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After Simeon and Anna had borne witness to Jesus as a baby of forty days, Joseph and Mary returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke 2:39, 40 says,
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
As an example of His increase in wisdom, Luke tells the story of their observance of Passover when Jesus was twelve. He was not precisely twelve, of course, having been born at the feast of Trumpets. If Luke meant Jesus’ twelfth year, He would have been eleven-and-a-half, and his cousin John would have been exactly twelve. Or this might mean Jesus was twelve-and-a-half, and John was just turning thirteen.
Luke 2:41, 42 continues,
41 And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;
We are told nothing about the feast itself, so we may assume that it was observed normally and without incident. It was mandatory that all men should attend the feast, but for women it was optional, as their husbands or fathers could represent them.
Lightfoot tells us that the rabbis wrote,
“Let a man deal gently with his son till he come to be twelve years old; but from that time let him descend with him into his way of living. That is, let him diligently, and with severity (if need be), keep him close to that way, rule, or art by which he may get his living.” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 48)
In other words, it was customary in those days to begin teaching sons the skills of the father’s profession or trade. It is in this context, then, that the incident occurred in the temple and the force behind Jesus’ words.
Luke 2:43-45 says,
43 and as they were returning after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.
The wording in verse 43 implies that they remained in Jerusalem for the full seven days of Unleavened Bread. In those days it was mandatory that they remain there at least until the third day, but most stayed throughout the full seven days. The law itself seemed to allow them to return home on the fifteenth of Abib, the day of Passover, after eating the Passover the previous evening. Deut. 16:5-7 says,
5 You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. 7 And you shall cook and eat it in the place which the Lord your God chooses. And in the morning you are to return to your tents.
The precedent for returning to their “tents” was when the Israelites left Egypt on the day of Passover. However, that first day, along with the seventh, were Sabbaths (Lev. 23:7). The rabbis had ruled that 2,000 cubits was the maximum distance that people could travel on a Sabbath, and so this distance was called “a Sabbath day’s journey” (Acts 1:12). It was this distance to the top of the Mount of Olives just outside the city. So the rabbis had concluded that when Moses said, “you are to return to your tents,” he meant they should return to their tents near Jerusalem where they were abiding during the days of the feast. No one should return home on the day of Passover.
Perhaps God was not as concerned as the rabbis of determining the precise distance that men could walk on a Sabbath. Nonetheless, the custom of the day was that the people had to remain in or near Jerusalem on the day of Passover. Further, the rabbis said there were three things commanded in regard to Passover: the peace offerings on the first day, the appearance in the court on the second day, and the rejoicing on any day.
And so it was commanded that the people remain until the third day, but strongly recommended that they stay throughout the full seven days of Unleavened Bread. The removal of leaven from their houses was still part of it, because in many cases some women remained at home. Those who came to Jerusalem simply did not leaven their bread while living in the tents.
Anyway, it seems clear that Joseph and Mary remained in Jerusalem for the full seven days as recommended by the rabbis before starting their journey back to Nazareth. These feasts were times when family and friends could fellowship, for otherwise, many of them might not ever see each other. Joseph and Mary were thus able to see their relatives from Bethlehem and Hebron a few times a year, and this provided powerful motivation for the women to come to the feasts as well.
It is likely that Jesus often spent the night with friends and relatives in their tents, as young people often do even today. When the feast concluded, and the caravans began to move down the roads in all directions, Joseph and Mary would have assumed that Jesus was with some of them on the Nazareth caravan. It was not until the end of the first day’s journey that they became concerned. Lightfoot says,
“The first ordinary day’s journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee, was to Neapolis, of old called Sychem, distant thirty miles. But was this the day’s journey that Joseph and the company that travelled along with him made at this time? The place where Christ was first missed by his parents is commonly showed at this day to travelers, much nearer Jerusalem, by the name Beere, but ten miles from that city. You may believe those that show it, as you think fit” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 45).
Sychem is the Greek word for Shechem. It is mentioned in Acts 7:16. Sychem is now the West Bank city of Nablus. Being thirty miles from Jerusalem, it does not seem probable that a caravan would travel that far in one day. In the wagon trains of the American West, a good day’s travel was about twenty miles. So it seems more likely to me that the caravan stopped at the town of Beere just ten miles north of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary could not find Jesus among their friends and relatives, they returned the next day to Jerusalem. No doubt they searched for Him during the remainder of that second day. They found Him the third day in the temple, as Luke 2:46, 47 says,
46 And it came about 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. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
Jesus had apparently been invited into the Sanhedrin itself and was sitting on the floor, surrounded by the seats of the elders. It is said that he was asking them questions. It was not uncommon for men to come to the temple to ask questions to clarify various points of law. What was unusual was for a twelve-year-old boy to do this. Luke implies that Jesus’ questions showed His deep understanding of the Word. When they questioned Him, His answers were original, and not mere quotations from other rabbis.
Luke 2:48-50 continues,
48 And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”
The Greek text literally reads, en tois tou patros, which The Interlinear Bible renders, “in (the affairs of) my Father.” Luke’s wording says only that Jesus had to be in His Father’s SOMETHING. Whether that would be His “affairs” (Interlinear) or “business” (KJV) or “house” (NASB), or even in His Father’s school is deliberately unclear, because it is all of the above.
Jesus was twelve, and so He was learning the business affairs in the house of His legal father, Joseph. But in a parallel manner, Jesus was also learning the business affairs in the house of His Heavenly Father.
These are also the first recorded words of Jesus. The words establish His calling and purpose in life. Luke 2:51, 52 finishes this passage, saying,
51 And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
This is the second time Jesus’ mother “treasured all these things in her heart.” The first was when the shepherds came and told them about their angelic visitation (Luke 2:18, 19). On that occasion, the angels revealed that Jesus was to be “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The second was when she saw how Jesus had handled Himself at the temple, as well as His revelation that God was His Father.
This would have reminded them of the fact that Jesus did not have a biological father and that Joseph was only raising Him so that Jesus’ real Father would not lose His inheritance in the earth.
And so, Jesus grew physically and spiritually and was well liked and respected in His youth.
One of Luke’s unstated—yet unmistakable—purposes was to show Theophilus that he was being given opportunity to be part of the flow of prophecy. In effect, he offered Theophilus a new calling as a priest of the Melchizedek Order. He could identify with the priesthood of the future, forsaking the old Aaronic order that had become corrupt.
In the days of Eli the priesthood had become corrupt when the high priest put his sons above God. His sons were corrupt “sons of Belial” (1 Sam. 2:12, KJV). We read later in verse 22,
22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served [tsava, “warred”] at the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Many women, it seems, wanted to serve God at the door of the tabernacle, even in the time of Moses (Exodus 38:8). It is not clear what they actually did, but the term “served” is from the Hebrew word tsava, which literally refers to conducting warfare. It is the same term “enter the service” used to describe the male priests in Num. 4:3, 23, 30, 35, and 43. Their duties in the tabernacle were acts of spiritual warfare, and so we see that the women did the same at the door of the tabernacle.
Anna was one such spiritual warrior who had “entered the service” and was “warring the warfare,” as Num. 4:3 literally reads in Hebrew. Her service changed conditions in the heavens and helped advance the Kingdom of God on earth. But in the days of Eli, we find that his sons were corrupting the spiritual warriors who had gathered to advance the Kingdom.
Likewise, in the first century many of the temple priests had become corrupt. The high priesthood was bought and sold as a source of income and power. There is no doubt that Theophilus was troubled by this, for he had been high priest for three years earlier in life and was also the son of a powerful and influential high priest, Annas (or Ananus).
Luke, then, was subtly appealing to Theophilus to break ranks with the sons of Eli and to join with the True Temple and the Melchizedek Order of priests who serve it. The prophet’s message to Eli was of a change of priesthood (1 Sam. 2:35). This prophesied of the change from Levi to Melchizedek, because, as we see from 1 Kings 2:35, Zadok replaced the last of the line of Eli as high priest. Zadok, of course, was a type of the Melchizedek Order, as his name indicates.
Eli eventually died of a broken neck (1 Sam. 4:18), which was the judgment of God upon a donkey that had not been redeemed (Exodus 13:13). The law draws a parallel between donkeys and “every first-born of man” that needed redemption. The implication was that if the first-born sons of men were not redeemed, being spiritual donkeys, their necks were to be broken. This happened literally to Eli, but it prophesied also of the entire Levitical priesthood that was to lose its calling. By extension, too, the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D. to show God’s displeasure with the corruption of that place.
The story of Anna in particular drew attention to the parallel with Eli and Samuel. Anna is the Greek form of Hanna, Samuel’s mother (1 Sam. 1:2). Even as Hanna dedicated her son to God in the temple, so also had Mary brought her Son to the temple, where Anna bore witness and prophesied.
Even as there were women congregating and serving at the door the tabernacle in the days of Eli, so also did Mary join those congregating at the door of the temple, while Anna was serving God at the same gate.
Josephus tells us that “when Samuel was twelve years old, he began to prophesy” (Antiquities of the Jews, V, x, 4). So also did Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple when He was twelve to be in His Father’s house, as we will see shortly in the next story (Luke 2:42).
We see, then, that Jesus was a type of Samuel, who was sent to the temple to minister in place of Eli. He was first in line as the “faithful priest” prophesied by the man of God (1 Samuel 2:35).
35 But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before [paniym, “face, presence”] My anointed [mashiyach, “messiah”] always.
1 Sam. 1:1 tells us that Samuel came from an Ephraimite family. However, as a Nazirite, he was treated as a priest and allowed to minister in the temple as if he were of the sons of Aaron. Many years later, Jesus’ brother James (the writer of the book of James) was also a Nazirite and daily ministered in the temple until his martyrdom. We also read in 1 Sam. 2:18, 19,
18 Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
The prophecy of the man of God in 1 Sam. 2:35 had a greater fulfillment than could be fulfilled by the ministry of Samuel himself. It prophesied of Zadok in the days of Solomon. It also prophesied of the Melchizedek Order that was to come still later. But it was ultimately a messianic prophecy, for the true High Priest was to be the Messiah Himself, whose sons would minister “in the face of” their Father, the Messiah. That is, their transfigured faces would reflect the incorruptible glory of their Father always.
These are the spiritual Ephraimites functioning as Melchizedek priests and as spiritual Nazirites. The prophetic reason Samuel was an Ephraimite was to picture him as a second Joshua, who was of that same tribe. Hence, the greatest fulfillment of the prophecy comes at the time of the second coming of Joshua (Yeshua), when He returns as Joshua the Ephraimite (Joseph) to lead us into the Kingdom. In this we see the repair of the breach between the Scepter, the Birthright, and the Priesthood, after being separated in the time of Jacob. These callings are all rejoined under the Messiah, Jesus Christ at the time of His second coming.
Luke’s gospel, then, presents Jesus to Theophilus as the fulfillment of the prophecy in the time of Eli and Samuel. He is the faithful priest, the new prophet (Samuel), and the new Joshua, of Joseph-Ephraim, to whom all men will bow in the end. And in the account, Luke is careful to record both a male and female witness in the temple. Theophilus is presented with the gospel and the opportunity to believe that Jesus was indeed the Christ and the fulfillment of the “faithful priest” that God was raising up to replace the old order of Aaron. Luke’s hope was that Theophilus might identify with Samuel, rather than with the sons of Eli in the corrupted temple.