Luke 2:21–38 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Simeon's Psalm, Anna's Announcement
The second chapter of Luke contains the only biblical account of the birth of Jesus. Apparently, immediately after Jesus' birth, the shepherds visited Jesus and he was soon circumcised and later presented at the temple: Enter Simeon and Anna.
Three Ceremony Types
It's worth distinguishing between the three ceremonies in our passage today. We're to see them separately, both in time and in ritual. The first ceremony is that of circumcision (v. 21, shown below). The event probably took place where the family lived, not at the temple, occurring on the 8th day, as God directed Abraham (Genesis 17:9–14) and as prescribed by Moses' law (Leviticus 12:3). With the circumcision was the child's naming (cf. Luke 1:59–63; 2:21).
The second ceremony is the presentation of the first-born son, also a requirement of the Law, as prescribed in Exodus 13:2, 12). From the context of the Exodus passage we know that during the final plague that God brought upon Egypt, all the first-born of Egypt, man and beast, were slain, while the first-born Israelites (i.e., those who spread the Passover Lamb's blood on their door frames) lived. A first-born's redemption was required because, having been spared by God, they belonged to him. When an Israelite family redeemed their first-born (at the prescribed price), they were acknowledging that their child belonged to God.
The third ceremony was the purification of Mary, required by the Law after a child's birth. In Leviticus chapter 12, we see that a woman is ceremonially unclean after giving birth. For a boy, the woman is unclean for seven days (Lev. 12:2). For a girl, that time doubles. Accordingly, Jesus would have been approximately six weeks old when presented. Their sacrifice of two doves indicates that Mary and Joseph were poor, since this was a provision for the poor (12:6–8).
The Circumcision of the Christ-Child (v. 21)
Though not prominent in the passage, the circumcision of the Christ-Child is noteworthy. First, this record attests that the parents of our Lord "had done everything required by the Law of the Lord" (v. 39). Second, Christ's circumcision parallels that of John's, described earlier (v. 1:59.). Finally, it was at Christ's circumcision that his name was formally given (v. 1:31).
Simeon's Psalm (vv. 22–35)
Simeon is a man somewhat similar to the Old Testament character, Melchizedek, in that he suddenly appears out of nowhere. We're told very little about Simeon: We don't know of his tribe, although it appears that he's an Israelite; we know nothing about his family, marriage status, or children; we're told nothing about his occupation. All that we're told about him are things that matter most to God, things that pertain to his faith, character, and close relationship with the Spirit of God.
Enter Simeon Verse 25 informs us that Simeon was righteous and devout. Further, he was a man of faith and hope, for he "awaited the consolation of Israel," an expression that summarizes the faith of the Old Testament saint, given God's promises concerning Israel's restoration through the coming of her Messiah. Most importantly, Simeon was endowed with the Holy Spirit who'd revealed that Simeon wouldn't die until he'd seen the Lord's Christ (v. 26), God's Anointed One, Israel's Messiah. It was also the Holy Spirit who directed Simeon to the temple on the particular day that Jesus' parents brought him to the Lord's presentation ceremony. Finally, in an unspecified way, it was the Spirit of God who revealed to Simeon that this child was indeed the Messiah. Yes, the name Jesus was one indication, but there must have been additional evidence, for there were many sons given the special name "Jesus."
Precisely how Simeon was enabled to recognize the six-week-old boy as distinct from all others isn't told. Luke is less interested in our knowing how Jesus was recognized, and more interested in showing us that a godly, Spirit-filled man identified Jesus.
Recognizing Jesus to be the Messiah, elderly Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed God. After a lifetime of seeking the Messiah, one can hardly imagine the joy that was Simeon's at that moment. A man who knew that God had held him closely now holds God in his arms! All-powerful God, a tiny baby, seemingly had no power at all. Simeon's words of praise express the deep joy he felt. Now his life became filled and complete for he was ready to die (vv. 29–30a)
Imagine Joseph and Mary's marvel and amazement seeing Simeon's actions and affirmations (v. 33). Seemingly, in response to Mary and Joseph's amazement, Simeon went on to bless them while directing a very specific prophecy to Mary (vv. 34–35).
Anna's Announcement (vv. 36–38)
Although we're told less about what she actually said, we're given more information about her background than Simeon's. It's clear that Anna was a truly remarkable woman.
Enter Anna An Israelite of the tribe of Asher, one of the ten "lost tribes" of Israel that were scattered with Assyria's captivity, Anna was a prophetess. At least 84 years old (depending on how we understand Luke's words), married for seven years before her husband died, she'd lived the rest of her life as a widow. Day and night in the temple she prayed and fasted. Luke doesn't tell us why, but it's obvious that she, like Simeon, anticipated the coming of the Messiah who'd come to deal with Israel's sin. Thus, her prayer and fasting was evidence of her mourning over her people's sins.
Remaining single, Anna lived out her life in the temple, occupied with prayer and fasting. While Simeon had been divinely guided to the temple, Anna was almost always there. Thus she "happened" to come upon the scene of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and Simeon, just when Simeon was identifying the child as God's Messiah. She, too, began thanking God. Even more, she began to broadcast the good news to all those who, like she and Simeon, awaited Jerusalem's redemption. The fact that she was already known as a prophetess gave her testimony even greater impact.
- Q. 1 In Simeon's two prophecies (vv. 29–32, 34–35), what was he predicting about the work of Jesus?
- Q. 2 How does dear, old, saintly Anna compliment Simeon's prophecy?
- Q. 3 What do you learn about Mary and Joseph in this passage?
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 2.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "The Childhood of Jesus."
21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Jesus Presented in the Temple
22When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
33The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four [Or then had been a widow for eighty-four years]. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.