Joseph and Mary Fulfill the Requirements of the Law (Luke 2:21-38)

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2007-05-21 12:24.

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On the eighth day, the infant was circumcised. Joseph and Mary, in keeping with divine direction conveyed through the angel Gabriel to Mary and later through an angel in a dream to Joseph, named the boy Jesus. (2:21)

According to the Mosaic law, a woman remained in a state of ceremonial uncleanness for seven days after the birth of a boy. After the completion of an additional 33-day purification period, the woman was required to present a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. If she could not afford a lamb, she could offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Leviticus 12:1-8)

After the completion of the purification period, Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem to present the infant Jesus in the temple. By presenting him there to the Most High, they fulfilled the legal requirement designating every firstborn male as holy to God. (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15) Mary availed herself of the provision allowing her to offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Leviticus 12:8) This reveals that Joseph and Mary had limited means and that the magi had not as yet come to Bethlehem. The costly gifts of the magi would have provided Mary with the needed resources to offer a year-old lamb. (Luke 2:22-24)

While Joseph and Mary were at the temple, upright Simeon came up to them. This reverential resident of Jerusalem eagerly looked forward to the time when consolation would come to Israel through the promised Messiah. By means of God’s spirit, he had received a revelation that he would live to see the Messiah or “Christ of the Lord.” Under the impulse of God’s spirit, he had come to the temple and approached Joseph and Mary. Taking Jesus into his arms, he praised God and said, “Now, Sovereign Lord, according to your word, you are letting your slave go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all the peoples — a light for revelation to the nations and a glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

Having seen the one who would grow up to reveal himself as the promised Messiah, Simeon felt that he could die in peace, content that his earnest desire respecting Israel would be fulfilled. His prophetic words of thanksgiving indicated that the arrival of the Messiah would benefit people of other nations. The Messiah would serve as a “light for revelation to the nations,” showing how people could be rescued from their state of darkness, a sad condition without God and hope and an empty life spent in ignorance and sin. (Compare Isaiah 42:6, 7; Ephesians 2:12; 4:17, 18; 5:7-12; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 1:14, 18, 19.) As the one through whom all the divine promises would be fulfilled (including liberation from sin and death), the Messiah would be a glory to Israel. For the Israelites, having him come from their midst would be an unparalleled noble distinction. Years later, Jesus said to a Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews,” for he, as the promised Messiah, was an Israelite according to the flesh. (John 4:22)

Upon hearing Simeon’s words about Jesus, Joseph and Mary could not help but be amazed. (Luke 2:33) Simeon blessed them and then directed his words to Mary. Her son would cause the rising and falling of many in Israel. This indicated that there would be those who would accept him, while others would reject him. All who responded in faith, accepting him as the promised Messiah, would rise from their low estate as sinners to enjoy the dignity of reconciled children of God. All who persisted in unbelief would fall, losing out on everything, including their imagined status as being privileged “sons of Abraham.” Jesus would be a sign against whom hateful talk would be directed. By what he would say and do, he would be God’s sign to the people (as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites and Isaiah and his sons proved to be signs to Israel). (Isaiah 8:18; Luke 11:30) Because of the suffering Jesus would experience, the effect would be like that of a sword run through the “soul” of Mary or through her herself. The impact Jesus would have on others and their response would expose the thoughts of many hearts or would reveal people’s inmost selves. (Luke 4:34, 35)

Eighty-four-year-old Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, also approached Joseph and Mary. Evidently filled with gratitude for having been able to see the infant, she gave thanks to God. Anna, after seven years of marriage, had been widowed and remained single for the rest of her life. She spent her time at the temple, rendering service during the day and the night. This godly woman fasted and persisted in intense prayer. After having seen Joseph and Mary with the infant, she spoke about the boy to all who were awaiting Jerusalem’s deliverance. Anna did not indiscriminately broadcast the joyous news about the coming deliverer who had been born but shared the information with those who, like her, had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and the liberation he would bring about. (Luke 2:36-38) In view of the kind of ruler Herod the Great had revealed himself to be, she must have been aware that he and others would not welcome this news.


The words of Luke 2:23, “every male opening a womb should be called holy to the Lord” is not an exact quotation but accurately expresses the regulation as set forth in Exodus (13:2, 12, 15).

In Luke 2:24, the words regarding “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” convey the same meaning as in the extant text of Leviticus 12:8 in the Septuagint, but the words are not identical.