Jesus' first forty days, Part 1
Oct 16, 2013
The shepherds went to the town of Bethlehem, obeying the word of the angels to go and witness the birth of “Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:15-18 says,
15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
Communications were not as advanced as they are today, but certainly everyone in Bethlehem would have heard of this event. The town was not large, and no doubt the shepherds already knew the midwives. “Is there a baby born tonight? Which house? We must see this child immediately! We have been sent by God!” The shouts would have brought everyone into the street to hear what had happened.
Even so, three months later, King Herod was surprised by the news from the magi, who came inquiring about the newborn king (Matthew 2:4). Herod sent them to discover the identity of the child (Matthew 2:8), presuming that Bethlehem was His place of birth, but yet he seemed to know nothing. Perhaps Herod’s spies—if they heard anything—did not take the report seriously, seeing that it came from ignorant shepherds who posed no threat. Besides, why would God visit despised shepherds rather than honored priests?
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
Verse 19 gives the impression that Luke had talked to Mary personally, for he knew what was in her heart. It may be, however, that during Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea, Luke made the trip to Bethlehem to talk to some of the old people who may have remembered these events. Paul was arrested in 58 A.D. and spent two years in Caesarea before being taken to Rome for trial. Hence, Paul’s faithful companion, Luke, had little else to do during this time and probably interviewed those elderly witnesses who were then at least 70-80 years old, who would have remembered these events.
Eighth Day Circumcision
Luke then tells us of Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem about five miles away from Bethlehem. Luke 2:21 says,
21 And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
As we noted with the birth of John the Baptist six months earlier, babies were named at the time of their circumcision. Even as John was named by divine revelation, so also was Jesus. With John the important event occurred at his circumcision, but with Jesus it was at the end of Mary’s 40-day purification at the temple.
Luke 2:22-24 says,
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
While all male children were circumcised on the eighth day, only the first-born was presented to the Lord as such. The priest was to inspect the child for defects, and if acceptable, he was consecrated to God. It is obvious that Jesus passed inspection.
The law of purification is found in Leviticus 12:2-4,
2 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of menstruation she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.
The time of her purification was a total of forty days when a woman gave birth to a son. So on the fortieth day Joseph took Mary to the temple to fulfill the purification rite according to the Law of Moses. These rites were performed at the east gate of the court of women, called the Nicanor Gate, also known as the Gate Beautiful (Acts 3:2). Josephus calls it the Corinthian Gate.
The sacrifice was to be a lamb, but as Leviticus 12:8 says, “if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Joseph and Mary were obviously not wealthy, as shown by their offering. Yet neither were they so poor that they had to offer a tenth of an ephah of meal (Leviticus 5:11). The magi had not yet arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those gifts were necessary to fund their escape to Egypt.
The Change in the Law
These laws of purification have now changed to a new form under the New Covenant, for today “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Mary’s purification was not the result of sin, of course, for bearing children is no sin. But cleansing was needed for deeper reasons, which I will explain shortly.
Jesus told the disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Under Moses, cleansing was done by blood or water, depending on the situation. The blood represented the blood of the True Sacrifice; water represented the Word. When people believed and received the Word, it had the cleansing effect that God required. This was true of the disciples and of us today.
Even Mary was not really cleansed by the purification ceremony itself, but by the fact that she believed and received the Word in Luke 1:38, “be it done to me according to your word.” It should be understood clearly that no animal sacrifice and no water purification ceremony actually cleansed anyone—ever. The type was only effective if the heart was right—that is, if the person undergoing the Old Covenant ceremony had faith, which bound the type to its antitype.
It has always been about faith.
The Prophetic Law of Purification
It would be helpful also to take a little time to explain the prophetic aspect of the law of a mother’s purification in Leviticus 12. The law says that a mother was considered unclean for forty days if she gave birth to a son, but eighty days if she gave birth to a daughter (Leviticus 12:5).
Why is there a difference? Is it a sin to bear a son? Is it twice as bad to bear a daughter? No, of course not. The Fruitfulness Mandate in Genesis 1:28 commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply.” Yet we must also realize that if they had borne children prior to their sin, they would have brought forth true sons and daughters of God in the image of Christ. This was always the intent of God and doing so would have truly fulfilled their Mandate. But all children born after Adam’s descent into sin and mortality would have to “become children of God” (John 1:12) through faith.
And so, all their children were born mortal, or death-ridden. The law makes it clear that touching a dead body was not a sin in itself, but it did require cleansing through the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19:2, 13), representing Christ. The heifer was female, as are all mothers. So when a mother bore a child, the law reminds us that the child is already dead (mortal), and so the mother is in need of purification for failing to bring forth a child of life.
The law also prophesies, because the forty days and eighty days represent Jubilee cycles in long-term prophetic history. This need for purification began with Adam’s sin, and it was as if a corporate spiritual “daughter” had been born. Then eighty Jubilee cycles of history of purification passed before the law (mind) of God allowed Him to beget again. The corporate spiritual son was born at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Another forty Jubilee cycles of purification have now passed from 33 to 1993 A.D. The first two produced only mortal children. But now the long purification cycle has ended, and God is ready to beget again, this time an immortal corporate Son, which Paul refers to as the New Creation Man. This corporate Son will need no purification, for they will be birthed through the feast of Tabernacles. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:54,
54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Why was Mary Purified?
There is one final question to answer. Why did Mary need purification after giving birth to Jesus? One might ask the same question that John did when Jesus came to him for baptism. Jesus’ answer in Matthew 3:15,
15 But Jesus answering, said to him [John], “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.
Jesus did not attempt to explain it at that time. Certainly, His baptism fulfilled the law of baptism in Leviticus 14:7, for immediately the second dove appeared over His head as this law prophesied. The second dove was being released into the open field, and so Jesus Himself was led into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). Because the law is prophetic, Jesus had to fulfill this prophecy.
If we view Mary as a second Eve, and understand that Eve was “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), both women were “mothers” of the corporate children. Eve brought forth the mortal corporate daughter, and Mary brought forth Jesus who was the Head of the mortal corporate son. For this reason, Mary needed purification after forty days, not for any fault or sin of her own, but on account of the corporate son.
Whatever other reasons there may be for her purification, this much is sufficient to show why she needed to go to Jerusalem after forty days. And when she arrived there, she was rewarded with the prophetic witness of others who had been sent by revelation.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "Jesus' First Forty Days." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 7 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones