Summary: The rite of purification becomes the occasion of certain prophecies concerning Jesus, Israel, and the nations.
THE MESSAGE OF SIMEON
It was nearly six weeks after the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph went up to the Temple in Jerusalem, with baby Jesus, to fulfil the rite of purification. Jesus' parents were obedient to this tenet of the law, which involved both the child and His mother (Leviticus 12:2-4), (Luke 2:22).
The Old Testament ceremony dated back to the Exodus, and the sanctification of the first-born to God (Exodus 13:2). The LORD does not require human sacrifice, but dedication. It is remarkable that even as a baby all things were being done in relation to Jesus in such a way as to fulfil the law of God (cf. Matthew 3:15), (Luke 2:23).
There was a man in the Temple, named Simeon. Perhaps he lived there, like Anna the prophetess. Or perhaps he was a priest, or some other member of the ecclesiastical staff. Simeon was a godly man, clothed in God's righteousness, and committed to the LORD in all that he did. Simeon was longing for God's intervention in the life of His chosen nation, and had received the gift of the Holy Ghost ahead of time (Luke 2:25).
Furthermore, by the Holy Ghost, Simeon had been given some insight into the timing of God's deliverance. This was not a calculation based upon the seventy weeks of Daniel. Nor was it an expectation that had been birthed with the loosening of Zacharias' tongue upon the birth of John the Baptist. This was a personal word from the LORD to himself. Simeon would not taste death until he had seen, with his own eyes, the Lord's Christ. The question is not whether God still speaks today, but rather whether we are listening (Luke 2:26)!
It was by the Spirit that Simeon came into the Temple, just at the exact time that the parents of Jesus brought Him in. This is God's perfect timing, yet also contingent upon the obedience of both parties. The parents were doing what the law required, and Simeon was moving where and when the Spirit directed (Luke 2:27).
Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms. What a privilege! What wonderful holy audacity! Yet his motives were true: he blessed God, and spoke forth words which were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), (Luke 2:28).
In effect, Simeon asked the Lord to dismiss him now. With this child, that which God had promised had surely been fulfilled, and Simeon was ready to be received up into glory. It is a good benediction, “Let us depart in peace,” but it can only be “in the name of the Lord.” There is no peace otherwise. Simeon was able to claim a specific promise to himself: “according to thy word” (Luke 2:29).
Simeon held, and beheld, the baby in his arms. For one awesome moment Simeon saw the world's holistic salvation in the Person of that infant (Luke 2:30).
This is the light to lighten the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), which would one day even be celebrated in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15-16). This is the glory, the Shekinah no less, of the people of Israel (Isaiah 46:13), (Luke 2:32).
The Apostle Peter testified to his own ministry to the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11). After the reports of the missions of Paul and Barnabas, James the brother of the Lord summed up. The Greek rendering of what James said translates, “Simeon related how first God visited to take out of the nations a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). Was James referring to the words of Simon Peter, or to the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32)?
Of course, Joseph and his wife marvelled at what was being said about Jesus. The incarnation, and all the implications of God becoming man on our behalf should never cease to amaze us (Luke 2:33).
Simeon had one last thing to say, and he was done. It was a blessing, but also a warning. Jesus Christ would be the cause of the fall and the rising again of many. The fall would be like the collapse of a house, a ruin. So Jesus could say to Jerusalem, “Your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). The “rising again” is literally a resurrection. “For if the casting away of Israel is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15). Despite the fact that He is the light of the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel, Jesus was God's sign that would be spoken against, the stone which the builders rejected, foolishness to the world, a stumbling block to Israel. Sometimes the Lord must take us down a peg or two in order to restore us to where we should be (Luke 2:34)!