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Prophecies in the Temple

When we read the Bible for ourselves, we find out that Jesus was not a nonconformist rebel.    He definitely came to change things.  Yet, the way he went about that was quite different then the revolutionaries of history.  He was no Che Guevara.  Rather, we see him growing up in a family that observed the Law of Moses and Jesus as the obedient Son who fulfill the Law.  He then goes on to lay that perfect life down as payment for all who will put their trust in Him.  The critical difference is that revolutionaries rebel against something that they disagree with and refuse to do.  However, Jesus did not disagree with the Law.  He completely agreed with it and completely fulfilled it.  Yet, He knew it would not save anyone.  He becomes the perfect Law keeper, not to hold it over our heads, but to lay it at our feet.

Today we will look at Luke 2:21-40 as the parents of Jesus observe the different rituals of the Law.

The Law Fulfilled

Two rituals are mentioned in this passage: circumcision and the presentation of the firstborn.  Luke summarizes this section in vs. 39 as “performing the Law.”  The Law required all male children to be circumcised on their 8th day.  It also required that every firstborn must be brought to the temple and be presented before God. 

Let’s look first at circumcision.  Circumcision was a symbol in the flesh of each male that they were under the covenant of Moses with God.  However, the prophets and Christ himself later gave deeper meaning to this act of circumcision.  It further symbolized a spiritual act that God desired in which a person was separated from the sins of the flesh.  Colossians 2:11 says, “In Him you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”  In this passage Paul compares and contrasts physical things with their spiritual counterpart.  In the New Testament we are told that physical birth occurs because of the desire and intention of a man.  However, spiritual birth can only occur because of the will of God.  Similarly, physical circumcision occurs because of the intention of an earthly father.  Yet, spiritual circumcision occurs because of the work and intention of God.  Another thing that is different in both is that no baby has any say in its birth or circumcision.  Yet, spiritual birth and spiritual circumcision happen as we put our faith in God.  Scripture clearly sees this as something that is done when we put our faith in Christ.  Yet the 8th day could also be a hint that after man’s life is finished (i.e. seven days) God will separate him from his sinful flesh so that he can live in purity before God (resurrection).

Now it was common in Israel to give the child his name at his circumcision.  So we are told that He was given the name the angel told them: Jesus.  Now there is much controversy that surrounds this name and for no good reason.  The New Testament was written in Greek and in those texts the Greek name used was Iesous.  Neither Greek nor Hebrew have “J” sounds.  This is how ancient names that had “Y” sounds were brought into English.  The “I” is the Greek way of making a “Y” sound.  Now the underlying Hebrew name would be translated as “Yahweh Saves,” as told by the angel.  Thus we can know that the Hebrew name of Jesus had to be a form of Yoshua (Joshua), Yeshua, or Yehoshua, etc…  We can’t be certain of the variant but Yeshua is usually used.  Even in the Bible we are shown that names taken from one language to another are either transliterated (closest sound equivalent) or translated (meaning in one language is brought into the other).  Thus either form are biblically acceptable.  To the English speaking world the baby is Jesus.  There should be no controversy in this.  It is not wrong to call Him Yeshua.  However, neither is it more spiritual.  It begs the question, “What language will we speak in the Millennium or in the “eternal state?”  Even if it is Hebrew, it is not necessary for all Christians to learn how to speak Hebrew and call Jesus by a Hebrew name that may not be the right variant.  I don’t believe God is concerned with this as much as some try to make out.  We are putting our faith not in some syllables, but rather the one who stands behind them.  In fact there are more than one Yeshuas in the Bible.  It is the Yeshua who died on the cross in Jerusalem and was resurrected to new life that we are putting our faith in.  That is the “Yeshua, Jesus, Iesous” who saves.

Now let’s look at the Presentation ceremony.  Technically every firstborn of Israel should have died in Egypt during the 10th plague.  However, God had spared them because of their faith in Him and His instruction to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Thus he required all parents to acknowledge this fact in the temple while also offering a burnt sacrifice and a sin sacrifice.  They would then pay 5 shekels to redeem their child from the Lord.  This was to prepare them to understand how God was redeeming them from sin through the blood of Jesus (the Lamb of God).  This would happen 40 days after the birth of the child.  One thing that is interesting is that it says Joseph and Mary offer up two turtledoves.  This gives us a clue to their financial status.  If a person could afford it they were supposed to offer a lamb and a turtledove.  However, if that would be a burden they could offer two birds.  There was a third option to offer one bird and a measure of fine flour.  Thus we see that the family of Jesus was not rich, but neither were they destitute.  Peter must have been thinking of this ceremony when he says in 1 Peter 1:18, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold.”  The disciples recognized that the Law was good in that it gave a picture of what God would do.  But in some ways it was cruder than the reality.  A parent would redeem their child with the blood of animals and the metals of gold or silver.  Neither of these even compare to the precious reality of the death of Jesus and the price of His perfect life paid for us.

The Testimony of Simeon

Now in verses 25-35 we see that Joseph and Mary run into a man at the Temple.  We are not told exactly where and whether this is before the ceremony or after.  But we are told that Simeon is a righteous man.  Whether he was a prophet or not doesn’t matter.  What does is that Simeon was a Spirit-led man who heard from the Lord.  He goes on to prophesy about this baby. 

First He declares Jesus as the salvation of God.  Clearly he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah or the Consolation of Israel.  No doubt he had questions as to the specifics, but he testifies (goes on record) as saying this baby is the Messiah.

Second, he declares that the baby will be revelation for the Gentiles.  Now man can search out knowledge and we know from Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle that the Gentile world had some brilliant men.  Yet, salvation cannot be deduced through the scientific method.  Man can figure out amazing things.  But he will continue to battle with sin to the point of self extinction, if God let it be.  But God cares enough to give revelation.  Knowledge from outside the system is brought into it by the designer for our sakes.  The Gospel of Jesus is that light.

Third, he declares that this baby will be “The Glory” of Israel.  Now in light of the divine origin of Jesus this is more than just saying the baby will be the greatest Israelite to ever live.  Now this is true.  However, God was always considered to be The Glory of Israel.  In Jesus the Glory of Israel had taken on flesh to live out the perfect life of the greatest Israelite to ever live.  Think about this: with its own hands Israel destroyed its own glory.  What does that say about all of us in life?  Is it possible that Satan and sin tempt us to destroy and tear apart, with our own hands, the very things that God intends for our glory?  A spouse has a stroke and can no longer function.  Do you leave them because “you have needs?”  Or, do you stand by them and love them for better or worse?  Many people every day walk away from and throw away the very thing God intended to bring them true glory.  Be careful what you do with what you have.

Simeon closes this time by declaring that the baby would grow up to cause the fall of many in Israel and the rising up of others.  This inversion of fortunes is not necessary.  It is simply up to the hearts of the individuals.  Jesus would be the revealer of hidden things in the hearts of men.  He would be a kind of “Litmus Test” from heaven to reveal what cannot be known my mortals.  What we do with Jesus is the ultimate test of whether we love Truth or not and whether we have Faith in God or not.  Jesus is still such a litmus test to this day.  The test is not just to embrace Jesus, but to embrace Jesus only as He is presented in Scripture.  It is common today to say that you believe in Jesus and yet go on to mold Jesus into whatever image you want.  Their “Jesus” becomes a Jesus who is very different from the Jesus who went to the cross and was resurrected on the third day.  Make sure you are truly embracing Jesus rather than an imagination you have received from others or concocted in your own head.

The Testimony of Anna

In verses 36-38 we have another public witness of who Jesus is.  Anna is a woman whose husband had died after they had been married for 7 years.  This would put her somewhere in her twenties.  On top of this she remained a widow for 84 years.  This would make her over one hundred years old in this event.  For 84 years she had prayed and fasted from time to time.  She was used by God as a prophetess.  What were here prophecies?  Most likely she prophesied that the Messiah was coming.  Thus in the context of fulfilling the Law we have two witnesses who step forward to verify that the baby is the Messiah.  If we count God himself, Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the Shepherds, we have quite a number more.

Although we do not have the specific words of Anna, we are told that she verifies that Jesus is to be God’s Redeemer.  It is clear she is supporting what Simeon has said.  Thus the words of the Spirit are confirmed by two prophets and the previous words that God had given Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds.

Further Thoughts:

Now Luke leaves out the story of the Magi who visit Jesus in Bethlehem.  It seems unlikely that they have already visited.  Most likely they did visit within that first year.  Thus Luke’s account appears to contradict Matthew.  Luke says that “after they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee…”  Is this actually a contradiction?  Actually it isn’t.  Luke may have left out the story because he hadn’t heard it, or because he didn’t have the ability to verify it.  He clearly states that he is writing what he received first hand or verified for himself.  Second of all Matthew says that the coming of the Magi and the flight to Egypt were fulfillment of Scripture.  Thus Luke’s phrase, “after they had performed all things according to the Law,” could include the flight into Egypt.  The timeline would be that they first went back to Nazareth.  The Magi would have visited sometime later that year.  They would have fled into Egypt right after that.  Herod dies right after this whole episode.  So they wouldn’t have stayed in Egypt more than a year.  This puts Jesus at the age of 2 or 3 years old when they go back to Nazareth.  These type of specifics are irrelevant to the overall purpose of Luke.  What Luke states is basically true even though there may be more to the story.

Lastly, verse 40 says that Jesus became strong in Spirit, wisdom, and God’s grace.  O that it would said of all of us.  To be strong in Spirit doesn’t just mean that he is stubborn.  Rather it means that He listened to the Spirit and the Spirit was evidently with Him in what He did.  Growing in wisdom is a reference to that mystery of the divinity of Jesus.  In some ways He was very human.  Someone taught him to read.  Yet, he was the Son of God from Eternity past.  The Holy Spirit makes little attempt to dispel this mystery for us.  Therefore it is not important.  Yet, we all need to grow in wisdom and God’s word is the greatest source of wisdom on the planet.  Jesus also grew in God’s grace.  God had gifted Him in very obvious ways.  May God help us in this new year to be strong in His Spirit, His Wisdom, and His Grace.  Amen.

Temple Prophecies audio