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Bible Background and teaching insights on Luke 2's story of Simeon and Anna meeting the baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph

Christianity Today has a good devotional article about Simeon and Anna.


The outcome of Simeon’s listening is one of the most tender scenes in Scripture: Simeon enters the temple to discover Mary and Joseph with their newborn. Then he picks up baby Jesus (v. 28). He has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible who we are explicitly told held the Christ child in his arms.

In that act, he provided a striking visual of not just meeting Jesus but receiving him unto himself. As Simeon gazed into the brand-new eyes of the Ancient of Days, Christ for him went from being “God with us” to “God with me.” Comfort has no real meaning until general truth takes on concrete, personal dimensions.

Anna responded to Jesus much the same way as Simeon. His sheer existence was the only evidence she needed to recognize God’s redemptive hand. Christ—a baby who couldn’t even walk—became the focal point of her praise.

We pin our hopes on answers more than on the one who answers. We can pray with very specific, singular responses in mind that we’ll accept from God as adequate. When he doesn’t respond according to our narrow guidelines, we despair. Meanwhile, Christ arrives in our distress as wordlessly as a baby, bundled in a form we didn’t see coming.

Ben Witherington has a good article about Simeon and Anna in Biblical Archaeology.


Luke’s Christmas story is full of surprising reversals of fortunes and roles, in which outsiders become more intimate associates than family members, and in which women play a more active role then men. In this way Luke both prepares for and signals one of his major themes in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts—the least, the last and the lost are becoming the most,

The pairing of Simeon and Anna reflects Luke’s penchant for male-female parallelism when he writes about the recipients of divine blessing and salvation. The story of Jesus’ birth is framed by two such stories—that of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke 1 and Anna and Simeon in Luke 2. Interestingly, in both, the woman is portrayed as the more positive example of discipleship. The women are not only more receptive to the message, they are more willing to act upon it,

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Simeon and Anna

Biblical Background and Teaching Concepts:

Scripture References:

Luke 2:21–39 and others as cited in “Biblical Explanation and Background for Teaching”

Taking Baby Jesus to the Temple

Why was Jesus coming to the Temple?
Beginning at Luke 2:21 we see Jesus beginning to be seen and KNOWN among his own people as he is circumcised and named “Jesus”. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham, and God commanded the Jewish people to circumcise all baby boys on the eighth day after birth. Mary and Joseph were carefully observant of the Jewish law. They named their baby “Jesus” just as the angel had told each of them he must be named, the name that means “the LORD saves”. It was not an uncommon name in their culture, however.

Why was Mary coming to the Temple?
According to Leviticus 12, a woman was ceremonially unclean until forty days after the birth of a male child, and then she had to make an offering of a lamb and a pigeon or dove for her cleansing. If the couple was very poor, they would offer two doves (pigeons), and that is what Mary and Joseph did in Jerusalem when Jesus was presented at the Temple. Firstborn baby boys also had to be consecrated to the LORD, as Moses had commanded in Exodus 13:2, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male”.

Before Joseph and Mary ever came to the Temple with baby Jesus, God had been preparing Simeon to see the Messiah, the “consolation of Israel”. Simeon lived a life close to God. No doubt he frequently spent time meditating on the Old Testament scriptures and time communing with God in prayer. He must have known the prophecies concerning Messiah’s coming.

But reading the Bible and worshiping was not enough. God needed to tell Simeon who Christ was. And that's a lesson for us all right there!

We prepare, God blesses.


The root word of Messiah, “Meshach,” literally means to rub ritually with oil. The word “Messiah” means “the anointed one.”   According to Levitical Law (Exodus 35) oil used in worship and anointing was to be scented  to make them acceptable (typically with balsam). This made the "odors" of burnt offerings pleasing to God (a theme that first appears in Gen 8:12 and is repeated several times in Leviticus.) Thus, "the anointed one" is, figuratively speaking,  “the one who smells pleasing to God.” (Paul describes Christians as the "sweet smell of Christ" that is pleasing to God in 2 Cor 2:15). Oils and incense on sacrificed foods made them "acceptable" to God, thus Jesus was “the acceptable sacrifice” or “Saving One”. Our word “Christ” is simply the Greek version of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”

In Bible times, just as now, people associated good smells with cleanliness and good health. They rubbed themselves with good smelling oils as part of their cleanliness routine. A bad smell meant sin, rottenness or excrement. So you can see how the word “Messiah” would be associated with God sending the Savior. Oil also symbolized the Holy Spirit in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit is sometimes called “the Spirit of Jesus”.


Simeon, righteous, devout, and full of the Holy Spirit, had received a promise from God that before he died he would see the Messiah. We have no indication from Luke about Simeon’s age, only about his devotion to God. A person could wonder whether Simeon had a health problem that made him aware of death or whether he was an aged man, but the important fact is that he communed with God. He listened to God, and, by faith, on the day Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple, he went to the Temple, as God led him to do. A person can also wonder how he recognized Jesus as the One, the Messiah, his “salvation” (Luke 2:30). It seems that the Holy Spirit just spoke to him, showing him that this baby was God Himself in human form entering His Temple in Jerusalem.

Most parents don't hand over their baby over to just any stranger!

How did Simeon approach Mary and Joseph and gain the privilege of holding his Savior in his arms? How are WE privileged to behold and share the gift of God's Son? How are WE deserving?

We know he truly recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and that the first thing he did was to praise God, thanking Him for fulfilling the personal promise that he would live to see his Messiah and also that God had kept His promise to Israel.

Simeon also knew his scriptures. He had prepared himself for this moment. How do we prepare? And if we don't prepare, how will we really understand who this Christ Child really is??

Children can begin to learn to live a life in the Lord, a life of trusting God, of faith-filled prayer, and of meditation on God’s word. We don’t know when or how Simeon came to have such a life, but no doubt it involved the making of choices regarding how he spent his time and energy every day. It involved putting God first, obeying the first of the Ten Commandments, and it must have involved obeying the other commandments too. Simeon did not live a selfish, willful or careless life. He purposely chose to live close to God, by faith. He also sought to know God better all the time. When we, by faith, obey and seek God, God is faithful to reveal himself to us.

After Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph, he prophesied concerning Jesus. He was speaking especially to Mary. He spoke of how Jesus would “cause the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). Jesus’ disciples, humble fishermen, former tax collectors and others would be among the “rising” as they obtained forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross. The religious elite of that day would be among “the falling” because many of them rejected Jesus.

Simeon said, “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:35), and indeed Jesus did the reveal the thoughts of many hearts, such as the heart of the rich young ruler who refused to leave all and follow him (Luke 18:18 – 30). Simeon said Jesus would be “a sign that will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34), and told Mary, “a sword shall pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). The Holy Spirit was reminding Simeon of the prophecy of Messiah in Isaiah 53 that says he would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3) and would be “cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).


Aged and devout Anna, at least 84 years old, was also on the Temple grounds that day. She came up to Mary and Joseph as Simeon was prophesying, a second witness to declare that Messiah was in His Temple. The Holy Spirit showed her that baby Jesus was the longed-for Son of God. As she gave thanks to God, she “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38) Anna spoke about this baby, God’s Son, to any and all she met who were expecting Messiah to come.

Luke makes a point of Anna’s age and of her life-long devotion to God. She, like Simeon, lived close to God in prayer and meditation on the scriptures, expecting God to soon fulfill His promise to send the Messiah. She was known for her life of fasting and prayer and was called “a prophetess”. Nothing she said is recorded in the Bible, but her character and reputation are exalted. Again, children can choose to live close to God and can, like Anna, be a praise to Him. What a privilege she had to see baby Jesus and to share the news, the Good News, that God had finally sent the promised Messiah! Children who know that Jesus, God’s Son, has forgiven their sins can also share the Good News about Jesus.


Children need to know that God not only knew them and loved them before they were born (Psalm 139:16), but that He also provided for their salvation from sin. He knew each one of us needs a Savior, so Jesus went to the cross to take the punishment for our sins. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him…” (Isaiah 53:5). These words from Isaiah were written hundreds of years before Jesus came; God told his people he loved them and was providing for their salvation long before Jesus came. Anna and Simeon knew these words and these promises, and just like we each need God’s forgiveness and obtain it by faith, they did too. They had the great privilege of actually seeing baby Jesus, but we can read about them and about Him now in our Bibles. Emphasize to the children you teach the great importance of reading and believing the Bible. God uses his word to change us from the inside out as we respond to it in faith.

Bible Background contributed by Silverdale UMC
based on some background notes from Neil MacQueen

Below is background information by Rev. Lon Vining (Glorious Films - "The Promise" Movie) used with permission.



We may not think of it in these terms, but those who dedicate their whole lives to God are in a partnership with the Almighty. The righteous man Simeon in our story is a great example. Simeon is the one to whom God made the promise that he would not die before seeing the promised Messiah (Luke 2:21ff).

The little we know about Simeon shows ample evidence of his fruitful partnership with God. He was “righteous,” meaning he aligned his life with the law and character of God; he is faithful, evidenced by believing God’s promise to him; and he was on mission with God, meaning that he was anticipating the arrival of the Messiah and he announced his arrival to others when he came.  Simeon is God’s partner on the earth because he knew, believed and acted in concert with God and God’s purposes.

Jesus’ Dedication in the Temple

In addition, Exodus 13:1-2, 12-16 indicate that the consecration (dedication) of the firstborn of the animals, and in particular, the sons, was to be a reminder to Israel of its great debt to the LORD, delivering them from slavery in Egypt. It is also likely tied to the Passover covenant in which the Hebrews' firstborns were spared from death by following the LORD's commandments concerning the Passover lamb. Thus, the firstborns were "the LORD's" because, without Him, they would not even exist - He had bought them and delivered them from death, and slavery. Firstborn sons can be thought of as a type of first fruits, or tithe, owed to the LORD, that had to be redeemed (bought).

Temple Presentation

The ordinance was designed to be a memory aide for Israel's adults and children, to remind them of the salvation wrought by the LORD from slavery in Egypt. (Lev. 13:16)

It is appropriate that the ultimate Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, would be dedicated at the temple. Though he was redeemed from death (i.e., he did not have to die), he chose to offer himself in order that the sins of his people might be "passed over" and delivered from death and from "the house of slavery".

Rev. Lon Vining (Glorious Films) other character bios from the movie are found here.

Last edited by Luanne Payne

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