The next reference to the Spirit in Luke-Acts relates to the figure of Simeon in the Lukan Infancy narrative (2:25-35). Simeon, along with Anna (vv. 36-38), forms one of three male-female pairs (the others being Zechariah/Elizabeth and Joseph/Mary) who, in the Lukan narrative context, embody the faithful and devout ones of Israel under the Old Covenant. This is expressed both by the actual language used, and by the religious associations that are implied; in the case of Simeon and Anna we may note:
- Simeon (vv. 25-35) who:
(a) was righteous/just [di/kaio$] and took good care [to observe the Law, etc]
(b) was [looking] toward receiving the paraklhsi$ of Israel
- Anna (vv. 36-38) who:
(a) was in the Temple ‘day and night’, serving with fasting and prayer
(b) was [with those looking] toward receiving the lutrwsi$ of Jerusalem
- Simeon (vv. 25-35) who:
Point (a) speaks to their faithfulness and obedience regarding religious duty and service to God; point (b) to the ‘Messianic’ hope and expectation shared by many devout Jews at the time. These points will be discussed further below.
1. Transition between the Old and New Covenant. The three figure-pairs (as well as the child John) all represent the people of God (the faithful ones) under the Old Covenant. But they are also transitional figures who stand at the threshold of the New Covenant, and thus also embody the continuity between Old and New Covenants. This has been emphasized several times in the prior notes; it is a key Lukan theme that the author has taken care to develop. When Simeon encounters the child Jesus in the Temple precincts, this serves as a powerful dramatic depiction of a point of contact with the new revelation of God (in the person of Jesus). Moreover, the experience Simeon has with the Spirit prefigures the relationship of the Spirit to believers, thus forming another key point of contact with the New Covenant. The importance of the Spirit-theme, as it is developed here, is indicated by the three-fold reference in vv. 25-27 (cf. the discussion below).
2. Messianic Expectation. The faithfulness and devotion of Simeon (and Anna) is expressed primarily through their trust in the deliverance God was about to bring for His people. This trust is informed by the Jewish eschatology and Messianic expectation of the time, as it came to be developed, over a number of centuries, from Old Testament tradition. This end-time (Messianic) deliverance is here encapsulated through two parallel (and largely synonymous) phrases (cf. above). Simeon and Anna were among those looking toward receiving [prosde/xomai, i.e. waiting for]:
These phrases form an inclusio to the section. In the first, the noun para/klhsi$ is derived from the verb parakalew (lit. “call alongside”) and indicates calling someone to come near for help/instruction/encouragement, etc., just as the noun para/klhto$ (‘paraclete’) refers to someone called alongside to give help/instruction/encouragement, etc. The word in this context is usually translated “comfort” or “consolation”. In the second phrase, the parallel noun lutrw/si$ refers to the payment of ransom (and the corresponding release) for someone in bondage, etc., and is normally translated “redemption”. The phrase “comfort of Israel” probably finds its origin in the Isaian passages 40:1-2 (which also mentions Jerusalem) and 61:2, cf. also 57:18; 63:4; 66:13. “Redemption of Jerusalem” would seem to be derived from Isa 52:9, which also mentions ‘comfort’ for God’s people. This message of hope and restoration is described in terms of “good news” for Jerusalem (cf. 40:9; 41:27; 52:7). Interestingly, the phrase “redemption (hL*a%G+) of Israel” and “freedom of Jerusalem” are found in documents from the Wadi Muraba±at in the context of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.).
There are similar allusions in the Song of Simeon (vv. 29-32), the prophetic poem that Simeon utters under the influence of the Spirit. These are largely drawn from the Deutero-Isaian poems, understood in an eschatological and Messianic sense. The principal references are Isa 40:5; 46:13b; 49:6b; 52:10 (and cf. also 42:6; 60:1); other related references of note are also Psalm 98:3; Gen 49:18; Baruch 4:24; Ps Sol 17:50.
By the time the Gospels came to be written, early Christian tradition had identified key Messianic figure-types as being fulfilled by John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively. Here in the Lukan Infancy narrative, the hymn of Zechariah focuses on John the Baptist, while the Song of Simeon is centered on the child Jesus. The two poetic oracles function in a similar way, and each prefigures the inspired proclamation of the Gospel by early believers.
In Luke 1:76 John the Baptist is clearly identified as the Messenger (Elijah, cf. verse 17) who prepares the way before the Lord, as we see well-established in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3ff par; Lk 7:27; Jn 1:19-23ff). Through his preaching and ministry of baptism, John turns the hearts and minds of people back to God, preparing them for the coming of the Lord, the Anointed One (Christ). This emphasis on repentance introduces the motif of salvation from sin— “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins” (v. 77). The religious (and eschatological) background of this idea of salvation is very much related to the coming Judgment—only those who repent and return to God will escape (i.e. be saved from) the anger and judgment of God upon humankind. In verse 78, however, the emphasis shifts to salvation as an expression of God’s mercy; for similar wording, cf. the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Zebulun 8; Levi 4). The judgment imagery and vocabulary is transformed, centered here on the verb e)piske/ptomai (“look [carefully] upon”), which came to be a technical term for the end-time appearance (visitation) of God, both to help/save his people and to bring the Judgment. Only now, a different sort of visitation is described—of a revelatory light from heaven, shining upon human beings (God’s people) trapped in darkness. The “rising up” (a)natolh/) is best understood by the image of a sun or star which gives the light (of God) from out of heaven (Num 24:17; Isa 60:1ff; Mal 4:2, etc). The image of people—God’s people—sitting in darkness and shadow comes primarily from Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7 (cf. also Psalm 107:9-10).
Similarly, in the Simeon episode, the child Jesus is identified as the Anointed One (2:26)—that is, the Messianic figure-type of the end-time ruler from the line of David (cf. 1:32-33, 69; 2:11). An interesting shift has taken place, however; instead of the idea of salvation from the wicked nations (the enemies of Israel, cf. 1:70-71) etc, this figure is now identified with salvation itself. Note the similarity of language between 2:26 and 30:
“…until he should see the Anointed of the Lord”
“…my eyes have seen your Salvation“
In other words, the salvation which the Lord (Yahweh) brings for his people is embodied in the person of the Anointed One (Jesus). The imagery of the Anointed One bringing light to/for the nations (cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10), an extension of the basic image in 1:78-79 (Isa 9:2ff, cf. Matt 4:15-16), is tied to an important prophetic idea—best seen in the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems—that the covenant relationship (between YHWH and Israel) will reach outward to the surrounding nations, and that other peoples will come to join Israel as part of God’s people (cf. Isa 49:6, 22; 56:3-8; 60:3-7; 66:18ff, etc). This shift in focus was an important element of early Christian thought, associated with the mission to the Gentiles—and, as such, is developed throughout the book of Acts, being tied to the central Spirit-theme of the author.
3. The Temple setting. As previously noted, the Temple serves as an important point of contact between the Old and New Covenant in the Lukan narrative. This continuity is reflected by the fact that the early believers of Jerusalem continue to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:12ff, 25, etc), just like the faithful ones of old. However, for believers in Christ, the Temple has a very different purpose and significance. As Simeon holds the child Jesus in his arms, he is encountering the new revelation of God to His people.
Let us now consider the three-fold description of Simeon’s experience with the Spirit in 2:25-27. Three aspects are mentioned, one in each verse:
The wording suggests that this was not a one-time event, but rather that Simeon may have had regular experiences of this sort. Two distinct modes of Spirit-experience are mentioned, both of which were introduced earlier in the Infancy narrative, and continue to be developed throughout Luke-Acts. The first is the Spirit being upon (e)pi/) a person, just as it was said that the Holy Spirit would “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) Mary (1:35, cf. the prior note). The second mode involves a person going about in (e)n) the Spirit, being led/guided by the Spirit. It was said of John the Baptist that he would go about in the prophetic spirit (1:17, meaning that the Spirit of God would be in/on him). The language for this mode is expressed more directly in the case of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (4:1, 14, to be discussed in the next note).
In the middle reference, Simeon is given special information from the Spirit; the verb xrhmati/zw is used, which here indicates a declaration of how certain business (i.e., a particular matter) will come out; it may also imply a decision (by God) regarding the matter. In this particular instance, the content of the message relates precisely to the Messianic expectation of Simeon (cf. above). Through the Spirit, God promises him that he will not die (lit. “is not to see death”) before he sees “the Lord’s Anointed (One)”. This (private) prophetic message is fulfilled by Simeon’s encounter with Jesus, which explains why the Spirit leads him into the Temple precincts at that moment. He comes into the Temple “in the Spirit”; the expression is also important because it indicates the inspired character of the oracle that he utters in vv. 29-32. It is not said of Simeon specifically that he was filled with the Spirit, but given the parallel with the oracle of Zechariah, this may fairly be assumed. It is possible, however, that the idea of being in the Spirit is indicative of a longer-term experience, rather than a sudden and momentary burst of inspiration. Certainly, the oracle that he utters represents the culmination of a lifetime of faithfulness and devotion to God.