Christian Articles Archive

Christmas Disciples -- Simeon and Anna

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Rembrandt, detail from 'Simeon Song of Praise' (1631), oil on oak panel, 24x18.9 in, Royal Picture Gallery, Maurtshuis.
Rembrandt, detail of 'Simeon Song of Praise' (1631), oil on oak panel, 24x18.9 in, Royal Picture Gallery, Maurtshuis.

I'm fascinated at how God orchestrates his disciples in the events surrounding Christmas. We've considered some pre-Christmas disciples, Zechariah and Mary. Now let's look at some post-Christmas disciples -- Simeon and Anna -- to ponder characteristics of some of God's choice servants.

Forty days after Jesus' birth, Mary and Joseph come to the temple in Jerusalem -- six miles north of Bethlehem -- to dedicate him to the Lord as a firstborn son. Luke doesn't focus on the dedication, but on two wonderful disciples who "just happen" to meet the Holy Family in the temple courts.

Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)

First, we are introduced to Simeon. His name means, "hearing."

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him."[1]

Notice that he isn't introduced as a priest or prophet. He is a lay person who lives in the city. We are told four things about him: He is:

  1. Righteous. He is an upright, God-fearing man who takes following God seriously.[2]
  2. Devout. Simeon has an attitude of reverence towards God and is consistent in practicing his faith.[3]
  3. Expectant. He looks forward to the time when Israel will be "comforted"[4] by the Messiah's salvation, set free from all oppression.
  4. Spirit-filled. The Holy Spirit is "upon" him. This is rare in the Old Testament, experienced only by prophets, some kings, and people whom God intends to use in some special way. We are blessed in our day; now all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).

It is also clear that Simeon talks to God and that God talks to him -- which particularly interests me since I've recently prepared a Bible study series on "Listening for God's Voice" (www.jesuswalk.com/voice/).

"It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ." (Luke 2:26)

One day as Simeon is praying about the coming Messiah, God tells him, "You'll see the Messiah before you die!" Ever since that promise, Simeon has been eagerly awaiting this day. Now we read,

"Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts." (Luke 2:27a)

Because Simeon walks in the Spirit, he is listening and responsive. So when the Holy Spirit prompts or guides[5] him to go up to the temple, he doesn't hesitate. As he obeys, he becomes a participant in God's amazing choreography.

Mary and Joseph are amazed when this old man "just happens" to show up. They allow him to take the child in his arms for a blessing. Simeon offers a word of personal praise that God has allowed him to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Then he utters a prophecy over the child, especially directed towards Mary:

"This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

Jesus was and is the key figure by whom people rise and fall. They rise by putting their faith in him. They fall by rejecting or ignoring him. For them, Jesus is:

"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall." (Isaiah 8:14b)

Jesus will be roundly criticized, prophesies Simeon, revealing the true hearts of his critics. And he bring pain to Mary's heart when he is crucified.

Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)

Mary and Joseph are in awe. But God isn't finished. Next Anna enters the stage of God's choreographic masterpiece.

"There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38)

We are told several things about her. She is:

  1. Of the tribe of Asher. Asher is one of the so-called 10 Lost Tribes of the Northern Kingdom that went into exile in 722 BC. Perhaps Anna's family wasn't deported, or her family moved to the Southern Kingdom prior to the Assyrian Exile. We don't know.
  2. A widow. She has been a widow since she was about 20 or 21 years old, never remarrying. That these facts about her appear in Luke's account indicate that she is a well-respected person in the temple, known to generations of families who come at Passover and at other times.
  3. Very old. She is 84 years of age.[6]
  4. A prophetess. Anna is one of only a handful of "old covenant" female prophets mentioned in the Bible, in company with Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4-5), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20). Sometimes we think that only men can do important things among God's people. Not so. Men and women serve according to God's own gifting and calling, not according to human rules.[7] Since Anna is known as a prophetess and is known in the temple, I expect that she didn't make public pronouncements, but rather ministers as a "seer," giving words from God to worshippers in the temple.
  5. She spends all her time worshipping. Luke notes, "She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying" (Luke 1:37b). I don't know that she actually sleeps and cooks within the temple courts, but that's where she spends all her time. Perhaps people bring her gifts of food. We just don't know. At any rate, she loves God, and loves to humble herself before him in fasting and prayer.

This well-known old saint "just happens" to approach the Holy Family.

"And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38)

Anna starts praising God and telling all the people around her who the child is and the significance of what he will do to redeem God's people.

What do these passages teach us about God's intent for disciples, especially elderly disciples?

  1. Disciples listen for and obey God's promptings. They speak to God and listen for God to speak to them.
  2. Disciples are righteous, devout people who love God.
  3. Disciples spend significant time worshipping, praying, and humbling themselves before God. For them it is a way of life.
  4. Disciples bring words of encouragement and life to those to whom God sends them.
  5. Elderly disciples should not be insular, tucked neatly away from others.  Rather, if they walk with God, they have much to offer the whole church!
  6. Elderly disciples are meant to encourage the young in their walk with the Lord -- and younger disciples do well to hear their stories of how older saints have encountered God.

On that very special day when God leads young Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to come to the temple, he ordains that they meet and be encouraged by two elderly lovers of God. God, help us to be these kinds of encouraging disciples to those to whom You send us! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.



[1] Luke 2:25.

[2] The Greek adjective is dikaios, "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" (BDAG 246, 1aα).

[3] The adjective is eulabēs, "devout, God-fearing" (BDAG 407), "reverencing God, pious, religious" (Thayer, p. 259).

[4] "Consolation" is paraklēsis, "comfort, consolation." It comes from the root word parakaleō, "call to one's side" then "help, encourage, comfort" (BDAG 766, 3).

[5] "Moved by" (NIV), "guided by" (NRSV), "prompted by" (NJB), "came in/by" (ESV, KJV) translate a common Greek verb, erchomai, "come" with the preposition en, here, indicating instrumentality or agency, "with the help of" the Holy Spirit (BDAG 328, 6). Also Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1997), p. 146, "by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit"; and I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1978), p. 119, "by the guidance of the Spirit."

[6] KJV and the margin of NIV, NRSV, and ESV suggest that the text can possibly be read that Anna lives 84 years after her husband's death.

[7] In the New Testament we read that "you all can prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5), both men and women (1 Corinthians 11:5). Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), but only men are mentioned as those with a prophetic "office," recognized prophets in the church -- Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10), and others from Jerusalem (Acts 13:1-3). This doesn't mean that women prophets aren't allowed, only that we don't see them in the New Testament accounts.

Copyright © 2018, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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