Jesus' first forty days, Part 2, Simeon's prophecy
Oct 17, 2013
Mary was taken to the temple on the fortieth day from Jesus’ birth to fulfill the requirements of the law. While she offered the two pigeons, an old man (perhaps a priest) saw what had been revealed to him by the Spirit and prophesied over Jesus. Luke 2:25 says,
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Dr. Bullinger suggests that this might be Simeon, the father of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), who later died about 52 A.D. Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, had been Paul’s instructor in Judaism prior to the vision that changed his life on the way to Damascus. Luke does not give us sufficient evidence to prove this, and certainly there were many other men named Simeon.
We are told that Simeon was “looking,” or waiting patiently, for “the consolation of Israel.” The Greek word translated “consolation” is paraklesis. This was a common name for the expected Messiah, who was to come and “console” Israel in view of her captivity. The word means “to console, comfort, help, encourage, or call to one’s side.” It is also the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), whom Jesus called Parakletos, (“Comforter,” KJV, or “Helper,” NASB).
In John 14:16 Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter,” by which He included Himself as a Comforter as well. Simeon’s hope lay in Isaiah 40:1, 2,
1 “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. 2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
The Hebrew word translated “comfort” is nacham, and its Greek equivalent (as used in the Septuagint) is parakaleite. Hence, all of the “comfort” passages in the Hebrew scriptures were understood to refer to the Messiah. Jesus takes this a step further by referring to the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter” who was to help the believers during His personal absence. The role of the Holy Spirit is clarified in the New Testament, but prophesied everywhere throughout the Old.
Simeon was looking for the Messiah, for Luke 2:26 says,
26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
By this statement, Luke shows the role of both Comforters. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Truth, revealed Christ to Simeon, for we learn from Jesus’ words in John 16:13, 14,
13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.
Thus, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth of Christ to Simeon years before the day of Pentecost, showing that the Holy Spirit has played a role in the earth from the beginning. Luke 2:27 continues the story of Simeon,
27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; 30 for my eyes have seen Thy salvation [Yeshua], 31 which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light of revelation to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”], and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Perhaps Simeon was the priest who was called to offer the pigeons that day. It is unlikely that he was just an observer, although this is possible, since the Holy Spirit had led him to come to the temple that day. What was the nature of his revelation? How did the Spirit lead him to the temple that particular day? Perhaps the Spirit had revealed to him the timing of the Messiah’s birth at Rosh Hoshana, the feast of Trumpets. If so, he would have known that the Messiah’s parents would bring him to the temple on the fortieth day, and he wanted to be there to offer the sacrifice—or just to observe.
Luke implies that Simeon knew by revelation that the name of the Messiah would be Yeshua, “Salvation.” Another old rabbi, who died a few years ago, also figured out the name of the Messiah.
Simeon had heard the word of the Lord. His name also means “hearing.” He had heard but not seen until Joseph and Mary brought Jesus with them to the temple at the time of Mary’s purification. If he knew the time of the Messiah’s birth and knew also his name, the temple would have been the obvious place to watch and wait for His appearance.
First he “heard.” Then he “saw.” Verse 38 says, “for my eyes have seen Thy Yeshua.” In his hearing lay the hope, but hope ended with its fulfillment, as Paul says in Romans 8:24,
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?
Paul was speaking of the resurrection, “the redemption of our body,” which was his “hope,” or expectation. Resurrection is a hope, not yet seen, although we are admonished to live in newness of life as if we had already been raised from the dead.
So Simeon had been given hope, an expectation of seeing the Consolation of Israel before he died. He testified, says Luke, that this “salvation” was something that God had “prepared in the presence [prosopon, “face”] of all peoples.” Luke’s use of the term prosopon carries huge implications. It is the word used in 2 Corinthians 3:7 about the face of Moses that was glorified in Exodus 34:30. Likewise, the Septuagint translation of Exodus 34:30 uses the term prosopon to translate the Hebrew word paniym.
The presence of God in “all the peoples” was to be seen as a “light” in their “face,” even as in the case of Moses and later of Jesus Himself. Of course, this has a double meaning once again, for “light” can mean a literal light (as with Moses’ face), or it can refer to the light of revelation seen in men’s expression. In either case Luke is telling us through Simeon’s prophecy that the light of Yeshua will be seen in the face of all the peoples of the earth. Luke 2:32 further clarifies this by quoting Isaiah 9:2 and Isaiah 42:6, “a light of revelation to the nations,” as well as “the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Here again, Luke has Simeon prophesying of the repair of the breach between Israel and the nations, showing that the Messiah is not just a Jewish messiah, nor a King of the Jews, but rather the King of the whole earth.
Luke 2:33 then shows the surprised reaction of Joseph and Mary,
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel—and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Simeon’s prophecy was directed toward Mary herself, perhaps stimulated when he came to know her name. Mary, or Miriam, means “bitterness.” As the one giving birth to the Messiah, she was a prophetic type of Judah specifically and Israel generally, out of which people the Messiah was to be born. Judah as a whole rejected Jesus as the Messiah, for “His own (tribe or nation) did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Hence, divine judgment came upon them by means of the “sword” of Rome.
This “sword” would also pierce her own soul. We see this in her tears at the cross, as she witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:26). In the fourth century, Epiphanius lists her also among the martyrs, though we do not know if he had any real knowledge of this. I believe it is more likely that she went to Britain along with Joseph of Arimathea and others.
At any rate, Simeon said that Christ was “appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” The terminology is interesting, because it can picture one who falls over a stumbling block and gets back up, or one who falls in death and rises again. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:23,
23 But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.
The Jews were not expecting a crucified Messiah. In fact, crucifixion would have caused most of them to believe that He was NOT the Messiah. They would have viewed His death as proof of failure, because they expected the true Messiah to throw off the yoke of Rome. Thus, they would “fall” on this stumbling block, as prophesied in Isaiah 8:14,
14 Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will even be snared and caught.
Simeon says that this will be “a sign to be opposed.” The bad news is that many will stumble, but the good news is that they will also rise again. This sign is “for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” On one level the nation of Israel will rise again under its new Head, Jesus Christ, as prophesied in Hosea 1:11. On another level, all those who have fallen in death will rise at the last day, where all will be judged according to their works, and where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10, 11).
This is part 2 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