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Bible Commentaries
Luke 2

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-52

Luke 2:1 . It came to pass in those days, when John was born, and when the Roman emperor, Augustus Cæsar, filled the throne, and was in the thirty first year of his reign, that, a decree was issued for a general taxation according to men’s property. This emperor, after the battle of Actium, became so popular, that the senate invited him to take the reins of government into his hands, which laid, properly speaking, the foundation of the imperial monarchy of Rome.

Augustus, as a man of wisdom, divided the empire into provinces, and sent Quirinus into Palestine, a person of consular dignity, to make the above enrolment of the people, in the places of their birth, and where their property was situated. Florus describes this census as comprising the name, the age, the patrimony, the office and trade of every man. This property-tax extended to every one who was worth two hundred sesterces, or about seven ounces of silver. Thus the ever-watchful eye of providence brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where the Saviour was born, according to the prophecy of Micah 5:1-3. There were at that time three families of David’s line in Judea; Jacob, father of Joseph; Eli, the father of Mary; and Hillel, president of the council. There might indeed be others of whom we have no record; for the Lord will bless the righteous to a thousand generations.

This enrolment and taxation, though extended only to Syria, was very unpopular. Judas in Galilee appeared in arms against the Roman authority, and maintained himself in power for some time. Acts 5:37.

Luke 2:7 . She brought forth her firstborn son. Some say she never had another, and that his brethren so called were only cousins; an unimportant point, a study worthy of the convent. But the severity of Roman edicts enforced by military power, and the poverty of Joseph, are sufficiently evident. The virgin mother laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn: and that inn is a striking figure of the human heart, and of the concourses and crowds of worldly associations. How little in the eyes of heaven between the shepherd’s tent and the lordly mansion.

Luke 2:8-9 . Shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord came upon them by a sort of gentle surprise; and the glory of the Lord, the shekinah, the indubitable cloud of Jehovah’s presence, shone round about them. This herald, and the attendant hosts of angels, accompanied with the uncreated glory, are sufficient indications of the deity and humanity of Christ. The shepherds asked for nothing more.

Luke 2:10 . Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, the original promise being made to all the families of the earth. Genesis 12:3. On the birth of Christ the gospel opened on the church as a bright morning, ushering in the jubilee of the world.

Luke 2:11 . Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Micah 5:2. Those religious shepherds stumbled not at the Saviour’s poverty, prophecy having fore-armed the church on that head. Isaiah 53:2. Zechariah 9:9. Oh that our faith were as lively as theirs. Blessed is he that hath not seen, and yet hath believed.

As to the precise day in the calendar when our Saviour was born, the curiosity of man is not gratified. But this we know, that the festival of Janus, much celebrated by the heathen about the time of the winter solstice, was converted by the early christians into a festival, commemorative of one greater than Noah, the real name of Janus, as on Isaiah 41:1. There were however some christians who contend, that Christ was born at the epiphany, or manifestation to the magi, or eastern kings, as Tertullian calls them, who came with offerings to worship him. It is for the interests of religion that we should observe the joyful day.

Luke 2:12 . Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. What a sight for angels to behold, and mortal eyes to see! God, an invisible spirit, wrapped in flesh. The Eternal born in time. The Immortal, subject to pain and death. He who inhabits glory, exposed to scorn and contempt. He who fills immensity, craddled in a manger. The giver of all good, himself in weakness and in want. Hail, welcome stranger, the Sire of ages, and Lord of heaven and earth! The poor shepherds worship first, and the rich magi come second with their gifts. Such is the unsearchable wisdom of God.

Luke 2:14 . Glory to God in the highest. This hymn of the angels is the aggregate of all that the prophets had sung before. So also are the songs of Zacharias, of Elizabeth, of Mary, and of Simeon. The work of redemption is such a display of the wisdom and love of God as calls for songs from every voice in heaven and earth.

The angels sung peace on earth, for Messiah, the prince of peace, having reconciled all things on the cross, will publish peace to the heathen. Zechariah 9:10. He will break the bow of Ephraim, and put away the war-horse from Jerusalem. Christianity, so far as its voice could be heard, has always opposed war, and will ultimately prevail, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

Good will toward men. God having sent his servants to preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, he will withhold no good thing from faithful men.

Luke 2:19 . Mary pondered all these things in her heart. What else could she do? The proud would not have believed the divine secrets which lodged in her breast.

Luke 2:21 . When eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS. This was done in conformity to the command of God to Abraham, as stated in Genesis 17:12; and in conformity to the law of Moses, Leviticus 12:2; and after the example of Joshua in Gilgal, when he rolled away the reproach of the Israelites: chap. Luke 5:2. The circumcision of Christ is proof that he was made under the law, and subject to the ceremonial obligations. He was thus made under the law, that he might redeem us from its curse. He was thus subject to the law, that by magnifying the commandment and making it honourable, he might give us liberation, even the glorious liberty of the children of God: for true circumcision, according to Moses and St. Paul, is that of the heart. Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6. Romans 2:29. In Christ, neither circumcision availeth nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Galatians 6:15. Philippians 3:3. The Hebrews gave the child its name on the day of its circumcision.

Luke 2:25 . There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. Conjecture, in Schultens the elder, is, that though aged he was son of Rabban Simeon, principal of the school of Hillel, and that he was the father of Gamaliel, who spake for the apostle. Poole thinks there is some degree of probability in this supposition of certain fathers. Be that as it may, Simeon was an illustrious man, by his blessing the parents of Christ, and was enlightened in the prophets, liberally construing them in favour of the gentiles. The expectations of the Messiah to appear in that age was so predominant as to attract the notice of the Roman historians, that some illustrious personage should arise in Judea who should obtain the sovereignty of the world. Percrebuerant oriente toto vetus et constans opinio, esse in futus Judæa profecti rerum potirentur. SUETONIUS. Pluribus, says TACITUS, persuatio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum libris contineri es ipso tempore fore, ut valesceret oriens profectique Judæa rerum potirentur.

Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel. This was a favourite title of the Messiah in the current language of the prophets. It was much used also by rabbi Jonathan in his comments and paraphrase of the Hebrew scriptures. “He that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 4:3. That is, says Jonathan, “every one who shall have been written to life eternal shall see the Consolation of Jerusalem.” Other prophecies coincide with these hopes of Israel. Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 66:13. Jeremiah 31:13. Zechariah 1:17.

Luke 2:27 . He came by the Spirit into the temple, not knowing that the infant Manahen, or the Consolation of Israel was there before him. And having received a promise from heaven that he should not die till he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the whisper, the sight of the son already born, rekindled the prophetic flame in his heart, and his soul uttered all his ecstasy of vision in the prophetic spirit. Isaiah’s joy was great when with his own son in his arms, he promised the virgin’s son to Israel in the time of invasion and sore depression. But now, Simeon had the Saviour himself in his arms, and saw in the infant Lord all the glory promised to the church, and to the gentile world. His song is worthy of the great models of Hebrew poësy, as in Moses, Deborah, Hannah, and the prophets. He asked no more on earth, being assured that heaven would complete his joys.

Luke 2:32 . A light to lighten the gentiles, long enveloped in darkness, but whose kings and hosts should come to the brightness of his rising. I will give thee, said Jehovah, “for a light to the gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6.

The glory of thy people Israel. The real shekinah which dwelt between the cherubim, the glory which pertained to Israel. Romans 9:4. But alas, he was first a stumbling-stone and rock of offence. Yet the glory of the Lord was revealed, but more fully reserved for the latter day, when the sun of Zion shall set no more.

Luke 2:34 . And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. The old Israelites fell through unbelief, the new Israelites rose by faith. The old temple perished, the new temple was built on the tops of the mountains. The old priesthood crucified the Saviour, the new priesthood became great in the earth. Christ crucified was to the jews a stumbling block; but to us glory beyond all degrees of contrast. Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 65:15.

Luke 2:35 . Yea, a sword shall pierce: ομφια , a missile weapon, a dart. Jehovah’s sword shall pierce the shepherd, and by maternal sympathies penetrate the soul of the mother.

Luke 2:36 . There was one Anna, a prophetess. The little company in Jerusalem which awaited the Saviour’s advent were a band of prophets and prophetesses, a band whose piety was eminently connected with devotion. Anna coming into the temple caught the spirit, and joined the hallowed eulogies that ran through the whole circle, and they resolved to keep their eye on this child, henceforth the hope of Israel.

Luke 2:49 . Wist ye not that I must be, εν τοις πατρος , in my Father’s house. Indicating that God was his Father, as in John 10:30. I and my Father are one. Therefore you might have guessed where to find me.


How adorable is the wisdom of God, in bringing his first-begotten into the world without the pomp and splendour of courts, so grateful to the pride of man. The Saviour shunned not a humble parentage, to whom the promises were made. It was sufficient that a star announced his birth to the gentiles; that the angels carolled his nativity to the shepherds, and that the Spirit of prophecy revealed him to the saints. Learn then of him, oh my soul, to be meek and lowly in heart. Seek not a lordly mansion, which multiplies cares, nor the splendour of equipage, which passes away. The Lord took sure counsel to fill the world with his glory, and extend his kingdom over all the earth. Christians, ministers, faint not, till all his good pleasure shall be fulfilled.

But in the presentation of the Saviour we must not lose sight of the venerable and inspired family of sages and prophets, which it collected in the temple. Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon learned in the prophets, and Anna full of days, and full of grace. Joseph and Mary presenting the infant Lord of his Father’s house. Oh what a plenitude of the Spirit overflowed their hearts, making their countenances like the sunbeams of grace. Such was the beginning of the Messiah’s kingdom; such also, though in fainter traits, is the first love of God shed abroad in the heart. What then shall the end be, when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father? But alas, for the other family, then lords of the temple; “the rich and proud who were sent empty away,” the family which developed its character in malice and in murder, as soon as the Saviour’s glory shone upon the nation; the other family, which became hardened to the uttermost, and were ultimately, like the temple in which they trusted, consigned to flames which burned them up, both root and branch. Oh young christian, “come not thou into their assembly; mine honour be not thou united to their secret” of atheism; for in their wine they have blasphemed against the Lord, against the bible, and against his ministers.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/luke-2.html. 1835.
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