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Those Who Were Looking for the Messiah

Luke 2:30–32 (ESV) … “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon and Anna, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, were a part of the faithful Jewish remnant that eagerly looked for their Messiah (Mal. 3:16). Because of his readiness and eagerness to die (Luke 2:29), Simeon is usually pictured as a very old man, but nothing in Scripture supports this. Tradition says he was 113 years old, but it is only tradition.

“The consolation of Israel” means the messianic hope. One of the traditional Jewish prayers is, “May I see the consolation of Israel!” That prayer was answered for Simeon when he saw Jesus Christ in the temple. He was a man who was led by the Spirit of God, taught by the Word of God, and obedient to the will of God; and therefore he was privileged to see the salvation of God. How important it is for people to see God’s salvation, Jesus Christ, before they see death.

In Luke 2:29–32 we find Simeon’s response to seeing Jesus. This is the fifth and last of the “Christmas songs” in Luke. (Elizabeth, 1:42–45; Mary, 1:46–56; Zacharias, 1:67–79; the angels, 2:13–14). It is first of all a worship hymn as he blesses God for keeping His promise and sending the Messiah. He joyfully praises God that he has been privileged to see the Lord’s Christ.

But his song is also a salvation hymn: “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke 2:30). Now he is ready to die! The word depart in the Greek has several meanings, and each of them tells us something about the death of a Christian. It means to release a prisoner, to untie a ship and set sail, to take down a tent (see 2 Cor. 5:1–8), and to unyoke a beast of burden (see Matt. 11:28–30). God’s people are not afraid of death because it only frees us from the burdens of this life and leads into the blessings of the next life.

Simeon’s song is a missionary hymn, which is something unusual for a devout Jew standing in the temple. He sees this great salvation going out to the Gentiles! Jesus has restored the glory to Israel and brought the light to the Gentiles so that all people can be saved (see Luke 2:10). Remember that the compassion of Christ for the whole world is one of Luke’s major themes.

Then Simeon stopped praising and started prophesying (Luke 2:34–35), and in his message used three important images: the stone, the sign, and the sword.

The stone is an important Old Testament image of God (Gen. 49:24; Pss. 18:2; 71:3; Deut. 32:31). Messiah would be a “rejected cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Luke 20:17–18; Acts 4:11), and the nation of Israel would stumble over Him (Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:32). Because of Jesus Christ, many in Israel would fall in conviction and then rise in salvation. (Simeon seems to be speaking about one group, not two.) Even today, God’s people Israel stumble over the Cross (1 Cor. 1:23) and do not understand that Jesus is their Rock (1 Peter 2:1–6).

The word sign means “a miracle,” not so much as a demonstration of power but as a revelation of divine truth. Our Lord’s miracles in John’s Gospel are called “signs” because they reveal special truths about Him (John 20:30–31). Jesus Christ is God’s miracle; and yet, instead of admiring Him, the people attacked Him and spoke against Him. His birth was a miracle, yet they slandered it (John 8:41). They said His miracles were done in the power of Satan (Matt. 12:22–24) and that His character was questionable (John 8:48, 52; 9:16, 24). They slandered His death (Ps. 22:6–8; Matt. 27:39–44) and lied about His resurrection (Matt. 27:62–66). Today, people are even speaking against His coming again (2 Peter 3).

But the way people speak about Jesus Christ is evidence of what is in their hearts. He is not only the “salvation stone” and the “judgment stone” (Dan. 2:34, 45), but He is also the “touchstone” that exposes what people are really like. “What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42) is still the most important question for anybody to answer (1 John 4:1–3).

The image of the sword was for Mary alone, and it spoke of the suffering and sorrow she would bear as the mother of the Messiah. (This suggests that Joseph was dead when Jesus began His ministry thirty years later, or Joseph would have been included.) The Greek word means a large sword such as Goliath used (1 Sam. 17:51), and the verb means “constantly keep on piercing.”

During our Lord’s life and ministry, Mary did experience more and more sorrow until one day she stood by His cross and saw Him suffer and die (John 19:25–27). However, without minimizing her devotion, Mary’s personal pain must not in any way be made a part of Christ’s redemptive work. Only He could die for the sins of the world (1 Tim. 2:5–6).

How much did Mary and Joseph understand of God’s great plan for this miracle Child? We don’t know, but we do know that Mary stored up all these things and pondered them (Luke 2:19, 51). The word means “to put things together”; Mary sought for some pattern that would help her understand God’s will. There were times when Mary misunderstood Him (Mark 3:31–35), and this would add to her suffering. The last time you find Mary named in Scripture, she is in the Upper Room, praying with the other believers (Acts 1:14).

Anna (vv. 36–38). Her name means “grace,” and she was a godly widow of great age. There are forty-three references to women in Luke’s Gospel, and of the twelve widows mentioned in the Bible, Luke has three (Luke 2:36–40; 7:11–15; 21:1–4; and note 18:1–8). It isn’t difficult to see the heart of a physician in Luke’s presentation.

Widows didn’t have an easy time in that day; often they were neglected and exploited in spite of the commandment of the Law (Ex. 22:21–22; Deut. 10:17–18; 14:29; Isa. 1:17). Anna devoted herself to “serving God by worship” through fastings and prayers. She moved from the tribe of Asher and remained in the temple, waiting for the appearing of God’s promised Messiah (see 1 Tim. 5:3–16).

God’s timing is always perfect. Anna came up just as Simeon was praising the Lord for the Child Jesus, so she joined in the song! I would like to have heard these elderly people singing in the temple! Their praise was inspired by the Spirit of God, and God accepted it. But Anna did much more than sing; she also spread the Good News among the other faithful members of “the remnant” who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. The excitement began to spread as more and more people heard the Good News.

Anna was a prophetess, which meant she had a special gift of declaring and interpreting God’s message. Other prophetesses in Scripture are Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Hulduh (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and the wife of Isaiah (Isa. 8:3). The evangelist Philip had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8–9).[1]

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 177–179). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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