Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Luke 2:1-7. Birth of Christ.
Caesar Augustus — the first of the Roman emperors.
all the world — so the vast Roman Empire was termed.
taxed — enrolled, or register themselves.
when Cyrenius, etc. — a very perplexing verse, inasmuch as Cyrenius, or Quirinus, appears not to have been governor of Syria for about ten years after the birth of Christ, and the “taxing” under his administration was what led to the insurrection mentioned in Acts 5:37. That there was a taxing, however, of the whole Roman Empire under Augustus, is now admitted by all; and candid critics, even of skeptical tendency, are ready to allow that there is not likely to be any real inaccuracy in the statement of our Evangelist. Many superior scholars would render the words thus, “This registration was previous to Cyrenius being governor of Syria” - as the word “first” is rendered in John 1:15; John 15:18. In this case, of course, the difficulty vanishes. But it is perhaps better to suppose, with others, that the registration may have been ordered with a view to the taxation, about the time of our Lord‘s birth, though the taxing itself - an obnoxious measure in Palestine - was not carried out till the time of Quirinus.
went to his own city — the city of his extraction, according to the Jewish custom, not of his abode, which was the usual Roman method.
Not only does Joseph, who was of the royal line, go to Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:1), but Mary too - not from choice surely in her condition, but, probably, for personal enrollment, as herself an heiress.
espoused wife — now, without doubt, taken home to him, as related in Matthew 1:18; Matthew 25:6.
while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered — Mary had up to this time been living at the wrong place for Messiah‘s birth. A little longer stay at Nazareth, and the prophecy would have failed. But lo! with no intention certainly on her part, much less of Caesar Augustus, to fulfil the prophecy, she is brought from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and at that nick of time her period arrives, and her Babe is born (Psalm 118:23). “Every creature walks blindfold; only He that dwells in light knows whether they go” [Bishop Hall].
first-born — So Matthew 1:25; yet the law, in speaking of the first-born, regardeth not whether any were born after or no, but only that none were born before [Lightfoot].
wrapt him laid him — The mother herself did so. Had she then none to help her? It would seem so (2 Corinthians 8:9).
a manger — the manger, the bench to which the horses‘ heads were tied, on which their food could rest [Webster and Wilkinson].
no room in the inn — a square erection, open inside, where travelers put up, and whose rear parts were used as stables. The ancient tradition, that our Lord was born in a grotto or cave, is quite consistent with this, the country being rocky. In Mary‘s condition the journey would be a slow one, and ere they arrived, the inn would be fully occupied - affecting anticipation of the reception He was throughout to meet with (John 1:11).
Wrapt in His swaddling - bands,
Is come to the world‘s aid.
No peaceful home upon His cradle smiled,
Guests rudely went and came where slept the royal Child.
But some “guests went and came” not “rudely,” but reverently. God sent visitors of His own to pay court to the new-born King.
Luke 2:8-20. Angelic annunciation to the shepherds - Their visit to the newborn Babe.
abiding in the fields — staying there, probably in huts or tents.
by night — or, night watches, taking their turn of watching. From about passover time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that time. (From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord‘s birth is too late). Were these shepherds chosen to have the first sight of the blessed Babe without any respect of their own state of mind? That, at least, is not God‘s way. “No doubt, like Simeon (Luke 2:25), they were among the waiters for the Consolation of Israel” [Olshausen]; and, if the simplicity of their rustic minds, their quiet occupation, the stillness of the midnight hours, and the amplitude of the deep blue vault above them for the heavenly music which was to fill their ear, pointed them out as fit recipients for the first tidings of an Infant Savior, the congenial meditations and conversations by which, we may suppose, they would beguile the tedious hours would perfect their preparation for the unexpected visit. Thus was Nathanael engaged, all alone but not unseen, under the fig tree, in unconscious preparation for his first interview with Jesus. (See on John 1:48). So was the rapt seer on his lonely rock “in the spirit on the Lord‘s Day,” little thinking that this was his preparation for hearing behind him the trumpet voice of the Son of man (Revelation 1:10, etc.). But if the shepherds in His immediate neighborhood had the first, the sages from afar had the next sight of the new-born King. Even so still, simplicity first, science next, finds its way to Christ, whom
They, who have bowed untaught to Nature‘s sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-pav‘d way.
glory of the Lord — “the brightness or glory which is represented as encompassing all heavenly visions” [Olshausen].
sore afraid — So it ever was (Daniel 10:7, Daniel 10:8; Luke 1:12; Revelation 1:17). Men have never felt easy with the invisible world laid suddenly open to their gaze. It was never meant to be permanent; a momentary purpose was all it was intended to serve.
to all people — “to the whole people,” that is, of Israel; to be by them afterwards opened up to the whole world. (See on Luke 2:14).
unto you is born — you shepherds, Israel, mankind [Bengel]. Compare Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a Child is born.” It is a birth - “The Word is made flesh” (John 1:14). When? “This day.” Where? “In the city of David” - in the right line and at the right “spot”; where prophecy bade us look for Him, and faith accordingly expected Him. How dear to us should be these historic moorings of our faith! With the loss of them, all substantial Christianity is lost. By means of them how many have been kept from making shipwreck, and attained to a certain external admiration of Him, ere yet they have fully “beheld His glory.”
a Saviour — not One who shall be a Savior, but “born a Savior.”
Christ the Lord — “magnificent appellation!” [Bengel]. “This is the only place where these words come together; and I see no way of understanding this “Lord” but as corresponding to the Hebrew Jehovah” [Alford].
a sign — “the sign.”
the babe — “a Babe.”
a manger — “the manger.” The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would find Him - Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, “ye shall find a Babe”; whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, “wrapt in swaddling bands”; the “Savior, Christ the Lord,” lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style, held forth. (See 2 Corinthians 8:9.)
suddenly — as if only waiting till their fellow had done.
with the angel — who retires not, but is joined by others, come to seal and to celebrate the tidings he has brought.
heavenly host — or “army,” an army celebrating peace! [Bengel] “transferring the occupation of their exalted station to this poor earth, which so seldom resounds with the pure praise of God” [Olshausen]; to let it be known how this event is regarded in heaven and should be regarded on earth.
Glory, etc. — brief but transporting hymn - not only in articulate human speech, for our benefit, but in tunable measure, in the form of a Hebrew parallelism of two complete clauses, and a third one only amplifying the second, and so without a connecting “and.” The “glory to God,” which the new-born “Savior” was to bring, is the first note of this sublime hymn: to this answers, in the second clause, the “peace on earth,” of which He was to be “the Prince” (Isaiah 9:6) - probably sung responsively by the celestial choir; while quickly follows the glad echo of this note, probably by a third detachment of the angelic choristers - “good will to men.” “They say not, glory to God in heaven, where angels are, but, using a rare expression, “in the highest [heavens],” whither angels aspire not,” (Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:4) [Bengel]. “Peace” with God is the grand necessity of a fallen world. To bring in this, and all other peace in its train, was the prime errand of the Savior to this earth, and, along with it, Heaven‘s whole “good will to men” - the divine complacency on a new footing - descends to rest upon men, as upon the Son Himself, in whom God is “well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, the same word as here.)
Let us go, etc. — lovely simplicity of devoutness and faith this! They are not taken up with the angels, the glory that invested them, and the lofty strains with which they filled the air. Nor do they say, Let us go and see if this be true - they have no misgivings. But “Let us go and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Does not this confirm the view given on Luke 2:8 of the spirit of these humble men?
with haste — Compare Luke 1:39; Matthew 28:8 (“did run”); John 4:28 (“left her water-pot,” as they do their flocks, in a transport).
found Mary, etc. — “mysteriously guided by the Spirit to the right place through the obscurity of the night” [Olshausen].
a manger — “the manger,” as before.
made known abroad — before their return (Luke 2:20), and thus were the first evangelists [Bengel].
glorifying and praising God, etc. — The latter word, used of the song of the angels (Luke 2:13), and in Luke 19:37, and Luke 24:53, leads us to suppose that theirs was a song too, probably some canticle from the Psalter - meet vehicle for the swelling emotions of their simple hearts at what “they had heard and seen.”
Circumcision of Christ.
Here only recorded, and even here merely alluded to, for the sake of the name then given to the holy Babe, “JESUS,” or SAVIOR (Matthew 1:21; Acts 13:23). Yet in this naming of Him “Savior,” in the act of circumcising Him, which was a symbolical and bloody removal of the body of sin, we have a tacit intimation that they “had need” - as John said of His Baptism - rather to be circumcised by Him “with the circumcision made without hands, in the putting off of the body [of the sins] of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11), and that He only “suffered it to be so, because thus it became Him to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Still the circumcision of Christ had a profound bearing on His own work - by few rightly apprehended. For since “he that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3), Jesus thus bore about with Him in His very flesh the seal of a voluntary obligation to do the whole law - by Him only possible in the flesh since the fall. And as He was “made under the law” for no ends of His own, but only “to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, Galatians 4:5), the obedience to which His circumcision pledged Him was a redeeming obedience - that of a “Savior.” And, finally, as “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” by “being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), we must regard Him, in His circumcision, as brought under a palpable pledge to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philemon 2:8).
Luke 2:22-40. Purification of the virgin - Presentation of the Babe in the Temple-scene there with Simeon and Anna.
her purification — Though the most and best copies read “their,” it was the mother only who needed purifying from the legal uncleanness of childbearing. “The days” of this purification for a male child were forty in all (Leviticus 12:2, Leviticus 12:4), on the expiry of which the mother was required to offer a lamb for a burnt offering, and a turtle dove or a young pigeon for a sin offering. If she could not afford a lamb, the mother had to bring another turtle dove or young pigeon; and, if even this was beyond her means, then a portion of fine flour, but without the usual fragrant accompaniments of oil and frankincense, as it represented a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6-8; Leviticus 5:7-11). From the intermediate offering of “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons,” we gather that Joseph and the Virgin were in poor circumstances (2 Corinthians 8:9), though not in abject poverty. Being a first-born male, they “bring him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.” All such had been claimed as “holy to the Lord,” or set apart to sacred uses, in memory of the deliverance of the first-born of Israel from destruction in Egypt, through the sprinkling of blood (Exodus 13:2). In lieu of these, however, one whole tribe, that of Levi, was accepted, and set apart to occupations exclusively sacred (Numbers 3:11-38); and whereas there were two hundred seventy-three fewer Levites than first-born of all Israel on the first reckoning, each of these first-born was to be redeemed by the payment of five shekels, yet not without being “presented (or brought) unto the Lord,” in token of His rightful claim to them and their service (Numbers 3:44-47; Numbers 18:15, Numbers 18:16). It was in obedience to this “law of Moses,” that the Virgin presented her babe unto the Lord, “in the east gate of the court called Nicanor‘s Gate, where she herself would be sprinkled by the priest with the blood of her sacrifice” [Lightfoot]. By that Babe, in due time, we were to be redeemed, “not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19), and the consuming of the mother‘s burnt offering, and the sprinkling of her with the blood of her sin offering, were to find their abiding realization in the “living sacrifice” of the Christian mother herself, in the fullness of a “heart sprinkled from an evil conscience,” by “the blood which cleanseth from all sin.”
just — upright in his moral character.
devout — of a religious frame of spirit.
waiting for the consolation of Israel — a beautiful title of the coming Messiah, here intended.
the Holy Ghost was — supernaturally.
upon him — Thus was the Spirit, after a dreary absence of nearly four hundred years, returning to the Church, to quicken expectation, and prepare for coming events.
revealed by the Holy Ghost — implying, beyond all doubt, the personality of the Spirit.
should see not death till he had seen — “sweet antithesis!” [Bengel]. How would the one sight gild the gloom of the other! He was, probably, by this time, advanced in years.
The Spirit guided him to the temple at the very moment when the Virgin was about to present Him to the Lord.
took him up in his arms — immediately recognizing in the child, with unhesitating certainty, the promised Messiah, without needing Mary to inform him of what had happened to her. [Olshausen]. The remarkable act of taking the babe in his arms must not be overlooked. It was as if he said, “This is all my salvation and all my desire” (2 Samuel 23:5).
Lord — “Master,” a word rarely used in the New Testament, and selected here with peculiar propriety, when the aged saint, feeling that his last object in wishing to live had now been attained, only awaited his Master‘s word of command to “depart.”
now lettest, etc. — more clearly, “now Thou art releasing Thy servant”; a patient yet reverential mode of expressing a desire to depart.
seen thy salvation — Many saw this child, nay, the full-grown “man, Christ Jesus,” who never saw in Him “God‘s Salvation.” This estimate of an object of sight, an unconscious, helpless babe, was pure faith. He “beheld His glory” (John 1:14). In another view it was prior faith rewarded by present sight.
all people — all the peoples, mankind at large.
a light to the Gentiles — then in thick darkness.
glory of thy people Israel — already Thine, and now, in the believing portion of it, to be so more gloriously than ever. It will be observed that this “swan-like song, bidding an eternal farewell to this terrestrial life” [Olshausen], takes a more comprehensive view of the kingdom of Christ than that of Zacharias, though the kingdom they sing of is one.
set — appointed.
fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against — Perhaps the former of these phrases expresses the two stages of temporary “fall of many in Israel” through unbelief, during our Lord‘s earthly career, and the subsequent “rising again” of the same persons after the effusion of the Spirit at Pentecost threw a new light to them on the whole subject; while the latter clause describes the determined enemies of the Lord Jesus. Such opposite views of Christ are taken from age to age.
Yea, etc. — “Blessed as thou art among women, thou shalt have thine own deep share of the struggles and sufferings which this Babe is to occasion” - pointing not only to the continued obloquy and rejection of this Child of hers, those agonies of His which she was to witness at the cross, and her desolate condition thereafter, but to dreadful alternations of faith and unbelief, of hope and fear regarding Him, which she would have to pass through.
that the thoughts, etc. — Men‘s views and decisions regarding Christ are a mirror in which the very “thoughts of their hearts” are seen.
Anna — or, Hannah.
a prophetess — another evidence that “the last times” in which God was to “pour out His Spirit upon all flesh” were at hand.
of the tribe of Aser — one of the ten tribes, of whom many were not carried captive, and not a few reunited themselves to Judah after the return from Babylon. The distinction of tribes, though practically destroyed by the captivity, was well enough known up to their final dispersion (Romans 11:1; Hebrews 7:14); nor is it now entirely lost.
lived, etc. — she had lived seven years with her husband (Luke 2:36), and been a widow eighty-four years; so that if she married at the earliest marriageable age, twelve years, she could not at this time be less than a hundred three years old.
departed not from the temple — was found there at all stated hours of the day, and even during the night services of the temple watchmen (Psalm 134:1, Psalm 134:2), “serving God with fastings and prayer.” (See 1 Timothy 5:5, suggested by this.)
coming in — “presenting herself.” She had been there already but now is found “standing by,” as Simeon‘s testimony to the blessed Babe died away, ready to take it up “in turn” (as the word rendered “likewise” here means).
to all them, etc. — the sense is, “to all them in Jerusalem that were looking for redemption” - saying in effect, In that Babe are wrapt up all your expectations. If this was at the hour of prayer, when numbers flocked to the temple, it would account for her having such an audience as the words imply [Alford].
Nothing is more difficult than to fix the precise order in which the visit of the Magi, with the flight into and return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23), are to be taken, in relation to the circumcision and presentation of Christ in the temple, here recorded. It is perhaps best to leave this in the obscurity in which we find it, as the result of two independent, though if we knew all, easily reconcilable narratives.
His mental development kept pace with His bodily, and “the grace of God,” the divine favor, rested manifestly and increasingly upon Him. See Luke 2:52.
Luke 2:41-52. First conscious visit to Jerusalem.
“Solitary flowered out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud, at a distinctive crisis (at twelve years of age), bursts into flower. To mark that is assuredly the design and the meaning of this record” [Stier].
went up — “were wont to go.” Though males only were required to go up to Jerusalem at the three annual festivals (Exodus 23:14-17), devout women, when family duties permitted, went also, as did Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7), and, as we here see, the mother of Jesus.
when twelve years old — At this age every Jewish boy was styled “a son of the law,” being put under a course of instruction and trained to fasting and attendance on public worship, besides being set to learn a trade. At this age accordingly our Lord is taken up for the first time to Jerusalem, at the passover season, the chief of the three annual festivals. But oh, with what thoughts and feelings must this Youth have gone up! Long ere He beheld it, He had doubtless “loved the habitation of God‘s house and the place where His honor dwelt” (Psalm 26:8), a love nourished, we may be sure, by that “word hid in His heart,” with which in afterlife He showed so perfect a familiarity. As the time for His first visit approached, could one‘s ear have caught the breathings of His young soul, he might have heard Him whispering, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalm 42:1; Psalm 87:2; Psalm 122:1, Psalm 122:2). On catching the first view of “the city of their solemnities,” and high above all in it, “the place of God‘s rest,” we hear Him saying to Himself, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King: Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God doth shine” (Psalm 48:2; Psalm 50:2). Of His feelings or actions during all the eight days of the feast not a word is said. As a devout child, in company with its parents, He would go through the services, keeping His thoughts to Himself. But methinks I hear Him, after the sublime services of that feast, saying to Himself, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song of Solomon 2:3, Song of Solomon 2:4).
as they returned — If the duties of life must give place to worship, worship, in its turn, must give place to them. Jerusalem is good, but Nazareth is good, too; let him who neglects the one, on pretext of attending to the other, ponder this scene.
tarried behind Joseph and his mother knew not — Accustomed to the discretion and obedience of the lad [Olshausen], they might be thrown off their guard.
sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances — On these sacred journeys, whole villages and districts traveled in groups together, partly for protection, partly for company; and as the well-disposed would beguile the tediousness of the way by good discourse, to which the child Jesus would be no silent listener, they expect to find Him in such a group.
After three sorrowing days, they find Him still in Jerusalem, not gazing on its architecture, or surveying its forms of busy life, but in the temple - not the “sanctuary” (as in Luke 1:9), to which only the priests had access, but in some one of the enclosures around it, where the rabbins, or “doctors,” taught their scholars.
asking — The method of question and answer was the customary form of rabbinical teaching; teacher and learner becoming by turns questioner and answerer, as may be seen from their extant works. This would give full scope for all that “astonished them in His understanding and answers.” Not that He assumed the office of teaching - “His hour” for that “was not yet come,” and His equipment for that was not complete; for He had yet to “increase in wisdom” as well as “stature” (Luke 2:52). In fact, the beauty of Christ‘s example lies very much in His never at one stage of His life anticipating the duties of another. All would be in the style and manner of a learner, “opening His mouth and panting.” “His soul breaking for the longing that it had unto God‘s judgments at all times” (Psalm 119:20), and now more than ever before, when finding Himself for the first time in His Father‘s house. Still there would be in His questions far more than in their answers; and if we may take the frivolous interrogatories with which they afterwards plied Him, about the woman that had seven husbands and such like, as a specimen of their present driveling questions, perhaps we shall not greatly err, if we suppose that “the questions” which He now “asked them” in return were just the germs of those pregnant questions with which He astonished and silenced them in after years: “What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? If David call Him Lord, how is He then his Son?” “Which is the first and great commandment?” “Who is my neighbor?”
His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me” (Song of Solomon 1:4; Song of Solomon 2:6). How is it that ye do not understand? (Mark 8:21).
understood not — probably He had never expressly said as much, and so confounded them, though it was but the true interpretation of many things which they had seen and heard from Him at home. (See on John 14:4.) But lest it should be thought that now He threw off the filial yoke, and became His own Master henceforth, and theirs too, it is purposely added, “And He went down with them, and was subject unto them.” The marvel of this condescension lies in its coming after such a scene, and such an assertion of His higher Sonship; and the words are evidently meant to convey this. “From this time we have no more mention of Joseph. The next we hear is of his “mother and brethren” (John 2:12); whence it is inferred, that between this time and the commencement of our Lord‘s public life, Joseph died” [Alford], having now served the double end of being the protector of our Lord‘s Virgin - mother, and affording Himself the opportunity of presenting a matchless pattern of subjection to both parents.
See on Luke 2:40.
stature — or better, perhaps, as in the Margin, “age,” which implies the other. This is all the record we have of the next eighteen years of that wondrous life. What seasons of tranquil meditation over the lively oracles, and holy fellowship with His Father; what inlettings, on the one hand, of light, and love, and power from on high, and outgoings of filial supplication, freedom, love, and joy on the other, would these eighteen years contain! And would they not seem “but a few days” if they were so passed, however ardently He might long to be more directly “about His Father‘s business?”
on the Whole Bible". "http://www.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=lu&chapter=2&verse=21". 1871.
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