An ancient Christian heresy came to be called Marcionism. As with many ancient heresies, it wasn’t readily apparent that this was a heresy and it took many years of fierce debate to sort through the pertinent issues. The earlier heresy of the Judaizers had confronted the church in the 1st century, and was dealt with at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). The Judaizers made strict OT law observance the gateway into the New Covenant, thus choking out the New Covenant. But Marcion introduced the inverse of this, and brought a new challenge for the church to face: can we dispense with the OT now that the Christ had come?
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name [was] Simeon; and the same man [was] just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
Summary of the Text
In this wonderful episode we are given evidence of the vibrancy of the faith of the true saints of the Old Testament. Before looking at our immediate text, I want to first look beyond its borders. The Evangelists’ testimony of the coming of Christ are inextricably linked to OT imagery, ancestral records, and prophetic promises. Matthew tells us that “all this was done” to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy (Is. 7:14); the scholars knew to point the Magi to Bethlehem on the basis of the testimony of Micah 5:2; Mathew has a striking use of Hosea 1:1 to confirm that Christ is the New Israel brought out of Egypt. In Mark’s Gospel, the witness to Christ begins by putting forward John the Baptist, but in a similar manner he immediately links up with the prophetic witness, Isaiah 40 in particular. John begins by linking the coming of the Eternal Word with the creation narrative itself (“In the beginning”), before asserting that this Word was the light which had shone through the OT witness and whose full dawn had come.
In Luke, we’re initially introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Lk. 1:6).” Next, the Angel’s declaration to Mary is that her son would sit on the throne of David, clear reverberations of Ps. 132:11, 45:6, 89:35-37 and Is. 9:7. In Lk. 1:42-43 Elisabeth calls the unborn son of Mary “Lord,” and proclaims that Mary is blessed, a clear allusion to the blessed seed promised to Eve and Abraham (Gen. 3:15; 22:18). These various characters’ responses to these events are couched in language that heavily borrows from the praise of the Psalmists and the Prophets’ expectant oracles. Our more finicky brothers might turn a quizzical eye at their use of OT texts. There’s not enough time to detail it all, but this is a major intersection of OT texts and allusions.
Simeon, in our text, continues this train of saints who are depicted as glimpsing the ancient promises of God come to fruition. He (like Joseph is described in Matthew, and Zechariah and Elisabeth as described here in Luke) was just; he was awaiting Israel’s consolation (1:25). By God’s kindness, it had been revealed to him that he wouldn’t die until he’d seen the “Lord’s Christ” (v26). He was led by the Spirit into the temple as Mary & Joseph came to offer the proper offering for a poor family in accordance with Moses’ Law (v27; Cf. Lev. 12:6-8). Taking up the child into his arms he also takes up a prayer to bless God (v28); gladdened that God’s promise to him was now fulfilled by this child who was also the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, he now is ready to depart in peace (v29). He’d seen God’s Yeshua (v30); this is a reference to Is 25:9 “we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” This child was the One prepared before the face of His people (v31), who would lighten the Gentiles, and be Israel’s glory (v32) (Cf. Is 49:6 60:3, 19, 45:25).
Joseph & Mary marvel at these words, and received Simeon’s blessing (vs33-35), itself filled with allusions to both Ps. 2:11 & Is. 8:14, 15. Then to put a nice bow on this constellation of godly OT saints, we’re told of a prophetess Anna, who having seen Simeon’s actions joined in believing that this was indeed the fulfillment of God’s promise; and then she spake to all in Jerusalem that “looked for the redemption in Jerusalem (Lk. 2:38, Cf. Is. 2:3).”
Saints Behind & Saints Before
With ample evidence before us, what do the Gospel writers want us to come away with as we look at this constellation of OT saints? Are the OT saints only quaint moral stories/examples? Is Marcion right that we can now dispense with the OT and its virtuous figures? Should we just slam the door shut on the godly saints of the OT, because we have nothing in common with them as some allege?
What we’re being invited to see is the wonderful continuity between what God began to do in Eden and what He accomplished in Christ’s work of redemption. There’s a school of thought that wants to restrict the important Scriptures to a few Psalms, sayings of Jesus, and a handful of other memory verses. From this we can get the perception that we have no fellowship and that there’s no continuity between them and us. At the very least we use the OT saints as mere moral examples, like we would for one of Æsop’s Fable.
But these opening passages of Christ’s advent indicate that the true faith has a whole host of faithful saints to represent it, who were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Savior. Their faith was rightly placed in God’s Word of promise, and here it is depicted as representing the best of believing Israelites who all died in faith, not receiving the substance (Heb. 11:39). But in our text, we now find an exception as Simeon received the substance, by holding that son of David, named Consolation/Yeshua in his arms. Thus, we aren’t divorced from our OT brethren, but in Christ are joined with them.
There’s a long train of saints behind us, and this should give us assurance in these dark times that a great host of saints lay before us, yet unconverted and yet unborn, but who also shall be brought into the kingdom of the Lord’s Christ. The Consolation of Israel, is the consolation for all the saints, for all time.
A Complete Christ
Many false teachers preach a half Christ, a divided Christ. We create a false division when we present God as Allah in the OT and like a new-age, hippie, Guru in the NT. Both pictures are not only incomplete, they are false, and damning. This half Christ, can’t save you. The Christ of the Judaizers and the Christ of the Marcionites is an anti-Christ. Our only hope is in a whole Christ. We cannot see Him rightly if we sunder the ropes which bind the OT & NT together
The comfort found here in Simeon’s words, and in faith displayed in this constellation of faithful pre-Calvary saints is that you do not serve a God who wads up His purposes when met with resistance. You serve the God who promised a Seed to Abraham who would bless the nations, and who revealed to Isaiah that this Blessed Messiah would not restrict this blessing to the Jews only. Rather, this light would lighten the Gentiles, and true Israelites saw it and rejoiced in the dawning of that light.
You can too often gauge God’s faithfulness to you by measuring it against your more recent sins, failures, and set-backs. But God is not deterred in His purpose to sanctify you simply because you failed. The saints of ancient Israel witnessed national apostasy, yet clung to God’s promise to send the Messiah. Zechariah and Elisabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon, and Anna all exemplify what Simeon’s word’s declare: the consolation of Israel has come, and now Gentiles bask in His light, and true Israel glories in it. As one writer out it: “What Christ was to the believing Jewish remnant collectively, He still is to His believing people individually. In every possible variety of condition and circumstance; in all their needs and sorrows, their afflictions, their sufferings, their temptations and fears, this is the blessed ‘name with which he is called’–‘the Consolation of Israel.’” Your only comfort for trials, your only courage for temptations is found in this consolation, in the birth, death, and resurrection of this Child who was named Jesus.