New Stream of Prophecy
Four hundred years after the final word of revelation under the old covenant, the silence was broken when the Angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias about the birth of his son, John. Gabriel put the birth of John in the context of Malachi 4: 5, 6 giving clear indication that the promises and prophecies of the old covenant were about to be fulfilled so that God would not “strike the earth with a curse.” Along with the coming events that would bring to completion God’s purpose of redemption, he also would penetrate these events before, during, and after with revelation to explain their meaning, that “we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).
I. Simeon as a source of Revelation
A. His character and his status
- He is called just and devout. He did not fit in with the generality of hypocrisy that was so rampant among Jewish religious leaders, a tragedy pointed out with uncompromising clarity by Jesus in Matthew 23. Simeon sought to live with equity according to the laws governing human relations in the law of Moses. He did not want to be among those judged in Psalm 82 as unjust judges showing partiality to the wicked. Also, he wanted his worship to be sincere, fully consistent with a contrite heart. He grasped the spirituality of both tables of the law and lived transparently before God and man.
- He received the promises of God well, and he held them with heart devotion to them, moving him to look for “the consolation of Israel,” that is the appearance of the Messiah, the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10; see also 9:2, 6, 7). In this faithful and patient waiting upon the Lord, he embraced with sincerity the promises of a coming one who would be “wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace,” in whose “hand the pleasure of the Lord would prosper,” who would bear “the sin of many,” in order to “make and end of sins.” (Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9:24).
- “The Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon had revelatory experiences that had been confirmed to him in some undeniable way. In God’s wise and surprising sovereignty, he had revealed to Simeon the contours of the events that were about to take place and would soon reveal to him the one in whom all the promises would come to pass.
B. Simeon had been given revelation prior to the events recorded in this chapter (26). So specific was the revelation that he knew that he would see the Lord’s anointed one, the very Christ about whom Andrew would say thirty years later, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). From the speech that he gives, the revelation to Simeon had been of a broad scope. This revelatory activity of the Holy Spirit was the first indication that the final prophecy of the Old Covenant was about to be fulfilled. The silence of God was broken and he was about to speak to us through the Son (Hebrews 1:1).
C. Immediate revelation (27, 28) – Apparently, Simeon understood clearly that the Holy Spirit prompted him to go to the temple with the expectation that the promise made to him personally was about to be fulfilled, for immediately upon seeing Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into the temple, he took the child from their arms and magnified the greatness of God. Divine revelation is not just the human interpretation of a religious experience, but a clear intelligible proposition that determines what to believe, what to do, and how to worship (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
- An utterance:
- personal – The certainty entertained by Simeon is quite striking. “Now, Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word.”
- Since this promise of seeing the Lord’s Christ had been fulfilled, Simeon could die in peace. He had no question of the certainty of this, no guess-work, no faulty interpretation of what the Spirit was actually saying, but a direct revelation that this babe was the child of promise.
- Also, he knew that his eyes personally had seen the very one in whom God’s many promises of salvation would be fulfilled. He knew that salvation rested simply and solely in this person, this babe he held. Only he as the Son of God embracing undiminished and unblemished human nature into his eternal personhood could offer the sacrifice for transgressions that would end all other sacrifices. He is in truth the only “saved one” and in union with him by faith rests salvation. “Mine eyes have seen your salvation.”
- Salvation – This salvation was a constant theme in the prophets and the Psalms. For example, Psalm 85 looks at salvation in great depth. “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people, you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause your anger toward us to cease. . . . Show us your mercy, Lord, and grant us your salvation. . . . Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed (2-4, 7, 9, 10).
- Simeon saw this salvation as prepared in the presence of all peoples. He had learned from Scripture that when the great work of restoration takes place, it is not a restoration of national glory to Israel but a restoration of sinners to God. All peoples are fallen in Adam; but through the glory of Israel, that is, the line of David (Psalm 89:19-29), people from all nations will experience this deliverance from evil.
- This universal application of salvation finds very clear expression in Isaiah 49:5, 6. It is too small a thing to be the restorer of Jacob alone, but “I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” See also Isaiah 51:4-6 and 60:1-3 including, “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
- “The glory of your people Israel.” It is for this very reason that Israel existed as the people of God, that the Savior would come through their nation. Paul looked at this in Romans 3:2, reminding his readers that to Israel was committed the “oracles of God.” In Romans 9:4, 5, again he looked to the great favors and glory that had been granted Israel, “to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God and the promises; of whom are the fathers.” Then he adds the true glory of Israel, “and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
- The child
- The rise and fall of many in Israel depends on their response to this child. Those who receive him will be blessed, while those who oppose him will be damned. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:10-12).
- “For a sign to be opposed.” The opposition to Christ and his claims began early. Herod heard the word and initiated a great slaughter of infants surrounding the child’s age; he wanted to be sure not to miss (Matthew 2:16, 17). Even in his home town of Nazareth, his first sermon caused such opposition that they sought to kill him by throwing him down a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). After his long sermon concerning the “bread from heaven” in which he claimed, “He who believes in me has everlasting life,” John tells us, “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more” (John 6: 32, 47, 66). When Pilate asked the religious leaders at the trial of Jesus, “Shall I crucify your King?” they replied, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15). Even at his crucifixion, the chief priests remonstrated against the title that Pilate wrote on his crime marker for the cross, and said, “Do not write, ‘King of the Jews.’” (John 19:21.)
- Mary – Simeon had a prophecy for Mary also.
- The mother of this new born heard Simeon’s prophecy, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” She would stand beneath the cross as this firstborn child suffered the unthinkable cruelty of a Roman cross. She would mourn for him as he cared tenderly for her (John 19:25-27). None of the words spoken about this child was lost on Mary, for the Scripture tells us twice that she treasured and pondered all the things said and all the events surrounding his birth and early childhood (Luke 2:19, 51).
- Not her thoughts alone, however, would be revealed, but the true character of the religious leaders of Israel would be laid bare by this Messiah. He caused great controversy by his words and his works so that when he was opposed for his purity and his truth, the hearts of many were revealed: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. . . .If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of myself, but he sent me. Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:19, 42-44). Also to the apostles Jesus granted the Spirit for this discernment of heart on certain occasions: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3); To Simon Magus Peter spoke, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21); “Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him [Elymas] and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:9, 10). Jesus confirmed this in his own warnings to his disciples when he said, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).
- Those gifts of revelation were given specifically for the messianic period and the initial establishing of the church, the community of the new covenant, the pillar and foundation of the truth, during the time that the writing of Scripture was taking place. There was an overlap in special ministries of the Spirit and written instruction from the apostles (1 Timothy 3:14, 15; 1 John 2:20-22; 26-27). This period of special revelation has been fulfilled and now we rely on Scripture alone under the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21: See my comments on this text).
II. Anna – Verses 36-38
A. Luke, the historian, always interested in attestation by notations of time, place, and particular witnesses introduces another witness to the miracle of the incarnation. Her name was Anna, of the tribe of Asher.
- That the historian was able to identify her tribe as from Asher, means that in the division that occurred when Jeroboam defected from Rehoboam, her family moved to the southern kingdom to remain with the house of David and participate in the pure worship as so revealed by God rather than the invented worship of Jeroboam (See 2 Chronicles 10:17; 11:16; 1 Kings 12:25-33). These are the Israelites about whom it is prophesied that they will join with Judah in seeking the Lord with continual weeping (Jeremiah 50:4). Anna’s lifestyle denominated her as among that number.
- Luke mentions the name of her father to recall the name given by Jacob to the place that he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:30). The name means “face of God;” Jacob saw God face to face and his life was preserved; even so the daughter of Phenuel sees God face to face and realizes that redemption has come. It is not death, but life that comes from seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- She was a prophetess. Given the occupation of her last several decades, we may deduce that she was consistently involved in the study of Scripture, knew the messianic prophecies thoroughly, served to give godly counsel to those who came to worship in the temple, and now was gifted in the beginning fringe of this revelatory period with true revelational insight into the events that were transpiring.
- She was 84. Though the language bears more than one interpretation (possibly living 84 years beyond the time of her marriage to her husband of seven years, which calculation would put her at around 106 years of age), her activities indicate that Luke intended to indicate her age with the number 84. She had been active, therefore, for more than six decades in constant service at the temple, perhaps even living on the premises, focusing with all her heart on prayer, discipline, and fasting. Even as an infant, the Son of God, born of Mary, is revealing the thoughts of many hearts.
B. Anna received a Revelation.
- Perhaps she heard the words of Simeon, believed them, and came to the child in response. More likely, in light of Luke’s propensity to accumulate evidence, he reported this as a separate and confirmatory evidence of the revelatory witness to Jesus as the Christ. “At that very moment” that is, at the same time that Simeon was holding the child and speaking, she made a confirmatory but separate observation.
- Her first response was thanks to God. Living with such anticipation, having given her life to the practice of both patience and expectation based upon a continual preparation in transparent piety, she found her heart welling up immediately in gratitude to God for such grace. None of her piety and none of her expectations merited the redemptive grace of God. This was pure gift, and unadulterated thanks was her response.
- Her many years of prayer and service combined with the wisdom from above given to the prophetess had introduced her to many who shared her sincere hope of redemption through the Christ. Without needing any more proof than the mouth of two witnesses, Simeon’s and hers, she began to go to these hope-filled friends with news that the Lord whom they sought had come quickly to his temple (Malachi 3:1). This child is the Messenger of the covenant. Who can endure the day of his coming? All now would be compressed into the day of the Lord.
- Isaiah 11:11 states of the “Root of Jesse,” that “the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people who are left.” Among all the formalism, deadly legalism, and hypocrisy, God retained a remnant, and to these, “those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem,” Anna spread the good news.
- Our expectations of the final redemption are just as certain as this hope that already is fulfilled. As Anna was among those who “looked for the redemption of Israel,” so should we saturate ourselves with revelatory truth and look patiently to the “glorious appearing of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ” (John 21:28; Ephesians 1:13, 14; Titus 2:11-14).