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Bible Commentaries
Luke 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 5-52


This section contains material unique in Luke. The only repeated statement occurs in Luke 2:39 and Matthew 2:23. Other unique features are the way Luke alternated the reader’s attention between John and Jesus, and the joy that several individuals expressed (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:14; Luke 2:29-32). [Note: For studies of the structure of this passage, see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts , 1:15-20; R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, pp. 248-53, 292-98, 408-10; J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I-IX, pp. 313-15; and David E. Malick, "A Literary Approach to the Birth Narratives in Luke 1-2," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 93-107.]

This section has a decidedly Semitic style that suits the connections that it has with the Old Testament. Matthew used fulfillment formulas to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but Luke was less direct. He showed that Old Testament predictions lay behind these events by describing them in the style and vocabulary of the Old Testament. He also featured Jerusalem and the temple, which provide added connections to the Old Testament.

The alternation between John and Jesus compares and contrasts them (cf. 1 Samuel 1-3). [Note: See G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, pp. 55-56.] Luke presented them both as prophets in the Old Testament mold, but Jesus was infinitely superior to John. Note the uses of the title "Most High" (Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:76). [Note: See H. H. Oliver, "The Lucan Birth Stories and the Purpose of Luke-Acts," New Testaments Studies 10 (1963-64):215-26.] First, Luke recorded the announcements of John’s and then Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:5-38). This is a section of comparison primarily. Then he told of Elizabeth blessing Mary and Mary blessing God, a section of predominant contrast (Luke 1:39-56). Finally we have the births of John and Jesus, a section of both comparison and contrast (Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).

Luke recorded the appearance of angels in this section. Apparently he did so to strengthen the point that Jesus was God’s provision for humankind’s need. Angels bridge the gap between God and man, and here they rejoiced in God’s provision of a Savior for humankind. Frequent references to the Holy Spirit validating and empowering Jesus’ ministry increase this emphasis (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67; Luke 1:80; Luke 2:25-27).

The theme of joy is present explicitly in the songs and words of praise and thanksgiving as well as implicitly in the mood of the whole section. Yet there is a warning of coming pain as well as deliverance (Luke 2:35).

Note the similarity of structure that facilitates comparison of John and Jesus.

Introduction of the parentsLuke 1:5-7Luke 1:26-27
Appearance of an angelLuke 1:8-23Luke 1:28-30
Giving of a signLuke 1:18-20Luke 1:34-38
Pregnancy of a childless womanLuke 1:24-25Luke 1:42

This section (Luke 1:5-56) deals with promise while the rest of the birth and childhood narrative concerns fulfillment (Luke 1:57 to Luke 2:52).

Verses 1-3

"Those days" refer to the time of John’s birth (Luke 1:57-79). Augustus was Caesar from 44 B.C. to A.D. 14. [Note: Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, p. 12.] The purpose of a Roman census was to provide statistical data so the government could levy taxes. [Note: Ibid., p. 13.] "All the inhabited earth" (NASB) means throughout "the entire Roman world" (NIV) or empire. This was evidently the first census taken of the whole Roman provincial system, though it was not the first census that the Romans took within the empire. [Note: A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, p. 168.]

Quirinius served as governor of the Roman province of Syria twice (3-2 B.C. and A.D. 6-7). [Note: Hoehner, p. 22.] However, Herod the Great was still alive when Augustus issued his decree (Matthew 2), and Herod died in 4 B.C. [Note: Ibid.] This incongruity has cast doubt on Luke’s reliability as a historian. [Note: For defense of Luke’s accuracy as a historian, see F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, pp. 192-94; and I. H. Marshall, Luke . . ., pp. 98-104.] There is evidence that Augustus issued the type of decree that Luke described in A.D. 6 (cf. Acts 5:37). [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:2:1.] However there is presently no evidence that he did so earlier.

One solution to this problem is that the decree went out in 3 or 2 B.C., but we have no other record of it. [Note: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Quirinius," by E. M. Blaiklock, 5:5-6; The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Quirinius," by F. F. Bruce.] This solves the problem of a census occurring during the governorship of Quirinius, but it does not solve the problem of Herod being alive then. Another possibility is that the word "first" (Luke 2:2, Gr. prote) means "prior" or "former" here (cf. John 15:18). [Note: Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament, pp. 23-24.] Luke’s meaning would then be that the census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was the one Augustus made prior to the one he took when Quirinius was governor of Syria (in A.D. 6). This seems to be the best solution. All the evidence points to the birth of Jesus in late 5 or early 4 B.C. [Note: Hoehner, pp. 11-25.]

Customarily people returned to their own hometowns to register for these censuses. [Note: Ibid., pp. 15-16.]

By citing Caesar’s decree, Luke helped his readers see that human decrees, however powerful, fall under and within the divine decree, which ordered the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:37).

Verses 1-7

1. The setting of Jesus’ birth 2:1-7

In narrating John’s birth, Luke stressed his naming, but in his account of Jesus’ birth, he concentrated on its setting.

Luke’s brief account of Jesus’ birth emphasizes three things. He described the political situation to explain why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This set Jesus’ birth in a context of world history and anticipated His cosmic significance. Second, Luke connected Bethlehem with David to show that Jesus qualified as the Messiah. Finally, he presented Jesus’ humble beginnings and so introduced the themes of Jesus’ identification with the poor and His rejection.

Luke paralleled John and Jesus’ births as he did the announcements of their births, and he stressed Jesus’ superiority again. Zechariah announced John’s birth, but angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus.

Verses 1-52

D. The birth and early life of Jesus ch. 2

Luke followed the same pattern of events with Jesus’ birth and early life as he did for those of John. His purpose was to compare and contrast these two important individuals.

Verses 4-5

It may seem unusual that Joseph took Mary with him to his ancestral home in Bethlehem since she was pregnant. Apparently the Romans required that every adult appear to make a proper assessment of his property. [Note: Ibid., p. 15.] Perhaps Joseph also did this to remove Mary from local gossip and emotional stress in Nazareth. [Note: Liefeld, p. 844.] Moreover the couple probably knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

One writer suggested that Joseph and Mary lived together as husband and wife, though they did not have sexual relations before Jesus’ birth (cf. Luke 1:25). He believed that it is unlikely that Mary would have traveled with Joseph as she did if they were only betrothed. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 105.] However they could have traveled together without having lived together previously since their culture regarded engaged couples as virtually married.

Most readers assume that the couple arrived in Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth. However the text does not require nor rule out this reading. They may have been there for some time before Mary went into labor.

Verses 6-7

Normally mothers wrapped their newborn babies in wide strips of cloth to keep them warm (cf. Ezekiel 16:4). [Note: Liefeld, p. 846.] Traditionally Christians have believed that the manger or feeding trough in which Mary laid the baby Jesus was in a cave. [Note: Justin Martyr, Trypho, 78:4; Origen, Contra Celsum, 1:15.] However most homes in Israel had two parts, one for the family and another for the household animals. It is possible that this was the location of the manger. An inn (Gr. katalyma) could have been a guest room in a house (cf. Luke 22:11-12) or any place of lodging. This Greek word has a wider range of meanings than pandocheion, which refers specifically to an inn for travelers (cf. Luke 10:34).

The innkeeper has become a villain figure in the Christmas story, but Luke did not present him as such. The writer’s contrast was between the royal birthplace that this Son of David deserved and the humble one He received. His exclusion from human society anticipated the rejection that He would continue to experience throughout His ministry.

We may never know the exact day of Jesus’ birth until we get to heaven. However, a day in late December or early January is likely. The traditional date of December 25 goes back at least as far as Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 165-235). [Note: Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel , 4:23:3. See also Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, p. 248.] Probably Jesus was born in the winter of 5-4 B.C. [Note: Hoehner, pp. 11-27.]

Verse 8

Shepherds were socially looked down upon in Jesus’ day. Their work made them ceremonially unclean, and they had a reputation for being untrustworthy. [Note: Liefeld, p. 845.] Thus God first sent the gospel to the lowly. Luke had a special interest in the lower elements of society. David, of course, had been a shepherd, but God had elevated him to be the ruler of His people (2 Samuel 7:8). Jesus’ career would follow the pattern of his ancestor generally. Throughout the Old Testament God used shepherds as symbols of those who cared for His people (Psalms 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 23:1-4; et al.). Consequently these shepherds represent all people of lowly origin and reputation who receive the gospel by God’s grace and proclaim it joyfully to others. The idea that these shepherds were raising sheep that the people would offer as Passover sacrifices in a few months is possible but not capable of verification. [Note: See Morris, p. 84.] They would have been out in the fields with their sheep at night if the winter weather was mild, as it apparently was. There is evidence in the Mishnah, however, that sheep pastured there were destined for temple sacrifice. [Note: Mishnah Shekalim 7:4. See also Edersheim, 1:186-87.]

Verses 8-20

2. The announcement to the shepherds 2:8-20

There is great theological significance in this familiar passage. It comes through mainly in the angel’s words and in the symbolism of what happened.

"In Luke 2:8-14 we have a third annunciation scene, which follows the same pattern as the previous two: the appearance of an angel, a response of fear, the command not to fear, the announcement of a birth that brings joy. In this case, however, the announcement is not to a parent of the child to be born, for this birth is not just a family affair. Indeed, the angel stresses that he brings a message of ’great joy which shall be for all the people’ (Luke 2:10)." [Note: Tannehill, 1:38.]

Verse 9

A single angel appeared to the shepherds first. Luke did not identify him by name, perhaps to focus attention on his message. Later a multitude of other angels joined him (Luke 2:13). The appearance of the angel and the accompanying manifestation of God’s glory terrified the shepherds (cf. Luke 1:12; Luke 9:34; Ezekiel 1; Acts 12:7).

Verses 10-11

The angel reassured the frightened shepherds (cf. Luke 1:13; Luke 1:30). His appearing signaled an occasion for rejoicing, not fearing.

Significant terms characteristic of Luke’s Gospel occur in the angel’s announcement indicating its importance. These include "bring good news" (Gr. euangelizomai), "joy" (Gr. chara), "people" (Gr. laos), "today" (Gr. semeron), "Savior" (Gr. soter), "Lord" (Gr. kyrios), and "glory" (Gr. doxa). This angelic announcement then is a seedbed for important ideas that Luke traced through the rest of this book. The time had come for the fulfillment of Messiah’s predicted coming. A similarly worded birth announcement of Caesar Augustus that archaeologists have discovered shows that such terminology was not uncommon. [Note: See Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 109.] However in Jesus’ case, it was a cause for true joy. The unusual phrase "Christ the Lord" probably means "Messiah God."

Verse 12

The sign that Messiah God had indeed come to save the people would be the baby that the shepherds would find wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. This was an unusual place for any baby to lie but especially the divine Messiah. The term "swaddling clothes" (AV) translates the Greek word spargano meaning "to swathe" or "wrap." The Jews also wrapped their dead in strips of cloth, as they did their infants. Thus a birth was a reminder of the death that would inevitably follow one day.

Verse 13

Frequently God waits to act a long time but then acts suddenly, as here (cf. Mark 13:36; Acts 2:2; Acts 9:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). The sudden appearance of the other angels represents God’s sudden action in providing a Savior. The term "heavenly host" derives from the Old Testament and here refers to a band of angels (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 33:3; 2 Chronicles 33:5; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5).

". . . when a child was born the local musicians congregated at the house to greet him with simple music." [Note: William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 17.]

Verse 14

Only once before had a human heard angelic praise (Isaiah 6:3). Now the angels’ praise explained the benefits of Jesus’ birth. These angels first ascribed glory to God in heaven where He dwells. God revealed His glory by sending His Son. Consequently it is appropriate to ascribe glory or praise to God. The effect on humankind of Jesus’ coming is peace. The biblical concept of peace, rooted in the Hebrew shalom, includes the sum of God’s blessings, not just the cessation of hostility.

The AV translation "good will toward men" is not a good one, and it is misleading. The reader could infer that God will be gracious to people who show good will to others suggesting that human merit is the basis of God’s favor. The NIV translation "peace to men on whom his favor rests" is better. Those on whom God bestows His favor are those who experience His peace.

Verses 15-16

The angels went away into heaven, their dwelling place and God’s; they did not disappear instantaneously. Luke showed interest in spatial relationships in his Gospel (cf. Luke 24:51) and in Acts (cf. Acts 1:11). The shepherds, on the other hand, hurried off to Bethlehem (cf. Luke 1:39). This has been called "the first Christmas rush." They realized that the angels’ message came from the Lord. Contrast the attitude of the religious leaders who, though they heard of Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem, did not bother to check it out (Matthew 2:5). Luke did not break the feeling of excitement and swift action in the narrative by describing how the shepherds located the manger. In Luke’s account there is no mention of the star that appeared to the wise men.

"It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple offerings were chosen. It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." [Note: Ibid.]

Verses 17-18

After the shepherds saw Jesus they spread the word as evangelists (i.e., reporters of good news). The response of those who heard their eyewitness testimony was amazement (Gr. ethaumasan), not unbelief or belief. They probably thought: I wonder if the Messiah really has arrived. The theme of amazement runs through this Gospel (cf. Luke 2:33; Luke 2:47; Luke 4:22; Luke 8:25; Luke 9:43; Luke 11:14; Luke 11:38; Luke 20:26; Luke 24:12; Luke 24:41).

Verses 19-20

In contrast to the shepherds’ public proclamation, Mary meditated on the significance of these events (cf. Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51; Genesis 37:11). The shepherds returned to their flocks glorifying God (cf. Luke 2:13-14; Luke 10:17). Luke also stressed praising God as the appropriate response to God’s mighty works (cf. Luke 5:25-26; Luke 7:16; Luke 13:13; Luke 17:15; Luke 18:43; Luke 23:47).

Verse 21

3. Jesus’ circumcision 2:21

The record of this incident, similar as it is to the account of John’s circumcision and naming (Luke 1:59-66), shows Jesus’ identification with John specifically, and with humankind generally. Jesus’ name was very significant, meaning "Yahweh is salvation [or Yahweh saves]." God specified it before His conception, as He had done for John. Prophecies about John’s future followed his circumcision immediately, but they occurred later for Jesus, namely, at His presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22-24).

Verses 22-24

Under Mosaic Law, a woman became ritually unclean when she gave birth to a child (Leviticus 12:2). The parents of a male child were to circumcise him on the eighth day after his birth (Leviticus 12:3; cf. Genesis 17:12). The mother of a male offspring was unclean for 33 days following her son’s circumcision (Leviticus 12:4; cf. Leviticus 12:5). On the fortieth day after her son’s birth, the mother was to present a sin offering to the priest at the sanctuary to atone for her uncleanness (Leviticus 12:6-7). Normally this offering was to be a lamb, but if the woman was poor she could bring two doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:8). In the case of a first-born son, the parents were to present him to the Lord (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12; Numbers 18:16; cf. 1 Samuel 1:24-28). The parents would normally "redeem" the son, buy him back, by paying five shekels for him (Numbers 18:16).

"It could be paid to a priest anywhere (M. Exodus 13:2 (22b)). The facts that the scene of the present incident is the temple, no ransom price is mentioned, and the child is present, show that Jesus is not here being redeemed but consecrated to the Lord." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 117. See also Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "paristemi, paristano," by Bo Reicke, 5:840-41.]

"In the Court of the Women there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests for pecuniary contributions, called ’trumpets.’ Into the third of these they who brought the poor’s offering, like the Virgin-Mother, were to drop the price of the sacrifices which were needed for their purification." [Note: Edersheim, 1:196.]

Mary and Joseph complied with these regulations as observant Israelites. Mary apparently offered two birds suggesting that Mary and Joseph could not afford the more expensive lamb sacrifice. [Note: Ibid., 1:149, 195.] Luke may have mentioned this to help his readers understand the Jewish regulations. He did not stress the economic condition of Mary and Joseph.

Ritual uncleanness was not the same as sinfulness. All sin resulted in uncleanness in Israel, but uncleanness was not always the result of sin. Mary’s uncleanness was not due to sin but to bearing a child. The fact that she became unclean when she bore Jesus testifies to the reality of the Incarnation. [Note: F. W. Danker, Jesus and the New Age, p. 30.] Jesus was a real human being.

Verses 22-38

4. Jesus’ presentation in the temple 2:22-38

The emphasis in this section is Simeon’s prediction of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Luke 1:67-79). He pointed out the universal extent of the salvation that Jesus would bring and the rejection that He would experience.

Verses 25-26

Simeon was a godly individual who testified to Jesus’ significance under divine inspiration. This was part of Luke’s purpose of assuring his readers that Jesus was indeed the Lord. He used the testimony of credible people to do this. Simeon possessed the three essential characteristics of Old Testament piety: he was righteous and devout, one of the believing remnant in Israel who was looking for Messiah’s appearing. [Note: Edersheim, 1:198.] The Spirit who is the Consoler was upon one who was waiting for the consolation of Israel (i.e., the Messiah). [Note: Liefeld, p. 849.] Many readers have assumed that Simeon was an old man, but the text does not say that, though he may have been.

Verses 27-28

The Holy Spirit led Simeon to be present in the temple courtyard when Mary and Joseph arrived to consecrate Jesus to God (cf. Luke 4:1). Again the presence of Jesus became an occasion for joy and praise of God (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 2:14; Luke 2:20). This was consistently the response of the godly to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

Verses 29-32

As with the Magnificat and the Benedictus, this hymn also has a Latin name: the Nunc Dimittis. Simeon acknowledged that Messiah had come. He felt ready to die since God had fulfilled His promise to Simeon (Luke 2:26). This statement may imply that he was an old man, but it may just be a way of saying that Simeon felt this was the greatest experience in his life. Simeon properly regarded God as his sovereign and himself as God’s servant (Gr. doulos). He equated the Messiah with God’s salvation. He also viewed the salvation that Jesus would provide as being worldwide, not just for Israel (cf. Psalms 98:3; Isaiah 52:10). Luke mentioned the fact that Jesus would provide salvation for Gentiles as well as Jews many times. For Israel, Messiah’s coming spells glory (Isaiah 45:25; Isaiah 46:13).

If we only had Matthew and Mark’s Gospels, we might wonder if there were any Jews except Jesus who understood the Old Testament correctly. Luke presented two so far who did, namely, Zechariah and Simeon.

Verse 33

Mary and Joseph understood that Jesus was the Messiah. However they had evidently not connected some of the Old Testament revelation about Messiah to which Simeon referred with Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps they understood Messiah to be mainly a political leader, as was the view of most of their contemporaries. God used a stranger to inform them of their Son’s significance for the Gentiles.

". . . we can . . . in some measure, understand why the mystery of His Divinity had to be kept while He was on earth. Had it been otherwise, the thought of His Divinity would have proved so all-absorbing, as to render impossible that of His Humanity, with all its lessons." [Note: Edersheim, 1:192.]

Verses 34-35

Simeon now prayed for God’s blessing on Mary and Joseph or perhaps declared them blessed by God (cf. Luke 2:28), especially Mary who would suffer more than Joseph. He revealed to Mary that Jesus would be responsible for bringing many people in Israel to the point of making an important moral decision. Some of them would reject Him and so fall spiritually while others would accept Him and therefore rise spiritually. He would be a sign in the sense that He would be a demonstration that God was at work.

"In himself, therefore, Jesus is the one through whom God points to his salvation and offers proof of its reality." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 122.]

As a stone, Jesus would be a source of stumbling to some but a means of reaching heaven for others (cf. Isaiah 8:14-15; Isaiah 28:16). He would be the instrument of salvation for some but condemnation for others. However, He would pay a price, namely, suffering the antagonism of those who would reject Him. This rejection would hurt Mary.

Verses 36-38

Anna, whose name is equivalent to the Hebrew Hannah, was a female prophetess (cf. Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Acts 2:17; Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). Her mention continues Luke’s interest in the renewal of prophecy at this time (cf. Luke 1:67; Luke 2:34-35). Perhaps Luke referred to Anna’s ancestors to validate her Jewishness.

"Curiously enough, the tribe of Asher alone is celebrated in tradition for the beauty of its women, and their fitness to be wedded to High-Priest or King." [Note: Edersheim, 1:200.]

Anna’s husband had died seven years after their marriage, and she had remained a widow since then to her present age of 84. Luke contains about 43 references to women, four of whom were widows (Luke 2:36-40; Luke 7:11-15; Luke 18:1-8; Luke 21:1-4). Anna was a widow who had devoted herself to the worship and service of God in the temple (cf. 1 Timothy 5:5). Luke again recorded God’s providential timing in bringing this godly woman to Jesus then (cf. Luke 2:27). As Simeon, she was anticipating God’s deliverance of Israel through Messiah (cf. Luke 2:25). Luke used "Jerusalem" figuratively (i.e., metonymy) for Israel (cf. Isaiah 52:9). God gave Anna insight into Jesus’ identity. The godly in Jerusalem undoubtedly learned about Messiah’s birth from Simeon and Anna (cf. Luke 1:68).

"They represent the long history of an expectant people, nourished by God’s promise. Zechariah and Elizabeth also fit this character type. They, too, are righteous, careful observers of the law (Luke 1:6), old (Luke 1:7), and filled with the prophetic Spirit when they recognize the fulfillment of God’s promise (Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67). These people represent their faith at its best, according to the values of the implied author, even though Zechariah has temporary doubts. To them the coming of the long awaited salvation is revealed." [Note: Tannehill, 1:39.]

Verse 39

Luke again noted Mary and Joseph’s careful obedience to God’s will as revealed in the Mosaic Law. He omitted their flight to Egypt that Matthew recorded. It illustrated another fulfillment of messianic prophecy. However the fulfillment of prophecy was not as important to Luke as it was to Matthew.

"There was a general contempt in Rabbinic circles for all that was Galilean." [Note: Edersheim, 1:225.]

"Making every allowance for exaggeration, we cannot wholly ignore the account of Josephus about the 240 towns and villages of Galilee, each with not less than 15,000 inhabitants." [Note: Ibid., 1:224.]

Verses 39-40

5. Jesus’ development in Nazareth 2:39-40

Verse 40

Luke also noted Jesus’ normal development as a human being (Luke 2:40; cf. Luke 1:80; Luke 2:52). He was the object of God’s grace (help). Luke mentioned Jesus’ wisdom perhaps in anticipation of the following pericope. Luke 2:40 describes what happened to Jesus between His presentation in the temple and His return there when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-51).

Verses 41-42

Again Luke pointed out the godly characters of Mary and Joseph. Jewish males were to go to Jerusalem three times a year, at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In Jesus’ day, women usually attended with their husbands or fathers. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "pascha," by J. Jeremiah , 5:896-904.] Those who could not attend all three festivals tried to attend Passover at least. Customarily Jewish parents took their young sons with them for a year or two before the boy became a "son of the covenant" usually at age 13. [Note: Edersheim, 1:235-36.] Luke called Jesus a "boy" (Gr. pais, also used of servants) here rather than a "child" (Gr. paidion), the term he used of Jesus in Luke 2:40.

"Jewish boys became responsible for their actions at thirteen (m[ishnah]. Niddah 5.6; m[ishnah]. Megillah 4.6). At the age of twelve the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation of the recognition of adulthood (m[ishnah]. ’Abot 5.21). The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, postdates the time of Jesus by five hundred years. . ." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 99, n. 1. Cf. Fitzmyer, p. 440.]

Verses 41-50

6. Jesus’ visit to the temple as a boy 2:41-50

This is the only inspired incident that God has given us of Jesus’ experiences during His boyhood. Luke stressed Jesus’ wisdom and His conscious awareness that He was the Son of God so his readers would have confidence in Jesus’ deity. There is a strong contrast between Jesus’ earthly parents and His heavenly Father. Stories of the precocious condition of a great person in his or her youth were and are common. They demonstrate the uniqueness of the individual and his or her superiority over others. Yet Jesus was far more than precocious.

Verses 43-45

Luke noted that Mary and Joseph stayed for the duration of the eight-day festival, another tribute to their piety. Mary and Joseph probably did not miss Jesus for a whole day because each may have supposed He was with the other since men often traveled with men and women with women. [Note: Liefeld, p. 852.] Perhaps they assumed He was with the other children or the other adults in their caravan of pilgrims. One of my colleagues once left his children at the church where he was the guest preacher and only became aware of their absence when he arrived back home. It seems unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have been this preoccupied, however.

Verses 46-47

On the second day, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, which evidently took the whole day. Then on the third day they began searching for Jesus and found Him in the temple sitting among the rabbis listening to their teaching and asking them questions. Luke’s reference to His being in their "midst" suggests Jesus’ centrality in this august group, though He was then a learner and not a teacher (cf. Psalms 119:99-100).

"Already early in life Jesus values the pursuit of comprehending God, as he increases ’in wisdom and stature’ (Luke 2:52). His approach to knowing God and seeking understanding pictures how we should pursue the same, even at a young age." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 100.]

Jesus’ understanding and His answers amazed (Gr. existanto) them all (cf. Luke 4:32; Luke 9:43). One suspects that some of these rabbis remembered this incident when Jesus later became a popular teacher Himself. Obviously Jesus already had unusual wisdom and insight into the Scriptures, which were the center of these discussions. [Note: See J. W. Doeve, Jewish Hermeneutics in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, p. 105.]

Verse 48

Mary and Joseph were understandably anxious (Gr. edynomenoi) about their Son’s safety (cf. Luke 2:35; Luke 16:24-25; Acts 20:38; Romans 9:2). When they found Jesus, his participation in conversation with the rabbis astounded (Gr. exeplagesan) them.

"It is one of the characteristics of Luke to observe the various responses of awe at the words and deeds of Jesus, which is also consistent with ancient narratives touching on the observation of wonders." [Note: Liefeld, p. 852.]

Mary’s question had the force of scolding, revealing an unwarranted but understandable attitude. [Note: For a chronological catalog of 103 questions that people asked Jesus in the Gospels and His responses, see Roy B. Zuck, "How Jesus Responded to Questions," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, pp. 108-33.]

Verses 49-50

Mary and Joseph’s anxiety contrasts with Jesus’ calmness. Mary’s reference to Jesus’ earthly father also contrasts with Jesus’ reference to His heavenly Father. Jesus’ first question prepared His parents for His significant statement that followed in His second question. Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph showed that He regarded His duty to His heavenly Father and His house as taking precedence over His duty to His earthly father and his house.

"Jesus’ point is that his career must be about instruction on the way of God, for the temple was not only a place of worship, but was also a place of teaching. Jesus has a call to instruct the nation. Though he is twelve now, a day is coming when this will be his priority." [Note: Bock, Luke, pp. 100-1.]

Even as a boy, Jesus placed great importance on worshipping God and learning from and about God. However, Jesus’ obedience to God did not involve disobedience to Joseph. Jesus implied that His parents should have understood His priorities, but they did not grasp the true significance of His words.

Did Jesus not owe it to His parents to tell them beforehand that He planned to linger in the temple so they would not worry about Him? He may have done so and they may have forgotten, but this was not something Luke chose to explain. His purpose was to record Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph that expressed His awareness of His unique relationship to God and His duty to God. [Note: See I. Howard Marshall, "The Divine Sonship of Jesus," Interpretation 21 (1967):87-103.]

"Jesus’ reply, though gentle in manner, suggests the establishment of a break between himself and his parents, although this will be modified in Luke 2:51. There is thus a tension between the necessity felt by Jesus to enter into closer relationship with his Father and the obedience which he continued to render to his parents." [Note: Idem, The Gospel . . ., p. 128.]

All committed young believers who live under their parents’ authority have struggled with this tension.

These are the first words that Luke recorded Jesus saying in his Gospel, and they set the tone for what follows. All of Jesus’ words and works testified to the priority He gave to the will of His heavenly Father. "Had to" (Gr. dei) reflects a key theme in Luke’s Gospel that highlights divine design. The Greek word occurs 99 times in the New Testament and 40 times in Luke-Acts. [Note: See Bock, "A Theology . . .," pp. 94-95, for further discussion of it.]

Verses 51-52

7. Jesus’ continuing growth 2:51-52

Jesus’ obedience to His heavenly Father included obedience to His earthly parents (Exodus 20:12; cf. Colossians 3:20). Luke balanced the former revelation of Jesus’ deity with this indication of His humanity. His second reference to Mary meditating on these things continues the implication that his record of these events came from her or from someone close to her (cf. Genesis 37:11).

Usually young people who give God His proper place in their lives develop into normal adults, people whom God and other people approve (cf. Proverbs 3:1-12). This was true of Jesus (cf. 1 Samuel 2:26). Jesus’ mental, social, and spiritual powers developed along with His physical powers. He was fully man as well as fully God who voluntarily set aside some of His divine prerogatives temporarily in the Incarnation (Philippians 2:7). The Greek word translated "increased" or "grew" (Luke 2:52, prokopto) literally means to make one’s way forward by chopping down obstacles, a vivid description of the maturation process (cf. Luke 2:40).

Luke’s original Greek readers were familiar with the concept of gods visiting humans. This was common in their mythology. However those gods did not become humans; they remained different from mortals. Luke probably recorded so much information about Jesus’ birth and early life to help them believe that Jesus became a real man at the Incarnation.

"The [Greco-Roman] biographical tradition used a combination of birth, family, and boyhood stories to give anticipations about the future life of the hero. . . . All of these components functioned also as prophecies of the character of the public career of the subject of the biography. If this was their purpose in the Greco-Roman biographies, then this is how a reader/hearer of Luke would most probably have taken the material of a similar nature in Luke 1:5 to Luke 4:15.

"Virtually the totality of the material about Jesus in Luke 1:5 to Luke 4:15 would have been regarded as an anticipation of his later public greatness. . . . [This material] would combine to foretell/foreshadow the type of person Jesus would be in his public ministry which began at Luke 4:16-30." [Note: Charles H. Talbert, "Prophecies of Future Greatness: The Contribution of Greco-Roman Biographies to an Understanding of Luke 1:5-4:15," in The Divine Helmsman: Studies on God’s Control of Human Events, Presented to Lou H. Silberman, p. 137.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-2.html. 2012.
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