Early Life of
Jesus Timeline

(Mid-October 5 B.C. to 9 A.D.)
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Topics covered: Mary and Joseph hide in Egypt, Herod the Great dies, Mary and Joseph return to Israel and choose detour to Nazareth, Jesus at the temple at the age of twelve years old. Links to all timelines in this series.

Primary scriptures: Matthew 2:13 - 23, Luke 2:40 - 52

Mid-October 5 B.C.

Living in Egypt

Mary and Joseph, along with baby Jesus, have fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod the Great. They will stay in the country until the angel who told Joseph to flee revisits him.

Now after they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the little Child and His mother, and escape into Egypt, and remain there until I shall tell you; for Herod is about to seek the little Child to destroy Him." (Matthew 2:13).

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Herod Dies

Herod the Great dies in 4 B.C. (likely) during the week of February 11 to 17. At the time of his death he ruled as king over the areas of Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Idumea, Auranitis and Batanea.

Late February 4 B.C.

Herod's death is made public and his will, read in Jericho, names his son Herod Archelaus as his successor (Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, 17.8.2). Archelaus begins to rule as king over all the lands his father controlled even though Emperor Augustus has yet to confirm this position (Antiq. 17.8.4, 17.9.3 and 17.9.5).

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Late February to
Summer / Fall 4 B.C.

A Change of Plans

At an unknown time after Herod's death an angel is again sent to Joseph. This time the angelic messenger tells him Herod has died and that he can return to the land of Israel.

Now when Herod had died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in Egypt in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the little Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who were seeking the life of the little Child have died." (Matthew 2:19 - 20).

Mary and Joseph, along with their baby Jesus, make the long journey back to Israel with plans to (likely) return to the Judean city of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:22).

The Bible then states that when the family approached Israel that Joseph, upon discovering that Herod Archelaus ruled Judea, decided to instead travel to Galilee and live in Nazareth.

But when he (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of Herod his father, he was afraid to go there; and after being divinely instructed in a dream, he went into the parts of Galilee. And after arriving, he dwelt in a city called Nazareth . . . (Matthew 2:22 - 23).

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Why the Detour?

Why did Joseph and Mary decide to not return to Judea, and specifically Bethlehem, but instead undertake the far longer journey to the small village of Nazareth?

Herod Archelaus, just prior to Passover in 4 B.C., is fearful that a group of violent Jews may stir up a major uprising in Jerusalem. After his initial attempt to de-escalate the situation fails miserably, he sends in his entire army to deal with all those who appear "seditious." His troops end up killing 3,000 men during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (April 12 to 18 in 4 B.C.). He then cancels the celebration of the Feast and orders everyone to go home (Antiq. 17.9.3).

Archelaus, after instigating a mass murder in Jerusalem, travels to Rome in order to have his inheritance of rule confirmed by Emperor Augustus. The Emperor, sometime after Pentecost in mid-May (Antiq. 17.10.2), determines that no one person, like Herod the Great, should rule over Judea and its surrounding territories. He, much to the dismay of Archelaus, officially splits the governing of the land among Herod's sons.

". . . he (Caesar) appointed Archelaus, not indeed to be King of the whole country, but ethnarch of the one half of that which had been subject to Herod (the Great) . . . But as for the other half, he divided it into two parts, and gave it to two other of Herod's sons, to Philip and to Antipas, that Antipas who disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom." (Antiq. 17.11.4).

Archelaus is made Ethnarch, but not king, of Samaria, Judea and Idumea. Herod Antipas is made Tetrarch over Galilee and Perea while Herod Philip II (Philip the Tetrarch) rules over Auranitis and Batanea (Antiq. 17.11.4).

It is almost certain that the news of Archelaus' murders during the spring Feasts motivated Joseph to avoid Judea. His decision to go back to Nazareth, however, would have been as dangerous as living in Bethlehem (Judea) if not for the fact that Galilee was put under Herod Antipas.

Augustus' decision regarding who ruled over what in Palestine took place an unknown time after mid-May (see Antiq. 17.10.2 to 17.11.4). The angel instructing Joseph was almost certainly aware of Rome's decisions regarding Galilee and instructed him accordingly. This means Joseph's detour to Nazareth likely took place in the summer or possibly the fall.

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Spring 9 A.D.

Jesus at Twelve

Three of the four Gospel writers are silent regarding Jesus' life from the age of about six months until he turns thirty. We have Luke to thank, however, for offering us a glimpse into his early life (Luke 2:40 - 52).

Jesus is twelve years old in 9 A.D. He travels with his parents, relatives and acquaintances to Jerusalem to celebrate the spring Holy Days. Mary and Joseph, after the Feast ends (April 5), leave the city assuming Jesus is among family also departing. They are soon shocked to discover that he is nowhere to be found.

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Where Is He?

Unbeknownst to his parents, Jesus did not leave the city (like the rest of his family) after keeping the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (Luke 2:41 - 45). He stayed behind in the temple carefully listening to what the priests said and asking questions. He also offered profound answers that amazed and astonished all those who heard him (verse 27)!

Jesus' parents, after rushing back to Jerusalem, find him at the temple engrossed in theological discussions. Mary then chides her son for the panic he caused.

Son, why have You dealt with us in this manner? Look, Your father and I have been very distressed while searching for You (Luke 2:48).

Jesus responds to the correction by questioning his parents' behavior.

Why is it that you were looking for Me? Don't you realize that I must be about My Father's business? (Luke 2:49).

Revealing Facts

The events Luke records when Christ was twelve reveal several fascinating facts. They tell us Jesus fully understood, at a young age, that God (not Joseph) was his true Father. He also was aware, certainly as a basic level, why he was born and what was his mission. He knew the purpose of his life was to fulfill God's will for him.

This peek into Jesus' early life also highlights that Mary and Joseph, even after more than a decade, had yet to fully grasp their son's true identity or their part in God's plan of salvation. Luke 2 also shows Joseph lived to Christ's twelfth birthday but died sometime before the Lord turned thirty.

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Previous    -    Next

Timeline of Jesus' Life and Ministry
Conception and Birth of Jesus
Christ's Early Life
Baptism and Temptation
The First Miracle at Cana
Jesus Reveals He Is the Messiah
The Sermon on the Mount
Confronting Religious Leaders
Preaching, Parables and Miracles
Miraculously Feeding the Masses
The Transfiguration
Training the Disciples for Evangelism
A Final Visit to Capernaum
The Last Trips Before Crucifixion
Jesus' Last Days, Death, Resurrection
Christ's Ministry after His Resurrection