The Hidden Years

Jesus’s childhood lacks any explicit information, apart from Luke’s account, that gives biographical access to His daily living from birth to the start of His earthly ministry.  The knowledge that readers of the Bible have to go on is historical cues and context surrounding typical childhoods of the Jews during Jesus’ time.  Aptly named the “hidden years,” there is a certain assumption that can be made concerning Jesus’ growth and maturation during this time.  Robertson writes that Luke:

gives us the only glimpse that we have of the boy Jesus, with a boy’s hunger for knowledge and yearning for future service, this boy who already had the consciousness of a peculiar relationship to God his Father, and yet who went back to Nazareth in obedience to Joseph and Mary to toil at the carpenter’s bench for eighteen more years.… No one who did not love and understand children could have so graphically pictured the boyhood of Jesus in this one short paragraph.[1]

The mystery of Jesus’ youth ought to keep the interpreter away from unfounded statements in order to avoid the major issues of the Apocryphal accounts but instead focus on what is known.  The sinless nature of Jesus and His special relationship to the Father as the Son of God must be maintained by the Christian since Luke’s account solidifies this understanding.  While there is no knowledge about the specifics of Jesus’ life, there are implied realities that can help the Christian understand Jesus’ childhood to a greater degree.

Jesus grew up as a real baby with all subsequent physical needs.  Phillip Ryken writes, “His physical development is the easiest for us to understand.  We know that when God the Son became a man, he took on a human body.  The baby in the manger was a real baby with all the physical needs that any baby has.  As an infant, Jesus woke up in the middle of the night hungry.  He needed to be nursed, burped, and changed.”[2]  Jesus grew from infancy to adulthood:  He learned to sit up, walk, run, speak, and read.  Every aspect of human growth and development was essential for Jesus to experience and, in order to accomplish this, he took on each of these difficulties of human physical existence.  MacLeod explains that Jesus:

Had a human mind, subject to the same laws of perception, memory, logic, and development as our own.… He observed and learned and remembered, and applied.  This would have been impossible if he had been born in possession of a complete body of wisdom and knowledge.  Instead, he was born with the mental equipment of a normal child, experienced the usual stimuli, and went through the ordinary processes of intellectual development.[3]

Jesus grew up as a human untainted and unhindered by sin.  Luke writes in 2:40 that “the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.”  He was a child that grew up uniquely as the only human being to be completely sinless.  He grew up without the handicap of original sin, which means he grew, lived, learned, acted, and thought without ever disobeying the law of God.  Being sinless, he also grew without the physical, mental, and spiritual impediments of sin.  His youth would have been extraordinary, and Luke aptly writes concerning his significant growth in wisdom and receiving of the grace of God. 

Jesus grew up carefully learning the trade of a carpenter.  Laziness would never have been an issue that Jesus would have dealt with, and as typical, He would have taken up the craft of His earthly father.  A carpenter was not exclusive to woodworking but could also be a term used for a wide range of craftsmen, “including stonemasons, artificers, and engravers.”[4]  Being absent from the issue of sinful tendencies, Jesus would have pursued His work faithfully and have pursued it with the glory of God always in mind.  The profession of a carpenter would be His profession from childhood up to when He began His earthly ministry at thirty years old.   He would never have short-changed or dealt dishonestly, never taken shortcuts, nor utilize unjust weights in any way.  He was full of integrity, never taking advantage of someone’s ignorance, nor willing to compromise any aspect of righteous business dealings or physical labor. 

Jesus grew up carefully instructed in the ways of the Mosaic Law.  Joseph is called a just man in Matthew 1:19, and the couple seems to have been pious Jews with an understanding of the Mosaic Law and ordinances of their day.  Ryken agrees with this piety, adding:

Joseph was required to go, but this was a godly family, so they all made the annual pilgrimage for Passover, which was one of the three major festivals in Israel’s religious calendar.  Mary and Joseph had made a covenant to raise their child right, and this included leading him in the public worship of God—a practice he maintained when he was an adult.[5]

Calvin adds additional clarity:

It is mentioned in commendation of the piety of Mary and Joseph that they gave diligent attendance to the outward worship of God.  It was not of their own accord, but by divine command, that they undertook this annual journey…. Yet, as legal ceremonies were still in force, and the outward rite of sacrifice was observed as it is laid down in the law, believers were bound to perform such exercises in the testimony of their faith.[6]

Joseph and Mary would have been careful to study the Scriptures and to fulfill any obligations of the synagogue and pass that down on to their children.  With a mind unaltered and unadulterated by sin and His relationship as the Son of God, Jesus would have undoubtedly pursued the knowledge of the Scriptures and of Yahweh as much as possible.  The pursuit of Yahweh and His glory in Jesus’ development would pave the way for His interactions with the scribes and teachers in Jerusalem, where He would ask them questions and learn from them. 

The subsequent implications of a sinless development would result in a body, soul, and mind unhindered by depravity, laziness, and an emphasis on good stewardship concerning his physical and intellectual abilities.  Jesus could pursue the maximum potential of the human mind without any shortcomings that sinful human beings are predisposed towards. 

Jesus grew in wisdom and intellect.  R. Kent Hughes summarizes this aspect of the Incarnation: 

The great historic doctrine of the church is that the Son of God became a real man—not just someone who only appeared to be a man.  When he was born, God the Son placed the exercise of his all-powerfulness and all-presence and all-knowingness under the direction of God the Father.  He did not give up those attributes, but he submitted their exercise in his life to the Father’s discretion.  Though he was sinless, he had a real human body, mind, and emotions—complete with their inherent weaknesses.[7]

His sinless mind would allow Him to grow essentially as mankind had been initially intended with no hindrance or disadvantage due to the effects of sin.  He would have shown great diligence in His studies and never been lazy.  He would have pursued wisdom and intellect to its fullness for the glory of Yahweh.  These developments would help Him as He would inherit the role of provider for His earthly family with the mortal departure of Joseph.

Jesus cared for His earthly family with the believed death of Joseph.  It is unknown exactly what happened to Joseph, but the safe assumption would be that he died at some point resulting in Jesus becoming the head of the household and fully responsible for the spiritual and physical nourishment of the family.[8]  He learned how to work and provide for a large family and undoubtedly taught them concerning the pursuit of God.   

 Analyzing the great condescension of the eternal Son of God into human form is understandably difficult, especially in light of the Incarnation.  Ryken briefly states, “These statements stagger the mind.”[9]  The eternal Son of God took on human form, submitted Himself fully to the Father, went through every aspect of human development from conception through to adulthood, subjected Himself to the same sufferings as humanity—He grew tired, hungry, and fatigued—He pursued His studies of the Lord to its fullest while developing His earthly profession.  He had to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of a large family while fully relying on the Father for provision due to the limitations of His human body.  The Incarnation is truly an infinite condescension that no human being can sufficiently begin to grasp.  The proper Christian response is doxology in the same vein as Paul from Romans 11:33-36, where he writes:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?  For from him and through and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.

Through the study of historical context, consideration of the character and the righteousness of God, and the implications of living in accordance with the Mosaic Law, the student of Scripture is able to make educated deductions and speculation concerning the hidden years of Jesus Christ.  While the Scripture lacks explicit details, these implicit details help Christians study and meditate on the infinite condescension of the Son of God and the workings of the Incarnation.  Though these subjects are inexhaustible, the study of them truly garners and increases deeper worship and reverence for the Lord.  Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the difficulties of humanity to bring salvation to His people.  Jesus would face many trials through His time on earth.  The crises He would face would include complete abandonment by those who were closest to Him.  His hometown sought to kill Him, and His disciples would abandon Him at the end.  Yet, He remained faithful and obedient to the Father even to the point of death.  The issues He’d face He willingly fought for the sake of the name of God and for the redemption of His people.

[1] A.T. Robertson, Luke the Historian in the Light of Research (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930), 239

[2] Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 1, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 102–103.

[3] Donald MacLeod, The Person of Christ, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 164.

[4] John D. Barry, David Bomar, et al., eds., “Carpenter,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] Ryken, Luke, 107

[6] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 169.

[7] R. Kent Hughes, Luke:  That You May Know the Truth, 2 vols., Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 1998), 1:85.

[8] D. W. Wead, “Joseph Husband of Mary,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 1130.

[9] Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, 106.

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