Simeon Meets Jesus - Luke 2

A meditation on the thoughts of Simeon

We will be looking at the elderly man Simeon who met Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the temple, and his brief prayer and even briefer words to Mary. Before we get there,
though, let’s review a little on how we got to that point.

Joseph’s and Mary’s lives had been turned upside down several months earlier with the angelic visit to Mary. Being a truly faithful woman, her response to the angel was not a surprise; “be it unto me according to thy word”. Her sudden visit to her cousin Elizabeth for three months may have left Joseph wondering, but her return home got his attention. According to the Matthew record, when “she was found with child”, Joseph pondered on what to do. More specifically, the debate was whether he should stay with her, or “put her away privily”. We all know the record of his angelic visit which settled Joseph’s internal thoughts, and so a family was created with Divine blessing.

I am sure they would have had several issues during her pregnancy. Mary was at least 3 months pregnant when they were wed, and their neighbors, like modern people, would have had the rumor mill in full swing. While we are not actually told what went on, a quick peak at John 8:41 tells us that even when Jesus was in his 30s he was subject to ridicule over his conception.

Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. (John 8:41)

As with all things concerning His son, God made certain that he would be born where he should be, in Bethlehem. So, men were set in place in a Gentile government to start an enrollment for taxation, which required both Joseph and Mary to travel to their ancestral home. While there, Jesus was born, and laid in a manger. Poor Mary had no time to rest, for that very night several young shepherds came out of the field where they had been living with their sheep for the past several months, and found the young family right where their angelic visitor had said. What an exciting night for Joseph and Mary!

At the end of the first full week, they took their son to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses, and according to tradition, this was the day they named him Jesus, “which was so named of the angel before he was conceived”. This eighth day marked the beginning of the additional 33 days of purification for Mary, as proscribed in Leviticus 12. The end of this period is the timeframe we are now going to look at.

Joseph and Mary were not rich in the world’s goods, and so as the entered the Temple precincts they purchased the sacrifice of the poor, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24 cp. Lev. 12:8), possibly from the very group of people that their son would chase out of the Temple twice during his lifetime. As the couple, with their 6 week old son carried their sacrifice towards the entrance where the priests waited, they were met by the elderly Simeon; and what a meeting it was!

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)

The descriptions of Simeon by Luke are amazing. He is called just, which is from a Greek word that is used 81 times in the New Testament, and is translated as righteous, just, right, and twice as meet (as in acceptable or proper). Let’s look at two verses in Matthew 13 that really describe for us the character of Simeon (Matthew 13:17, 43).

For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them ... Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:17, 43)

This was a man whose whole life was given in seeking the things of God, and one of the blessed to have seen the whole picture of God’s plan redeeming His people.

Luke’s description of Simeon does not stop at the word just. He adds the word devout, a word that only Luke uses in the New Testament. It is from the Greek word eulabes, which thanks to the modern pro-Second Amendment movement may sound familiar to some. They use the Greek words molon labe (come and take) as an expression of defiance, like the way, according to Plutarch, it was used by the king of Sparta in answer to Xerxes, king of Persia’s demand that they throw down their weapons and surrender. The word Luke uses (eulabes) has a related meaning, and is a compound word which means “to hold on to or seize well”, or “to take hold of carefully”.

In Acts 2:5, Luke uses this word to describe the Jews who had come to the feast of Pentecost, but as we move further into Acts (8:2), we find he now applies the word to those faithful in Christ who mourned for and buried Stephen. These were the type of people that Saul of Tarsus wanted dead.

Back in Luke, his description of Simeon does not stop with just, and devout. Simeon is also described as one who was “waiting for the consolation (or comfort) of Israel”. And this gives us a strong clue as to what Simeon was holding on to carefully. Turn to Isaiah 40:1-2.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

As you see, we are at the beginning of the servant prophecies of Isaiah, and as we will see, this is the area of Isaiah that Simeon had in mind as he approached the young family in the temple. He had been told that he would not see death until “he had seen the Lord’s Christ (anointed)”. This possibly brought his mind to Isaiah, and specifically what the Messiah was to do.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Simeon was clear in his mind as to what this Messiah was sent to do. He was the consolation of Israel. He was to be the preacher of the gospel to the meek; a healer of not only the physically broken, but also those spiritually broken; one who would free his people from the captivity of sin and death.

Back in Luke 2:29, as Simeon started his prayer of gratefulness to God, he, like Jacob when he saw the long lost Joseph in Genesis 46:30 expressed his relief at seeing the child and was willing to pass into the oblivion of death to await the resurrection to life eternal.

In the next verse, Simeon recognized that the child before him would be God’s path to bring salvation, as the boy’s very name declared; Jesus, Yahweh’s salvation (Luke 2:30). It seems that Simeon drew on a few passages from Isaiah concerning this (Isaiah 62:1, 11; 45:22; 52:10).

For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth ... Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. (Isaiah 62:1, 11)

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:22)

The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52.10)

As you can see the concept of salvation is a strong feature in Isaiah. It occurs 28 times in the book, and it is all related to God’s work in Christ, both first and second advent. It appears 8 times in Isaiah 1 to 44, and the remaining 20 times in chapters 45 to 66. If we take a quick look at Isaiah 51, we will see this coupled with God’s righteousness. (Isaiah 51:5, 6, 8)

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished ... For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation. (Isaiah 51:5, 6, 8)

Back in the gospel of Luke we see a fact Simeon recognized that most of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes had missed; the gospel was to include the Gentiles (Luke 2:31-32).

No surprise that these thoughts came from Isaiah, though this time it may have included a section in Isaiah’s early chapters as well (Isaiah 9:2). As his thoughts dwelt on this, no doubt the rest of the chapter would have run through his mind.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God's warrior, the father of the age, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Let’s look at one more passage concerning this:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In Luke’s record he records that the reaction of Joseph and Mary was that they marveled. How could a perfect stranger know about who their child was? We are told several times that Mary “kept all these things, and pondered in her heart”, so we can safely conclude they kept quiet about whom Jesus was to be. If we couple that with what we said earlier about the ridicule they may have had to put up with, their silence would be natural. Imagine now their reaction as Simeon turns and blesses them both and then speaks directly to Mary.

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

Even Simeon’s speech to Mary is interlaced with allusions to Isaiah. He clearly saw that Jesus would become “a stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offence” causing many of the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” to “stumble and fall and be broken” (an allusion to Isaiah 8:14-15). He also understood that there would be among those who had stumbled, a group that would rise again. Interestingly he used the Greek word “anastasis”, which is the word for the resurrection from the dead . Turning to Isaiah 26:19 and reading without the added (italicized) words we see the promise of the resurrection of the body (true church) of Christ in Isaiah too:

Thy dead shall live, my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew, the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

Simeon said that some would “stumble and fall and be broken” and others, who acknowledged Jesus for who he was, would receive the resurrection to life. He was the sign of Isaiah 7, being born of a virgin, but he was to be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. This rejection would reveal “the thoughts of many hearts”; those that accepted him, and those that rejected him.

The grief that Jesus had through his brief ministry would be sometimes shared by his mother, and ultimately, as Simeon said in verse 35, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”. We can only imagine what it was like to stand there and see her son crucified. Simeon had alluded to Isaiah 53, and 33 years later she would see it enacted before her. Would she call this conversation with Simeon to her mind at that point? Would she remember how that chapter ended? As it is recorded, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”.

It is at this point we will leave the young family who were about to perform “all things according to the law of the Lord”.

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)