In Luke 2:49 we read Jesus' reply to His parents when they had found Him in the temple. Wasn’t this a little disrespectful?


This account in Luke 2:41-51 is about the time when Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for the “Feast of the Passover” (verse 41). At that time, Jesus was just twelve years old (verse 42). Jesus then lingered on and after three days, His parents realised that He was not in the company (verses 43-44). They returned to Jerusalem to look for Him (verse 45). They found Him sitting in the temple, both listening and asking the teachers questions (verse 46). In verse 48 we read that Mary said to Jesus: “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Jesus answered in verse 49: “Why is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

It is interesting that in verse 50 we read: “But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” And in the following verse it states that “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject (obedient) to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.”

In Luke 1:30-33 we read the announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus: “Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’”

In Matthew 1:18-21 we read that an angel appeared to Joseph about the birth of Jesus: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’”

Based on what had been told to Mary and Joseph, they should probably have known that since He was the Messiah, the most logical place for Him to be was in the temple and that He would be about His Father’s business. He was no ordinary child. Surely He was doing what God wanted Him to do, and would be under God’s protection. In John 4:34 we read that Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”

At the age of 12, He obviously knew about His situation, His future and who His real Father was. He was so engrossed in learning more about the Scriptures that this became all consuming for Him for those three days. And maybe He would have expected His parents to look for Him before they left Jerusalem.

It would also appear that Jesus was surprised by the question (verse 49), rather than being upset by Mary’s question. His question, in effect, asking them why they did not know that He had to be in His Father’s house, is quite remarkable. Mary speaks about “your father and I” in verse 48, but in verse 49 Jesus takes the word “father” and applies it to God the Father.

Jesus explained His reasoning, but to no avail. They did not understand what He was saying to them (compare verse 50)–and that in spite of an angel appearing to both Mary and Joseph before His birth and telling them that He would be the Son of the Highest and that He would save His people from their sins.

Jesus was well aware of the fifth Commandment to “honor” His parents (Exodus 20:12). He was never disrespectful to them in any way. He was sinless throughout His life. We read in 1 Peter 2:22 that He “committed no sin…” 1 John 3:5 adds: “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” It should be noted that Jesus went back with His parents and was subject to them (Luke 2:51). It shows that Jesus had no intention of dishonouring His parents in any way, nor did He do this.

One Commentary observes as follows: “Pilgrims to the feast in Jerusalem usually travelled in a large party or caravan (Greek sunodia), since a person travelling by himself was in danger from bandits who could swoop down on lone travellers. The caravan was made up of many of Mary and Joseph’s friends and relatives from Galilee, and they naturally supposed that Jesus was somewhere in the crowd. No doubt when they camped for the night and Jesus was nowhere to be seen, they became alarmed. By this time they were probably 20 to 25 miles north of Jerusalem.”

We also have to remember that it was a different society in those days, and we often base our thoughts and ideas on our experience today. His parents thought that He was in the company (verse 43) which indicates a good number of people would be travelling together. They would have known immediately that He had been missing if they had been a family on their own.

It is was perfectly reasonable for Jesus to be listening to the teachers and asking them questions (Luke 2:46). The strange thing is perhaps, just judging from our point of view today, that Mary and Joseph did not keep a closer eye on Him. But in any event, it worked out for good and for a lesson to be gently given to His parents about His position and the Work that He was destined to do.

Based on all the evidence, we can conclude satisfactorily that Jesus was not disrespectful to His parents, nor did He dishonour them in any way.

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (Great Britain)

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