Mary and Joseph have fulfilled the law of circumcision for their newborn child on the eighth day and are now back in Bethlehem making preparations for their return to Nazareth. Before they leave, however, Mary must obey the law of purification (Luke 2:22–24; Lev. 12:1–8) and so waits in Bethlehem until the fortieth day when she and Joseph travel to the temple in Jerusalem for both her purification rite and their presentation of the Christ child to the Lord. A forty-day period is significant for many biblical events.
A man named Simeon is waiting in the temple court in Jerusalem in expectation to see the Lord’s Christ. Simeon sees Mary, Joseph, and the six-week-old baby enter the temple court of Solomon. He has been waiting possibly for years for this very event to occur and for the consolation of Israel. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon approaches the parents, takes Jesus in his arms, and says: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32, NIV).
As Joseph and Mary stood in amazement with the old man’s proclamation and blessing upon them, Simeon turns to Mary with his Spirit-filled, very specific prophecy: “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, NIV).
The divine special greatness of their child, Jesus, has just been confirmed by a stranger in the temple. Simeon has gazed upon the young child, held him in his arms, and announced he has now seen both salvation and light—for all people of the world, both Jews and Gentiles. He has seen Jesus, Immanuel! Mary understands this as well, yet she has been told of the future sorrow that lies in wait for her.
Anna, a prophetess, is also waiting in the temple for the very same confirmation seen by Simeon. Luke says that Anna was very old, had been a widow for many years, and worshipped night and day in anticipation of Israel’s Messiah (Luke 2:36–38). Anna came up to Joseph and Mary giving thanks and praise to God because her eyes had now seen the predicted Redeemer, just as Simeon had.
This day in the temple was the dedication of baby Jesus according to the law in Exodus 13:2, 12, and it occurred forty days after his birth. The proclamations by Simeon and Anna, two senior citizens of Jerusalem, were remarkable testimonies about the future of Jesus, the future of Israel, and the future of the world. Leaving Jerusalem that day, Joseph and Mary must have been overwhelmed with the responsibility of raising their son Jesus in order for these future predictions to become reality. Luke states that after doing everything required in the law, they returned to Galilee, specifically to Nazareth (Luke 2:39). It is important to note that their return to Nazareth takes place only after their flight to Egypt. The proper chronology of events must include the Matthew 2 account of the holy family’s escape to Egypt (which must have happened after the forty days) before they finally settle in Nazareth. When they arrive back in Bethlehem, an angel directs Joseph in a dream to leave immediately and take their child to a safe refuge in Egypt. They remain there until an angel informs them to leave. In the meantime, Herod has now realized the wise men from the east have outwitted him and are not returning per his instructions. In his anger, he orders the slaughter of all boys two years old and under in and around Bethlehem to remove any chance of a new king coming to be and challenging his own throne. Herod dies soon after this, and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return to Nazareth. Joseph sets up his carpentry shop, he and Mary will have sons and daughters of their own, and the next event recorded in the Ancient Words about Jesus is His trip to Jerusalem at age twelve (Luke 2:40–52).