By Sam E. Stone
This month’s lessons have followed the theme, “God Sends Jesus,” based on Luke’s Gospel. We have seen how God called various individuals to have part in these events. In today’s study Simeon and Anna touch the life of Jesus when he is just a baby. Their hopes were realized in the birth of the Messiah, just as ours are.
Luke 2:21, 22
Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord at the appropriate time. The baby had been circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (see Genesis 17:12) and at the same time named Jesus as the angel had instructed (Luke 1:31). A mother was considered ceremonially unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son (Leviticus 12:1-8). From Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph traveled a few miles north to the temple in Jerusalem for the ceremony. All firstborn male children were considered holy to the Lord (Exodus 13:2).
Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was a good man—right in his outward life, devout in his inward life. Simeon was the first prophet to tell the world that the Messiah had come. The consolation of Israel is a poetic way to describe the coming of Christ, bringing comfort as Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 40:1). The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon (perhaps through a dream) that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Messiah means “the Anointed One.”) This unique blessing was unusual (Luke 10:23, 24).
Each day Simeon went to the temple. The temple courts were that part of the building where public worship usually occurred. This was where Mary and Joseph came to make an offering for purification and present the baby Jesus to God.
Upon seeing them, Simeon went over to the parents, took the baby in his arms, and praised God! The hymn of Simeon that followed is known as the Nunc Dimittis, based on the first words of the Latin Vulgate translation. Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. God had kept his word once more. Because Simeon had seen the long-awaited Messiah, he was now ready to leave this life. Jesus did not come for the Jews alone, but so that Gentiles too could find salvation, just as the prophets had foretold (Isaiah 49; 9:6, 7; Malachi 4:2).
Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about him. How many times in the years ahead would they be amazed by Jesus! In this case, their surprise was probably that a complete stranger would speak of Jesus in this way. This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. Jesus would be to some a stone of stumbling (1 Corinthians 1:23); to others, a precious cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7, 8). He would be a sign that will be spoken against as well. Those who opposed Jesus were actually opposing God (Acts 5:38, 39). Simeon then told Mary, “The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” At this happy moment, these words may have passed over Mary like a cloud, but they reveal something of what awaited her in the years to come. What Simeon described had been prophesied earlier (see Isaiah 53).
Anna is the other person introduced by Luke when Jesus was presented at the temple. She was a prophet. Her name is another way of saying “Hannah” (the name of Samuel’s mother). Several women prophesied in Old Testament times (Miriam and Deborah, for example), as well as Philip’s daughters in the New Testament (Acts 21:9).
Anna was now 84 years of age. She had been a widow for a long time. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. As a prophet, Anna may have had a room where she could actually live at the temple. Or this may simply be a figure of speech indicating her faithfulness, like when we say, “She’s at the church building whenever the doors are open.”
This elderly prophet recognized who Jesus was. The Jewish people had been eagerly awaiting the time when God would redeem his people once more. Jerusalem, the holy city, is used here to include all the people of Israel.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.