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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Luke 2


 
Verse 1
Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.

Augustus ...
"This is the title given by the Roman Senate on January 17, 27 B.C., to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.)." F1

All the world ...
was "a technical term used freely to refer to the Roman Empire," F2 which was indeed, at that time, the whole civilized world.

Should be enrolled ...
Critical allegations denying that such enrollments were made have been proved false. As Barclay said:

Such censuses were taken every fourteen years; and from 20 A.D. to 270 A.D., we possess actual documents from every census taken ... Here is an instance where further knowledge has shown the accuracy of the New Testament. F3


 
Verse 2
This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

The second census under Quirinius was in 6 A.D. (Acts 5:37); and the words "the first" in this passage refer to the census fourteen years earlier in 8 B.C., but which was delayed in Palestine until the time coinciding with the birth of Christ in 6 B.C. Quirinius was twice governor and presided over both. Robertson said:

Luke is now shown to be wholly correct in his statement that Quirinius was twice governor, and that the first census took place during the first period. A series of inscriptions in Asia Minor show that Quirinius was governor of Syria in 10-7 B.C., and again in 6 A.D. F4

Regarding some of the inscriptions mentioned by Robertson, these included those which were found in the autobiography of Augustus Caesar inscribed on the inner walls of the ruined temple of Augustus at Ankara. These were published in the New York Times in 1929; and these refer to the two censuses, even giving the numbers of those enrolled and naming Quirinius in both as governor of Syria. Luke is therefore quite accurate in his record.


 
Verse 3
And all went to enroll themselves, every one to his own city.

Here again we must take notice of the carping allegations that Luke erred in supposing that the enrollments were taken in the native cities of the citizens. Barclay called attention to the existence of a document of the Roman government with instructions pertaining to this great periodical census and with the edict.

It is necessary to compel all those, who for any cause whatsoever are residing outside their own districts to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census, and may also diligently attend the cultivation of their allotments. F5

In the light of such documentation, Gilmour's imaginative comment that "It is improbable that any Roman census would require a man to report to the home of his ancestors" F6 appears contrary to established fact. Whether or not documented proof is available in every instance, Luke has been repeatedly proved to be far more dependable than any writer from the non-Christian community of that period.


 
Verse 4
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David.

Luke's design in this chapter was to show how it came about that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, despite the fact of Joseph and Mary's residence in Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. The only reason cited by Luke for this journey to Bethlehem was the decree of Caesar and the necessity for Joseph's obedience to it. However, it does not appear to be certain that Mary was required to make this journey. Clarke stated that "It was not necessary for Mary to have gone to Bethlehem"; F7 that is, it was not necessarily a requirement of Caesar's decree that she should have gone. The priority of the decree as the reason for the journey is plain, for it was the only reason Luke mentioned; but there were doubtless other considerations also. Childers too believed that "Neither Roman nor Jewish law required Mary to accompany Joseph for this registration." F8 He assigned, as reasons why she did so, (1) the fact of their love for each other, (2) Mary's desire that Joseph should be with her for her delivery, and especially (3) the leading of the Holy Spirit; nor may we leave out of sight the presumption that Mary knew of Micah's prophecy and, guided by God's Spirit, moved toward fulfillment of it. Elizabeth had already identified Mary's unborn Son as the Messiah (Luke 1:43). However, her faith might not have been sufficiently strong to have caused her to go to Bethlehem without the occasion of Caesar's decree.

There is a possibility, at least, that under the circumstances they had decided to move to Bethlehem. Some elements of the sacred accounts, such as their remaining in the area after Jesus' birth, "indicate that when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, they were considering it a permanent move." F9 Harmonizing with this suggestion is the fact that after going to Egypt, they intended to return to "the land of Israel"; but upon learning that another Herod was on the throne, and in obedience to God's warning in a dream, they went instead to Galilee (Matthew 2:21-23). Summers pointed out that "Bethlehem was the historical headquarters of the stonemason's guild," F10 an association that included "tektons" of at least three classes of workers. These were carpenters, stonemasons, and certain kinds of farmers. Luke omitted a number of events related by Matthew, not only because they were already well known from the "many" sources used by all the Gospels, but because they did not fit into the particular design of his Gospel. Here, the big point is that the fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ's birth in Bethlehem was accomplished by the pagan lord of the empire, Augustus Caesar, whose census was the immediate cause of it.

Bethlehem ...
means "place of bread," and it was appropriate that the Bread of Life should have been born there, and that the Son of David should have been born in the village so intimately associated with the history of David the shepherd king of Israel.


 
Verse 5
To enroll himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child.

Who was betrothed to him ...
indicates that the relationship between Joseph and Mary was still that of an unconsummated marriage; although, of course, they had been living together since the command to Joseph by the angel in a dream (Matthew 1:20).

Being great with child ...
suggests that, since the time of delivery was near, the most urgent considerations had induced Mary to accompany Joseph on this trip.


 
Verses 6, 7
And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

This was the central event in world history, apparently of the most ordinary significance to anyone who might have been aware of it, but actually the pivot upon which the future of mankind turned, the cornerstone and foundation of all mortal hopes.

Her firstborn son ...
"This means that there were other children born to Mary after this. If Luke had believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary he most likely would have used "only born" ([Greek: monogene]) rather than "firstborn" ([Greek: prototokon])." F11 Both Mark and Matthew named four sons called "brothers" of Jesus; and there was utterly no indication by either sacred writer that "brothers" was to be construed otherwise than in the ordinary sense. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). This writer feels no compulsion toward accommodation with the superstitions that arose with reference to Mary's perpetual virginity. Strong agreement is felt with Childer's comment:

Commentators who accept the Roman Catholic view that Mary had no other children deny that the term firstborn indicates later births by her; but it seems clear to this writer that they are denying fact to support doctrine. F12

And while it is true that, in a technical sense, "firstborn" does not prove there were other births, it certainly does not deny the fact; and, coupled with the repeated mention of Jesus' "brethren" in the Gospels, it is conclusive. Allegations to the contrary are founded upon a mistaken premise that the state of virginity is holier than the state of matrimony, declared by an apostle to be: "honorable in all."

Wrapped him in swaddling clothes ...
Barclay has given the only description of these that this writer has ever seen, as follows:

Swaddling clothes were like this - they consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming diagonally off one corner. The child was first wrapped in the square of cloth, and then the long strip was wound round and round about him. F13

And laid him in a manger ...
The word here denotes "not' only a manger but, by metonymy, the stall or `crib' (Proverbs 14:4) containing the manger." F14 One cannot fail to be impressed with the intimations of Christ's final sufferings which appear in things related to his birth. In his death, they wrapped him in "bandages" much like swaddling clothes; and he was nailed to the "tree" much like the manger made from a scooped-out log. He who was to bear the sins of all men, in accepting a share of man's mortality, was even in his birth associated with emblems of suffering. Just as there was no room in the inn, there was no room for him in the world which slew him.

There was no room in the inn ...
The limited capacity of ancient inns, the influx of others for the enrollment, and the normal fluctuations in every business were probably among the conditions that made it impossible for the holy parents to have found better accommodations; but, over and beyond all this, it was the will of God that the Saviour of all people should have been born in such humble circumstances.

No room for the Son of God! What a commentary is this upon the situation of Adam's rebellious race when the Dayspring from on High visited our sinful world! The King had indeed come to visit his children, but what unworthy hosts they proved to be!

Just what day of the week, month, or year did this occur? It is simply impossible to tell, there being, in fact, some question of exactly what year it was. The comment of the incomparable Adam Clarke is worthy of repeating in this context. He said:

Fabricus gives a catalogue of no less than 136 opinions concerning the YEAR of Christ's birth; and, as to his BIRTHDAY, it has been placed by Christian sects and learned men in every month of the year!; ... but the Latin Church, supreme in power and infallible in judgment, placed it on the 25th of December, the very day on which the ancient Romans celebrated the feast of their goddess Bruma! F15

Regardless of human curiosity and preoccupation of scholars with this question, "we should take our cue from the obvious lack of divine interest in the question." F16


 
Verse 8
And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock.

ANNUNCIATION TO THE SHEPHERDS

And there were shepherds ...
Their names are unknown, but they were appropriate representatives of Adam's race; and, as these words stand, they have a far more significant meaning than if personal names of these laborers had been supplied.

Abiding in the field ...
The fact of the shepherd being outdoors suggests the temporal and transitory nature of the human family's status on earth. In the larger context of man's earthly tenure, the shepherds were better representatives of mankind than dwellers in strong houses might have been. In a sense, all men are "in the field," subject to all limitations of earth life, and remaining but a brief span of time.

By night ...
Appropriately, Jesus was born at night; for there was a darker night symbolized by that event. The scepter had about departed from Judah; the savage Idumean was on the throne of David; pagan darkness engulfed the world; and the lord of the whole world was the first of the Caesars, Augustus, whose successors would drown the world in blood, debauch the government, and usher in the age of darkness. Beyond the confines of the ancient empire, the long and shameful gloom had settled over all the world; all nations sat in darkness.

O what a night was that which wrapped The heathen world in gloom! O what a Sun which rose this day Triumphant from the tomb. F17
O what a night it was for all When Mary found no room To wrap her Babe but in a stall Encircled by the gloom.
- (second stanza by James Burton Coffman)


 
Verse 9
And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

The angels appearing to Zacharias and to Mary, already recorded by Luke, do not seem to have been accompanied by the "glory" mentioned here. In this instance, it was necessary for the shepherds to be able to see. A similar glory was seen by Paul in the appearance to him of Jesus on the Damascus road. The fear of the shepherds was like that which always accompanied such a visitation.


 
Verse 10
And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.

Be not afraid ...
Fear has ever been the bane of human existence on earth, ever since the fall from Eden. Man is born with only two fears, that of falling and that of a loud noise; but, to these, his experience quickly adds many more, and his fertile imagination countless others. The calming of mortal fears has frequently engaged God's concern, as in this instance through his angels.

To all people ...
The good news announced by the angels was not merely for Israel, but for Gentiles and all men. It is not correct to view the universalism of Luke's Gospel as being due to any conscious choice on his part, selecting only the material that would convey this; because in this very episode we have Luke the Gentile recording the first announcement of Jesus' birth, not to Gentiles, but to Jewish shepherds. On the other hand, Matthew the Jew, and scholarly expert in the Old Testament Scriptures, introduced the Gentile wisemen as first learning of the Saviour's birth through the message conveyed by the star (Matthew 2:1,3). Wonderful are the ways of the Lord.


 
Verse 11
For there is born unto you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Three titles of the Son of God were announced by the angels.

Saviour ...
has reference to Jesus' office as the sinbearer, the procurer of salvation for the sons of men, a salvation which, preeminently above everything else, was the remission of their sins and restoration of the fellowship lost in Eden.

Christ ...
identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, the Shiloh, Anointed, Suffering Servant, and Messiah foretold of old. Although the term had been corrupted by the base and foreign elements of meaning imported into the title by the carnal and malignant secularism of the religious hierarchy, it had the true meaning that Jesus was the divine head of the theocracy, the lawful ruler of Israel, the promised Son of David who would usher in the great kingdom, misunderstood by the Jews as a mere resurrection of the low kingdom of Solomon.

The Lord ...
The preference Luke showed for this title in his record of Jesus' life and teachings is alleged by the critics to have been the cause of his using it in such contexts as this, "retroactively," thus denying that Luke really reported here exactly what the angels said. Such a view is totally unworthy of acceptance. Rather, it is in the use of the term "Lord' by Elizabeth and by the angels, etc. which accounts for Luke's preference for it. This Gospel was written only thirty years after the events related; and the widespread use of "Lord" as a title of Jesus Christ, as evidenced by the writings and preaching of Paul, with whom Luke had been a traveling companion for many years, postulates that there was a cause for such widespread acceptance of the title; and that cause is evident in the event here, in which the angels of God called Jesus "Lord."


 
Verse 12
And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

Not the swaddling clothes, which were common, but the babe's "lying in a manger" was the sign.


 
Verses 13, 14
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.

A multitude of the heavenly host ...
A host of angels is represented in the Old Testament as forming the bodyguard of Deity (Psalms 103:21; Daniel 7:10). As Boles said, "This praise was a proclamation of the newborn King and a confirmation of the glorious tidings to the shepherds, and through them to all people." F18 Angels shouted for joy at creation (Job 38:7), served at the giving of the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 33:2; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19); and now, with greater wonder than ever, and with even greater joy, they celebrated the entry of God into human life. "Peace" was proclaimed by angels on the night in which the Prince of Peace was born.

Glory to God in the highest ...
is the so-called "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," another of the famous Latin hymns of Christendom. The variations of the renditions of "peace to men of good will," "peace on earth; good will to men," or as here, are of no importance, although this version is preferable, due to the fact of its keeping in view the truth that it is not "good will to men" who are wicked, but "good will to men" who honor God, which was promised and proclaimed by the angelic host.

Did the angels sing on this occasion? "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7) in creation; and there can be no doubt, really, that they did so here. However, there is no New Testament word to confirm the comment that "The choir which so suddenly joined the angelic messenger sang heavenly music about the Prince of Heaven." F19


 
Verse 15
And it came to pass when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Note that here "Lord" is the title of the Father in heaven; and the angels had just used it of Jesus.

The angels had not commanded the shepherds to go see the child Jesus, but the implication that they should do so was contained in the sign given to aid their finding him.


 
Verse 16
And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

Surely there was only one babe in Bethlehem that night whose mother had found no place but a manger to lay him; and thus the sign was sufficient to enable the accomplishment of their mission.

With haste ...
is significant. When God gives his great opportunities to men, it is needful that they should seize them at once. Moving quickly to do God's will is seizing the flood tide that leads on to victory. Delay may hinder or thwart altogether the blessing God intended.


 
Verse 17
And when they saw it, they made known the saying which was spoken to them about the child.

Childers thought that the shepherds might have "received additional information about the child from Mary and Joseph"; F20 but the use of the singular "saying" would seem to restrict what these men preached to the words of the angel to them. As Barnes said:

Having seen the child for themselves, they now had evidence that would satisfy others; and accordingly they became the first preachers of the gospel, and went and proclaimed to others that the Messiah had come. F21


 
Verse 18
And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds.

Wondered ...
Most people were inclined to wonder about such a message; but there is no evidence that any of them at all were concerned enough about the coming of the Messiah to investigate any further. This is the attitude of the vast majority of men in all generations. The greatest news of all ages had broken in their community, and the people "wondered" about it. It reminds one of the newspaper editor who reported Wilbur and Orville Wright's flight of an airplane by an inconspicuous, scanty, and apparently skeptical notice of it on a back page. There was a far greater lack of perception in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born.


 
Verse 19
But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.

Sayings ...
not merely the "saying" of the shepherds, but that of the angel to herself, that of the angel to Joseph, and many others.

Kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart ...
Two things of vast importance are here: (1) Mary kept all these sayings. "In her heart" does not modify "kept," which is an indication that Mary made accurate records of all that took place. All mothers like to keep a "baby book," and there can be no doubt at all that the most accurate record of things that attended Jesus' conception and birth was made by his virgin mother and, in due course, given to the author of this Gospel. (2) She pondered them in her heart. This indicates that Mary continually had these things in mind, meditating upon them, and wondering, perhaps, what the full import of such things could be.


 
Verse 20
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken unto them.

Returned ...
Great religious privilege did not release them from their prosaic task; and thus it is for all who share in the heavenly message of the Saviour. The most exalted influence of the Christian gospel in the lives of men does not release them from earthly duties.

Peace on earth ...
How that echo of the angel's message must have thrilled and benefited them. Of course, it was not for long. Indeed the doors of the temple of Janus were closed when Christ was born, significant symbol of a world at peace; but the destruction of the Holy City itself loomed in the future. The peace the angel mentioned could not come except to them who would love and honor Christ, making it impossible for many.


 
Verse 21
And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcising him, his name was called JESUS, which was so called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

MOSAIC CEREMONIES FULFILLED FOR JESUS

Not a jot or a tittle of the law was broken by Jesus. He was born under the law and fulfilled all of its requirements perfectly, thus achieving the true righteousness to be made available to all men "in him," that is, through union with and indentification with Christ.

Since the purification of Mary, mentioned a little later, and the circumcision of Christ were commandments of the law, they were obeyed. Barnes pointed out that just as Christ was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15), it was also proper that he should have been circumcised. "It is necessary for the future usefulness of Christ; without it, he could not have entered any synagogue, or had access to the people, or have been regarded as the Messiah." F22

As in the case of John the Baptist, and according to custom, the formal naming took place at circumcision; even though, in both cases, the name had been given before that event.


 
Verses 22, 23
And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as if is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord).

Their purification ...
carries some hint that Jesus needed purification also; and, if so, this has reference to ceremonial uncleanness, a thing Jesus suffered as an inherent factor of the incarnation. He was "made to be sin" on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Again from Childers:

His whole life shows that he identified himself with this sinful race - though he was sinless. Jesus always submitted to religious rites which were necessary for sinful men, even though they were not really necessary for him. F23

For Old Testament teachings regarding the purification of women after childbirth, and the redemption of the firstborn, see: Leviticus chapter 12; Exodus 13:2; Numbers 8:16; 18:15. These ceremonies are mentioned here for the sake of showing that all legal requirements under the law were carefully observed.


 
Verse 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.

This shows that Mary and Joseph offered the offering of the poor, as allowed (Leviticus 12:8) for those whose means were meager; and it was perhaps for the purpose of highlighting this that Luke included the fact of exactly the kind of offering they made.

THE SONG OF SIMEON

In the midst of the ceremonies being observed in the temple, the appearance of Simeon took place. His words, called the Nunc Dimitis, are so-called from his first words as rendered in Latin, and are referred to as a "song," not because he sang them, but because for generations afterwards they have been sung by others.


 
Verse 25
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Simeon ...
This man has been identified as the son of the famous Hillel, father of Gamaliel, and president of the Sanhedrin. F24 Spence noted that the Mishna (part of the Talmud), which perserved the record of sayings of great rabbis, has no word from Simeon, "perhaps owing to the hatred incurred because of his belief in Jesus of Nazareth." F25

Righteous and devout ...
The Greek word for "devout" means "circumspect or cautious," F26 and thus Simeon was not a man to make rash or unconsidered judgements. The word also means "God-fearing." F27

Looking for the consolation of Israel ...
He longed for the coming of the Messiah; and the Spirit prepared his heart to recognize him.

And the Holy Spirit was upon him ...
indicates that it was directly under the influence of the Holy Spirit that Simeon was told to go into the temple, thus making this a supplementary revelation to the one already received regarding the promise that he should live to see the Messiah.


 
Verse 26
And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

The past perfect tense indicates action that had been completed in the past. His waiting for the fulfillment of so glorious a promise was referred to as "waiting for the consolation of Israel" in the preceding verse.


 
Verses 27, 28
And he came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of law, then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

The parents ...
Luke's use of this word for Joseph and Mary here, and again in Luke 2:41, and Mary's reference to Joseph as "father" of Jesus raises no question whatever regarding the virgin birth. One grows weary of the sophistry, and that is all it is, that seizes upon such expressions as any manner of denial of the facts Luke had so dogmatically affirmed only a moment before. They were his "parents" legally; Joseph was his "father" legally; and a student of the New Testament must be out of his senses to suppose that Jesus was reared any other way than as the "supposed" child of Joseph (Luke 3:23), a fact Luke stated. Could it be imagined, even for a moment, that Mary and Joseph would have shared the glorious truth of Jesus' virgin birth with the nosey neighbors of unbelieving Nazareth? or with the secular hypocrites who ran the temple? NO! It must be supposed even further that Mary did not tell Jesus himself of the marvels that attended his birth, at least not the whole story until he reached sufficient age. The fact of her eventually sharing the full wonder of it all probably came when Jesus was about twelve years of age; and it was Jesus' full comprehension of what Mary had told him (probably recently) which may account for the incident of his hearing and asking questions of the religious doctors, and his first recorded reference to God as "my Father." And is not the inference which we have spelled out here exactly the reason why Luke recorded these references to "parents" and "father" as inclusive of Joseph? If any other course had been followed, the function of the blessed Mary would have been that of a child-worshiper, rather than that of a competent mother of our Lord. What Luke is saying here is that, despite the supernatural elements in the birth of Jesus, he was at once relegated by his legal parents to the ordinary status of any child, and that his infancy, youth, and immaturity were those of any normal human being. That this should have been so was inherent in the fact of the incarnation.

In this same connection, there inevitably came to the holy mother herself an acceptance of the normalcy of Jesus' life and person. Time eroded, to a certain extent, but never effaced, the blessed memories of Jesus' supernatural birth; and when Jesus dramatically claimed God as "my Father" (Luke 2:49), it was only natural that Joseph and Mary "understood not the saying which he spake unto them." All of the basic knowledge needed for the understanding of it, they already had, as Luke's history shows; but Joseph and Mary, lulled by the years of Jesus' normal and unspectacular development, found nothing in their knowledge of the child Jesus thus far that could enable their understanding of it. In all probability, the same state of affairs continued until the baptism of Jesus eighteen years later. The facts related here are of vast importance in refuting the wild and irresponsible tales that were fancied during the Dark Ages with reference to the child Jesus.

After the custom of the law ...
See under Luke 2:21.


 
Verses 29-32
Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, According to thy word, in peace; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.

This passage carries the imagery of a bondservant requesting of his master that he might be dismissed. Simeon recognized that in the giving of Christ, God had indeed accomplished the salvation of men inclusive of the Gentiles. That Jesus was indeed the glory of Israel is fully true; but the Israel of this promise is far more extensive than secular or national Israel, and encompasses the redeemed of all ages.


 
Verse 33
And his father and his mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning him.

Childers' discerning comment on this catches the truth of it exactly:

Simeon was not telling Joseph and Mary anything they had not previously learned about Jesus. They marvelled, rather, that these truths should come to them from a stranger and under such circumstances. The marvel to them, and to us, is that everything that was said by all of God's messengers harmonized so perfectly. F28


 
Verse 34
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel; and for a sign which is spoken against.

No indeed! Luke had not forgotten about the virgin birth, nor had his reference to "parents" and "father" been any denial of it. Notice how it comes into focus here in the words of Simeon who addressed these words, not to Joseph at all, but to Mary his mother.

Rising and falling of many ...
Those rising would be such men as the fishers of Galilee who would become his apostles, and those falling would be such unbelievers as Annas and Caiaphas, the mighty high priests, and the ruling hierarchy.

A sign which is spoken against ...
The name of Jesus was spoken against, not only by the Roman writers such as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, who "spoke against the Name with the most intense bitterness"; F29 but "The great rabbinical schools which flourished in the first three centuries of Christianity, commonly used such names of Christ as `That Deceiver,' `That Man,' and `The Hung'." Even today the holy SIGN is spoken against by the servants of Satan throughout the world, some of whom spent their entire lives in the study of the Holy Scriptures in pursuit of the one purpose of finding something which they can deny.


 
Verse 35
Yea and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul, that thoughts out of many hearts many be revealed.

This prophecy is a marvel. It foretold that Mary would live to see Jesus crucified, and of the bitter sorrow in her own heart at the things which would befall the Son. (Joseph was not included in this.) The specific purpose of Calvary is also seen in the revelation of men's thoughts, which would flow out of it. Calvary is God's divider and separator of the good from the bad. The life of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the New Testament, polarizes the hearts of men, turning the wicked away, and drawing the redeemed upward to eternal life. Along with Mary and Joseph, we marvel at such a prophecy.


 
Verses 36, 37
And there was Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher (she was of great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she had been a widow even unto fourscore and four years), who departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day.

ANNA SPEAKS OF THE CHILD

The Greek New Testament describes Anna's age thus: "And she was a widow until years eighty-four." F30 It is not clear if the eighty-four years should be applied to her widowhood, or to her whole life; but the fullness of this reference to her age inclines to the view that they should be applied to her widowhood, making her age to be over a century.

Departed not from the temple ...
can hardly mean that she resided in it, but that she had never forsaken temple duties, despite her phenomenal age. Matthew Henry said:

It is pleasant to see aged Christians not weary of well-doing; but taking more and more pleasure in it, and seeing more and more need of it, till they come to heaven. Those who are diligent and faithful in improving their light and means, shall have further discoveries. F31


 
Verse 38
And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spake of him to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Spake of him ...
would normally refer to "God"; but it is clear that Luke is still writing of phenomena regarding the infant Christ. The content of the message is not recorded, but it must have been similar to the testimony of Simeon.


 
Verse 39
And when they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

Luke omitted the flight to Egypt and other important details of the life of Christ at this point, making it exceedingly unlikely that he had a copy of Matthew available to him. Even if he had, such omissions are characteristic of Luke's style. Another example was cited by Childers:

The same sort of writing occurs in Acts 9:25,26, where it appears that Paul returned to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion; but in Gal. 1:17,18, we learn that three years elapsed before his return. Such omissions are common in Scripture and other ancient writings. F32


 
Verse 40
And the child grew and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke here related the normal growth and mental development of the Christ child.

Filled with wisdom ...
is "becoming full of wisdom" in the Greek (English Revised Version (1885), margin), and should have been translated thus, which would have emphasized the normalcy of Jesus during this period, a normalcy that Luke had clearly in mind throughout.


 
Verse 41
And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover.

THE BOY JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

His parents ...
See under Luke 2:28.


 
Verses 42, 43
And when he was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast; and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not.

All Jewish adult males were required to attend the passover; and it was usually observed by the entire families of all the people who were physically able to make the journey. There is nothing here of the Bar-Mitzvah service for Jewish boys entering their thirteenth year, although the age of Jesus is certain to bring speculations about it. Caravans of people attending the great feast traveled in companies; and it was quite easy for Jesus to "get lost" on the return journey. Any twelve-year-old boy would have known how to do that!


 
Verses 44, 45
But supposing him to be in the company, they went a day's journey; and they sought for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance: and when they found him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for him.

This passage formed the basis for many a great sermon of the Restoration, in which were these analogies: (1) Many continue along life's way believing that Jesus is in their company, when actually he is not. (2) The search for Christ begins with kinsfolk and neighbors, but he is not with them either! (3) Then, let men return to Jerusalem, that is, to the gospel that was first preached in Jerusalem, to the true teachings of the New Testament. (4) Sure enough, Jesus was found in the temple, a figure of his church; and that is where he is found today.


 
Verses 46, 47
And it came to pass, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions: And all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

This picture of Jesus in this incident is that of a precocious learner and not that of a teacher of the religious doctors. His answers mentioned in the last clause were the type of answers students return to teachers examining them with questions. The only fact affirmed here is the advancement of understanding already attained by the boy Jesus at such an early age.


 
Verse 48
And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.

The word "Son" here is actually "Child" (Greek, English Revised Version (1885), margin), showing that Mary still regarded Jesus as a child, hence the reference to Joseph as "thy father," a reference never repeated again. This event took place at that age of Jesus when he was first fully conscious of just "who" he was. Had his mother, but recently, filled him in with a narrative of the events attending his conception and birth? Yes, in all probability. Despite this, Mary had not until this hour realized the full import of all that she knew of Jesus. She had been too busy being his mother.


 
Verse 49
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? knew ye not that I must be in my Father's house?

What did Jesus mean? He was saying, Look, we were all in the temple; I did not leave it; you did. I did not leave you; you left me!

In my Father's house ...
This is the first recorded utterance of Jesus; and, in it, he laid claim to a relationship to Almighty God, in a sense that distinguished his relationship from one that is open to other men; and throughout his ministry, this claim of Jesus was often repeated. Clearly, this statement of Christ so early in his life is the principal thing Luke intended to be taught by this episode. Like the apostle John, Luke also regarded the spiritual implications of such an event; and, in this quality, he is more like John than the other synoptics. As Robertson said:

The Christ of Paul and of John is in the synoptic Gospels. In all essentials, the picture is the same in Luke as in John and Paul. F33


 
Verse 50
And they understood not the saying which he spake them.

To misunderstand this verse as implying that Joseph and Mary had never even heard of such a thing as the virgin birth, or the Messiahship of their Son (as in Interpreter's Bible), is to miss the point of Luke's sublime history; and only those who are perversely ignorant of Luke's inspired record can so misunderstand it. See under Luke 2:28ff. Many who are ignorant pretend to misunderstand because of unbelief.


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

Here Luke virtually attributed to Mary the narratives just concluded, and without actually naming her as his source, nevertheless made that conclusion mandatory.

The precocious wisdom of the boy Jesus, and his certain consciousness of his unique relationship to the Father in heaven, were not looked upon by Jesus as sufficient to his earthly mission; but he recognized himself still to be a child. The hour of his emergence as the world's Saviour would be awaited by him until some sure indication of the Father's will informed him that "his hour" had come. In the meanwhile, he would not disgrace himself as a child prodigy. He manifested the noblest quality of youth, that of loving submission to his earthly parents.


 
Verse 52
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.

The fourfold development of Christ: mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually is here affirmed, exactly the type of growth and development that is inherent in the very fact of the incarnation. He who "emptied himself" and became a man found it needful to pass through the helplessness of infancy, the ignorance of babyhood, and the incompetence of adolescence just like all men. The true humanity of our Lord is thus brilliantly presented by Luke, no less than his true deity. That this is the greatest mystery of all ages is a fact; but that has not prevented the full acceptance of it by the faithful of all ages.


Footnotes for Luke 2
1: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1961, Vol. 2, p. 686.
2: Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1974), p. 36.
3: William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), p. 15. 47
4: A. T. Roberson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), p. 266.
5: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 15.
6: S. MacLean Gilmour, The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952, Vol. VIII, p. 50.
7: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1829), Vol. V, p. 369.
8: Charles L. Childers, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 445.
9: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 37.
10: Ibid.
11: Herschel H. Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1966), p. 50..
12: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 446.
13: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 16.
14: W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), Vol. II, p. 35.
15: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 370.
16: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 447.
17: Anna L. Barbauld, hymn, "Again the Lord of Light and Life" Great Songs of the Church (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1937), No. 328.
18: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1940), p. 55.
19: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 448.
20: Ibid.
21: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 20.
22: Ibid., p. 22.
23: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 451.
24: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 374.
25: H. D. M. Spence, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, Luke, p. 40.
26: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 60.
27: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 743.
28: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 453.
29: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 41.
30: Nestle Greek Text, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959).
31: Matthew Henry, Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), Matthew-Luke p. 225.
32: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 455.
33: A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 258.
34: H. D. M. Spence, op. cit., p. 11.
35: Ibid., p. 12.
36: Ibid.
37: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 50.
38: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 35.
39: Merrill F. Unger, The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 17.
40: Ibid., p. 18.
41: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 51.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=lu&chapter=002>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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