Chapter 3: “The Son of the Eternal Father”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 21–25

Map Chp. 3

Birth and Youth of the Messiah





Jerusalem, Judea

Revelation to Zacharias Regarding the Birth of John




Nazareth, Galilee

Gabriel Reveals to Mary That She Is to Be the Mother of the Savior




Hill Country of Judea

Mary Visits Elisabeth




John Is Born




Nazareth, Galilee

Revelation of Joseph Regarding the Birth of Jesus



Bethlehem, Judea (Nisan/6 April)

The Nativity of Jesus




The Genealogies of Jesus





Jerusalem, Judea

Jesus Is Blessed and Circumcised




Bethlehem, Judea

Visit of Wise Men—Flight to Egypt



Return from Egypt to Nazareth



2:39, 40


Jerusalem, Judea (Nisan)

Young Jesus in the Temple




Nazareth, Galilee

Boyhood and Maturity of the Savior


2:51, 52


Interpretive Commentary

(3-1) Luke 2:1–20. A Decree from Caesar Augustus

Rome ruled much of the Mediterranean world at the time of Christ’s birth. Augustus was a capable and energetic ruler, and he spent his reign (31 B.C. to A.D. 14) establishing a certain tradition of lawfulness and honesty in the Roman bureaucracy, reorganizing the provincial governments and working at financial reform. His reign was marked by a degree of order.

Augustus ordered a general taxing of the Roman Empire in 1 B.C. This “taxing” was actually a registering of persons, as Elder James E. Talmage has explained:

“The taxing herein referred to may properly be understood as an enrollment, or a registration, whereby a census of Roman subjects would be secured, upon which as a basis the taxation of the different peoples would be determined. This particular census was the second of three such general registrations recorded by historians as occurring at intervals of about twenty years. Had the census been taken by the usual Roman method, each person would have been enrolled at the town of his residence; but the Jewish custom, for which the Roman law had respect, necessitated registration at the cities or towns claimed by the respective families as their ancestral homes.” (Jesus the Christ, pp. 91–92.)

(3-2) Matthew 1:17, Luke 3:23–28. Jesus Descended from Kings

There are two genealogies in the four Gospels. Matthew’s account lists the legal successors to David’s throne. It is not necessarily a genealogical list in a strict father-to-son sense, for, as is true in many kingly histories, the eldest surviving heir may be a grandson, a great-grandson, or even a nephew or other relative of the reigning monarch. Luke’s record, however, is a father-to-son listing linking Joseph to King David. Of course, Jesus was not Joseph’s son, but Joseph’s genealogy is essentially Mary’s genealogy, for they were cousins; Jesus inherited from his mother, Mary, the blood of David and therefore the right to David’s throne. Jesus was born in the royal line, and as Elder James E. Talmage has explained, “Had Judah been a free and independent nation, ruled by her rightful sovereign, Joseph the carpenter would have been her crowned king; and his lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 87; see also pp. 83–86, 89–90; McConkie, DNTC, 1:94–95.)

(3-3) Matthew 1:18–25. Mary Was Espoused to Joseph

Mary was espoused to Joseph. They were not married but were promised to each other under the strictest terms. Mary was virtually regarded as the wife of Joseph, and unfaithfulness on her part during the espousal period was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24). During the espousal period, the bride-elect lived with her family or friends, and all communication between herself and her promised husband was carried on through a friend. When Joseph learned of Mary’s prospective maternity and knew he was not the father, he had two alternatives: (1) he could demand that Mary submit to a public trial and judgment, which even at that late point in Jewish history may have resulted in Mary’s death; or (2) he could privately sever the espousal contract before witnesses. Joseph obviously chose the most merciful of the two alternatives. He could have reacted selfishly and with bitterness when he learned that Mary was expecting, and it is a profound witness to Joseph’s character that he chose to annul the espousal privately. Of this, Elder James E. Talmage has written:

“Joseph was a just man, a strict observer of the law, yet no harsh extremist; moreover he loved Mary and would save her all unnecessary humiliation, whatever might be his own sorrow and suffering. For Mary’s sake he dreaded the thought of publicity; and therefore determined to have the espousal annulled with such privacy as the law allowed.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 84.) It may be that the Lord designed such an experience to test Joseph, and if that be the case, Joseph proved faithful. After Joseph had made his decision, then the angel visited him and directed that he should proceed and take Mary as his wife. Mary’s high station was known before she was born (Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10; 1 Nephi 11:15, 18–21; Isaiah 7:14), and Joseph no doubt was foreordained to the honored station that he held, for the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.” (Teachings, p. 365. Italics added.) Surely Joseph was a noble soul in premortality to be blessed with the signal honor of coming to earth and acting as the legal guardian of the Son of the Eternal Father in the flesh.

(3-4) Luke 2:1–2. Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem, April 6, 1 B.C.

Joseph and Mary did not live in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. Rather, they lived in Nazareth (see map). But obedient to the dictum of prophecy, circumstances transpired that brought them to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ. (See Micah 5:2.)

After summarizing the opinions of various scholars in the matter of Christ’s birthday, Elder James E. Talmage compares their conclusions with modern revelation and then affirms: “We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 104.) Of this President Harold B. Lee declared:

“This is the annual conference of the Church. April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. [Quoted D&C 20:1]” (CR, Apr. 1973, p. 4.)

The following chart, which is based on our present calendar, may be helpful in understanding the birthday of the Lord.

Jesus' birth timeline

(3-5) Matthew 2:13–23. Jesus and John Escape Herod’s Wrath

The wise men, familiar with the prophecies that foretold the birth of Christ, and recognizing the signs that had been given, came into Jerusalem saying: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1, 2.) Herod, thinking that the promised Messiah would be a threat to his kingdom, sent soldiers to destroy every child two years old and under in Bethlehem. But an angel had warned Joseph and he had taken Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt.

The wise men arrived in Jerusalem when Jesus was a young child. They were directed by Herod’s court to Bethlehem. “And when they were come into the house [Jesus was no longer in a stable], they saw the young child [no longer a babe] … and fell down, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 2:11.) Then the wise men, because an angel warned them not to return to Herod, departed into their own country by another way. When Herod saw that the wise men did not return, he sent his soldiers to kill every child “two years old and under.” (Matthew 2:7, 16.)

John the Baptist was a small child, just six months older than Jesus, who also lived with his parents in the vicinity of Bethlehem when Herod gave out the order to murder the babies. John escaped murder by the selfless courage of his father, Zacharias. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

“When Herod’s edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod’s order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said.” (Teachings, p. 261. Compare Matthew 23:35.)

Zacharias died, then, to save his son; he died a noble martyr, perhaps the first of the Christian era.

Points to Ponder

Now that you have considered the circumstances surrounding His birth, take a moment to reflect deeply on these questions which Jesus asked the Pharisees: “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42.) And as you reflect on these questions, remember Jesus’ own counsel to those who seek an answer: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) And as the Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of being he is,—if he will search diligently his own heart—if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.” (Teachings, p. 344.)

Jesus Is Literally the Son of the Eternal Father

(3-6) Because God Was His Father, Jesus Had Power over Life and Death

When Gabriel came to Mary with the announcement that she would be the mother of the Lord, Mary was troubled. She had not as yet consummated her marriage to Joseph. She was sure of her virgin condition, and her question to Gabriel was as if she had said: “How can I be the mother of a son when I am yet unmarried?” The angel’s explanation to Mary is the clearest explanation of the fatherhood of God and the divine sonship of Christ available in holy writ. Gabriel declares: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35.) This statement, clear enough as it stands, does not say Jesus was the son of the Holy Ghost, but he was the Son of God the Father. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie has explained, Jesus was the “‘Son of the Highest’ (Luke 1:32), and ‘the Highest’ is the first member of the godhead, not the third.” (DNTC, 1:83.)

Because Christ was the son of an immortal Father and a mortal mother, he had the capacity to live eternally if he chose, but also the ability to die. Elder James E. Talmage has written:

“That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the ‘Son of the Highest.’ In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 81.)

Jesus, then, had the powers of life and the ability to die. He had greater power than any man. (See Smith, Teachings, 181.) To further understand the significance of the divine sonship, complete the following exercise:

Who Was the Father of Jesus?

Recount some of the testimonies that demonstrate that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God, the Father, in the flesh. Note these verses: Luke 1:30–35; 1 Nephi 11:18–21; and Mosiah 3:8. Who was the father of Jesus? What did Jesus inherit from his Father that he could not have inherited from his legal guardian, Joseph?

You may have heard people try to justify their own weaknesses by saying, “Of course Jesus could live a perfect life because his Father was God. Look at the advantages he had that I don’t have.” Those who rationalize like this seem to forget that wherever there is a greater blessing there is a greater trial. The greatest Spirit in the premortal world could be tested only by submitting to greater trial.

(3-7) Jesus Had to Overcome the Veil

When Jesus was born, “the veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth, by which the remembrance of primeval existence is shut off” was cast over him. (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 111.) In the premortal world, Jesus had stood as “one like unto God” (Abraham 3:24), “more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19), meaning all the other created spirits. But although his capacity was greater than that of any other, and he was designated to become the Only Begotten Son, still he was meek and humble; and he condescended to have a veil cast over him and to have the knowledge of his glory and power in premortality blocked from his mind at birth.

President Joseph Fielding Smith further explained:

“Without a doubt, Jesus came into the world subject to the same condition as was required of each of us—he forgot everything, and he had to grow from grace to grace. His forgetting, or having his former knowledge taken away, would be requisite just as it is in the case of each of us, to complete the present temporal existence.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:33. Italics added.)

Can you see that although Jesus was the greatest spirit to come to the earth, he also had greater trials than anyone in the earth?

It is improper to suppose that Jesus was not tested and tempted equal to his great capacity. The fact that he was sinless and that he resisted every temptation does not make it any less a fact that he was subject to temptations. He knows how difficult temptations are, because he experienced bitter temptations; but he resisted them all. Read what King Benjamin taught in Mosiah 3:7.

Jesus suffered temptations far beyond what men could endure; he confronted the powers of evil and won. But because he had to resist temptations, he understands the effort man must make to resist temptation. Again, as Paul said: “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15.)

Jesus was perfectly obedient, and because he was, “he received all power, both in heaven and on earth.” (D&C 93:17. Emphasis added.) But Jesus did not receive this great power and glory all at once. He received it piecemeal, step by step, degree by degree, “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 128:21) until he received a fulness of the glory of the Father (see D&C 93:11–17).

(3-8) As a Child, Jesus Sought to Learn from His Father

In the Inspired Version, the Prophet added the following verses to the recorded account of the Savior’s youth.

“And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.

“And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.

“And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.” (Matthew 3:24–26, Inspired Version.)

Although the word father in this passage perhaps refers to Joseph, yet the content of the passage certainly shows that Jesus was taught by his real father, God the Father.

It is, however, possible that Jesus attended the Jewish synagogues and was taught in the learning of the Jews by the rabbis. If so, much of what Jesus heard would have been a perversion of truth, for Judaism was in a state of apostasy. His most significant education, therefore, came through the Spirit from his Heavenly Father. Jesus testified of himself: “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28.) And again: “The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” (John 12:49.) Who taught Jesus what he knew? His Father, God the Father, taught him. That he was taught by wiser than mortal men is evident, and that he learned his lessons well, for the Prophet Joseph Smith said of him:

“When still a boy, He had all the intelligence necessary to enable Him to rule and govern the kingdom of the Jews, and could reason with the wisest and most profound doctors of law and divinity, and make their theories and practice to appear like folly compared with the wisdom He possessed; but He was a boy only, and lacked physical strength even to defend His own person; and was subject to cold, to hunger, and to death.” (Teachings, p. 392.)

What must you do to acquire power and glory? The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace … until you … are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” (Teachings, pp. 346–47.)

To get a degree or level of glory, or grace, a man must obey the laws upon which that particular level of glory is predicated, and if he is more diligent and obedient than another, he will have that much more advantage in the world to come. (See D&C 130:18–21.) President Harold B. Lee explained:

“The most important of all the commandments of God is that one that you’re having the most difficulty keeping today. If it’s one of dishonesty, if it’s one of unchastity, if it’s one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you’ve been able to conquer that weakness. Then you start on the next one that’s most difficult for you to keep.” (Church News, 5 May 1973, p. 3.)

Thus, a man must take his temptations in their turn and conquer them. This is what Jesus did, step by step, degree to greater degree, grace by grace, and this is what Jesus would have you do.

Now what difference will it make for you? Could you, if you were called to stand before him now, testify as did Peter of old? “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16.) You can know that he is the Son of God if you do his will. (See John 7:17.) As Jesus himself said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life. …” (John 10:27, 28.)