Through the Bible: Luke 2:21-35: Prophecy and the Birth of Jesus

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron Section II. The Diatessaron is a harmony of the Gospels put together in the second century. Today’s reading comes from Luke 2:21 and forward.

And when eight days were passed so that the child should be circumcised, he was named Jesus, [the name] by which he was called by the messenger before his conception in the womb. When the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him before the Lord. As it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male opening the womb shall be called the holy thing of the Lord.” [They were] to give a sacrificial victim as it is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of doves or two young pigeons.


There is a lot going on in this passage. Way back in Exodus, when God rescued Israel out of Egypt by killing all of Egypt’s firstborn, human and animal, he said:

You shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb and every firstling that comes from a beast you have. The males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of man among your children you shall redeem” (Ex. 13:12-13).

Donkeys are listed because they are an example of a firstborn beast that cannot be sacrificed. They had to be exchanged for a lamb, or it must be killed rather than sacrificed. Humans, of course, were not to be sacrificed nor needlessly killed, so they were bought back from the Lord. In verses 14-15 of that same passage we read that the Israelites were supposed to tell their children that God rescued them from Israel by destroying the firstborn of Egypt and that is why “I sacrifice to Yahweh all that open the womb and are male, but all the firstborn of my children, I redeem.”

A redemption is a purchase. When we say “redemption” in regard to ourselves, we don’t always think that. If you are redeemed, than you are purchased (1 Cor. 6:20).

It is important to recognize one thing about sacrifices. In most cases, only the organs, tail, and fat of the sacrifice was burned (e.g., Lev. 3:2-5). The rest was eaten. In a whole burnt offering, the sacrifice was wholly burned, but not in other sacrifices. The other sacrifices were eaten by the priests. That is probably why a lot of sacrifices had accompanying wine (Num. 28) and grain (Lev 2) offerings. The sacrifices and any money used for redemption were the priests’ sole means of support.

Joseph’s Poverty

Finally, an important thing to notice is that Joseph and Mary offered two young doves or pigeons. This was an allowance if someone could not bring a lamb (Lev. 12:8). Some have claimed that because of the wedding Jesus attended in Cana that he was from a wealthy family. The offering of two doves indicates otherwise. Joseph and Mary were poor or they would have brought the more acceptable offering of a lamb and a dove (Lev. 12:1-7).


There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was upright and pious, expecting the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been said to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen with his eyes the Messiah of the Lord. This man came by the Spirit to the temple at the same time his parents brought in the child Jesus to present a sacrifice for him, as it is written in the law. [Simeon] bore him in his arms and praised God and said,”Now loose the bonds of your servant, O Lord, in peace, according to your saying, for my eyes have witnessed your mercy, which you have made ready because of the whole world, a light for the unveiling of the nations and a glory to your people Israel.”

God Speaking to Us

It seems ironic that just this morning I heard Charles Stanley say on television, “Some of you don’t believe that God still speaks. Well, you’re wrong.” I agree with him. It is critical for us to be able to hear God speak.

  1. It is promised that all of us will receive the Spirit and that we will prophesy, dream dreams, and see visions (Acts 2:17-18).
  2. Paul told the Corinthians to pay attention in their meetings so that if they are speaking and someone else has something revealed to him, then the speaker should stop to allow the revelation to be spoken (1 Cor. 14:29-31)
  3. The mark of the children of God is that they are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14)
  4. Jesus said we live by every word that is proceeding, present tense, from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). He did not say we would live only by the words that proceeded from his mouth two or three thousand years ago.

If God isn’t speaking to you, you’re starving. God speaks in many ways, including illuminating the Scriptures for us. We should obey the fullness of the Scripture (Matt. 5:17) even if a verse is not “speaking to us” at the moment, but God also puts Scripture passages on our hearts or in our paths to guide us. Other times he speaks directly to us because all of us who are of the New Covenant know him, from the least of us to the greatest (Jer. 31:31-34) and we all have that kind of relationship with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18). In fact, it is the mark of eternal life to know our Father (Jn. 17:3).

A Light to the Nations and a Mercy Made Ready for the Whole World

Simeon’s prophecy here is amazing. He did not just say, “Oh, wow, here’s the Messiah.” He proclaimed Jesus as a light for the unveiling of the nations and as a mercy prepared for the world. Paul talks about the unveiling that happens when we enter into Christ (2 Cor. 3:6). Simeon knew not only this spiritual unveiling, but that it would reach the nations. Even the apostles did not get this until God revealed the Gospel of the Gentiles through Peter (Acts 10:1-11:18).

Simeon also speaks of a mystery that Paul takes three chapters to explain in his letter to the Romans. God’s mercy is for the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike, but there is a process involving the partial hardening of the Jews that leads to that mercy being shown to the world. You can read about it in Romans 9-11.

And Joseph and his mother were marveling at the things which were being said concerning him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, he is set for the overthrow and rising of many in Israel and for a sign of contention. A spear shall pierce through your own soul so that the thoughts of the hearts of many may be revealed.”

If you have read the Gospels, you know how right-on this prophecy was. If not, we are going through a harmony of the Gospels, and you will get to see this soon.

I meant to go through Anna’s prophecy, too, but I found a commentary with information I have never heard before. That makes that section too long to be added to this post today. I will cover Anna in the next post.

As I’m going through this, I’m starting to really enjoy Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. It’s worth looking at his comments on the sword through Mary’s heart. I don’t know what application to put on his thoughts, but they were interesting.

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About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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