Young Jesus In Jerusalem


Jesus was never a stranger to Jerusalem, even as a young person.  We see in scripture that soon after his birth Jesus was presented in Jerusalem for his dedication.  Since Jerusalem sits astraddle of the main mountain road running north and south, Jesus had no doubt traveled through the city as a small baby on his return to Nazareth.  Also, since it was commanded that all Israelite men appear before the Lord in Jerusalem three times a year, it is quite likely that Jesus had visited Jerusalem each year as a small child accompanying his father and family.  We know that when Jesus was twelve years old he came with his mother, father and other relatives on such a journey to the Temple

We can imagine that the Temple at this stage in history held a great fascination for an inquisitive child like Jesus.  The Second Temple was in the process of undergoing a gigantic remodeling by Herod the Great.  According to John 2:20, this renovation work was carried on for a total of forty-six years.  Since it was begun in 19 BC it was no doubt nearing its glorious completion in Jesus’ lifetime.

                              The Temple complex as it may have appeared in Jesus’ day (Jerusalem’s model city)


Jesus apparently visited the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time at his dedication.  We see that obviously there was a dual purpose in the visit of Jesus and his family to the Temple on this occasion (Lk. 2:22-24).   One purpose was that his mother, Mary, had completed her time of purification according to the law and needed to make an offering at the Temple.  In Leviticus 12:1-4, we read that a woman was to remain in an unclean condition for about 40 days after the birth of a male child.

When the time of her uncleanness was ended it was required that a woman bring the necessary offering for her cleansing.  If a family happened to be well off financially they could bring a year-old lamb for this offering.  Poorer families were allowed to bring an offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons (Lev. 12:6, 8).  The offering that we see Mary bringing tells us that the family was poor and that the wise men bearing their treasures probably had not yet arrived.

 The other purpose of the visit was to present young Jesus.  The Bible tells us that every firstborn Jewish male child is holy to the Lord and must be consecrated (Exo. 13:1-13).  In Exodus 13:13 we read: Redeem every firstborn among your sons.”  In Numbers 18:15-16 we see the redemption price of a young son was set at five shekels.  This was no doubt a picture of the manner in which Christ would redeem each of us, not with money but with his precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

While they were in the Temple area Jesus and his family had two rather miraculous encounters.  First of all, aged Simeon, a righteous and devout person who was waiting for Israel’s consolation approached Jesus and his parents.  It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  That very day he was moved by the Spirit to enter the Temple courts and when he saw the baby Jesus he took him in his arms and began to praise God.

Aged Simeon made some truly astounding statements about Jesus.  He spoke to God saying of Jesus that the child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32).  He also promised Mary that her child would cause “the falling and rising of many in Israel” and would be a “sign that will be spoken against” (Isa. 8:14-15).  Last of all he warned Mary that a sword would pierce her soul, no doubt a reference to the crucifixion of her son, which Mary would have to witness (Lk. 2:34-35; Jn. 19:25-27).

The next miraculous encounter came immediately as the aged Anna approached the baby Jesus.  Anna, an eighty-four-year-old widow, was also a devout person and a prophetess.  She spent her time in the Temple area worshipping and praising God with fasting
and prayer.

When Anna saw the Christ child she gave thanks to God.  She also apparently went out into the city and began to speak to all those who were looking for Israel’s redemption.  Anna thus became one of the earliest evangelists.  Since she was a prophetess we can guess that she had a great deal of respect among the people.  In earlier times Huldah was also a prophetess ministering in Jerusalem (2 Ki. 22:14).  For many centuries her prominent tomb stood near the gates at the foot of the Temple Mount.  It apparently was still standing there when these events took place.

The main southern entryways into the Temple complex. Here the tomb of Hulda the prophetess can be seen. (Jerusalem’s model city)


Luke tells us that soon after the dedication in the Temple the family moved back to their home in Nazareth. It was in this city that Jesus grew up and became a man.  Luke 2:40 says: “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

We hear nothing else of Jesus until he was twelve years old.  At that time the family made a visit to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  We see in Deuteronomy 16:16 that devout Jewish men were expected to present themselves to the Lord each year at all three major festivals, at Passover (Pesach), at Pentecost (Shavuot) and at Tabernacles (Sukkot).  These trips to Jerusalem were in themselves a considerable evidence of devotion on the part of Jesus’ family.  It was about a 70 mile (112 kilometer) journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  Since families traveled in large groups and primarily by foot we can realize that much time and expense was entailed in such journeys.  This was particularly true at Passover time where the family would probably stay in Jerusalem a whole week for the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  In addition to this there were the various offerings from the choicest animals of the flock and herd that had to be presented at the Temple.

After the festival had ended the large family group that Jesus had traveled with began to make its journey back to Nazareth.  After they had traveled a whole day Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was not with the group.  They probably made a panicky trip back to Jerusalem searching for him.  After three days they found him in the Temple courts.  To their amazement he was sitting among the teachers listening and asking questions.  The teachers were also amazed at the understanding of young Jesus.  One commentator remarks that this event was a little like “a junior high school kid discussing physics
with Einstein.” *

We can only imagine the anxiety Mary and Joseph must have felt in this episode.  While it is traumatic to lose a child even for a few moments it must have been especially traumatic for them to lose the child prophesied to be the Messiah of Israel, and to lose him for
several days.

The anxious mother asked Jesus why he had treated them so.  Jesus replied to them in his very first recorded words of Luke 2:49: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Several translations here speak not of the Father’s house but the Father’s business. We know from the New Testament and from historical witnesses that the Temple of Herod’s time was a defiled place in many ways.  For years the priestly offices had been subject to political appointment.  Later in Jesus’ ministry we see him severely rebuking the Jewish leaders for their wicked practices and on at least one occasion we see him cleansing the temple of its merchants.  Still, even as he scattered the merchandisers he still referred to the Temple as “my Father’s house” (Jn. 2:16).  It was likely this latter event did much to arouse the final opposition of the Temple leaders and led to
Jesus’ crucifixion.

We do not know from scripture on how many occasions Jesus came to Jerusalem and to the Temple before the beginning of his public ministry.  We can suspect that as he came of age he was faithful to visit the Temple each year as the law required.  Of course, as a youth Jesus probably didn’t know that his forthcoming public ministry would revolve around Jerusalem.  He probably didn’t know that he would one day overlook the city from the Mount of Olives and weep bitterly for her.  He probably didn’t know at this time that one day he would enter the city and offer himself as the unblemished Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

                                                                                                      -Jim Gerrish

Publication date, 2008

*David Guzik’s Commenetaries (Luke 2) – This work used also for some background information.