For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

2:1.  “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”

2:2.  “(And this taxing was first made when Cyrennius was governor of Syria.)”

2:3.  “And all went to be taxed, every one to his own city.”

“Taxed” is literally “enrolled.”  It was a census which would be used as a basis for tax purposes.  The reference to Cyrennius (Quirinius) is believed to have been because at that time he was military governor of Syria, the most important of the Roman provinces, and this note would help to pinpoint the time of the census.  Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman empire, ruling from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.

Each went back to the city where is ancestral records would be on file, requiring Joseph, who was of the line of David, to go to Bethlehem, David’s city.

In eternity every believer will also have his own city, the heavenly Jerusalem where his name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.  Unbelievers, having no such title to heaven, will be banished into the lake of fire to endure eternal torment.

2:4.  “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)”

Joseph means let him add.  It speaks of increase and blessing.  Galilee means a circuit (as enclosed, or rolled around).  It speaks of protection, and is always associated with the believing remnant.  Nazareth means a branch: preservation.  It is always associated with Christ, and significantly, in the OT He is referred to at least six times as a branch.  Judaea means land of Judah, but since Judah means he shall be praised, it means literally land of praise.  David means beloved, and associated with him is his city Bethlehem, meaning house of bread.  David is a type of Christ, the true Bread Who came down from heaven.  Where Christ is, there is bread for men’s souls.

Because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, he had to go to the city of David to be enrolled in the census.  Every believer is of the house and lineage of the true David, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are members of God’s royal family, and will dwell eternally in His holy city.

2:5.  “To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

In this day of lax morals, little attention is paid to the fact that many a pregnant woman is unmarried.  It was very different then, and is still very different in God’s sight.  Then it was cause for shame, contempt, and ridicule.  Mary and Joseph paid a high price for their obedience to God’s will.  It must be noted, however, that there is good reason to believe that by this time they were married, but the stigma of a pregnancy begun before marriage never left them.

2:6.  “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”

This was all by God’s arrangement, for concerning Christ it had been foretold by the prophets that He would be born in Bethlehem,  “But thou, Bethlehem house of bread Ephratah ash-heap: place of fruitfulness, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mi 5:2).  See also Mt 2:5-6.

2:7.  “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

How different was this Firstborn from all other firstborns!  They represent the flesh, what man is by natural birth, and in Scripture were always set aside in favor of the secondborn who represents what men become through the second birth, because the flesh can never be the channel of blessing.  He was different.  Having died voluntarily to redeem men’s souls, He rose from death, never again to die - the Firstborn from the dead, Col 1:18, the Firstborn (first in rank) among many brethren (they, as believers, possessing His life and His nature), Col 1:15.

Since swaddling bands were used in embalming, His being wrapped in swaddling clothes may be a subtle reminder that this Child was born to die.  As it was at His birth, so was it at His death.  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in Joseph’s new tomb.

There may be also subtle significance in His having been laid in a manger, for the manger was the place in the cattle shed, where the animals’ food was placed to prevent their trampling it.  It was fitting that the place which held the animals’ food and kept it from contamination, should be the very place in which He would lie Who is the bread from heaven.  He Who lay in that manger was holy, harmless, and undefiled.  His being laid in the manger may be God’s symbolic way of reminding us that He Who is the Bread of life, the living Word, could not be contaminated by sin.  In regard to the written Word, which is the revelation of Him Who is the Living Word, it is written, “Thy word is very pure” (Ps 119:40), see also Ps 12:6, “The words of the Lord are pure words.”

As there was no room for Christ in the inn, neither is there room for Him today in the hearts of men.  The folly of rejecting Him, however, will be revealed on that day when it is discovered, too late for remedy, that there is no room in heaven for those who had no room for Him in their lives on earth, see Mt 7:13-23, and Mt 25:12

2:8.  “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

In the same country, but far away from Bethlehem’s busy crowds, were “shepherds abiding in the field,” and significantly, it wasn’t to any of the busy throng in the town, but to those shepherds in the field, that the angelic announcement was made.  And it remains the same today.  God’s truth is revealed to those who separate themselves from the busy multitudes occupied with the world’s business, cares, pleasures, and religion.  Godly shepherds are still found far removed from the busy activity of the world, and they are still found “keeping watch over their flock by night,” for that literal flock represents those who constitute God’s flock today, i.e., those who are true believers.  And that literal night is but the symbol of the spiritual darkness that envelopes, not only the world, but sadly, also the majority of those professing to be believers.  The literal darkness of that night (as always in Scripture) reflected the spiritual darkness that lay over the world that night, and particularly over those who professed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel.

It is peculiarly appropriate that the announcement of the birth of the Good Shepherd should have been made first to men who were also shepherds.

2:9.  “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

The announcements of heaven aren’t heard by ears deafened by the clamor of a godless busy world, nor is the glory of God revealed to eyes dazzled by the world’s glitter.  These things are reserved for those who walk with God in separation from the world.  Nor should we fail to note that they were “sore afraid.”  The fear of God has all but disappeared, not only from the world, but also from the professing church, but it is still true that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr 9:10).

2:10.  “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

It is a strange paradox that those who do fear God are they who have least need to fear Him, for it is the fear of God that preserves men from sin.  Those who don’t fear Him, however, are they who have most cause to fear, for they may be called suddenly and unexpectedly to stand in His presence still in their sins.

To the man who lives in the fear of God, every communication from Him is one of good tidings, for in relation to every earthly circumstance there is the assurance that, “All things work together for good to them that love God....” Ro 8:28.  But that night there were no adverse circumstances to cloud the glory of the announcement.  Earth’s joy should have been full that night, for the long-promised Savior had come.  No more joyful tidings could have fallen on human ears.  But then, as now, there were few to listen to the announcements of heaven.

Although “all people” is also translated “all the people of Israel,” there is no good reason to reject the usual meaning “all the people of the world.”   That the joy was to be to all people reminds us that God’s salvation isn’t limited to Israel.  It is offered to all men.  None need perish since Christ has died.

2:11.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

The Savior might have come into the world as had the angel who had brought the good tidings to the shepherds, but He must be born of a woman, for God’s promise to Satan had been, The seed of the woman, “shall bruise thy head,” Ge 3:15.  He would enter the world as had every other man, except Adam who had been created.  He would be like man in everything except sin.  And His coming was first to be the world’s Savior, then its Lord.  Christ means the anointed, or the anointed One. 

2:12.  “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

We should note that in the OT age, God very frequently used signs to confirm the truth of His announcements, the unique character of the signs being that many might see them, but without having been instructed by God, would fail to discern that they were signs.  For example, there were undoubtedly others who at that time saw this baby lying in the manger, but who remained ignorant of His true identity.  It is the same with Scripture.  Every man may read the literal language, but only the Spiritually instructed discern the spiritual message.  It was only to the shepherds, that the child’s dress and the place where He lay, brought the assurance that they were looking on the long-promised Messiah.  Others saw only another baby.  And so is it today.  Multitudes see in Christ only another man.

2:13.  “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,”

2:14.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

It is strange that the birth of the Savior should have evoked the worship of the angels who needed no redemption, and yet should have called forth worship from only a few of the race of men, all of whom needed to be redeemed.  Nor has anything changed in the two thousand years since then.  Only the few, the redeemed, praise God for the Savior.

Translators in general agree that the first part of verse 14 should be “Glory to God in the highest heaven”.  On earth, men may be the beneficiaries of God’s good will, and enjoy His peace which passeth understanding, but glory is reserved for heaven. 

2:15.  “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

In this statement is declared the completeness of the shepherds’ faith.  They hadn’t the slightest doubt concerning the truth of the message brought to them by the angel.  Their concern now was to go and enjoy the sight of this miracle presently believed by faith.  God would have us emulate their faith, and have us see in their walk from the field to Bethlehem a picture of our own walk through this world to heaven, where we too will see with our eyes what we now believe by faith.  Who can comprehend the eager expectation with which the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem!  Sadly, little of that joyous expectation fills our hearts as we plod our weary way to heaven, as though there were no Savior to see when we get there, no Savior to welcome us into His home in heaven. 

The departure of the angels doesn’t appear to have diminished the joy of the shepherds.  It was the message that encouraged their hearts, and lent wings to their feet as they hurried to Bethlehem.  It is a rebuke of our faithlessness that we who have had added to that message the glad tidings of His atoning death and glorious resurrection, should display so little of their eager joyful anticipation, as we pass through the field of this world on our way to heaven to see Him, not in a manger, but crowned with glory and honor on the throne of heaven.

We should note also that word now.  There was no delay in their going, nor do we read of any anxious care as to the safety of their sheep.  Those few shepherds had the good sense to realize that their sheep could be left safely in the care of the God Who had sent them such joyful tidings.  It would be well with us if that same confident lack of care governed us relative to all things earthly.  How much unnecessary care we give ourselves over things in regard to which He has told us to have no care!  How little care, on the other hand, we give to those things in regard to which we ought to be careful!  Too often we choose to be like Martha, careful about many things, but unlike Mary of whom the Lord said that she, in sitting at His feet, had chosen the better part.

They had to go to Bethlehem to see the miracle.  We have only to go to what Bethlehem represents to see the same miracle.  Bethlehem means house of bread.  The Bible is that “house,” and the local church should also be the house of bread, but sadly it has become all too often a house stricken by famine, due to the carelessness of those who ought to be preparing food for God’s sheep.

2:16.  “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Their coming with haste leaves no question that their foremost desire was to see this Child, reminding us of those Greeks who came to Philip, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” Jn 12:21.  This remains the hallmark of faith: the desire to see Jesus revealed in the written Word.  He who reads that Word looking only for practical instruction, robs himself of the better half of God’s word to men.  God would have us see Jesus in all the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, see Lk 24:27.  To enjoy that revelation, however, requires that the reader be willing to learn God’s symbolic language, and sadly, few are willing to give to that study the time and energy needed, hence the abysmal spiritual ignorance of the vast majority of professing Christians.

Their search was rewarded.  They saw Him Whom they sought, reminding us of God’s promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” Mt 7:7.

2:17.  “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”

This is God’s pattern for every believer: once we have “seen Jesus” i.e., have been born again, we are to become His witnesses.  He who professes to be a believer, and yet refuses to proclaim the Gospel, raises a serious question as to whether he has ever had a new birth.

We should note too, that their witness was about Jesus.  The Gospel is not the announcement of a philosophy, nor is it a theological discussion: it is the presentation of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

2:18.  “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”

The hearers wondered.  The biblical gospel, presented in the power of the Holy Spirit, must always evoke some response.

Inasmuch as the shepherds were uneducated men, God would have us learn, that contrary to what is taught and believed in Christendom today, His servants require no other education than that which is given by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.  The idea of a theological education is completely contrary to the teaching of God’s Word.  We should remember that Peter and John confounded the wisdom of the doctors of the law, yet both of them were “unlearned and ignorant men,” but “they had been with Jesus,” Ac 4:13, and that made the difference.  Time spent with the Lord Jesus Christ is more profitable spiritually than all the years a man might spend in an institution of higher learning, so called.  No academic degree can substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit.

2:19.  “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary literally treasured up, and thought often upon what the shepherds had said.  At the very time when it was most needed, God encouraged Mary and confirmed her faith through the words of the shepherds.  The Church would be in a far better state if her members also treasured up, and thought often upon what is said about the Lord Jesus Christ by godly men.

2:20.  “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”

They returned to tending their sheep, but now they had additional reason to glorify and praise God.  On the way to Bethlehem they were impelled by what they had heard from the angel, but on the return journey they carried in their hearts, not only the angel’s words, but also the sight of the One Whose birth the angel had announced.  It is only as we see Christ in the Scriptures that we will have the desire to glorify and praise God.  A mere intellectual knowledge of Christ may produce morality, but it will never produce worship, for worship involves the heart as well as the head.

Their worshiping as they returned to their ordinary occupation would teach us that worship and witness are not the exclusive prerogatives of those in “full time” service.  These things are the privilege of every believer no matter what his secular employment.  The believing peasant is no less a royal priest than is the believing prince.

2:21.  “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Circumcision speaks of the cutting off of the flesh, i.e., putting away the deeds of the old nature, prompting the question, Why then should the Lord Jesus Christ have been circumcised, since He did not possess the old Adamic nature, and would never have any evil deeds to put away?  His circumcision pointed to His death, when He would die (be “cut off”), not for any sin of His own, but for that of all other men.

Inasmuch as circumcision was to be on the eighth day (the scriptural number of a new beginning), we learn that it is not moral reformation, but the new birth that effectively cuts off the deeds of the old nature, God requiring not literal circumcision, but that which is spiritual, the circumcising of the heart, see Ro 2:25-29, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”

Jesus means Savior, and the mention of His name in connection with His circumcision may be an oblique reminder that it was only by dying and rising again that He could be man’s Savior.

We might note incidentally, that it was the Jewish custom to name the child at the time of his circumcision, and it is this that appears to have given rise to the error of Christendom which equates circumcision with baptism (two very different things), and has resulted in the completely unscriptural practice of “Christening” - baptizing babies at the time of giving them their names.

Baptism is an ordinance appointed by God for believers only, through which they give symbolic witness to the truth that they have been crucified with Christ, but now live with Him as new creatures possessing His life and His nature.  It is the symbolic announcement that in Christ’s vicarious death, we, as to the flesh, have been “cut off,” i.e., we have died, His death being imputed to us.  That is what is portrayed in our going under the water.  But as He has been raised up out of literal death, never again to die, so have we been raised up out of spiritual death, being now forever beyond the power of death.  That is what is portrayed in our coming up out of the water.  Clearly, then, baptism is not for infants, for no infant is capable of the mental activity which prompts and accompanies baptism.  The teaching of Christendom, that parents have their children baptized in anticipation of conversion, originated in man’s corrupt mind, and is without a shred of scriptural warrant.  The idea of its having anything to do with the giving of a name is equally without scriptural authority.

Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, and has the same meaning, Savior.  It is the name associated with His first advent, as Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, are with His coming in power and glory to reign.  He must come as the Lamb of God to bear away the sin of the world before He comes as the Lion of Judah to reign over the creation He has redeemed with His blood.

The giving of the name before His conception, declares that God had His plan of redemption in mind from before time began.

2:22.  “And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.”

2:23.  “(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord:) - Ex 13:2,12.

2:24.  “And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

The law of a mother’s cleansing is recorded in Le 12:1-8, and the fact that Joseph and Mary apparently offered only the prescribed birds, but not the lamb, has been taken to mean that they were too poor to afford a lamb.  This, however, may be conjecture, for it isn’t clear beyond doubt that they didn’t bring a lamb also.

Ex 13:2,12 declares that every firstborn male among the children of Israel was to be redeemed, the need of that redemption being connected with the fact that the firstborn represents what man is by natural birth: he is unclean, and under sentence of death.  Jesus Christ, of course was not unclean or under sentence of death, for He did not possess Adam’s fallen corrupt nature.  The performance of the redemption ritual therefore, like His baptism in the Jordan, portrayed His willingness to assume responsibility for man’s sin, and His willingness to be the Substitute Who would die in man’s stead.

2:25.  “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”

Jerusalem meaning lay, or set ye, double peace, is a biblical symbol of the human heart.  As there will be no peace in Jerusalem until the Prince of Peace reigns there, neither is there peace in a man’s heart until Christ reigns in the life.  Simeon means hearkening.  He represents obedience, and his dwelling in Jerusalem reminds us that only those who are obedient enjoy God’s peace.  Its being said that he was just and devout, i.e., justified by faith, and devoted to the things that pertain to the kingdom of God, ought to remind us that essential to the enjoyment of God’s peace, is a life devoted to God.

His waiting for, or looking for the coming of the Messiah, Christ, would teach us that the man who would enjoy God’s peace, must live every moment governed by the same expectation.  In Simeon’s case, however, his expectation was of Christ’s coming to make atonement for sin; ours is the expectation of His coming to rapture us home to heaven.

The Holy Spirit’s being “upon him” reminds us that in past ages the Holy Spirit came upon men, but in this age of grace He indwells every believer, the believer’s body being described as the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  It behooves us therefore, to ensure that there is nothing in our lives that would be displeasing to Him.

2:26.  “And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

As it was not by natural understanding, but by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, that Simeon became possessed of this knowledge, so is it today also that all spiritual knowledge comes only through the ministry of an unquenched and ungrieved Holy Spirit enabling the obedient believer to understand the written Word.  The natural man cannot acquire this knowledge, nor can the carnal believer: his disobedience cuts him off from all such revelation.  The appalling spiritual ignorance of so many professing believers today is due entirely to disobedience.

2:27.  “And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,”

2:28.  “Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,”

2:29.  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:”

As Simeon enjoyed the leading of the Holy Spirit, so does every obedient believer.  It is to be noted, however, that that leading brought him face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He saw the Lord with his own eyes.  This is the ultimate purpose of the Spirit’s leading.  He would have us see Christ in all the Scriptures, and in all the events of our lives.  In a word, He would have Christ fill our vision.  That should be the desire of every redeemed one, the foremost desire of his life being expressed in the words of the Greeks who came to Philip saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  If He is constantly before our eyes, our lives will be transformed, as every circumstance is transmuted to blessing.

Having seen Christ, all else paled into insignificance for Simeon.  Earth had nothing more to offer.  He was ready to go home to heaven.  The Simeon’s are few and far apart today, the vast majority of professing Christians being more anxious to see the sights of an ungodly world than they are to catch a glimpse of the Savior Who died to save them from hell and fit them for heaven, the inhabitants of which find their joy in simply beholding His face.

“Then took he him up in his arms....”  Simeon wasn’t content just to observe from a distance.  He wanted to touch the Lord, to hold Him as though He were His own Child, to feast his eyes on every feature.  This is how the spiritual man scrutinizes Scripture.  Where the carnal Christian or the unbeliever sees only words, the spiritual man discerns the lineaments of Christ.

Having seen the Child, having held Him in his arms, Simeon worshiped.  If the revelation of Christ given us in Scripture doesn’t produce worship, nothing will.

2:30.  “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,”

Salvation is a Person, not a church, or a creed, or a lifestyle.

It isn’t necessarily those who are in a church, or a denomination, that are saved, but those who are in Christ.

2:31. “Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people:”

“... before the face of all people” is literally, “in full view of all the nations,” and there is a deeper significance to this than is at first apparent.  It wasn’t at His birth that the nations were aware of Christ: it was at His death.  It is to be remembered that that event occurred at Passover when Jews from all over the world of that day were assembled in Jerusalem, as they were later on the day of Pentecost, when they heard, every one in his own language, the good news of the Gospel.  The Jews assembled in Jerusalem for that Passover were the representatives of virtually all nations, and in witnessing the crucifixion of Christ, they were seeing God’s salvation, for there is no salvation apart from faith in Him crucified and risen again.

2:32.  “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

Spiritual enlightenment is at the very heart of the Gospel, for until a man is enlightened as to his ruined state, he cannot be saved, as it is written, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Co 4:6).  This reference to the light shining out of the darkness reminds us that in His renovation of the ruined earth as described in Genesis chapter 1, God would have us see a symbolic picture of the steps by which He recovers ruined men.

A question arises in connection with this verse, Why is it emphasized that Christ is to be a light to the Gentiles, but He is to be the glory of Israel?  The matter has to be viewed from the perspective of the truth that at His first advent Christ was offering the millennial kingdom to Israel.  Had she, as a nation, accepted Him, she could have had the long-promised kingdom right then, with the result that she would have been set in glory over all nations, and the Gentiles would have also enjoyed millennial blessing, but in a position of subjection to Israel.  In rejecting the King, she forfeited the kingdom, and her own glory, so that when the Millennium does come, and she does rule over the nations on the millennial earth, she herself will be subject to the Church ruling with Christ from the heavenly Jerusalem.  That Church is a Gentile, not a Jewish entity.

2:33..  “And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him.

It is instructive that while Mary is described as the Lord’s mother, Joseph is not said to be His father.  God is careful to guard the truth that Christ was not begotten by human generation, but by the Holy Spirit.  His nature was Divine; that of other men, Adamic, and therefore corrupt.  We learn too, incidentally, that Joseph and Mary had many things to learn about this child of whom Mary was the human mother.  We too, will never be able to say that we know all there is to know about Christ.  Finite minds cannot fully comprehend the Infinite.

2:34.  “And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;”

Simeon first blessed God: he worshiped, and only then did he bless Joseph and Mary by instructing them relative to Christ.  This is always God’s pattern.  First worship, then service.  It is folly to think that we can render God any service if we fail to come together with other believers to worship on the first day of each week.  No matter how seeming worthy the cause, if it requires us to be absent from the Lord’s table, it is nothing less than disobedience, as it is written, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Sa 15:22.  The Lord Himself commands us, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Lk 22:19.

In regard to the words, “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel” we should note that this is the pattern by which the Gospel operates.  It must first cut a man down before God can lift him up to walk in newness of life.  A man must learn that he is a sinner on his way to hell, before he can become a saint whose eternal dwelling place is heaven.

”... for a sign which shall be spoken against.”  Unbelieving Israel, asking for a sign, were told by the Lord that the only sign that would be given them was that of Jonah the prophet, for as he was three days and nights in the belly of the fish, so would the Son of Man be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.  When that sign was fulfilled in the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, Israel rejected the sign and the Lord, and continued to speak against Him, as they had during His earthly life.

2:35.  (“Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

A sword metaphorically passed through Mary’s soul at the time of the crucifixion as she beheld the awful suffering of this Son Whom she had borne; but the word also implies the passing of a sword through the soul of another besides Mary, and the reference is clearly to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In these few brief words, Simeon speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit, was foretelling the agony of soul that Christ would have to endure in the course of making atonement for sin, His own declaration of that agony being announced in His words spoken in Gethsemane’s garden on the night of His betrayal, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” Mt 26:38.

“... that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” is generally understood to mean that the state of a man’s heart is disclosed by his reaction to the Lord’s death.  The man who sees that death as being the death of his Substitute, is saved.  The man who doesn’t, is lost.

2:36.  “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;”

Anna means she was gracious, and Phanuel means face of God: turn ye to God.  Aser is simply the Greek form of Asher, which means happy.  This woman also, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, worshiped God, and testified to others; nor should we miss the fact that here again thanksgiving to God preceded testimony to others.  Worship must precede service.  It is only as we are occupied with Christ, that love will impel our service.  Apart from that love, service is a worthless thing.  An obvious practical truth, of course, is that the woman, no less than the man, may worship and testify, the one no less than the other being governed by God’s order for each, relative to worship and testimony.

The meanings of her own name, and that of her parent, may be intended to remind us of the need to be gracious, that spirit imbuing us only to the extent that we “behold the face of God,” i.e., see Him in the Scriptures, remembering that He never ceases to behold us, comprehending even our thoughts and motives.  Her being an Asherite ought to remind us that of all the people on earth, believers are they who have most reason to be happy.  (We should note, incidentally, that with the completion of the canon of Scripture, the prophetic office ceased).

The reference to her having “lived with an husband seven years from her virginity” are generally understood to mean that she had been widowed after only seven years of marriage, i.e., while she was still young, yet she had continued to be outstandingly faithful to God.  This is in marked contrast with what Paul has written in 1 Tim 5 relative to young widows.  Anna had always been a remarkably faithful Christian woman, her youthful zeal for the things of God having continued into old age, and undoubtedly this has been recorded, not only for the encouragement of widows, but for all Christian women.

2:37.  “And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”

Whether the eighty-four years refer to her age, or to the years of her widowhood, is unclear, and unimportant.  The emphasis is on the “fourscore and four,” the prominent factor of which is four, the number of testing.  A lifetime of testing had revealed the reality of her faith, a distinction of which few prove themselves worthy.

Its being said that she “departed not from the temple,” doesn’t mean that she lived in the temple, but that she spent much time there, which is another way of saying that she spent much time in the presence of God.  This was the secret of her godly life, as it must be of all who would hope to merit the commendation given her.

Fasting, which was for the OT age only, was the symbolic announcement of refusal to gratify fleshly lusts.  It was a favorite tool of the religious hypocrite, by which he paraded his self-righteousness.  Like a related OT ritual, circumcision, it has no place in the life of the believer today.  God looks for the reality, not the symbol, in the life of every believer, Ro 2:28-29.

Her praying night and day doesn’t mean that she did nothing except pray, but that she devoted a great deal of time to prayer, reminding us of the need to do the same.

2:38.  “And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

Again we should note the order: first, she gave thanks to God, and then she testified to others.  God continues to remind us that worship must precede service.  He who finds that his “service” requires him to be absent from the Lord’s table, would be well advised to reconsider this so-called service.

We should note too, that those to whom she testified were “them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem,” i.e., they appear to have been men and women of faith.  She cheered their hearts by assuring them that the long-sought Redeemer had come.  The hearts of believers need cheering today, not only by our reminding them that the Savior has come, but that He is coming again, and that that coming is near.

2:39.  “And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”

The emphasis continues to be upon attending first to the things of God.  Galilee, means a circuit (as enclosed, or rolled around), and speaks of God’s encircling care.  It is significant that it is the place invariably associated with the godly remnant in Israel.  It is only as the things of God are given first place in our lives, that we will dwell spiritually at “Galilee.”  Those who belong to God, and who are obedient, need have anxious care about nothing.  They are enclosed continually by His watchful care, every event of their lives being ordered or permitted by Him, for their ultimate blessing and glory.

Nazareth means a branch: preservation, and at least six times in the OT the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to under the figure of a branch, see Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12, so it is not just by chance that Nazareth is the place uniquely associated with Him, as it is written, “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt 2:23).

Nazarene should not be confused with a similar, but very different word, Nazarite.  Nazarene simply describes an inhabitant of the town of Nazareth, but Nazarite describes one who had made a special vow to the Lord, (see Nu 6 for details).  The Lord was a Nazarene: i.e., He lived in Nazareth; but He was not a literal Nazarite (though He certainly was one spiritually), for His hair was short, He drank wine, and He touched at least one dead body, the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22).

In connection with the OT references to Christ under the figure of a Branch, it is instructive to note how perfectly they correspond to the four Gospels: Jer 23:5, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth,” and Jer 33:15, “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land,” and Isa 11:1, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”  These correspond to Matthew, the Gospel of the King.  Zech 3:8, “Behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH,” corresponds to Mark, the Gospel which presents Him as God’s perfect Servant. Zech 6:12, “Behold the man whose name is  The BRANCH,” corresponds to Luke which presents Him as the perfect Man; and Isa 4:2, “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious,” corresponds to John which presents Him as the Eternal Word, God the Son.

2:40.  “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him”

The Lord’s physical development appears to have been just the same as that of any other child, though it seems equally clear that His spiritual development was anything but ordinary.

Grace is usually defined as being the bestowal of undeserved blessing, and in relation to all except the Lord Jesus Christ, that definition is correct, but no spiritual mind will fail to see that in His case, the Father’s blessing was the recompense of a perfect obedience which no other man has ever rendered.

2:41.  “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.”

It may be asked why they should have done this, since He who is the true Passover Lamb had already come.  The answer, of course, is that the OT order remained in force, not only until the OT types were fulfilled in the Lord’s death and resurrection, but also until AD 70 when Jewish autonomy was brought to an end. The perfection of the Lord’s life manifested that He was God’s Lamb “foreordained from before the foundation of the world,” but just as the literal living Passover lamb could bring no redemption, neither could Christ until He had died to make atonement for man’s sin.

2:42.  “And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.”

The instructions for this are found in Ex 23:14-15.  At the age of twelve a Jewish boy is officially received into the congregation, becoming “a son of the law,” though there doesn’t appear to be any Scriptural instruction concerning this.  The spiritual significance, however, is important, for since twelve is the number of Divine government on display, the ritual would declare symbolically that the boy was now responsible to demonstrate by his life that he was under God’s government

2:43.  “And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.”

The “days” were the seven from the fourteenth through the twenty-first of the month, see Exodus 12:18. 

The explanation for His parent’s failing to know that He was missing, is that families and friends traveled in large groups to and from the three great annual feasts, undoubtedly for protection and company, and His parents probably supposed that He was just with other members of the group.

Again, we should note how careful the Holy Spirit has been not to call Joseph the Lord’s father.

A practical lesson we shouldn’t miss is that it is very possible for us to go “a day’s journey” without being aware that the Lord isn’t with us.  Sin in any form, but especially that of being too much occupied by earthly things, will bring about this separation.  When it occurs, the remedy is to repent, confess the sin, and forsake it.

2:44.  “But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinfolk and acquaintance.”

The others in the group were equally ignorant of His absence, reminding us that we, as individuals, may be aware that He isn’t with us personally, without our being also aware that He has gone from us as a local church.  One way to ensure that this doesn’t happen, is to be careful that I personally maintain contact with Him throughout the day, by prayer, study, meditation, and constant awareness that He discerns, not only my deeds and words, but also my thoughts.  An ungrieved, unquenched Holy Spirit guarantees His presence, so that while He may not be with some personally, He will at least be found in fellowship with those of the assembly who walk in obedience.  There is little hope for the local church where the Lord is not to be found in the company of at least some of those comprising that corporate body.

2:45.  “And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.”

It would have been better had they ensured that He was with them when they set out from Jerusalem: it would have saved them from anxiety, and wasted time.  But to have discovered His absence at the end of one day was better than to have gone all the way to Nazareth before finding that He was absent.  A practical lesson we shouldn’t miss is the need of keeping short accounts with God by being careful to be on constant guard against sin, and repenting and confessing immediately we find ourselves guilty.

Another practical lesson we shouldn’t miss is one repeatedly presented in Scripture: there can be no spiritual progress if the Lord isn’t with us.  As they had to go back to Jerusalem, where they had become separated from Him, so does every erring saint have to return to the point of departure.  After his disastrous sojourn in Egypt, Abraham had to return to “Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai,” Ge 13:3.  A sorrowing Naomi, bereft of husband and sons, had to return to the point of departure (Ruth 1:1,19).  Since the time between departure and return is always wasted, it behooves us to keep that time as short as possible.

2:46.  “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.”

It is easier to lose the Lord than to find Him again.  In their case it took three days, and this is significant, for since three is the number of resurrection, the lesson God would teach us relative to departure is that all such departure is sin, and sin brings death.  As far as the Bema is concerned, the time spent in sin is time in which we might as well have been actually dead.  Restoration is the virtual equivalent of a resurrection.

The usual form of Rabbinical teaching is said to have been by the question and answer method, designed on the one hand to make the hearer think, and on the other, to disclose his ignorance so that now with curiosity aroused, he would be the more likely to retain the knowledge imparted in the form of the teacher’s answer.  It is very possible therefore, that as suggested in the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, the questions the Lord asked were designed to make the doctors of the law think, for example, about such things as how Christ could be David’s son, and also David’s Lord; which is the first and greatest commandment? who is my neighbor?

2:47.  “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”

It would appear that even at this early age He was marked by that spirit which caused the multitudes to declare years later, “Never man spake like this man,” Jn 7:46.

2:48.  “And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”

Their surprise seems to have been, not in their having found Him, but in that they had found Him in the temple discussing spiritual things with the doctors of the law, and surprising those same doctors with His knowledge.

Since it was Mary who addressed Him, it may be perhaps inferred that His parents had decided to search in different quarters simultaneously, and that Joseph wasn’t there at that moment.  Be that as it may, we might note incidentally that this is the last mention of Joseph, it being widely believed that he died before the Lord began His public ministry.  We should note also that Mary, in referring to Joseph as “thy father,” was using the term, not in the sense that he was Christ’s biological, but adopted father, see 3:23.

2:49.  “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

These are the Lord’s first recorded words, and it is generally agreed that an equally valid translation is “Knew ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?”  In grace beyond comprehension He might stoop to dwell in the midst of a human family, and be subject to a human father, but only for a little while, until He had done His Father’s work - His heart must have longed continually to be back in His Father’s house.

2:50.  “And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.”

Being possessed as we are of the full canon of Scripture, it is difficult to understand why Joseph and Mary, having the Lord Himself living in their home, didn’t understand His words, but the explanation appears to be that the revelation of the Holy Spirit was much more restricted then than now.  We should never cease to give thanks for His enlightenment, but neither should we ever forget that responsibility is also in direct proportion to light given.

2:51.  “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.”   

We can’t even begin to measure the grace that led the Lord of all creation to live in subjection to the creatures He Himself had made.  A greater wonder, however, is that He should have permitted His creatures to crucify Him, so that their sins might be forgiven, and they fitted to dwell with Him in heaven for ever.

We are told nothing of Mary’s reaction to all the things that must have puzzled and amazed her during those thirty years when He lived with her as His mother, so conjecture is unwise, as it is in regard to anything about which the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit has not been given.

2:52.  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Another miracle we can’t understand is that the Lord’s development should have been the same as that of any other child: growth in wisdom came gradually with the passage of time.  He didn’t come into the world endowed with all wisdom.  He was just as perfectly human as He was Divine.  Very clearly He was no child prodigy.

Others have pointed out that He experienced four areas of growth: “in wisdom” He grew mentally; “and stature” He grew physically; “in favor with God,” He grew spiritually; and “with men,” He grew socially - Liberty Bible Commentary.

[Luke 3]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough