We’re going to stick with the Synoptics for now [not because of the challenges inherent with Johannine historiography, which we may deal with later, but] because our starting point comes from Matthew, Mark & Luke. Conveniently, our only direct evidence concerning Jesus’ active life (pre-baptism) is Luke’s account of his twelve year old trip to Jerusalem. Of course, this episode features Jesus talking about God as his Father, which touches the question at hand: what did Jesus do that caused God to be pleased with him?
The most interesting thing about what Jesus says, however, is how little he actually says. Literally, “Didn’t you know I had to be in the _ of my Father?” (Or, “in the things of my Father?”) Oddly, the word ‘the’ has no object, leaving the crux of the sentence in complete ambiguity. There’s certainly not much weight for the traditional rendering “house”. We could possibly translate “among the people of my Father” [because “the” is plural here] but the common alternative, “about my Father’s business” is probably safest, as it stays close to the literal meaning without adding interpretative guesswork.
This seems unfortunate, but it may be just the opposite. Instead of being able to focus on the connecting idea, and speculate on its value, we are left with only “the Father”. This underscores what ought to be the key significance of Jesus’ statement in the first place. Regardless of whether it was his Father’s house, his Father’s people, or his Father’s task list that Jesus was interested in, we should absolutely conclude the young man’s focus in that sentence was not primarily on the house, people or task – at least, not in a way separate from his obvious emphasis on the fact that, whatever he was doing there, he was there because it had to do with the Father.
Although it is tempting to infer obedience in this episode [an interpretation we might covet as a quicker means of answering the question at hand] nothing in the passage tells us directly whether the Father had any active role in mystically directing Jesus during this time. He very well may have. We should not assume he did not. But to be disciplined about this inquiry, we may not necessarily assume that he did. We may or may not be able to revisit this question down the road, either. Just keep that in mind.
The most valuable point here is the fact that Jesus apparently had uncanny insight into topics that would impress the most devout Jerusalemites. If most of them were Rabbis, then the topic for most of those three days was undoubtedly interpretation of the Law. And the most likely interpretation to amaze such men would be one that consistently turned each point under discussion to find its significance chiefly with respect to God Himself.
Without elaborating, or inventing fantastic ideas, there is simply no other suggestion worth making as to the content of Jesus’ input to their discussions. The heart of the Jewish faith is Yahweh and his desires concerning people. If a twelve year old had simply been very intelligent, it would not have been so abnormal. Therefore, for a collection of teachers to be so impressed with his questions and answers, Jesus had to be zeroing in on each point as it related to the Main Point(s). This also suggests he did not necessarily have all the answers, yet, but he had the right perspective. Evidently.
If this is indeed the most natural conclusion to be drawn from the passage then it gives us a huge boost towards a glimpse at the rest of his "hidden" life. Jesus confessed that he was focused on whatever had to do with his Father. And Jesus was aware of God’s primacy in all things related to the Law and the Hebrew scriptures.
This is an excellent beginning. We may not yet have enough to extensively say why the Father was well pleased with the rest of Christ’s earthly life, but we have a twelve year old Jesus who seems to be primarily focused on Him and who gives him first place in all things that had any value for the leaders of his people and culture.
From God’s vantage point, that had to be pleasing. But we are only beginning to deal with the so called "silent years" of Christ's life in Nazareth.
To be continued...