What Child is This? (Luke 2:41-52)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Since the birth of Christ and Mary’s interaction with Simeon, twelve years have now passed. Jesus has grown from being a baby to becoming a twelve-year-old boy. Have you ever wondered what happened during those twelve years? A number of stories spread about some of the things He did during these ‘Silent Years’, but these are all fake reports of what really happened. One of them says that when He was a five years old, we was playing by the water and on the Sabbath day fashioned clay into twelve birds. When someone came and rebuked Him, He clapped His hands and the clay birds became real birds and flew away. Another story reports that He killed another child for bumping into Him, and then when the child’s parents complained to Joseph about this, He made them blind. These stories are not compatible with the Biblical accounts and are to be rejected.

Instead, this passage has recorded the very first words from Jesus that we know. Of course He would have spoken many words before this, but we don’t know what they were. This passage provides the reader with a roller coaster experience. But at the end, we are to know that Jesus was doing everything according to the sovereign will of God. My desire is that you can walk away from this passage with a clear answer to this question, “What Child is this?” The answer to this question has serious consequences on our lives, and there is much joy that is ours if we truly know. We will follow the sequence of events by considering the Disappearance of the Childthe Discovery of the Child, and the Devotion of the Child.


Every year, Joseph and Mary made a journey to Jerusalem to celebrate and participate in the Feast of the Passover (2:41). The feast of Passover was one of the three religious feasts (The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths) the men were required to participate in (Exodus 23:14-17; 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). We are also told that Jesus is twelve years old and He is going with them.

According to the Law, the wife of a husband was not required to go (Ex. 34:23). So this says a lot about Joseph and Mary’s dedication to the Lord, and their commitment to bringing Jesus up according to the Law of God. The Word of God clearly was at the center of their home life. Many times we can allow things that have no benefit to be the focus of our family lives. We need to be very careful that nothing replaces our commitment and care in making Christ the center of all things.  

This example of Joseph and Mary is a powerful one. We are not in the same situation as them. We are not required to attend Jewish religious feasts in Jerusalem, but we are called to “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Parents have a powerful ministry opportunity to model to their children, namely the privilege and priority of worship. Children may not always understand what will be happening at church, though we ought to strive to make things plain to them. But they will learn from their parents what their passions and priorities are. When we gather together, we are to remember that our chief reasons are to exalt God and encourage the people of God. We don’t go out of a rigid routine. We don’t go to be entertained. We don’t go to get our felt needs met. We go to worship God with the people of God. Parents have a privileged role in showing their children how important worship is.

When the feast was over, the large group begins their journey home. As they were travelling back, Joseph would have assumed that Jesus was with Mary, and Mary would have assumed that Jesus was with Joseph. But the time came at the end of the first day of travel when they asked each other “where is Jesus?” To their surprise they discovered that He is missing. We are not to take away from this that they were irresponsible parents. They were travelling in a caravan with family and neighbors from surrounding villages. Also, over the years there may have been many familiar faces and friendships formed. In addition to this, it was possible that Joseph and Mary travelled separately within the caravan, or if they were together, it would not have been unusual for Jesus to be with the other children.

It is important to note that Jesus was now twelve years old. Though that is young, He was approaching the age when a young boy would be considered a young man. At the age of 13, a boy becomes a “son of the commandment” and is considered a responsible individual (similar to the modern Bar Mitzvah). So there would have been a sense of trust coming from Joseph and Mary, and evidently He was trustworthy. 

The panic would have been overwhelming for them. Any parent who has lost their child (even for a few seconds) can appreciate the emotions that would have been running wild. The frantic search begins as they make their way back to Jerusalem. They would have searched high and low for Him, and who knows the many thoughts running through their minds! “Was He taken?” “Is He OK?”

There is a powerful lesson in this for us. When we take our eyes of Jesus, we will be filled with all sorts of anxieties.  We can go about our normal routines and think that everything is OK. We can allow certain distractions in life to consume our thinking, and before we know it, we have taken our eyes of Jesus. We can lose sight of Jesus when we are focused on our secret sins. We can lose sight of Jesus when we are focusing on things that distract us from Him. We can lose sight of Jesus when we are busy, even when we are busy doing ministry.

We need to be aware that many things and habits can creep into our lives, and though they may not always be bad in and of themselves, they can take our eyes off Jesus. Is there anything in your life right now that is doing this? Are you consuming your thoughts with matters that distract you from your devotion to Him? The parents lost Jesus, and this filled them with anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. As an application, we will feel the same when our eyes are off the Saviour.

2.        THE DISCOVERY OF THE CHILD (2:46-47)

After three days of wondering and searching for Jesus, Joseph and Mary finally found Him. No doubt they would have searched high and low. In the end, they found Him in the temple. Luke writes,

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2:46-47).

The three days probably refers to the one-day trip away from Jerusalem, the one-day return to Jerusalem, and the one-day of searching in Jerusalem. When they found Him in the temple, He was sitting with the teachers of the Law of God, listening to them and asking questions. This was a common way students would learn in that culture at that time. So what Jesus is doing here is that He is that He is exposing Himself to the discussion and teaching of God’s Word.

The brightest theological minds of Israel that were gathered in the temple “were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2:47). Though He was young, He was displaying the extraordinary signs that this is no ordinary child. He had an ability to comprehend and contribute at a level that revealed a depth of understanding. “What Child is this?” They may have asked. We come to answer this question specifically in the next point.

An interesting observation is that Joseph and Mary found Him in the place where the Word of God was being discussed. As an application, we would do well, that when we take our eyes of Jesus, to go to the Word of God. It is there we will see Him. Go to the Scriptures and ask God to open our eyes and we can see Jesus on every page. The delight of seeing Christ in Scripture is greater than anything this world can offer.

3.        THE DEVOTION OF THE CHILD (2:48-51)

Walking in and seeing Jesus there with these teachers was quite the sight. We are told that they were “astonished”. Mary then speaks to Him and asked, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (2:48). Filled with anxiety, Mary expresses her distress and displeasure with what has just happened. The reply Jesus gives is the key to this whole passage and reveals who Jesus is and why He is here. He answers Mary by asking her a question, He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house? (2:49).These are the first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospel accounts. After telling Him that she and his father were worried, in unmistakable terms, He made clear His unique relationship with God the Father. Here Jesus refers to God as “my Father” revealing His identity. He also stressed the necessity of this event as He said, “I must”. This was not casual or curious behaviour; this was to give Himself to the necessity of His mission.

Jesus made it clear that He knew who He was and what He is to be doing! He was to be in His Father’s house doing His Father’s business. This is an incredible moment in His life as He declares the realization of His identify and His mission. The specific mission was to come into this world and be the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. Because Jesus was devoted to this mission, we are able to be forgiven of our sins and then enter into newness of life in Christ. Nothing in this universe was going to get in the way of the unwavering devotion of Jesus Christ. Later on Jesus would say, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:24).

There is no surprise that “they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them” (2:50). Jesus is grasping the mystery of godliness (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16) in a way that we cannot. Now something important happens. Jesus reminded them that because He is the Son of God, He must be devoted to His Father’s business. But He also knew that He became and had to live a perfect life in obedience to the Law of God. So in fulfillment of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51). He was obedient to them. This is incredible. This was all a par tof His Divine mission to save sinners!

Luke concludes this passage reminding us “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52). This means that He continued to grow in these areas, and as He did this He did it without sin so that He would represent us as a sinless substitute.



This passage records for us an event in the youth of Jesus. This event was monumental and revealed that He knew who He was. Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. By way of application, here are a few lessons for us to take away. Firstly, let us learn not to take our eyes of Jesus. When we take our eyes of Him, we will lose the joy that is ours in Him. We must learn to be aware of the circumstances and things that will distract us.

Secondly, let us learn to go to the place where Jesus can be found. Spend much time in His Word, reading, studying, memorizing, and obeying. Let the Word of Christ richly dwell in you (cf. Col. 3:16).

Thirdly, let us be grateful for the devotion of Christ, because this is what brought about our salvation. Praise Him that He came to do His Father’s business. Praise Him for His unwavering devotion to the will of God.

Finally, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God has consequences. What Child is this? You may ask. He is the Son of God. Because He is the Son of God He alone can save us form our sins. Look to Christ for salvation, then love Him, and long for Him to return.