Luke 2:25-40


Luke 2:25-32, The Nunc Dimittis, is the text for Christmas I in Series C, Luke. Please consult the Notes for these verses in Series C. Only Luke 2:33-40 is treated here. Verses 25-40 is quite a lengthy text. Perhaps verses 33-40 is a sufficiently long pericope for this day.

Forty days after Jesus' birth in Bethlehem His parents took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, verses 22-24. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Simeon came to the Temple just at the time when Mary and Joseph were there with the baby Jesus. He took the baby in his arms, praised God and spoke what we call The Nunc Dimittis. In keeping with God's promise, Simeon saw God's salvation with his own eyes. He declared Jesus as the Light of all the nations and the Person Who was Israel's greatest glory. This brings us to verse 33.

Luke 2:33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

Note that AV and NKJV have the Koine reading "Joseph and his mother" whereas the others have "His father and mother." Joseph, Jesus' legal father, was regarded by people as His father.

"Marvelled" is variously translated "marveling, amazed, wondering, surprised." They were astounded at what Simeon said concerning the baby.

Bengel: They began to understand more and more how glorious the things were which had been spoken concerning Jesus, before He was born. And they were now hearing similar things from Simeon and others, whom they did not suppose as yet to be aware of the fact.
Lenski: Simeon's words went beyond Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:32.33 and 2:10, which referred only to Israel; Simeon included all the Gentile nations in the salvation that this child was bringing.
Arndt: That Mary had conceived the Child through the action of the Holy Spirit they knew, and Gabriel's message and other information about Him they had pondered; but here additional matters, betokening that He would have a divine mission, are mentioned, and at that by a person who was a total stranger to them and who evidently spoke through divine revelation.

Luke 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:  "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against," 

Verse 33 contains the reaction of the parents to Simeon's words. Verse 34 continues the narrative about Simeon which began at verse 25. We do not know how he blessed them but it was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What is the antecedent of "them." Is it only the parents or does it include Jesus? Commentators differ. Perhaps it is best to take it of all three. In the second part of this sentence Simeon directs his attention only to Mary. This continues to the end of verse 35. Why did he speak to Mary alone? The simplest and most obvious answer is that, under the guidance of the Spirit, the words pertain only to Mary. This implies that Mary would outlive Joseph. We are not saying that Simeon knew that but we are saying that the Spirit knew that and therefore caused Simeon to restrict his attention to Mary.

"Then" denotes something exceptional or remarkable. "This child" refers to Jesus, whom Simeon is holding in his arms (verse 28). "Is destined" means "is appointed, ordained (by God)." Cf. Philippians 1:16 and 1 Thessalonians 3:3. In keeping with the context, these Notes suggest that Simeon is speaking of two groups of people, not one.

Plummer: Notice Isaiah 8:14 where the same double destiny is expressed.

The word "many" refers to both nouns, describing both the many who will fall and the many who will rise. He is speaking especially about Israel, the Covenant people. No one can be neutral to Jesus. The theologians distinguish the voluntas Dei antecedens and the  voluntas Dei consequens. The first denotes God's saving will for all. The second denotes God's judgmental will toward those who reject Christ. Christ is destined to be the cause of the fall of those who reject Him, but they are to blame. Christ is destined to be the cause of the rise of those who repent and believe in Him.

Bengel: It is to be observed that these things were not foretold in the prediction of the angel but were added by a holy man.
Lenski: When men reject that grace in unbelief they fall, and it is God's will that they perish (Mark 16;16; Isaiah 8:14; Matthew 21:42.44; Romans 9:33). On the other hand, when God's grace in Christ wins men and makes them rise up from sin and death in a spiritual resurrection (Ephesians 2:5.6), this is again the effect of his consequent will but at the same time the execution of his voluntas antecedens.
Plummer: Some welcome the Light; others love the darkness rather than the Light, because their works are evil (John 3:19) and are by their own conduct condemned. Judas despairs, Peter repents; one robber blasphemes, the other confesses (2 Corinthians 2:6).
Geldenhuys: For the first time in the Gospel history the coming struggle and suffering are referred to.
Arndt: The message of Christ and His work would arouse much opposition in Israel, and instead of being universally acclaimed as the Savior, Jesus would meet with much rejection. What is startling is that it is stated this has been ordained by God.

Secondly, Jesus is ordained by God for a sign which will be contradicted.

Geldenhuys: This indicates a phenomenon which cannot escape notice, of which cognizance must be taken, and through which something else is made known.

It refers to Jesus' entire person, Word and work. The Jews contradicted Jesus in words and deeds. Read Hebrews 12:3. Sinners spoke against and contradicted Him. It began at John 5:16-18. They persecuted and wanted to kill Jesus because He did not keep the Sabbath and made Himself equal to God. John chapters 5, 6,7 ,8, 9 and 10, plus Jesus' trial, condemnation and crucifixion make this thought clear. "He came to His own but His own received Him not." They spoke against Him. They contradicted Him.

Luke 2:35  "so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Note that the Nestle/Aland Greek text make the first part of this verse a parenthesis, as do AV, RSV, JB, NASB, NKJV. And TEV, NIV, and AAT place it last for the sake of clarity. Some commentators agree with this, some do not. We take it as a parenthesis.

"You" means "also" implying that a sword would pierce Jesus' soul too. "Pierce your soul" is emphatic, and is, of course, metaphorical, denoting extreme pain. Note John 19:25 in the Nestle/Aland margin. Mary's pain reached its height when she stood under the cross.

Bengel: When Jesus is presented for the first time in the temple, adversities are awaiting Him. When He was in the temple the last time He Himself spoke words not unlike those of Simeon. The sword may have pierced through her soul on the occasion mentioned at the end of verse 48, Mark 3:31, John 19:25. Her faith attained its height by proving victorious through the height of temptation. Something bitter is now announced even to her, who was blessed among women. All have to bear the part assigned to them in chastisement.
Arndt: It adds a slight touch of contingency 'in every given case' whenever human hearts are confronted with Christ.

A person's attitude to Jesus' person, Word and work, brings out the thoughts of that person's heart.

Bengel: Both faith and unbelief are in the heart and are put forth by the mouth. Romans 10:8.9.21; 15:5.6; Acts 13:46; 2 Corinthians 4:13; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:12.13.
Geldenhuys: The appearance of Christ will cause a clear division between those who really serve Him and those who are hostile to Him.

This verse is not saying that some hearts are better, by nature, than are others. Judas was lost. Peter repented. One malefactor was lost. The other was saved. In both instances, the former rejected the Christ and the latter, only by grace and mercy, repented. Read John 3:20.21 where we have the same thought in different words. Christ is was ordained by God to bring out this great distinction among men. This truth stands side by side, in Scripture, with the great truth of the universal atonement and God's serious desire that all men be saved, that they come to the knowledge of the Truth.

Luke 2:36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

Note how similar the beginning of verses 25, 33, 36: Simeon, the parents, Anna. The first information, other than that from Gabriel, which the parents received, was from two elderly, pious, believing Jews. Likely they were not well-known. Mid all the empty ritual at the temple, these two shine. An example for us: though we are insignificant and often must live mid much mere ritual, God sustains us.

Anna (Old Testament Hannah) was a prophetess. God caused her to speak His Word. Evidently she was known for this. She has been compared with Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and the daughters of Philip. She made God's will known to people. Her father's name is noted, not that of her husband. Obviously this is done to denote her descent.

Before the Destruction of Jerusalem (and all records) Jews could trace their lineage. Asher was one of the ten tribes of the north which were lost. But God preserved one of their descendants as His child. "This one advanced in many days" obviously means she was quite elderly. This verse plainly means that her husband died after seven years of marriage. By the way, this verse can be used in the interest of the ordination of women as little as verses 25-32 can be used in the interest of the ordination of men.

The Holy Spirit was upon and guided both Simeon and Anna. These passages do not speak about or pertain to the holy ministry. God used these two elderly people for a specific purpose: to give further information about and to glorify this baby.

Luke 2:37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

AV NKJV and JB read the Koine text: "She was a widow of about eighty-four years." All the other translations read "until." That causes a problem. It can mean either: "and as widow till she was eighty-four" RSV NIV AAT NEB NASB, or: "she had been a widow for eighty-four years" LB TEV. The former would mean that she was eighty-four, the latter that she was about 105 years old. In other words, the Koine reading makes the genitive a predicate genitive of description, whereas the Nestle reading gives it a temporal meaning (until). Frankly the Koine reading makes much more sense. The text very likely is saying that as a widow (the time between the death of her husband and this occasion) she devoted herself entirely to a sanctified life of fasting, supplication and testimony about Jesus.

Verse 37 does not say that she lived in the Temple. (It the verse be pressed literally it would have to mean that she never left the Temple). In what sense did she not depart from the Temple? In serving day and night by fastings and supplications. A remarkably dedicated widow.

Luke 2:38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

"At that very moment" a dative of time meaning: "at that very time,"  when the parents and the baby were in the Temple. "Coming up to them" means "appeared."  By the way, this might indicate that she came into the Temple at that very time, but it can't be proved.

"She gave thanks" is "she was acknowledging in return,"  in return for blessings received. She was a grateful penitent sinner. Both verbs in this verse are imperfect tense, denoting continued action. It has been suggested that she did this speaking after the parents left, but the text does not say this. The text does not specify whether she did this before, during or after the parents came. But that she spoke of Jesus is clear.

For the rest of this verse compare verse 25. It reads: "To all of those who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem." Its intended sense is that many people were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Our text makes Jerusalem, as representative of all Israel, objective genitive. The context must be speaking of spiritual deliverance. NEB "the liberation of Jerusalem" sounds like political deliverance. So does AAT "were looking for Jerusalem to be set free." The context clearly calls for the spiritual deliverance gained by the Messiah, not political deliverance from Rome.

Luke 2:39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

"Had done everything" obviously refers to the ceremonial requirements noted in verses 21-24. "Returned" whence they had come, 2:4. Arndt is of the opinion that they returned immediately to Nazareth to move their belongings to Bethlehem to live there permanently. Most other commentators believe that Luke is abbreviating the account because the flight to Egypt intervened as according to Matthew. The latter is likely the true view. Whether or not Luke was aware of the flight into Egypt is beside the point. The accounts in Matthew and Luke do not contradict each other.

Plummer: Luke appears to know nothing of the visit of the Magi. It would have suited his theme of the universality of the Gospel so well, that he would hardly have omitted it, if he had known it. In that case he was not familiar with our first Gospel, Matthew. From Matthew 2:11 we infer that the Holy Family, after the Purification, returned to Bethlehem and there occupied a house.

Luke 2:40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

On this verse compare 1:80 and 2:52. This verse evidently describes Jesus' progress from infancy until the age twelve. He is called "child," a true human being. Note that both verbs are imperfect tense for obvious reasons. He grew as did any other child. Note the passive verbs denoting God as agent in both the mental and spiritual "filling." "Grace" does not denote saving grace, but the favor and approval of God. This verse is a remarkable commentary on the humanity of Jesus.

Lenski: It is impossible for us to penetrate the mystery of this development in Jesus -- body and soul untouched by sin, unchecked and unretarded by any result of sin, his mind and soul absorbing the wisdom of God's Word as a bud drinks in the sunshine and expands.
Geldenhuys: For the first time a human infant was realizing the ideal of humanity.

The sinless Jesus grew and developed as do all other children. He did not need baptism as an infant. His baptism later, was a vicarious baptism, for us. He was not "contradicted" as a child, verse 34. That came only when He began to testify later, John 5:16-18. Though sinless, Jesus must have been a very normal child.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 18-21. Used with permission.

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