Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25 ESV)
When Peter explains the Spirit-driven events of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16), he quotes the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28):
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Here in Luke 2, we see the day of Pentecost foreshadowed as a son (Simeon) and daughter (Anna) of Israel prophesy about the baby Jesus. Several of Luke’s Pentecost themes are prominent in this story:
- The Holy Spirit is present with power in the early church. The spirit-inspired speech of Simeon and Anna (and Elizabeth and Zechariah) foreshadows the activity of the Holy Spirit in believers that will become more prominent in Acts. By the New Testament era, prophesy had largely died out in Israel; Luke sees it reborn in the events surrounding the life of Jesus and taking root within the early church.
- The Holy Spirit gives women a more prominent role in the community of faith than the culture of the New Testament era afforded them. In this story, both Simeon and Anna prophesy. In both Luke and Acts, women figure prominently. It would be anachronistic to read 21st century concerns into the biblical text, but Luke clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is doing something new.
- God’s acts in Jesus Christ will ultimately lead to the inclusion of the Gentiles. Even though Peter may not have recognized it on the day of Pentecost, the gift of “various tongues” foreshadowed the coming mission to the non-Jewish population of the world. Likewise, Simeon prophesies that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32).
- The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection (which Luke sees as vindication by God) is at the heart of Peter’s preaching on Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36). It is also foreshadowed here. Simeon tells Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (2:34-35). Simeon’s words obviously foreshadow the opposition to Jesus that will lead to his crucifixion (and force a crisis of decision in those who encounter him). For those who know the story, however, they also point forward to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus, Simeon says, is “appointed for the fall and rising (“anastasis,” the same word as “resurrection”) of many in Israel”.
As the day of Pentecost kicks off the story of the early church’s Spirit-filled life, so the Spirit-driven events of Jesus’ birth and infancy point forward – not only to Jesus’ own life and ministry – but to the life and ministry of the church as well.