The prophets who recognized Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December 2015

Luke 2.21-40.

Luke 2.21-24 KWL
21 Once eight days were fulfilled, Joseph circumcised him and declared his name Jesus,
which the angel called him before he was formed in the womb.
22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law,
they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law:
“Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12
24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law:
“A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8

Jesus followed the Law. If he didn’t, he couldn’t be described as without sin, He 4.15 because sin is defined by the Law. Ro 3.20 And though, as an infant, he couldn’t yet do anything on his own to actively follow the Law, he had Law-abiding parents who took care of it for him. As instructed in the Law, eight days after birth Ge 17.12 (meaning he wasn’t born on Sabbath, contrary to some theories), Joseph circumcised his adoptive son, and as the angels instructed, named him Jesus. Mt 1.21, Lk 1.31

As for Mary, she was ritually unclean for 7 days, and unable to go to temple for 33 days. Lv 12.2, 4 But once her 33 days were up, she had to have a sheep sacrificed to represent her atonement, and a dove sacrificed for her sins. Lk 12.6-7 I know; Roman Catholics claim Mary never sinned. Well, she was ordered to sacrifice the dove anyway, and not sacrificing it would’ve been a sin. In fact, I guarantee you plenty of animals were sacrificed on Jesus’s behalf over his lifetime, even though he didn’t need a single one of them to die for any sins—but sacrificing them was part of the Law, so he offered ’em anyway. Really, not a one of them had ever taken away sin, He 10.4 for they were merely representative of Jesus’s later self-sacrifice. He 10.1 I’m getting way ahead of the story though.

Since Luke quotes the verse about how the poor can swap another dove for the sheep, Lv 12.8 it implies Joseph and Mary were poor. Which they likely were—by now, between baby expenses and the Romans’ taxes as part of their survey. Cash-poor meant doves or pigeons were a much more affordable option. You could catch birds for free, y’know.

On the way into the temple, Jesus’s parents were accosted by a prophet. Yes, there were still prophets back then. God never stopped having prophets, nor stopped speaking through them. But I discussed that already.

Symeón identifies Jesus.

Luke 2.25-32 KWL
25 Look: There was a person in Jerusalem named Symeón.
This righteous, devout person was awaiting Israel’s helper, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26 By the Holy Spirit, it was revealed to him he wouldn’t die till he’d seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 He was led by the Spirit to the temple.
When the baby Jesus’s parents were bringing him,
to do to him as following the Law’s custom about him,
28 Symeón took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
29“Now dismiss your slave in peace, boss, like your word said.
30 My eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared to show all the people—
32 a light of revelation to the nations, and the glory of Israel’s people.”

I’ve heard preachers claim Jesus was being taken to temple for circumcision, but they didn’t do that in temple. What they did do was accept the five sheqels every woman had to pay the LORD for her firstborn. Nu 18.15-16 Like I said, baby expenses.

Symeón wasn’t a regular in temple. (Anna, whom we’ll see later on, was.) The Holy Spirit had specially prompted him to go there that day. His backstory is sorta interesting: There was an arrangement between him and the Spirit that he wasn’t gonna die till he saw Messiah. We have no idea how they worked this arrangement out. I’m guessing it wasn’t Symeón’s idea, since he called God déspota/“despot”—which I translated “boss” because in the past, despot didn’t mean “tyrant,” like it does now; just an absolute boss. The big guy in charge. In Symeón’s case, the guy who informed him he was gonna live a bit longer than he expected. Or even wanted.

Symeón’s prophecy was nothing Jesus’s parents hadn’t heard before: Jesus had come to save Israel. So the angels had said. But there’s one thing Symeón said which was quite different from the prophecies which came before. Did you catch it? (Probably not, ’cause most of us take it for granted.) Jesus was “a light of revelation to the nations.” Meaning other nations. Meaning non-Judeans. Foreigners. Gentiles.

This was nothing new in salvation history. Isaiah mentioned “light for the nations” twice. Is 42.6, 49.6 Both mentions had to do with the nation of Israel as a whole being the light for the nations, not Messiah, not specifically Jesus. Israel was meant to enlighten the world. But Israel sucked at it, so a perfect representative Israeli—namely Jesus, the glory of his people—did it for them.

In most Pharisee end-times scenarios, Messiah destroyed the gentiles. Not enlightened them. So maybe this was the first time Joseph and Mary had encountered the idea. Who knows what sort of prejudices they’d been raised with? But if they had any, they had to be rid of them. It’d appear those prejudices were dealt with by the time they welcomed the magi, and by the time they went to hide out in Egypt. I know; I’m getting ahead of the story again. Oh well. I do that.

“Oh by the way, you’re gonna get run through by a sword.”

Luke 2.33-35 KWL
33 Jesus’s father and mother were wondering about what Symeón spoke about him.
34 Symeón blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Look: This is laid out for the downfall and rise of many in Israel,
and they’ll speak out against the sign.
35 You yourself: A sword will pass through your soul.
It’s so that every mind’s thoughts may be revealed.”

Popularly, people interpret Symeón’s prophecy to Mary—“a sword will pass through your soul,” or “pierce through thy own soul also” (KJV) —as a prediction of how she’d live to see her son crucified. And yeah, it means that too.

But as any mother will tell you, it also means she was gonna feel it when Jesus went through any opposition. That’s your kid. Your kids don’t have to be Messiah for you to consider them special or important: They’re yours. If someone comes after your kids, mothers will get as savagely defensive, and even go on the offensive, as mother bears. Anything Jesus suffered, Mary would suffer too. It’s just how motherhood works.

Motherhood aside, Mary also had the revelation that opposing Jesus was more than a simple, honest disagreement between earnest God-seekers. Jesus has light and truth and the very words of God. Opposing him meant opposing God, ’cause he’s God. Any Christian who’s developed the Spirit’s fruit in them (no, not literally, like Mary; you know what I mean) is gonna feel awful about people who reject God like that. Especially when they’re SO CLOSE to the kingdom… yet refuse its king, and won’t go in.

So yeah, Mary’d feel awful because Jesus died. But there’s more to it than that.

Jesus was gonna polarize people. There are always gonna be some folks who sit on the fence, but Jesus isn’t one of those issues where we can be comfortable on the fence. Either he’s Lord or not. Either we follow him ’cause he has the words of eternal life, or we think there’s a different route to eternal life… or we don’t believe in eternal life anyway. But no matter what we believe, either we embrace him and get lifted up (or resurrected, as anástasin also means), or oppose him—and destroy ourselves in doing so. In accepting or rejecting Jesus, everyone’s inner thoughts ultimately get exposed. That’s one of the reasons he came.

The prophet Anna.

Luke 2.36-38 KWL
36 Anna bat Fanuél, of the tribe of Asher, was a prophet. She was old; full of days.
She’d been with a man seven years after her virginity, 37 and a widow till the age of 84.
She never left the temple,
worshiping with fasting and prayer, night and day.
38 At that time, standing nearby, she began praising God and speaking about Jesus
to everyone who had been waiting for the rescue of Jerusalem.

Now for Anna. Unlike Symeón, she was a regular in temple, and had been there for probably six decades. Joseph and Mary had seen her in temple all their lives. Heck, their parents had seen her in temple all their lives. She was a known quantity, whereas they might not have known who Symeón is.

Luke doesn’t record her prophecy, because she likely said all the very same things Symeón had, and confirmed him. The point of including her is so we get the idea Symeón wasn’t just some solitary nut. Anna was filled with the very same Holy Spirit, heard the very same things from him, and proclaimed them.

More: The point of referring to Symeón and Anna was to confirm who Jesus was through the well-established prophets of that day. Jesus wasn’t only revealed in special angelic visitations, or to special revelations to Zechariah and Mary, or as part of the usual dream-visions of Joseph. Or even to obscure Zoroastrian magi, whom I’ll talk about later. God wasn’t hiding what he was doing. He wanted everyone to know his Messiah had come, and what his Messiah was for. He was blabbing it to temple prophets ’n everything.

For some reason we Christians often get awfully secretive and obscure about what God’s up to in our lives, or doing among us. I know lots of churches where the people in them don’t know what God’s doing with the other people in them. Heck, they don’t know if God’s doing anything with anyone, anywhere. It’s sad. But it’s all too common. When we don’t share testimonies, we get a totally wrong picture of what God’s doing. And it starts to worm its way into the rest of our lives—into our theology, into the way we read the bible, till next thing you know you’re cessationist, claiming God didn’t do any miracles back in bible times either.

In comparison, God doesn’t hide what he’s up to. If we’re gonna follow him, we need to mimic his behavior and let everyone know what he’s doing in and through us. He all about transparency, like Symeón said. He doesn’t have any dark secret plan to get us saved. God is light, and there’s no darkness in him at all. 1Jn 1.5 We shouldn’t have any darkness in us, either.

How Jesus became “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Luke 2.39-40 KWL
39 Once they completed everything according to the Lord’s Law,
they returned to the Galilee, to their city, Nazareth.
40 The little boy grew up, becoming strong,
full of wisdom, and God’s grace was on him.

Yeah, Luke skipped the magi story. I won’t. But he made it sound like they didn’t stay in Bethlehem for a few years, didn’t escape Herod’s infanticidal purge, didn’t stay in Egypt for a bit, nothing. Doesn’t mention Joseph’s dream-visions either. Joseph appears to have just gone along with God’s whole plan, no questions asked. It’s why people assume Luke tapped Mary as one of the sources for this gospel, and Matthew’s stories about Joseph, which fill in those blanks, come from elsewhere.

But this lack of info produces one of those bible discrepancies which give biblical literalists headaches. If you’re that kind of inerrantist, you wind up fudging Luke so you can squeeze the entire magi-and-Egypt story inbetween the clauses of verse 39. But the most reasonable explanation is Luke simply didn’t know that story, and assumed once Joseph and Mary were done with their temple obligations, they went home. ’Cause that’s what you do.

Thus “Jesus of Nazareth” grew up in Nazareth, full of strength, wisdom, and grace. Three qualities he has throughout the gospels.