Why did Jesus wait until he was thirty to start his public ministry? -- Tim (Atlanta)
Luke says Jesus was about 30 (Luke 3:23). If he was born before the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1), his birth could have been no later than 4 BC (the year of Herod’s demise). Herod’s attempt to kill all Bethlehem boys two years and younger (Matthew 2:16) seems to place Jesus’ birth no later than 6 or 5 BC. As he began his public ministry about 27 AD (Luke 3:1 says John the Baptist was active about 27/28 AD; Tiberius began to reign in 14 AD; and Pilate began to serve as Prefect of Judea in 26 AD), his crucifixion would have taken place in 30 AD. All of this to say that we know nothing of Jesus' life from infancy to age 12 (Luke 2:42-52)—around 7 AD, and again nothing from then until 27 AD—a gap of some twenty years. Why the silence?
I thought of six reasons for the delay that you might want to consider. (You may be able to think of some more.)
* Family responsibility. Joseph apparently died much earlier than Mary. As eldest of 8+ children (Matthew 13:55-56), it would have been incumbent upon Jesus to act as head of the family. Call it love, call it filial piety, call it honoring father and mother: Jesus would have been the one to take responsibility for the family. At some point, presumably his brother James took over.
* Credibility. Might it have been more difficult for the people of Israel to take seriously a "Messiah" still in his teens or twenties?
* John's ministry. Since John the Baptist did not launch his short-lived ministry until the mid-20s, and he was the prophesied forerunner of the Lord (Malachi 3-4, Isaiah 40), Jesus was not going to 'jump the gun' by appearing before his herald!
* Character formation. The scriptures do not teach that Jesus emerged from the Jordan -- much less the womb! -- with character fully formed. Hebrews 5:8, for example, shows that Jesus learned through the suffering process. Surely this was not restricted to the short period from Gethsemane to the Cross. Life is replete with opportunities to suffer, and experiencing them is an integral part of the incarnation itself. This may be the most significant reason for the delay.
* Closely related to the previous reason, character formation requires testing over a period of time. No one would be ready to pilot a plane, for example, after a single flying lesson. It is not so much weathering the storm of the moment that accredits one as a trustworthy and self-disciplined person, as patient endurance of trials over a protracted period.
* Professional experience. Learning a trade (carpentry, or construction, as the Greek word suggests) would give Jesus not only "relatability" and enhanced credibility, but also the experience of life and people from which he would so frequently draw in his teaching and personal ministry.
This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2004. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.