In His home life, He set the example for all children and youth to follow. He taught that humble work is a blessing and that labor is intended for man's good.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from Jesus' hidden years at Nazareth is that a truly great man is always humble. J. Whitcomb Brougher said:

True greatness can be humble without loss of power or dignity. Jesus stooped to conquer. The extreme simplicity of Christ's conduct is as difficult to follow as is the greatness of his character. How simply, and how beautifully, does the character of Jesus shine out in all the splendor of his humble service to mankind. . . . Real greatness rejoices in the privilege of doing little things for the good of others. (Treasury of the Christian Faith), page 383.

A Word to Parents
Encourage the youth and children in your home to get acquainted with Jesus. We know that many of them will want to follow Him. Encourage them also to enroll in one of our courses especially designed for their age.


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.