The story of Jesus’s visit to the temple as a 12-year-old has always intrigued me. Why? Because it is a seemingly unusual inclusion. It’s the only story we have of Jesus’s boyhood following His birth and it’s only transcribed in one of the four Gospels—Luke.
To be sure, it’s a great story. One that every parent can empathize with. Jesus’s family goes to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Afterwards, His parents head home and inadvertently leave Jesus behind. They travel for a day before realizing He isn’t with them. Then they return to Jerusalem and spend a day searching. They find Him at the Temple where He’d been astounding the religious teachers the entire time with His answers. Finally, when Jesus’s mother rebukes Him for ditching them, He doesn’t repent and come along quietly. No, instead He says “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
The story is so good, it leaves me wanting more. Surely Jesus had other atypical experiences as a child. Things He said or did during those formative years that were insightful or moving. Why do we have only this one example? I want the whole backstory. Every morsel.
It wasn’t until recently that I got a possible reason for the significance of the Temple story. A singular purpose it serves, that other anecdotes might not.
fore·shad·ow·ing | \fȯr-ˈsha-də-wiŋ
: a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come.
Foreshadowing can take many forms in storytelling. It can be something said in dialog that warns about future danger. (e.g. “I have a bad feeling about this, Frank.”) Or it can be suggested via the setting (e.g. “It was a dark and stormy night”) or through the course of the story itself. For instance, two characters might share the same taste in coffee early in a story, only to learn later that they are sisters, separated at birth.
So, what does foreshadowing have to do with the Temple story?
In writing his Gospel, Luke was thought to have consulted many sources, not the least of which was Jesus’s mother Mary. Her input makes sense, since many of the accounts in Luke’s book—like the Temple story—were things Mary would’ve witnessed.
A few weeks ago, a pastor friend mentioned something about the story I hadn’t heard before. He said that its purpose was to give Mary—and the readers of Luke—a glimpse of what was to come.
Or, to put it in literary terms: It was foreshadowing!
How is it a case of Biblical foreshadowing?
Here are some clues. Mary and Joseph were separated from Jesus for three days. When they find Him, they are understandably upset: Where were you? Why did you leave?
Then comes Jesus’s reply: Why were you looking for me? Of course, I’d be in my Father’s house. Of course, I’d be doing my Father’s business.
Now think about the rest of Jesus’s life. Where else in His story was He gone for three days? When did His friends and family leave Him—almost as if they’d forgotten Him—while still being distraught at His absence? And then when He returns, He’s unapologetic. He’s done exactly what His Father intended for Him to do. He even spent time in His Father’s house. (In Heaven!)
It was foreshadowing to Mary as she lived her life, and it was a foreshadowing to us as we read it in the context of Jesus’s entire story. All part of the Divine Author’s plan.It makes me wonder if that same Author writes little foreshadows into our daily lives too. Click To Tweet
Is that comforting “It will be all right” phrase from a friend merely a kind statement? Or is it a subtle peak into the future? Is that person we played with as a child, and subsequently lost touch with, a future business partner? A nursing home friend? A spouse?
Were the little scraps of stories I wrote as a bored pre-teen a foreshadow of my calling today? (Despite all the intermediate years I spent training and working as a computer programmer?) Or what about that time my seventh grade English teacher read a story I wrote to the entire class, then exclaimed “Hey, that was pretty good! You’re a good storyteller!”
It is a fascinating concept to ponder, this work of the Divine Author throughout history, and in our lives. It speaks to His creativity and suggests an intricate, loving—even surprising—personal involvement.
The God who foreshadows.
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23 NKJV).
Father, I know you are the Master Storyteller, and my life is valuable and worthy in Your eyes. I realize not a single page–or day–of my life is insignificant or wasted because You can bring together all things for Your good (Romans 8:28). Open my eyes and ears to Your movements all around me. Help me to experience every glimpse of Your mighty hand at work in my life.
Sometimes we can became so busy that we don’t hear or see those subtle reminders from God that He’s with us. He is always leading our steps and guiding our lives. God is in the details, and He delights in us like a good Father does. Take inventory today. Have there been times that God has foreshadowed certain relationships or events? Has He prepared your steps with a glimpse of what’s to come?
Kerry Nietz is an award-winning science fiction author. He has over a half dozen speculative novels in print, along with a novella, a couple short stories, and a non-fiction book, FoxTales.
Kerry’s novel A Star Curiously Singing won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal Award for Christian Science Fiction and is notable for its dystopian, cyberpunk vibe in a world under sharia law. It is often mentioned on “Best of” lists.
Among his writings, Kerry’s most talked about is the genre-bending Amish Vampires in Space. AViS was mentioned on the Tonight Show and in the Washington Post, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Newsweek called it “a welcome departure from the typical Amish fare.”
Kerry is a refugee of the software industry. He spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits, first as one of the principal developers for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates’s minions at Microsoft. He is a husband, a father, a technophile and a movie buff.