What happened to Joseph, Jesus’ step-dad? He disappeared after the birth of Christ.
Not quite—but yes, Joseph seems to have faded away after the manger scene according to most people’s understanding of the matter. Let’s begin with a quick bio:
Joseph, a simple carpenter, became the husband of Mary, mother of Christ. God appointed him as overseer of the earth’s most precious gift, the Savior, Jesus. Joseph provided food, shelter and security for the three of them. He was a devout Jew and an obedient man when it came to God. He obeyed the Lord when God explained the uniqueness of Mary’s pregnancy and married her though she was already with child. He then quickly heeded God’s warning to relocate the family to another country, even in the middle of the night, in order to protect baby Jesus from an insane despotic ruler, Herod (Matthew 2.) The scriptures give us every indication that Joseph was an honorable man and a good step-father to his Holy-Spirit-conceived son whom he adopted at birth. In the Catholic Church, Joseph is considered a Saint.
Yet in the Bible, the last time we hear about Joseph being present in Christ’s life was when the child was twelve years old: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.” (Luke 2:41-44, NKJV) Jesus the adolescent was busy impressing the temple Rabbis with his knowledge of the scriptures instead of hanging out with the family.
Nothing else is ever mentioned of Joseph after that. It is believed by most scholars that Joseph died sometime between this event and the beginning of Christ’s ministry eighteen years later when, as the Bible says, Jesus turned thirty and went public with his miracles and identity. Only Mary is mentioned at numerous occasions that should have included every family member. For instance: the wedding of Cana when Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. Mary is there by herself at what appears to be a family event. A time or two later when Christ is teaching in the synagogue and is confronted with the news of his family waiting outside, Jesus famously shouts, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” as he suggests the equal importance of church-family in Mark chapter three. While Jesus’ sisters would not have been noted due to the custom of that time period, certainly Joseph would have been acknowledged if he were present along with the other siblings and Mary.
We also have the prophetic utterance of Simeon pointing to Joseph’s absence in Jesus’ life decades later. Simeon had been waiting for the fulfillment of what God had promised him: “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” (Luke 2:26.) Simeon lived to be very old, yet God assured him he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When the holy family finally arrived at the temple, Simeon rejoices, then prophesies that Mary will be “pierced through the heart” with the agony of what is to come for her son. Though both Mary and Joseph are standing right there, Simeon only sees Christ’s mother in his prophetic vision of the future. Scholars believe this is proof that Joseph would not live to see the crucifixion.
The bottom line to the Joseph-story is two-fold: One, God uses simple people like Joseph in some of his greatest accomplishments on earth. (You and I both qualify!) And two, Jesus can empathize with us as we grieve the deaths of our closest loved ones who seem to be taken too early from our lives. Even Jesus lost his earthly dad before he was thirty years old.