Jesus' Ministry

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Easter (Passion Week), Jesus


Please, I would like to know when Jesus first knew he had a special mission that was ordained by God, and when did he first know that the future held the crucifixion and resurrection? I think the answers are, respectively, when he was 12, and at the transfiguration, but I would love to hear an answer from Biblewise and the substantiation for it.
Nan Stewart


It's very hard to know what someone is thinking (especially when it happened 2000 years ago) unless the person specifically tells us. Jesus doesn't. The gospels all have their version of Jesus' early years and the beginning of his ministry. Matthew and Luke share events relating to his birth, and even before. Luke tells us that an angel announced to Mary that she would have a son who would be "great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:32-33) She was concerned because she had not yet been with a man. The angel told her not to worry. When Joseph realized she was with child, he considered divorcing her. (Even though they were only engaged, it was as binding as a marriage.) Before he had a chance to do this, Joseph was told by an angel that the child was of the Holy Spirit and that this child would save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:18-23)

Then there are the events of his birth in relation to the wise men, the shepherds, and the flight to Egypt. Clearly, his parents knew something was up. We don't know, of course, whether they shared any of this with Jesus. It does say that Mary "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) It doesn't say she shared them. When they took him to the temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon and Anna gave witness to the Lord. The Bible states, "Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him."

When he was twelve, Jesus accompanied his parents to Jerusalem, after the custom for the feast. He tarried behind and talked with the elders, peppering them with questions and astonishing them with his understanding and answers. When his parents found him after a 3-day search, they were "amazed" but also angry that he had stayed behind without telling them. This is when Jesus responded, Why did you look for me? Do you not know that "I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49) Again, Mary kept all these things in her heart.

Then there is the gospel of Mark. Mark has no nativity stories. He begins his account with an opening line that tells the reader up front who Jesus is and what his gospel is about. But his first story is about John the Baptist who was baptizing in the Jordan River. One day, it seems, Jesus came to him for baptism, and at that moment the heavens were torn open, the Spirit like a dove descended on him, and a voice from heaven said, "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) We'd like to think that by then Jesus had figured it all out. But there is no way to substantiate this. What we have are the stories, and they are perhaps deliberately silent in this regard.

The same problem holds true for the crucifixion and resurrection. It is hinted at early in the gospel of John (2:18-22) when Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the temple (a story that comes much later in the synoptic gospels). Jesus discusses it with his disciples before the transfiguration in Mark (See 8:31). Maybe he had the foreknowledge from the beginning.

It is also possible that Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding as he went along. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that his message was in direct conflict with some of the esteemed customs and traditions of his day. To their credit, the religious leaders really did try to keep the people holy and pure. But by this time, they had gotten so involved with the letter of the law that they often forgot its spirit. They saw Jesus as a real threat to their religious principles. The religious leaders were not about to allow some carpenter's son to ruin it for all of them.

What we do know is that Jesus had a radical concept of God that enabled him to preach, teach, and heal. The religious authorities worshiped that same God but had a very different concept of him. That difference led to their many conflicts and, ultimately, to Jesus' death - and resurrection.

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