Let me tell you a wonderful story: Jesus at Twelve Years Old

There are certain days and periods of the year which every boy or girl particularly remembers. In just the same way a Jewish child counted the months and days to particular times and seasons. Every Sabbath day marked a complete rest from labour or school; every new moon was marked by a similar rest, by a visit to the synagogue, and by a simple feast in the house. Three times a year the great festivals were held – the Passover in April, the Feast of Pentecost in June, and the Feast of Tabernacles in October.

And there was one more day, the birthday, which was, of course, remembered, and for a very special reason.

At the age of twelve a Jewish boy became a “grown up”. Upon that birthday he was thrilled by having fastened on his arms and forehead the phylacteries. These were strips of parchment which had written upon them passages from the Books of Moses. From this time he must keep the festivals and fasts; he would know the Law, and from this time he must obey it. It was a most important day.

This day had passed in the life of Jesus, and now he was counting the periods which must pass before he could go with Joseph and his mother to the wonderful city of Jerusalem, with its sights and sounds, to keep the great feast of the Passover. It was a solemn feast, but also a joyous one. I think that Jesus, a few days before they must set out on their journey, took out a roll of the Law, and, though he almost knew the words by heart, read yet again the story of the first passover feast, when every Israelite father in Egypt killed a male lamb without blemish, one year old, poured out its blood and put it on the door posts and lintel of his house, then roasted the lamb and all ate of it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

He read how the destroying angel “passed over” the houses of the Israelites where the blood was sprinkled, but that “at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle… and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.”

Thus he would read how Israel was saved from bondage in Egypt by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God.

About the 10th day of Abib (which nearly corresponds to our April) Joseph, Mary and Jesus would, after the morning prayers were said, commence their journey to Jerusalem. Other streams of pilgrims would also be flocking into the road, until at last there would be a continuous stream of travellers all going in one direction – Zionwards.

Then, when they first caught sight of the beautiful city, they would break out into singing. If you would like to know what they sang, turn to Psalms 120 to 134. Then this joyous throng enter the city. What a crush, what confusion! The streets are full, the houses are full, the housetops are full. Moreover there are Jews from all parts of the Roman Empire. They have come over land and sea; even from far-off Rome itself, to keep the Passover.

There is no room in the city: they must set up a tent or booth, made of wicker work and leaves and branches, in the hills or in the valleys around, where thousands have already made their home.

Now it is the fourteenth day. At even the Passover lamb must be killed an eaten. The house has been cleared of leaven. All vessels to be used at the feast have been cleansed. Joseph, with the others, has taken his lamb up to the Temple courts.

Excerpt from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell

Read what happens next in Luke 2:40-52.

Painting: Childhood of Christ by Gerard van Honthorst, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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