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Jesus the Boy in the Temple
Lesson Objectives & Bible Background


 Passage: Luke 2:41-52

 Key/Memory Verses: "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." Luke 2:46-47   (NRSV)

Goals and Objectives

 After completing this Rotation, students will be able to:

  • Locate the story in the Bible
  • Identify the book of Luke as a New Testament Gospel
  • Tell the story of Jesus learning in the Temple as a young boy
  • Explain the importance of participating in a community of faith just like Jesus did.
  • With Jesus the Boy as their example, improve their own attitude and participation in worship and Sunday School!

 WT-BoyJesus, Mary and Joseph on their way to the Temple courtesy of 1st UMC Ann Arbor.


Bible Background

What this story is about

Let's get right down to it. We should re-title this set,

"Jesus the boy in Sunday School."

As teachers of children we have been given a gift: the only Gospel story where Jesus is close in age to our students, and engaging in an activity that looks a lot like Sunday School.

We can forgive the preachers and theologians who want to forget that we have a kid here, and prefer to parse the Jewish background and Christology of this passage. They don't have to teach Sunday School to kids, many of whom would rather be on the train home than standing in our temple.

We can also forgive ourselves as parents who get distracted by questions about "disobedience" and "what do you think his mother said to him on the way home?" Those are sideshows. The line about his parents leaving him behind only serves to heighten the degree which Jesus was engaged

What we have here is the dream of every teacher:  a student so engaged in Bible study with them, and asking questions, that they forget what time it is. We too wish we were "amazed and astonished" by our students! — Luke 2:47

Take heed and don't reduce this story to the commandment, "you shall care about learning the Bible because Jesus cared."  If "commandments" worked, we wouldn't be having this discussion.  Instead, we need to get into the "why" Jesus was like that, and "how" can OUR students be like that!

WHY did Jesus care? and thus, how can I care like that too!

  • Why should I get up early on Sunday and come to Sunday School?
    How can I get up early for Sunday School and not resent it?
  • Why am I here, ...when there are other more entertaining things I could be doing?
    How am I acting here, and how should I act here?
  • Why should I care about my faith and following this 2000 year old bearded guy?
    How can I care more and follow more?
  • Why should I care about asking questions?
    How can I ask good questions?

The lessons in this set explore these important questions, using Jesus as our example.

As teachers, it's our job to make the learning engaging enough so that the students will want to ask questions and take the lesson to heart. But let's also turn this around and put some responsibility on the students, as well, by asking them:

  • What will you do that gets people talking?  
  • What will you do and say to amaze us?
  • What attitude will you bring that astonishes us?

The lessons in this set tackle some of the bad attitudes people bring, and even help them practice good attitudes, postures, and listening skills as part of the lesson.

Some Extra Bible Background Notes

...with some interesting questions that might just make a student or two stick around to talk with you about them!

This story is only found in the book of Luke. It serves as a transition story from Jesus' dedication in the Temple when he was eight days old, to his ministry as an adult. It is also the first time we hear Jesus speak.

Isn't that interesting! 

Quiz Question: What are the first words we hear Jesus speak?

Answer: Luke 2:49 “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Think about the deep meaning of his very first words:

Looking for Jesus?  Go to church!

About the Temple:

It was a requirement that all Jewish males living in Judea were to attend the Passover Festival.* (See definition below). Women were not required to attend. Joseph and Mary attended every year, which showed their piety. Jerusalem was about 70 winding miles away, so to travel every year was quite strenuous. Traveling at the rate of 15 miles per day, it would have taken four or five days to reach Jerusalem.

What does it take to get you to Sunday School? How do you prepare for that journey?  What obstacles are in the way?

According to Jewish tradition, a Jewish boy became responsible to observe the law when he was 13. Though not specifically stated this to be his first trip to Jerusalem for the Festival, we can safely assume that it was. The identification of his age as 12 probably suggests his parents are taking steps to prepare him for his covenantal responsibility.

When do we expect students to be committed and attentive in Sunday School?

The story of Jesus in the Temple also is revelatory. It reveals the truth about Jesus, the true Son of God. Luke's purpose for writing the Gospel was "so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1:4).

How does your presence in Sunday School reveal your true identity?
How does your attendance declare Jesus as Lord to others?

Verse 43: "After the festival is over, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn't know it." One might wonder how this was possible — Did Jesus get so caught up in the teaching he wasn't aware it was time to leave? Did Mary assume he was with Joseph? How could they not know he wasn't with them? Usually women in a caravan traveled more slowly, so they would leave before the men. When they met up at the end of the day, they realized Jesus was not there.

Mary and Joseph left immediately to return to Jerusalem. The passage states that after three days they found him, but it is not clear if it took three days to return, or it was three days of searching in Jerusalem before they found him in the Temple.

Why do your parents want to bring you to church? To fulfill their obligation to God, just like Mary and Joseph were fulfilling their obligation by bringing Jesus. 

Parents make a promise at baptism.

Verse 48b: "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, " Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" This is a particularly revealing moment for them. Joseph's authority, as his father, has now been transferred to his heavenly Father. Though we never hear from Joseph, one wonders if he understood the message Jesus was giving them? We hear again and again that Mary "pondered these things in her heart," but what was Joseph "pondering"?

 This is a strange thing for a boy to say. Sounds more like a theologian's hand has been at work.

 I mean, would Jesus have really 'rebuked' his own parents like that?  
What might he have rather said to explain and apologize?

This story is about identity and mission. Jesus' and ours.

Who are we? What's important to us? What do we need to know? Where are we going?

Like us, Jesus comes into a greater understanding of who he is separate from his parents. So, this is a story about the boy Jesus' humanity, how he is like us. It is also a story of his divinity — Jesus' identity is that he is the Son of God. That identity is found through community. Think about all the things Jesus did. He RESTORED relationships (community).

When we study God's Word together, we learn not only who we are as children of God, but also who God calls us to be as a community of believers.

 What is your identity? And how are you claiming it apart from your parents?

This story shows us a fully human Jesus — an adolescent, a boy. Yes, he is fully God, but at this point in his life he is showing us what a human child should be like. He is growing and developing. His knowledge, his understandings of his world and of himself have had to grow as any human child.  Undoubtedly his voice was changing too!

 You have to wonder how much the boy-Jesus knew about his God identity. It's hard enough to be a pre-teen, without thinking you're also God!   Might his father have protected Jesus' human side a bit by not pushing the story?  These are the kinds of questions that get people forgetting what time it is.  I've always told my students that God is very patient, and can do anything he wants. It seems very loving that God would have protected the child-Jesus from what was soon to become a mind-blowing sense of self. 

At the dawn of his maturity Jesus is becoming his own person, and not a child anymore. By separating from his parents, he is claiming an identity of his own. This is something we all do, and notice Jesus does it by GOING to church, instead of saying "it's boring."  Jesus was obviously deep.

This story also shows us that understanding the things of God doesn't come by lightening bolt --even for Jesus.  He had his parents, the Temple teachers, and undoubtedly went to Synagogue School in his home town. This is how our Christian identity happens for most of us. We grow up with it, and experiences help deepen it. 

 Which is to say, "Just like Jesus, it takes time for all this to sink in. You have to come with the right attitude, stick with it, and ask questions!"


Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Series - The Gospel of Luke. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975, pages 29-30.

Strauss, Mark. Zondervan's Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, pages 348-350.

New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995, pages 75-77.

Written by: Julie Burton, with notes from Lynn Wood and Neil MacQueen

Copyright © 2008, 2015,
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Last edited by Luanne Payne
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Hi Mary,
I'm glad you asked. Supplies are listed in the various lessons.  How about a quick study in "navigating through our lessons" to find what you need?  I hope you're up for it!

1.  First, breadcrumbs!
Scroll to the bottom (or the top) of your screen to see the "Trail of Breadcrumbs."
Here is this trail from the bottom of this screen...

Quick lesson 1

2.  You were reading and commented on the Bible Background for this set on Jesus as a boy in the Temple. In the breadcrumbs that was...


3.  Once you are at the "shelf," you can scroll down to see all of the lessons (the "books") in this lesson set. Or you can click on the Summary of the Set, which describes (and provides links) to each individual lesson.

Quick lesson 2

What are those other breadcrumbs?


I hope this helps!
-- Carol


Images (4)
  • Quick lesson 1
  • Breadcrumbs1
  • Breadcrumbs2
  • Quick lesson 2

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