Jesus at the Jerusalem temple
2:21-39 Compared with the naming of John the Baptist, Jesus’ naming is hurried over almost without comment. Luke is more interested in the presentation scenes in the temple. He introduces this episode with a cluster of Old Covenant terms: circumcision, purification, presentation; no less than five times here we are told that Jesus’ parents did everything ‘following the Law of the Lord’ – i.e. the Law of Moses. As we come to the temple, Luke brings us into an atmosphere of devout law keeping: a decidedly Old Testament realm.
The point of specifying the offering is that Joseph and Mary made use of the poor laws to present a less costly sacrifice than usual. We are left in no doubt of their socio-economic status: they belong to the swelling ranks of the underprivileged and impoverished.
The presentation to the Lord of the firstborn and the substitutionary offering are full of Passover resonances. The ceremony was instituted by Moses. After the original passover night, Yahweh considered all Israel’s firstborn to belong to him. However they were to be redeemed by an animal substitute. The next time Jesus is presented to God at Jerusalem, it will be at Passover, and he will be an adult. On that occasion the sacrifice will no longer be a substitute: the firstborn son himself will be the offering presented.
Simeon is introduced with two good OT terms for the godly: ‘righteous’ and ‘devout’. It is fairly rare for the Spirit to be mentioned in Luke’s Gospel – he holds the name back for Acts, by and large. But here we are told three times in quick succession that Simeon is under the influence of the Spirit. Also he sings, which in Luke is the evidence of the Spirit’s filling. All of this powerfully establishes his credentials as a trustworthy and even prophetic character. Characters ‘filled with the Spirit’, and especially their songs, give us Luke’s theological perspective on the story, so this scene holds some weight. Simeon is apparently very old: his death is probably mentioned twice here (v.26, 29).
We are given only one insight into Simeon’s personality: he is ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel.’ This is where the significance of the strongly Jewish atmosphere of the scene begins to appear. He appears in the story like a Hebrew prophet of old, preserved through the ages for this moment, still patiently awaiting the arrival of the deliverance the prophets had foretold. His great age emphasises this representative link.