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What was the first conflict in which Jesus was involved?

This was an open question I asked two people I know well. Their answer was different than the one I expected. The more I thought about it, the more I realized they made a good point. You might or might not agree.

My choice will have to wait. The incident the two people identified is the subject of this post, introducing us to how Jesus engaged in conflict.


Luke records this incident in Luke 2:41-52. Like an investigative reporter, he interviewed eyewitnesses of the events (Luke 1:1-4). It is not difficult to conclude that he heard this event from Mary

Every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. (2:41-42)

This annual feast commemorated God’s intervention when Israel was brought out of slavery in Egypt. 

After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (2:43-45)

How could “his parents” not have noticed the absence of Jesus for a day as they journeyed back home to Galilee in the north? Well, they most likely traveled in a large group, much like a caravan, for companionship and safety. Women probably walked together, as did the men, and the children would have moved about within the group during this adventure. When it came time to camp for the day, they realized that Jesus was not with them.


The “parents”—Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband, Joseph—returned to Jerusalem. That would account for the second day. When they reached Jerusalem, the search began.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (2:46-48)

Let’s take a moment to consider this scene.

The Temple at Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s life. It was the palace of God, the place where He dwelled among His people. The leading teachers of the Jewish people would congregate there, especially during an important feast. 

In their company is a twelve-year-old boy (pais) engaging fully with them. Jesus listens and asks questions. The teachers are “amazed at his understanding and his answers.” He not only comprehends what they are saying, he is providing answers and insights. They are “amazed”—the Greek word is existemi, a term often linked with the miraculous. This boy’s participation is extraordinary and difficult for them to understand. In common parlance, we might say they were “blown away” by his intelligence.

As for his “parents,” they were also “astonished.” Here, Luke uses a different word, ekplēssō, which BDAG describes as “to cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed.” What caused their amazement? Was it relief at finding him? Were they overwhelmed by seeing him in the company of the nation’s finest scholars? Perhaps it was a combination of factors that they could not comprehend.

Mary states, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” The Greek word rendered “anxiously” (odunaomai) is only used in the Bible by Luke, and then only four times (Luke 2:48; 16:24, 25; Acts 20:38). I sense a tone of rebuke in Mary’s words, yet odunaomai conveys a depth of genuine concern. This word can be translated “to suffer pain, be in anguish, be greatly distressed.”

I recall my wife and I visiting a city park in Lisbon. Suddenly, a woman cried out in despair—her child was missing. After a few minutes of frantic searching, the child was found, but I remember that mother’s deep cry of anguish. It was that kind of emotion that Mary and Joseph felt. They cared deeply and genuinely.

In this scene of heightened adult emotion, how does Jesus respond?

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49)

In contrast, Jesus’ response is almost a matter of fact. His statement is a tectonic shift, not only for his “parents” but also for us, the readers. The whole scene portrays a disconcerting insight into the identity of Jesus that is not fully understood

Up to this point, the narrator refers to Mary and Joseph as “his parents” (41, 43, 48), and Mary refers to Joseph as “your father” (48). I have put these phrases in parentheses because Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father. 

Unlike “his parents,” Jesus is aware of his identity—who he is. The God of the Temple at Jerusalem—Yahweh—is his Father!


Even at twelve years of age, the preeminent element of Jesus’ identity is that he is uniquely the Son of God. He understood it even though no one else did—not even Mary and Joseph.

But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (2:50)

And yet there were other lesser but undeniable aspects of his identity: he was a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, and Mary and Joseph stood in the place of “his parents.” As such, he understood that “Honor your father and your mother” applied to him, and he obeyed.

And so, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings:

Then [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (2:51-52)

What are we learning?     

Here are five points that I have been learning from this scene. You may have more.

1.     Who is Jesus?: 

The primary reason for Luke’s record is to reveal more of who Jesus is.

I understand that Mary is Luke’s source for the contents of Luke 1-2, including the conception and birth of Jesus, the words of the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna, and the events when Jesus was twelve. Decades after the events, Mary honestly relates what happened, even though (at the time) she did not understand the significance. Twice we read, she “treasured all these things in her heart” (2:19, 51).

Later, she came to a fuller realization of who Jesus is—and so do we.

2.     Clash of identities: 

As for the conflict, we have only a glimpse. 

The relevant identity factor for Mary and Joseph was as “his parents” with their responsibilities and expectations for the twelve-year-old boy (pais), Jesus. Although “they did not understand,” the preeminent identity of Jesus was as the unique Son of God. 

In this scene, we become aware of the clash of these identities for the first time. This preeminent element of the Lord Jesus’ identity will continue to be the flash point of conflict throughout the Gospels and history

3.     Identity not compromised: 

Jesus would not, could not, and did not compromise his identity as God’s unique Son or as a twelve-year-old Jewish boy.

Despite the preeminent factor of Jesus’ identity, we observe other elements, including his age, sex, and ethnicity—i.e., he is a 12-year-old male Jew living in the 1st Century Middle East. In this situation, he honors Joseph and Mary—“he went … with them and was obedient to them.” 

His action in remaining in Jerusalem asserted his preeminent identity; his submission by returning to Nazareth fulfilled his social obligations. Thus, he resolved the conflict without compromising his identity

4.     Insights for relationships: 

Without losing sight of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, this scene can be suggestive for parents and children alike. 

For the parents, there is the sacrificial care for the child; for the child, the willing submission to their parents. Paul taught this dynamic in such texts as Ephesians 6:1-4:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Parents need to recognize their child’s particular personalities, qualities, and gifts—their identity (if you will)—and nurture each child toward Christlikeness in all aspects of life

In the same context, Paul provides instruction for other relationships such as husbands and wives, and employers and employees (Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:5-9).

5.     Insights for living: 

This discussion becomes instructive regarding our identity “in Christ.” This is, or ought to be, our preeminent and non-negotiable identity. 

Of course, there are other components of our identity such as gender/sex, ethnicity, family and social relationships, and more—but these elements are (or should be) subordinate to the preeminent factor of our identity “in Christ.” As such, our attitudes, choices, words, behaviors, and roles must be consistent with that preeminent factor. 

Do you have more to add? Let me know by clicking this link.

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BACK TO Becoming more ‘like Christ’ in conflict

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