Adolescent Jesus, Adolescent Spirituality And Growing Up In Your Faith

My friend Jerry Starling has said, “We do a better job being like the adolescent Jesus than the adult Jesus.” Jerry says the picture of the adolescent Jesus we have in scripture if when Jesus was at the temple at age 12. Jerry says, the boy Jesus was answering and asking questions and that we often do a better job on that level of Jesus’ ministry than what we see in his adult ministry. Paul talks about the need for Christian maturity. Paul makes it very clear that one of the goals of our lives is to become “fully mature in Christ.” (Col 1:28). That means we have to grow up in our faith.

Several things happen when you grow toward maturity:

  1. The things that once used to interest you so much will change. You will get less interested in being right and clobbering people with the truth and more interested in actually trying to save souls.
  2. You will get more focused on inward renewal and maturing in your desires that ultimately leads to outward expressions and actions rather than trying to grow solely through behavior modification.
  3. The things that are trivial will appear more trivial and the things that are of utmost importance will stand out.
  4. Your gifts will get used less for self and more for God and others.
  5. Your love will increase.
  6. Your knowledge will increase.
  7. Your hunger for God’s Word will increase.
  8. More and more people will see Jesus in you.
  9. Glory and honor become less about you and more about God.
  10. Sacrifice will feel less sacrificial and the joy of giving (of self, time, talents, money) will feel less costly and more like a reward in and of itself.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:11-16

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

10 Responses to Adolescent Jesus, Adolescent Spirituality And Growing Up In Your Faith

  1. We only have the one instance of Jesus at the age of 12: so wouldn’t all the other examples we have of Jesus asking and answering questions be from his adult ministry? As such it might be good to examine how Jesus used questions.

    … but aside from that, wouldn’t Jesus at age 12 still be Jesus regardless, the same Jesus that existed before the world began? I have difficulty of thinking of him as being immature in that sense.

    • mattdabbs says:

      The last verse in Luke 2 says “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” There is a tension here between Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Jesus did grow. Was he immature as a baby? Of course. Was he immature as a child? Yes. Was he immature at age 12? Probably! He was 12! I hope you read that humorously🙂 Jesus grew. That means he wasn’t always adult Jesus with adult Jesus thoughts.

  2. You can read my post to which Matt refers here.

    While those in the Temple who heard Jesus at age 12 were “amazed at his understanding and his answers,” there is no hint that they were at all felt threatened by him as they did later, so much that they found it necessary to kill him. In fact, I see nothing in that story that would suggest Jesus was any more than any 12 year old who from birth had grown and developed as God intended for all of us to grow and develop could be. Of course, I recognize that I could be wrong in this – but I believe that this thought is only recognition of Jesus’ true humanity.

    I just happen to think that most of us have a very low view of what it means to be “human.” How many times have we excused ourselves by saying, “But I’m only human.” We forget that as humans, we are created in the image of God.

    • A typical 12-year old is in the process of building character and is as of yet unformed by past choices and decisions. If Jesus truly was God, then he would have already possessed the character of God. Physical maturity (and perhaps mental ability as our brain develops) might take some time, but he would have possessed an inherited spiritual maturity, that type that defines who we are.

      But wouldn’t the entire story in itself be sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus was somewhat different than a typical 12 year old?

      Luk 2:45-50 KJV
      (45) And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
      (46) And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
      (47) And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
      (48) And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
      (49) And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
      (50) And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

      Some elements that leap to my attention are:
      1. He was managing by himself for three days (that’s longer than “Home Alone”)
      2. He astounded the doctors of the temple (and not simply because he was a novelty)
      3. “Wist ye not that that I must be about my Father’s business?”

      We forget that as humans, we are created in the image of God.

      Why would there be tension with a concept that Jesus was “human” (noting that “human” can mean a lot of different things, depending upon context?) If we were created in his image, then would we expect him to be alien?

      The contrast that I am noticing is that this episode (at the temple) as one of the times when people were not trying to kill him. If you think about it, what would be the common factor? They tried to kill him as an infant because they knew who he was, and they tried to kill him as an adult because he was revealing who he was. The child in the temple was tolerated because he was only there a few days, but I can imagine how they would have started to think if he remained.

      • mattdabbs says:

        Andrew,

        I am not sure what you mean by, “A typical 12-year old is in the process of building character and is as of yet unformed by past choices and decisions.” That just isn’t true. So up until 12 people are still just a “blank slate”? If that is what you are saying, that was debunked a long time ago.

      • Show me any other twelve-year old on this planet that can truthfully say “I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven…”

        Luk 10:17-18 KJV
        (17) And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
        (18) And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.

        Jesus may have started from zero mentally and physically, but his character was already formed. If not, then the one we know as Jesus was an entirely different person than the one who wrote this:

        Zec 12:10 KJV
        (10) And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

        And compared to the one who created Adam, any child is (usually) still quite impressionable, and in the process of forming their character, who they are, and who they will be. Some of us (adults) are still in the process of forming our character, who we are, and who we will be. So I have difficulty understanding what you mean by “that was debunked a long time ago…”

        So…. was Jesus really God? If yes, then his character was already formed, and the promise of the perfect and sinless Messiah could be made with 100% surety because the one giving the promise was the same as the one who would be fulfilling the promise.

        But … if this Jesus fellow had a different character, and would be forming his own separate character, then how could he be the same person that spoke in Zechariah? He would be, by definition, different.

      • Patrick wrote: ” If Jesus truly was God, then he would have already possessed the character of God. Physical maturity (and perhaps mental ability as our brain develops) might take some time, but he would have possessed an inherited spiritual maturity, that type that defines who we are.”

        If this is true, how could He have been tempted in all points “like as we are”? If He already had the character of God, how could He have been tempted, since God can not be tempted by evil? If He were fully human, He would have had to develop character (the process described in Luke 2:52) just as we do. The difference is that He did it perfectly. I stand by my statement that I see little in this story to suggest He had special help at the age of 12 that is not available to any of us. Of course, when He was baptized, He received the Holy Spirit and the power by which He performed miracles, cast out demons, etc.

      • Jerry, I think you’re confusing a point of language. God can be tempted,

        Deu 6:15-16 KJV
        (15) (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.
        (16) Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.

        Mar 12:15 KJV
        (15) Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.

        … and he can be tempted by any sort of method we could imagine. So either we have a biblical contradiction, or perhaps the word “tempt” has a slightly different application between each setting. I believe the meaning is that God cannot be successfully tempted with evil. Why is that? Because his character is already set and defined against evil.

        (a friend once gave me that exact question, save from a Unitarian standpoint…)

        I stand by my statement that I see little in this story to suggest He had special help at the age of 12 that is not available to any of us.

        Luk 1:35 KJV
        (35) And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

        That seems to be something a little bit different. Add in that he actually remembered casting down Satan from heaven, and that before Abraham was, (as he saith), “I am.”

      • Patrick,

        I believe I give more weight to what Paul (Philippians 2:5ff) said about Christ “emptying” Himself than you do.

        Yes, Jesus on earth prayed to the Father about “the glory I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5) – but it was a prayer to restore that glory. This, I believe, implies that on earth He did not have that same glory that He had previously. Yet, in his (at the very least) diminished glory He had on earth, He still glorified the Father.

        My original question (which you have not addressed, unless I somehow missed your response) was concerning how He was tempted in all points like as we are IF HIS CHARACTER AS A MAN WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED BECAUSE HE WAS GOD. No, I didn’t word it quite that way, but that, putting the question in the context in which I asked it, is what my question meant. You had argued that since He was God as well as man, His character was already firmly established. Luke 2:52 shows that His character underwent development. It seems to me that those two ideas are mutually exclusive.

        I went on to suggest that the 12-year old Jesus had developed in a way that any 12-year old who did all things that God desires of Him would develop. I never suggested that there is or ever has been any 12 year-old (other than Jesus) who did that. This is but one example of how his perfect life of faithful obedience to God in all things makes Him uniquely qualified to be the unblemished lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.

        By the way, how did you arrive at the conclusion that Jesus’ statement that “I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven” refer to a memory of Satan’s expulsion from Heaven? Jesus made that statement in reply to the delight of the 72 whom He had sent out that demons came out of those whom they possessed at their command. I’ve understood Jesus’ statement to refer to this victory over Satan by those casting out demons in the name of Jesus. You may be right, but I’d like to know how you arrived at that conclusion.

      • I think I already answered your question, but you may not have recognized it if it didn’t match what you were expecting.

        I believe I give more weight to … Philippians 2:5 …

        No, not more or less weight, but apparently we understand the verse differently… and I also notice that it says that he was in the form of God. If it does not mean physical form, or status, or recognition or reputation, what other form is there?

        Php 2:5-9 KJV
        (5) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
        (6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
        (7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
        (8) And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
        (9) Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

        I can see a lot in those verses, including abandoning his reputation, taking on the form of a servant, and the likeness of a man, being found in the fashion of a man… but nothing about erasing his character, the actual “who” of who he was.

        I think this might be resolved by considering what is meant by “character”:

        Yes, Jesus on earth prayed to the Father about “the glory I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5) – but it was a prayer to restore that glory. This, I believe, implies that on earth He did not have that same glory that He had previously. Yet, in his (at the very least) diminished glory He had on earth, He still glorified the Father..

        Question: Is the “glory” (recognition or power) one has the same as one’s “character”, the same as their “heart”, that which truly defines them regardless of physical condition?

        My original question (which you have not addressed, unless I somehow missed your response) was concerning how He was tempted in all points like as we are IF HIS CHARACTER AS A MAN WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED BECAUSE HE WAS GOD.

        You missed the answer. He was tempted by the devil… unsuccessfully. He was tried … as one tries the diamond against glass to see which is stronger. The diamond can be tested in all points as an imitation gem would be tried, and what will happen? The diamond will win. Always. Because it was a diamond all along from the beginning.

        I’d like to mention something, concerning this next sentence:

        This is but one example of how his perfect life of faithful obedience to God in all things makes Him uniquely qualified to be the unblemished lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.

        “Living a perfect life of faithful obedience to God” (please hear me out) does not, cannot, qualify one to be the unblemished lamb to take away the sins of the world. If this were so, then we could have many candidates besides Jesus. If we didn’t have one yet, we would just have to wait longer. No matter how “perfect” one might be, it does not give the power to forgive sins, or to be a human sacrificial lamb.

        I will posit that forgiveness of sin requires the forgiveness of the one wronged, and when God has been the one wronged, forgiveness must therefore come from God. No one else can forgive that transgression. For Jesus to be able to forgive sin, he was declaring that he himself was God.

        Mar 2:7 KJV
        (7) Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?

        The life of Jesus can be used to prove that he indeed was God. God will not (can not) be disobedient against God, any more than you can be disobedient against yourself. Your hand does not strike your face unless you will it … so if there is a disobedient hand striking your face, that would prove it (the hand, that is) wasn’t really you, wouldn’t it?

        A sinful “messiah” would prove that he was not the messiah after all, because how would we be saved from our sins without forgiveness of those sins, and who can forgive sins, save … God only? Jesus was already qualified to be the Lamb of God, so naturally his life would be a reflection of that, not a qualification to be fulfilled.

        By the way, how did you arrive at the conclusion that Jesus’ statement that “I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven” refer to a memory of Satan’s expulsion from Heaven?

        Because nothing else would make sense in that context. I use this passage (among others) to establish the divinity of Jesus, because it does establish that Jesus was before Jesus was. In verse 17 the disciples return to Jesus, and are exulted that even the devils are subject to them … through his name.

        And the obvious question is why? What is so special about his name? What does it mean? So how does Jesus explain to them why the devils fear his name?

        Luk 10:18-19 KJV
        (18) And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
        (19) Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

        In verse 18 he explains the source of his authority. The Unitarian must sigh and say that Jesus merely saw a vision of Satan falling from heaven… but since when does seeing a vision of a past event grant one authority over devils, making them fear your very name? Jesus was present, and not on the losing side, therefore either God or an angel of God, but even Michael the archangel dares not rebuke the devil, so what does that make Jesus? See Jude 1:9…

        And in verse 19, having explained the source of his authority, he explains the power (protection) that has been placed over them, described as the power to tread over serpents and scorpions and all power of the enemy. How does he have this power?

        The devil was not always a devil, but would have been created good, and perfect, but in the book of Job (when he asks what he has been doing) he replies that he has been running to and fro across the earth (Job 1:7).

        Eze 28:14-16 KJV
        (14) Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
        (15) Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.
        (16) By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

        Isa 14:12-15 KJV
        (12) How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
        (13) For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
        (14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
        (15) Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

        Rev 12:7-9 KJV
        (7) And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
        (8) And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
        (9) And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

        2Pe 2:4 KJV
        (4) For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

        Devils have been with us for a very long time, so it would seem logical to assume that Satan was cast down from heaven to the earth before then. Jesus would be referring to a real event, one that his disciples would have (or could have) known from scripture.

        So of these three possible explanations:

        1) Jesus is explaining that he had a vision of Satan falling from heaven (an unrelated comment having nothing to do with what was just said or what he is about to say)

        2) Jesus says the devils fear his name because he was the one who cast them out of heaven (an explanation for this extraordinary event, why he is able to do this)

        3) Jesus is cheering with his disciples, and says that the casting out of those few devils is like Satan falling from lightning from heaven (a colorful metaphor of what his disciples just did… huzzah?)

        … which seems to fit the sense of the passage best? Jesus usually did and said things that had meaning. He didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a colt on a whim, he didn’t pick his clothing without knowing that they would cast lots for the garment, his words were well calculated to speak in layers and carry a wallop, especially if you knew the scripture.

        So when Jesus says that he beheld Satan fall like lightning from heaven, I think we should allow that perhaps he really did mean what he said, and allow it to be interpreted in its most literal primary sense, and only if will it not make literal sense, then we should seek another sense.

        One more time, in case this was missed: Jesus was tempted in all points like we were, with the same physical and mental vulnerabilities, but he was predestined (and predetermined) to win because:

        1) He decided his own destiny ahead of time
        2) He determined what he would do in the future ahead of time
        3) He is not going to disobey himself (that would be insanity)
        4) He really did exist before he was born, that’s what makes it all work
        5) He was tempted in all points like we were, but the temptations failed, would not and could not succeed, for how can you successfully tempt God, not just a being in the position of God, but the very person which by the way happens to be the Almighty God?

        I am very happy that Jesus happens to be the Almighty God instead of someone else.

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