Jesus’ First Forty Days
Luke is the only one who tells us of Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, which was about five miles away from Bethlehem. Luke 2:21 says,
21 And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
As we noted with the birth of John the Baptist six months earlier, babies were named at the time of their circumcision. Even as John was named by divine revelation, so also was Jesus. With John the important event occurred at his circumcision, but with Jesus it was at the end of Mary’s 40-day purification at the temple.
Luke 2:22-24 says,
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
While all male children were circumcised on the eighth day, only the first-born was presented to the Lord as such. The priest was to inspect the child for defects, and if acceptable, he was consecrated to God. It is obvious that Jesus passed inspection.
The law of purification is found in Lev. 12:2-4,
2 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of menstruation she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.
The time of her purification was a total of forty days when a woman gave birth to a son. So on the fortieth day Joseph took Mary to the temple to fulfill the purification rite according to the Law of Moses. These rites were performed at the east gate of the court of women, called the Nicanor Gate, also known as the Gate Beautiful (Acts 3:2). Josephus calls it the Corinthian Gate.
The sacrifice was to be a lamb, but as Lev. 12:8 says, “if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Joseph and Mary were obviously not wealthy, as shown by their offering. Yet neither were they so poor that they had to offer a tenth of an ephah of meal (Lev. 5:11). The magi had not yet arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those gifts were necessary to fund their escape to Egypt.
The Change in the Law
These laws of purification have now changed to a new form under the New Covenant, for today “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Mary’s purification was not the result of sin, of course, for bearing children is no sin. But cleansing was needed for deeper reasons, which I will explain shortly.
Jesus told the disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Under Moses, cleansing was done by blood or water, depending on the situation. The blood represented the blood of the True Sacrifice; water represented the Word. When people believed and received the Word, it had the cleansing effect that God required. This was true of the disciples and of us today.
Even Mary was not really cleansed by the purification ceremony itself, but by the fact that she believed and received the Word in Luke 1:38, “be it done to me according to your word.” It should be understood clearly that no animal sacrifice and no water purification ceremony actually cleansed anyone—ever. The type was only effective if the heart was right—that is, if the person undergoing the Old Covenant ceremony had faith, which bound the type to its antitype.
It has always been about faith.
The Prophetic Law of Purification
It would be helpful also to take a little time to explain the prophetic aspect of the law of a mother’s purification in Leviticus 12. The law says that a mother was considered unclean for forty days if she gave birth to a son, but eighty days if she gave birth to a daughter (Lev. 12:5).
Why is there a difference? Is it a sin to bear a son? Is it twice as bad to bear a daughter? No, of course not. The Fruitfulness Mandate in Gen. 1:28 commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply.” Yet we must also realize that if they had borne children prior to their sin, they would have brought forth true sons and daughters of God in the image of Christ. This was always the intent of God and doing so would have truly fulfilled their Mandate. But all children born after Adam’s descent into sin and mortality would have to “become children of God” (John 1:12) through faith.
And so, all their children were born mortal, or death-ridden. The law makes it clear that touching a dead body was not a sin in itself, but it did require cleansing through the ashes of the red heifer (Num. 19:2, 13), representing Christ. The heifer was female, as are all mothers. So when a mother bore a child, the law reminds us that the child is already dead (mortal), and so the mother is in need of purification for failing to bring forth a child of life.
The law also prophesies, because the forty days and eighty days represent Jubilee cycles in long-term prophetic history. This need for purification began with Adam’s sin, and it was as if a corporate spiritual “daughter” had been born. Then eighty Jubilee cycles of history of purification passed before the law (mind) of God allowed Him to beget again. The corporate spiritual son was born at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Another forty Jubilee cycles of purification have now passed from 33 to 1993 A.D. The first two produced only mortal children. But now the long purification cycle has ended, and God is ready to beget again, this time an immortal corporate Son, which Paul refers to as the New Creation Man. This corporate Son will need no purification, for they will be birthed through the feast of Tabernacles. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:54,
54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Why was Mary Purified?
There is one final question to answer. Why did Mary need purification after giving birth to Jesus? One might ask the same question that John did when Jesus came to him for baptism. Jesus’ answer in Matt. 3:15,
15 But Jesus answering, said to him [John], “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.
Jesus did not attempt to explain it at that time. Certainly, His baptism fulfilled the law of baptism in Lev. 14:7, for immediately the second dove appeared over His head as this law prophesied. The second dove was being released into the open field, and so Jesus Himself was led into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). Because the law is prophetic, Jesus had to fulfill this prophecy.
If we view Mary as a second Eve, and understand that Eve was “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20), both women were “mothers” of the corporate children. Eve brought forth the mortal corporate daughter, and Mary brought forth Jesus who was the Head of the mortal corporate son. For this reason, Mary needed purification after forty days, not for any fault or sin of her own, but on account of the corporate son.
Whatever other reasons there may be for her purification, this much is sufficient to show why she needed to go to Jerusalem after forty days. And when she arrived there, she was rewarded with the prophetic witness of others who had been sent by revelation.
While Mary offered the two pigeons, an old man (perhaps a priest) saw what had been revealed to him by the Spirit and prophesied over Jesus. Luke 2:25 says,
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. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Dr. Bullinger suggests that this might be Simeon, the father of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), who later died about 52 A.D. Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, had been Paul’s instructor in Judaism prior to the vision that changed his life on the way to Damascus. Luke does not give us sufficient evidence to prove this, and certainly there were many other men named Simeon.
We are told that Simeon was “looking,” or waiting patiently, for “the consolation of Israel.” The Greek word translated “consolation” is paraklesis. This was a common name for the expected Messiah, who was to come and “console” Israel in view of her captivity. The word means “to console, comfort, help, encourage, or call to one’s side.” It is also the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), whom Jesus called Parakletos, (“Comforter,” KJV, or “Helper,” NASB).
In John 14:16 Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter,” by which He included Himself as a Comforter as well. Simeon’s hope lay in Isaiah 40:1, 2,
1 “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. 2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
The Hebrew word translated “comfort” is nacham, and its Greek equivalent (as used in the Septuagint) is parakaleite. Hence, all of the “comfort” passages in the Hebrew Scriptures were understood to refer to the Messiah. Jesus takes this a step further by referring to the Holy Spirit as “another Comforter” who was to help the believers during His personal absence. The role of the Holy Spirit is clarified in the New Testament, but prophesied everywhere throughout the Old.
The statement about Simeon in Luke 2:25 and 26 shows the role of both Comforters. Simeon understood that the Comforter was Christ. The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Truth, revealed this to Simeon, for we learn from Jesus’ words in John 16:13, 14,
13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.
Thus, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth of Christ to Simeon years before the day of Pentecost, showing that the Holy Spirit has played a role in the earth from the beginning.
Luke 2:27 continues the story of Simeon,
27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; 30 for my eyes have seen Thy salvation [Yeshua], 31 which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light of revelation to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”], and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Perhaps Simeon was the priest who was called to offer the pigeons that day. It is unlikely that he was just an observer, although this is possible, since the Holy Spirit had led him to come to the temple that day. What was the nature of his revelation? How did the Spirit lead him to the temple that particular day? Perhaps the Spirit had revealed to him the timing of the Messiah’s birth at Rosh Hoshana, the feast of Trumpets. If so, he would have known that the Messiah’s parents would bring him to the temple on the fortieth day, and he wanted to be there to offer the sacrifice—or just to observe.
Luke implies that Simeon knew by revelation that the name of the Messiah would be Yeshua, “Salvation.” Simeon had heard the word of the Lord. His name means “hearing.” He had heard but not seen until Joseph and Mary brought Jesus with them to the temple at the time of Mary’s purification. If he knew the time of the Messiah’s birth and knew also his name, the temple would have been the obvious place to watch and wait for His appearance.
First he “heard.” Then he “saw.” Verse 38 says, “for my eyes have seen Thy Yeshua.” In his hearing lay the hope, but hope ended with its fulfillment, as Paul says in Rom. 8:24,
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?
Paul was speaking of the resurrection, “the redemption of our body,” which was his “hope,” or expectation. Resurrection is a hope, not yet seen, although we are admonished to live in newness of life as if we had already been raised from the dead.
So Simeon had been given hope, an expectation of seeing the Consolation of Israel before he died. He testified, says Luke, that this “salvation” was something that God had “prepared in the presence [prosopon, “face”] of all peoples.” Luke’s use of the term prosopon carries huge implications. It is the word used in 2 Cor. 3:7 about the face of Moses that was glorified in Exodus 34:30. Likewise, the Septuagint translation of Exodus 34:30 uses the term prosopon to translate the Hebrew word paniym.
The presence of God in “all the peoples” was to be seen as a “light” in their “face,” even as in the case of Moses and later of Jesus Himself. Of course, this has a double meaning once again, for “light” can mean a literal light (as with Moses’ face), or it can refer to the light of revelation seen in men’s expression. In either case Luke is telling us through Simeon’s prophecy that the light of Yeshua will be seen in the face of all the peoples of the earth. Luke 2:32 further clarifies this by quoting Isaiah 9:2 and Isaiah 42:6, “a light of revelation to the nations,” as well as “the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Here again, Luke has Simeon prophesying of the repair of the breach between Israel and the nations, showing that the Messiah is not just a Jewish messiah, nor a King of the Jews, but rather the King of the whole earth.
Luke 2:33 then shows the surprised reaction of Joseph and Mary,
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel—and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Simeon’s prophecy was directed toward Mary herself, perhaps stimulated when he came to know her name. Mary, or Miriam, means “bitterness.” As the one giving birth to the Messiah, she was a prophetic type of Judah specifically and Israel generally, out of which people the Messiah was to be born. Judah as a whole rejected Jesus as the Messiah, for “His own (tribe or nation) did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Hence, divine judgment came upon them by means of the “sword” of Rome.
This “sword” would also pierce her own soul. We see this in her tears at the cross, as she witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:26). In the fourth century, Epiphanius lists her also among the martyrs, though we do not know if he had any real knowledge of this. I believe it is more likely that she went to Britain along with Joseph of Arimathea and others, dying a natural death many years later.
At any rate, Simeon said that Christ was “appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” The terminology is interesting, because it can picture one who falls over a stumbling block and gets back up, or one who falls in death and rises again. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:23,
23 But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.
The Jews were not expecting a crucified Messiah. In fact, crucifixion would have caused most of them to believe that He was NOT the Messiah. They would have viewed His death as proof of failure, because they expected the true Messiah to throw off the yoke of Rome. Thus, they would “fall” on this stumbling block, as prophesied in Isaiah 8:14,
14 Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will even be snared and caught.
Simeon says that this will be “a sign to be opposed.” The bad news is that many will stumble, but the good news is that they will also rise again. This sign is “for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” On one level the nation of Israel will rise again under its new Head, Jesus Christ, as prophesied in Hosea 1:11.
On another level, all those who have fallen in death will rise at the last day, where all will be judged according to their works, and where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10, 11).
Anna the Prophetess
Just as Simeon finished his prophecy over Jesus, an old woman named Anna came to prophesy as well. Luke 2:36-38 says,
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Once again we see Luke giving equal treatment to men and women in order to fulfill his purpose in healing the breach. First Simeon and then Anna bore witness of Jesus when he was forty days old.
Years later, when Jesus returned from the wilderness, where He had spent forty days in fasting and temptation, he gave his first teaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, where, Luke says, He attempted to repair more breaches. This nearly got Him killed (Luke 4:29) and caused Him to move His ministry headquarters to Capernaum.
The final forty-day period mentioned by Luke (in Acts 1:3) is where Jesus appeared to His disciples periodically to instruct them of their own mission to heal the breaches. They were sent into all nations as ambassadors of the Kingdom, telling them that God had declared a unilateral cease-fire against all “enemies” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
Each of these forty-day periods had some things in common. Luke’s purpose was to present these as times of preparation to heal the breaches. The repair of breaches between Jews and other ethnos, of course, was one of the most important aspects of Paul’s ministry, which Luke shared in their journeys.
As an apparently recognized prophetess, Anna would have had credibility in bearing witness to Simeon’s words about Jesus. Although no specific prophecy is recorded, we are told that she fulfilled the prophecy unique to her tribe of Asher. Asher means “blessed, happy.” It is likely the word used in the beatitudes, which say, “Blessed is the man…”
And so she rejoiced and gave thanks to God for the blessing of Christ’s arrival. Verse 38 says she “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” This is the equivalent of Luke’s description of Simeon, who looked for “the consolation of Israel.” The Messiah was to be both the Comforter and the Redeemer.
The people, of course, did not understand the manner in which these things would be accomplished. Their hope of the consolation of Israel was too fixated upon Judea itself, for the tribes of Israel had been dispersed for seven centuries with no end in sight. Likewise, their main focus was upon overthrowing the yoke of Rome. Further, in looking for the redemption of Jerusalem, they did not have clear understanding of the two Jerusalems. Nonetheless, the prophecies were true, regardless of men’s understanding or misunderstanding.
In earlier times the tribe of Asher had been located in Galilee to the north. No tribal territory as such existed in the first century, except for Judah in the south and Benjamin in the north (Neh. 11:25-35). All other individuals from other tribes had no tribal inheritance anymore, because those tribes were dispersed by divine judgment.
Yet the laws governing tribal relationships remained intact, for when a woman married outside of her tribe, she became a member of her husband’s tribe. Obviously, Anna’s ancestors had kept track of their genealogy to know their tribe. This, then, became part of the revelation when she saw Jesus and became “happy” and considered herself blessed, along with all others who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Even the fact that she was eighty-four years of age reveals shades of prophecy, for this is a double portion of forty-two. When Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, the people settled in the plains of Jericho, and this was their forty-second encampment since leaving Egypt. These camps from Succoth to Jericho are listed in Num. 33:5-50.
The new Joshua (Yeshua) had come, the Inheritor of the double portion, inadvertently marked by Anna’s eighty-four years. Likewise, Luke 2:36 says she was “the daughter of Phanuel.” This is the Greek form of the name Peniel, which is the angel that redeemed Jacob from all evil (Gen. 48:16) at his wrestling match (Gen. 32:29, 30). Although the angel did not tell Jacob his name, Jacob discerned it and named the place after the angel, Peniel, the Face of God, called in Isaiah 63:9, “the angel of His presence” (paniym, “face”).
The prophet says that this was the same angel that had led Israel out of Egypt until Israel rebelled (by worshiping the golden calf). God then gave them a different angel in Exodus 33:2, because God then refused to lead them by (the angel of) His personal presence, or face (Exodus 33:3). I believe the new angel was Michael.
The redemption of Jacob from all evil, as he later described it in Genesis 48:16, was marked by his name change from Jacob to Israel. He was redeemed from being a deceiver and usurper (“Jacob”) to one who carried the testimony that God rules (“Israel”). And so Anna testified to the people of her day about “the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). The old Jerusalem was like Jacob, while the new Jerusalem was like Israel. In this way, which is explained in greater detail in Gal. 4:22-31, God redeems Jerusalem.