Simeon and The Child Jesus

An old man, ready to depart this life, and a baby newly come to earth. An age in history, waxing old and ready to vanish away, and a new age, flushing into the roseate hues of dawn. These four met on the day that the aged Simeon came into the Temple and saw this young couple bringing their first‑born child to be dedicated to the Lord. He had seen many such during his long life of service for his God, but this time there was a difference. That inward voice which had been his guide and mentor so many times in the past spoke again, and now for the last time. God had fulfilled his promise; the Spirit’s assurance possessed his mind, and he knew with certainty that at last he was looking upon the Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon was evidently one of the few in Israel who were prepared to receive the Messiah in the way He came, as a child, born in humble circumstances, without pomp, ostentation or show. The majority expected him in vastly different guise, as a mighty conqueror, bursting upon the world in all the splendour and power of his Heavenly glory. The many rejected him because of the manner of his Advent; the few, like Simeon, accepted him because by dint of reverent study of the Scriptures and constant waiting upon God they had a more accurate idea what to expect.

The child Jesus was six weeks old. According to the law of Moses, as recorded in Lev.12:1‑8, a woman was considered unclean after the birth of a child, and—in the case of a boy child—must come to the sanctuary with an offering at the end of forty days. A lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering was stipulated, and after the offering of these by the priest she was ceremonially clean again. A further stipulation provided that if the woman was unable—through poverty generally—to furnish a lamb, she could bring two turtle doves or pigeons, and the intimation in Luke 2:24 that Mary did in fact avail herself of this concession is incidental evidence that Joseph and Mary were in poor circumstances. The Lord of all chose to identify himself with the poor rather than the rich when He laid aside the glory which He enjoyed with the Father "before the world was", and became man for the suffering of death. The expression in Phil.2:7 that He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" was literally true to the extreme. But, despite her poverty, Mary came also to present her child in dedication to God, to offer back the gift she had received from him to be devoted to his service. That also was a requirement of the Law. Whenever a woman’s first‑born child was a son, that son was to be presented to the Lord. In ceremonial fashion that child was particularly the Lord’s, and although whilst still on the way to the Promised Land the Lord arranged that the tribe of Levi should be exchanged for the first‑borns of all tribes, so that the Levites became the dedicated ones to serve the people in the things of God, the people of Israel still retained the custom of presenting their first‑born before the Lord in His sanctuary. So it came about that Mary and Joseph were to be found in the Temple on this particular day for the accomplishment both of the cleansing and the presentation.

It was thus that Simeon found them, as, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he came into the Temple Court. We do not know much about Simeon. He never appears again in the Gospel story and is not referred to anywhere else in the New Testament. The memory of the incident itself must have been preserved by Mary and related years later to Luke, for none of the men who afterwards became Jesus’ disciples were there; most of them were probably not even born. There are a few distinct clues in the description from which some definite inferences can be drawn. Luke says that Simeon was "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ". (Luke 2:25‑26). Only Mary could have known these facts and imparted them to Luke; it seems clear that Mary must have been previously acquainted with Simeon or at least knew him by repute. The word "just" could equally well be rendered "upright" or "righteous"; that for "devout" is one that is used to denote the more scrupulous and rigid aspect of religious life. This, added to the fact that Simeon was one who looked for the imminent coming of Messiah, and believed that when He came He would be a light, not only to Israel, but also the Gentiles, to all people, an unorthodox belief among the Jews of his day, makes it strongly probable that Simeon was a member of the little‑known body of people called the Zadokites. During the century that immediately preceded the First Advent there had grown up a community which looked for the coming of Messiah in much the same way as the past two centuries have witnessed a similar expectation of the Second Advent among Christians, and who based their expectations upon the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and certain chronological calculations drawn from the same. With that outlook was associated a strong sense of dedication to God’s service and holiness of life which caused many of them to withdraw to a considerable extent from contact with the world around them. The sect known as the Essenes was strongly imbued with these views—the "Dead Sea Scrolls" have thrown new light upon this sect—and although Simeon was a very common name in Israel, and it is impossible to identify the one who is mentioned in Luke’s account, it is of interest to note that at the time of the death of Herod there was an aged Essene named Simeon who had gained some fame as an uncompromising critic of the King’s misdemeanours. This man may have been the same as Simeon in Luke’s account.

"—waiting for the consolation of Israel:" (v.25). This word "consolation" has the meaning of one coming to the side of a person needing succour, comfort or salvation. It is rendered "consolation" or "comfort" on about twenty occasions in the New Testament, such as Acts 4:36 "Barnabas,…son of consolation", Heb.6:18 "We…have…strong consolation", Rom.15:4 "That we through (by) patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope"; 2 Cor.1:3 "The God of all comfort". "Parakletos", the Comforter, in John 14, referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit, is from the same root. In the context of Luke’s narrative the expression is used to denote the fulfilment of Israel’s national hope, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom which should exalt Israel to the headship of the nations and fulfil the Divine promise to Abraham, "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed", (Gen.28:14) although it has to be admitted that Israel at the First Advent had largely forgotten that wider extension of God’s purpose. But Simeon was one who did believe, and now, by the inspiration of the Spirit, he knew the time had come.

It is not likely that Simeon was the priest into whose hands Mary’s offering was to be entrusted. He is not stated to be a priest, and in fact, the expression "a man in Jerusalem" seems to militate against the idea that he held official position in the Temple. There is also the fact that he was a prophet, and it is not usual for priests to be prophets. It seems more probable that Simeon was in the line of prophets whose last representative in the Old Testament was Malachi, and the last of the line John the Baptist. Both Malachi, four centuries before, and John the Baptist, thirty years after, spoke of the Light that was to enlighten the world; Simeon held that Light in his arms.

So he gave voice to that wonderful paeon of praise which has become an established part of formal church worship. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people." (vv.29‑31) The old man had lived through the time of Israel’s greatest glory since the days of David and Solomon, that brief period after the Maccabeans had won freedom for the Jews, and Rome had not as yet fastened her grip upon the nation. He had seen the boundaries of the Jewish State pushed as far as ever they had been by Solomon, and Jewish ambassadors represent his country even at Rome, the greatest of Empires. Then he had seen disaster and civil war, and finally Pompey the Roman general ride into Jerusalem to force Judea into servitude again, and all the golden expectations vanish. With his fellows who had regard for the law of God he had writhed at the spectacle of Herod, the hated Edomite, ruling over the people of Israel, and had mourned the scandals and violent deeds which disgraced the once holy priesthood of Aaron. But now all that was forgotten; he held in his own arms the Lord’s Messiah, and with that inward conviction which is the inviolate (pure) possession of the man who is habitually guided by the Holy Spirit of God he knew that at last the promise had been fulfilled; God had indeed visited his people; the Christ had come.

The word "Salvation" in verse 30 is not the noun of that word, but the neuter form of the adjective, "that which brings salvation". The Septuagint of Isa.52:10 "all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" uses the same form of the word; the reference in both instances is to the fact that Christ is the one who brings, and effects, the salvation that God has planned for "whosoever will" of the entire human race. Simeon saw that clearly, and hence he was able to describe both that salvation and the Child who was to be the medium of that salvation as "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." (v.32). The full force of that tremendous expression is only felt when one realises that the word "Gentiles" embraces all of mankind who are not Israelites, and hence is best rendered, as it is in so many modem translations, "nations". "A light to lighten the nations." "That was the true Light," cried John "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (John 1:9). God’s words cannot fail. Whether we understand the philosophy of the matter or not; whether we appreciate the Scriptural doctrine or not, whether we comprehend the Divine Plan for mankind or find his purpose dark and mysterious, it is true and gloriously true that every human creature that has ever been, or will ever be born, will, at some time before the final decision is taken, be enlightened by that light and be brought to a full realisation of the issue between good and evil. The fact that some may be impenitent and unregenerate to the end and wilfully refuse entry into life does not affect that. Not one single human soul will ever be able to say to God "I never had a fair chance".

It was this vision which Simeon had. He saw the Kingdom of Messiah as Paradise in which the foreview of Isaiah would be fulfilled "Behold, the Lord GOD will come with a strong hand, and his arm (Christ) shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm(s), and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." (Isa.40:10‑11). In this Babe he saw the future King who was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy, and he rejoiced, knowing that God had now moved to deliver, not only his own people Israel, but all mankind, from the thraldom of sin and death. He was ready now to go to his own rest, confident that like Daniel of old, he would stand in his lot at the end of the days. (Dan.12:13).

"And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him." (v.33). Most of the principal manuscripts have "his father" here but the A.V. follows the Alexandrian with "Joseph". It is of little consequence. If Luke did use the term "father" it was only because inevitably the common usage favoured this; obviously Joseph was the generally reputed father of Jesus, and only a very few could possibly have known of his virgin birth; Luke was, in any case, fully aware of that for he gives the best account. Joseph and Mary marvelled, not in the sense of astonishment as though they had not previously known of the Child’s destiny, but in awe and wonder as they listened to Simeon’s words and realised the magnitude of this great thing.

Then Simeon turned to Mary with a personal word for her: "This child," he said, "is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.... that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed....and (a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.)" (vv.34‑35). How much did the saintly old man, so near the end of his earthly course, see into the events of the next forty years, and perceive the figure of Jesus among the people, preaching, exhorting, reproving; healing the sick, raising the dead, winning the love of the common people and incurring the enmity of the Scribes and Pharisees? How much did the Holy Spirit show him of the Crucifixion, the little knot of women at the foot of the Cross, the distraught figure of the mother of Jesus? Did he even see, in shadowy outline, the figures of the Twelve, preaching to the dwellers in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost? How much of the future he did perceive we may not know, but that Simeon the just and devout, the one who waited all his life for the consolation of Israel, was indeed in the line of the Hebrew prophets, speaking and seeing as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, we do know. Like John the Baptist thirty years later, he could truly say "I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." (John 1:34)