In My Father's Courts"
A note on Luke 2.49
How much did Jesus know and understand when he was 12 years old?
"Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2. 49).
The only incident of our Lord's boyhood that is recorded, is the occasion when at twelve years of age he accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. The eight-day ceremony ended, Joseph and Mary with the rest of their party commenced the journey home to Nazareth and at the end of the first day found that Jesus was not with them. Turning back to the city, they searched unavailingly for three days until at length they found him in the outer court of the Temple questioning the 'Teachers of the Law' and showing such aptitude in his understanding that those venerable First Century theologians were "astonished at his understanding and answers". To his mother's anxious reproof and apparent intimation that they had been three days searching for him, the response came with evident innocent surprise. Why had she not realised that the one place where He was most likely to be was in the Temple court?
The AV rendering of "business" was supplied by the translators and is agreed now to be incorrect. The Greek reads literally "do you not know that in the . . . of my Father I must be". The missing word for which the translators supplied 'business' is an example of what is known as ellipsis, that is, the omission of a word of such a nature that the meaning in the sentence should be obvious. It is generally accepted now that the missing word is "court" and not "business"; that Jesus really referred to the Temple court as the one place in all Jerusalem where He might be expected to be found. "Why did you spend time searching in the city" He asked in effect, "Did you not realise that I must be in my Father's courts?"
There naturally arises from this incident the question as to what degree Jesus, as a child or as a youth, was able to remember anything of his pre-human existence. As a fully grown man, entered upon his mission and possessing the Holy Spirit in the sense in which the Spirit came upon him at Jordan, He was obviously and without doubt fully cognisant of the glory He had formerly shared with the Father (Jn.17.5). Did that knowledge or that recollection come to him as it were, instantaneously, at the moment when the Spirit came upon him when He stood before John in the water and the voice sounded from Heaven "Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mk.1.11). Or was it a gradual revelation, slowly filling his mind as childhood gave way to youth?
There is very little data upon the basis of which a conclusion can be formed. Luke, in his record of this incident, says that Jesus "increased in wisdom and age, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2.52). This implies progressive development in knowledge as the years passed, but that need mean no more than it would in the case of any intelligent lad. The expression "favour with God" could be a natural comment from onlookers who observed his piety and devotion to the things of God. On the other hand the expression in Matthew's account at his baptism "the heavens were opened unto Him" (Matt.3.6) might well be held to indicate a moment when a whole new world of spiritual perception broke in upon his mind. That in a flash He knew himself for who He was, the "Word made flesh" (Luke 1.14), and the entire memory of his past was imprinted upon his human consciousness.
The manner in which the Lord from heaven laid aside his other-worldly glory and appeared on earth in the likeness of men is an abiding mystery to men because we have no knowledge of the world from which He came and the nature of life as it exists there. There must be something of vital truth in Paul's words when he declares that our Lord "emptied" or 'divested' himself when He took human form (Phil.2.7). "Kenosis" means being completely empty or reduced to nothing, and this can only mean that every element of his glory pertaining to the celestial order of things was stripped away and left behind, that when He was born of Mary, He was in every physical respect, man, though sinless. But at the same time He was still and is for ever the Son of God.
Although we cannot comprehend the mystery of the Divine Life, the link that bound the Son to the Father must have remained unbroken throughout. Whether it was by positive knowledge or by some kind of sub‑conscious instinct that He used the expression "My Father" at twelve years of age, it was a true prompting. It might be that from the time He was able to think rationally, on the human plane, Jesus knew that He was not the same as other boys were. He might have been conscious of a link with the Eternal that maybe, the purely physical brain, could not define. Yet for all that there might still have been no memory of the past and no power of visualising the scenes and happenings of the celestial world. We do not really know. What is quite certain is that after Jesus came out of the baptismal waters the power of the Divine broke through the physical barrier. From that time onward, Jesus possessed a full mental understanding of all those things which once He had known beyond the veil that separates the terrestrial from the celestial.