After His birth events, the one other story of Jesus in His childhood, contained at the end of Luke 2, is such an intriguing one. For it contains an incredible statement. In telling us about our Lord’s trip to Jerusalem at the age of twelve to prepare for participation in the Passover, Luke 2:40 says, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” Have you ever thought fully about the mystery of how Jesus increased in wisdom?
At this point, Jesus was a growing boy. He was developing physically into manhood. Perhaps the physical growth of His body does not pose much trouble to our thinking. Yet Jesus was growing in His mind as well. This is what can cause us problems in our understanding of the Savior. How could Jesus, the Son of God, grow in wisdom? Unknowingly, we can practically be Apollinarians in our beliefs of Christ, which describes those who believed in an ancient heresy in the church that taught Jesus had a human body but a uniquely divine mind “untainted” by human nature. We can so focus on the deity of Christ we set aside a significant aspect of His humanity. We fail to realize that His possession of a full human nature meant that He had a soul, including a mind (albeit sinless) like we have. His mind as a child grew increasingly in the wisdom of God.
In other words, when He was a baby, Jesus had baby thoughts. When a five-year-old, He possessed the mental faculties of a child of that age. In this story in Luke, Jesus was an exceptionally wise, sin-free (noetically and otherwise) twelve-year-old, but He was still a twelve-year-old boy. His mind and heart were developing, and it is apparent at this precise moment Jesus is realizing He is the Christ sent to do the business or work of His Father, as He tells His parents. Listen to other confirmations of this:
The New Testament Greek scholar A.T. Robertson says about the phrase “increasing in wisdom” that this is a “present passive participle, showing that the process of filling with wisdom kept pace with His bodily growth. If it were only always true with others! We need not be troubled over this growth in wisdom on the part of Jesus any more than over his bodily growth.”
Puritan Matthew Poole states that “though there could be no accession (i.e. attainment) to the perfection of the Divine nature in Christ, yet as to his human nature he was (as we are) capable of accession of habits, and wisdom, and knowledge.”
In his Harmony of the Gospels, John Calvin pushes us to the edge of this mystery and perhaps makes us uncomfortable when he says, “These words show, that the endowments of his mind grew with his age…But a question arises. From the time he was conceived in His mother’s womb, did he not bound in all the fullness of spiritual gifts? For it appears absurd to say, that the Son of God wanted anything that was necessary to perfection. The reply is easy. If it takes nothing from His glory, that he was altogether ’emptied,’ (Phil 2:6) neither does it degrade him, that he chose not only to grow in body, but to make progress in mind. And certainly when the Apostle declares, that ‘in all things he was make like unto his brethren, ‘ (Heb. 2:17) and ‘was in all points tempted as we were, sin excepted,’ (Heb. 4:15) he no doubt includes, that his soul was subject to ignorance.”
William Barclay comments about Christ’s self-awareness of His deity that “He cannot have known it when he was a child in the manger or a baby at His mother’s breast or He would be a monstrosity and an abnormality…at this first Passover, with manhood dawning on him, there came in a sudden blaze of realization the consciousness that He was not as other men are, that in a unique and special sense He was the Son of God.”
In his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim explains one purpose in this is that the period of Christ’s living in Nazareth “may be described as that of His true and full human development – physical, intellectual and spiritual…it almost needed for us also these thirty years of human life, that the overpowering thought of His divinity might not overshadow that of His humanity.”
Simply stated, in the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus developed in His knowledge throughout His life. “He learned obedience through the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Is it not true that in His public ministry Jesus knew by then He was headed to the cross, but as the time drew near the burden of our sins, the betrayal of a friend, the denial by the others, the diabolical taunts of Satan, and the separation from His Father became increasingly weighty to Him as He as man experienced them? Do we not see that in Gethsemane and on Calvary?
Recognizing the development of Christ can have a profound impact on our own approach to discipleship. On the one hand, it means we have a Savior who can identify with us in every stage of our development. He knows what it is like to be a child growing up into adulthood. Thus, whether we are a child, teenager, young adult, or person of maturity, we can be encouraged that Jesus understands the challenges unique to those stages of development. He does not expect five-year-olds to act like twenty-year-olds (and it goes without saying He does not expect the opposite, either!). Young disciples especially can realize that Jesus grew in His knowledge of His life’s calling and, as their perfect priest, sympathizes with them, will gradually make their calling known to them, and will help them through the entire process as well. How encouraging that is!
On the other hand, if we are helping to disciple others this knowledge should give us great pause. If even Jesus took time to progress into maturity, can we expect anything less from broken, sin-wrecked souls? Should we not be patient and willing to suffer long as we seek to bring the discipline of the cross into the lives of young children or unruly new believers? Could it be some of those young people at whom we get frustrated, those at college or in an undesirable job situation not knowing what their true life calling is, might simply be in a God-ordained preparation stage where He is waiting for the right time to reveal to them greater things? Sigh! What patience we often lack with others.
Yet Jesus does not. The perfect God-man, who was once the perfect God-boy, is not ashamed to call them – and us – brothers (Hebrews 2:11).