Luke 2 Bible Commentary

B. W. Johnson’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of Luke 2)
The Birth of Jesus.

SUMMARY.--The Decree of Augustus Cæsar. The Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The Babe in the Manger. The Shepherds and the Song of the Angels. The Circumcision of the Child. The Child in the Temple. The Prophecies of Simeon and Anna. The Child at Nazareth. Jesus with the Doctors. My Father's Business.

      1. Went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus. Augustus Cæsar, the nephew and heir of Julius Cæsar, the first of the Roman emperors, was now the ruler of the civilized world. Though Judea was ruled by Herod as king, he was dependent upon and the servant of Augustus Cæsar. That all the world. The Roman empire which embraced all the world then known to civilization; all southern and western Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. Should be enrolled. A census was to be taken as a preliminary to a poll tax in the provinces.

      2. This was the first enrolment made, etc. This statement has caused some difficulty. Luke seems to affirm that the enrolment took place the year Jesus was born, but while Cyrenius was governor of Syria. Now Cyrenius was governor of Syria from A. D. 6 to A. D. 11. There are two ways of settling the apparent difficulty: (1) Augustus Cæsar, incensed at Herod, ordered an enrolment for taxation of the Jews the year of the birth of Jesus. It was carried out in all probability by Cyrenius. The intercession of Herod's minister, Nicolas, averted the displeasure of Augustus and the taxation did not take place until Cyrenius was governor of Syria, after Archelaus, son of Herod, was deposed. These facts we learn from Josephus, and they remove the apparent discrepancy. But (2) A. W. Zumpt, of Berlin, followed by Alford and Schaff, make it highly probable that Cyrenius was governor of Syria twice, the first time from B. C. 4 to B. C. 1. I have not space for the argument which seems conclusive. But in B. C. 4 Jesus was born. Ancient writers, Christians as well as pagan opposers, state that Jesus was born while Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

      3. Every one to his own city. It was the Jewish custom to enroll by tribes and families. Joseph was of the family of David, and would have to be enrolled where that family had its landed inheritance.

      4. Joseph also went from Galilee. How long he had been living in Galilee is unknown. To the city called Bethlehem. The city of David, and of David's family.

      5. To enrol himself with Mary. Women had to be enrolled also and were subject to the poll tax. Mary was of the line of David, and hence would also have to go to Bethlehem.

      6. And it came to pass. Mary and Joseph, when journeying to Bethlehem, were probably ignorant of the fact that they were helping to fulfill the prophecy that pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of Christ.

      7. Her first-born son. This implies that Mary was subsequently the mother of other children. Swaddling clothes. A long, narrow cloth in which new-born children were closely
wrapped. In a manger. In the feeding trough of beasts of burden, probably attached to the inn, where there was no room for them among the crowds of strangers then in the city. When the Lord stooped from Divine glory to take upon him humanity, he stooped to its most lowly estate. An Oriental inn is thus described: "The khan is usually much on the model of the Eastern house, but of much larger extent. Four rows of apartments are so constructed as to enclose a large yard with a well in the center where the cattle may be kept. The outer wall is usually of brick upon a stone basement. The apartments are entered by the guests from the yard, and are elevated two or three feet above the level of the yard. Below and behind the row of the travelers' apartments was often the row or the long room of stables, into which the floors of the apartments being a little extended, formed a platform upon which the camels could eat."

      8. There were shepherds. The fields around Bethlehem have been for four thousand years the resort of shepherds. There David had cared for his flocks. Keeping watch. To guard their flocks from robbers and wild beasts, and to keep them from straying.

      9. The angel of the Lord. An angel announces the conception of Jesus; a host of angels publish his birth; in his temptation an angel strengthens him; in his agony an angel comforts him; at his resurrection an angel rolls away the stone from the door of the sepulcher; at his ascension the angels attend him up to heaven; and at his second coming to judge the world he shall be "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels."

      10. I bring you good tidings. The way to pardon and peace with God was about to be thrown open to all mankind. To all people. The knowledge of God was no longer to be confined to the Jews, but to be offered to the whole Gentile world.

      11. City of David. A term applied to the village of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the greatest among Israel's kings; David's greater Son begins his earthly career in his ancestor's home. Seven hundred years before the prophet had predicted the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). Christ the Lord. The Anointed Lord, for which the nation was so eagerly longing.

      12. A sign unto you. The sign was not itself a miraculous one, but the prediction of it was so. The babe, the swaddle, and the manger were the three tokens.

      13. A multitude of the heavenly host; i. e., angels, who are represented as a host surrounding the throne of God (1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 18:18; Psa. 103:21; Dan. 7:10; Matt. 26:53; Rev. 19:14). Praising God. Their praises are recorded in the next verse.

      14. Glory to God. The life of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the earth was the working out and development of the song of the angels. It was "Glory to God" illustrated in his consecration and death. It was "peace" in all the utterances of his lips; peace in his Gospel. It was "good will toward man;" for every thought, word and act of that blessed life was the translation of God's infinite love into forms visible to the mortal eyes that saw him.

      16. Came with haste. Mark the prompt obedience to the heavenly vision displayed by the shepherds. We see in them no doubts, or questionings, or hesitations.

      19. Mary kept all these things. A mother forgets none of those things which occur respecting her children.

      21. When eight days were accomplished for circumcising of the child. See note on Luke 1:59. According to the law Jesus was circumcised the eight day. Born under the law of Moses, he kept it, in all things blameless, until "the handwriting of ordinances was nailed to the cross." He was circumcised because it was then God's law, to be obeyed until it was set aside. His example does not warrant infant baptism, because he was afterwards baptized when a man, but does show that the law of God is to be observed, whatever it may be. There is no ground for the assertion that baptism came in the place of circumcision. Note, (1) circumcised Jews were also baptized; (2) only males were circumcised, while both sexes are baptized; (3) there is no scriptural ground for the statement that one rite takes the place of another. His name was called Jesus. The name was given on the eighth day, according to Jewish custom, which the angel had commanded.

      22. The days of their purification. See Lev. 12:4-6. These "days" were a period of thirty-three days after the circumcision of a male child. He was then to be presented in the temple by the parents.

      23. Every male . . . shall be called holy. That is, devoted to the Lord. See Exod. 13:12. All the first-born were to be presented to the Lord and redeemed by an offering (Num. 18:15).

      24. To offer a sacrifice. The law (Lev. 12:6-8) required a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtle-dove for a sin offering, but in the case of the poor one of these birds might be substituted for the lamb, "and the priest shall make atonement for her and she shall be clean" . The fact that Joseph and Mary brought a pair of birds instead of a lamb shows that they were very poor. The gifts of the wise men were after this.

      25. Simeon. The first prophet to declare that Christ had come. Looking for the consolation of Israel. The promised Messiah. The Holy Spirit was upon him. To give him supernatural knowledge. It was revealed to him that he should see Christ.

      27. Came in the Spirit into the temple. Directed by and filled with the Spirit. After the custom of the law. Offered the required sacrifices. The law was strictly observed, because Jesus was "born under the law."

      28. And said. The utterances of Elizabeth, Mary and Simeon are consecutive. Each begins where the other ends. Mary sings her own born Messiah; Zacharias celebrates the triumph of Israel, and Simeon announces the hopes of the Gentiles. But, besides this holding forth the Messiah as a Savior for Gentile as well as Jew, what is remarkable is, that he announces in Jesus a suffering Messiah as well as a glorious.--Whedon.

      32. A light to lighten the Gentiles. Scholars have said that in the work of opening the gates of Christianity to the Gentiles, Stephen was the forerunner of Paul. Might it not be said that Simeon was the forerunner of Stephen, and the Gentile Luke the historian of both? Yet the true doctrine on the subject is explicitly and repeatedly declared not only here, but in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Compare Isa. 9:2; 40:1; 49:6.

      33. Marvelled. That Simeon should know the child.

      34. Set for the falling and rising of many. Christ brought downfall to the hopes of those who expected a temporal prince and a political millennium, and ruin to those whose desire for the kingdom of God was ambition for place and power in it, as the Pharisees. He brought rising to those who were willing that God should overthrow their plans and ambitions, and who accepted from him the grander gift of a universal kingdom, prepared for all people. The rejection of him brought ruin to the Jews; the acceptance of him brought life eternal.

      35. A sword shall pierce through thine own soul. He announces that the blessed mother should also be a sorrowing mother. Though she was exulted in the thought that her son should sit on the throne of David, she learns now that the calumny will make him its sign, and a sword shall pierce her soul. That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Christ brings to light by bringing into activity the thoughts of the heart. The result of preaching Christ is always to awaken opposition or love and obedience.

      36. One Anna, a prophetess. An aged saint who spoke by inspiration. Daughter of Phanuel. Evidently a man well known in that day. Of the tribe of Asher. One of the twelve tribes occupying the strip of sea-coast from Sidon to Carmel.

      37. A widow even for fourscore and four years. She had passed seven years with a husband when young and then remained a widow until, at this time, she was eighty-four years old, devoting herself to a religious life. Departed not from the temple. Probably assigned, on account of her saintly character, a chamber in the temple.

      38. Spake of him. Of the Babe, she speaking by inspiration, and declaring that he was the promised child.

      39. They returned into Galilee. Luke omits the stirring events that lie between the visit to the temple and the return to Nazareth, possibly because they are so fully given by Matthew. See Matthew, chapter 2. Their own city Nazareth. The old home of Joseph and Mary, now to be the home of Jesus until he was thirty years of age; a mountain village in southern Galilee.

      40. The child grew. He was a child, and a child that grew in heart, in intellect, in size, in grace, in favor with God. Not a man in child's years. Filled with wisdom. The body advances in stature and the soul in wisdom. The divine nature revealed its own wisdom in proportion to the measure of the bodily growth.--Cyril. In "the mystery of godliness," "God manifest in the flesh," one of the inscrutable things that was that the Divine man should become a babe, not only in body, but in mind and wisdom.

      41. Went to Jerusalem. The law of Moses required that the adult males of the Jewish nation should appear before the Lord, at the place of his altar, three times every year--at the great festivals, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Though females were not required to attend, they often did from religious devotion.

      42. When he was twelve years old. At the age of twelve a boy was called by the Jews "son of the law," and first incurred legal obligation. Henceforth it would be his personal duty to keep the law.

      43. Fulfilled the days. The seven of the passover week. Jesus tarried behind. Luke neither tells us that Jesus remained behind at Jerusalem intentionally, nor that Joseph and Mary lost sight of him through want of necessary care. A circumstance must here have been omitted, and we may safely suppose that Joseph and Mary joined their fellow-travelers in the persuasion that Jesus, who knew of the time and place of departure, was among the younger ones.

      44. In the company. The caravans, in which the passover companies went, for the purpose of protection against beasts and robbers, must have each been large, composed of many parties, clans and kindreds. Jesus might easily, therefore, have not been missed until the end of the first day.

      46. In the temple. Probably in one of the porches of the court of the women, where the schools of the rabbis were held, and the law regularly expounded. In the midst of the doctors. The learned rabbins. Some of the greatest doctors of Jewish history lived about this period--Hillel, Rabbi Simeon and Gamaliel. Asking them questions. It was the custom in Jewish rabbinical schools for scholars to ask questions.

      49. How is it that ye sought me? Did ye not know that I must be in my Father's house? That is, in the temple, where they did find him. They ought to have come there at once. These words are the first in which he reveals his consciousness of his supernatural birth.

      50. Understood not. Did not comprehend all he meant in speaking of his Father's house.

      51. He went down with them. If his heart drew him to the temple, the voice of duty called him back to Galilee, for the law required obedience to parents.

      52. Jesus increased. Jesus grew up among a people seldom and only contemptuously named by the ancient classics, and subjected at the time to the yoke of a foreign oppressor; in a remote and conquered province of the Roman empire; in the darkest district of Palestine; in a little country town of proverbial insignificance; in poverty and manual labor; in the obscurity of a carpenter's shop; far away from universities, academies, libraries, and literary or polished society; without any help, as far as we know, except the parental care, the daily wonders of nature, the Old Testament Scriptures, the weekly Sabbath service of the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16), the annual festivities in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 2:42), and the secret intercourse of his soul with God, his heavenly Father.--Schaff.