Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ life was like when He was growing up? I have.
Between His wondrous birth and the start of His public ministry, the Bible records only one story about Him. And only one Gospel mentions the event (Luke 2:41–52).
Can we glean anything else from history or the Bible to fill in the blanks about Jesus’ life?
Yes, we can!
Jesus grew up in Galilee, which, in the first century, was considered the most “Jewish” area of all Judea. In other words, Galilee resisted Hellenistic and Roman influences more rigorously than other parts of Judea.
Weeks before Herod the Great died, he changed his mind about who should rule his kingdom. Instead of making Herod Antipas king of all Judea as promised, he divvied up Judea among all his sons that he hadn’t already killed off. Antipas was named tetrarch of Galilee—a huge demotion in title and land. Needless to say, he was not thrilled. (In vain, he appealed to Caesar Augustus to contest Herod’s succession plan.)
Jesus’ parents were devoted to all aspects of Jewish life (see Luke 2:39), so it follows that they observed what the Mishnah said about educating their son. The Mishnah, the authoritative commentary on Jewish law, clearly describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy in the first century:
- At age 4 or 5, he would start learning the Scripture in Beth Sefer (elementary school) in the local synagogue.
- At age 10, he would start learning the Oral Law; the commentary on how to carry out the Torah’s 613 commandments).
- The best students continued their studies in Beth Midrash (secondary school), covering the prophets and interpretations of the Oral Law. (Think modern-day catechism class.) At the same time, they learned a trade.
- At age 12, all boys were required to start attending Passover in Jerusalem.
(Mosaic Law said age 13; but, in practice, that was pushed a year earlier.)
- At age 30, he would have the authority to teach others.
Few men became teachers (rabbis); only the most exceptional students attained that status.
So how does that align with what the Bible says about Jesus’ life? We know that He:
- “Grew in wisdom” as a boy (Luke 2:52)
- Reached the “fulfilling of the commandments” as indicated by His first Passover at age twelve (Luke 2:41)
- Learned a trade (Matthew 13:55)
- Began his ministry at about age thirty (Luke 3:23).
This closely parallels the Mishnah description.
Here’s something even cooler.
In secondary school, the best of the best students would seek permission to study with a famous rabbi. (Example: Paul studied under Gamaliel.) Students would often leave home to travel with the rabbi for an extended time. Those students were talmidim (in English, “disciples”). Talmidim wanted to become just like their teacher, so that relationship was very intense and personal. The talmidim would listen, watch, and imitate the rabbi so they could become like him.
Jesus didn’t need to be a talmid because He had the best expert teacher ever: His heavenly Father. But the concept of talmidim is exactly the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples.
Jesus fit the description of the most advanced first-century rabbi—with one exception. His disciples didn’t seek Him out. Jesus called His disciples.
Jesus taught like a rabbi. He interpreted God’s word and completed it. He chose disciples whom He would empower to become like Him. He led them until they imitated Him. Then He sent them out to make other disciples.
Today He calls us to Himself just like He did with His talmidim two thousand years ago. The goal is the same. To become like Jesus—because we are the only Jesus some people may ever see.
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Casting Crowns singing “Only Jesus”