then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. (2:28–33)
Having met Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, Simeon took Jesus into his arms. It is hard to imagine how thrilled he must have been as he realized that God’s promises had come true. Salvation had come to Israel, and he was holding the consolation of Israel, the Messiah, in his arms. Overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, Simeon blessed God.
His song of praise (cf.1:41–45, 46–55, 67–79; 2:13–14, 38) is known as the Nunc Dimittis (Now Lord), from the first two words of the hymn in Latin. God was releasing His bond-servant to depart (die) in peace, according to His word of promise revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit. His hope fulfilled, his joy complete, his heart at peace, Simeon was content to die. With his own eyes he had seen God’s salvation, personified in the infant Jesus (cf. 1:69; 2:11). He understood that salvation for Israel involved much more than the national deliverance promised by the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, whose blessings will not be fully realized until the millennial kingdom. In the incarnation, Jesus came not to save His people from their enemies, but from their sins (Matt. 1:21; cf. Acts 4:12).
Simeon’s next statement would shock Jewish sensibilities. Fiercely proud of their status as God’s chosen, covenant people, the Jews believed Messiah was their deliverer. They assumed He would establish their kingdom, which would then rule over the infidel Gentiles. The truth that God had prepared salvation in the presence of all peoples, and that Messiah would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 26:23), as well as the glory of God’s people Israel (cf. Isa. 46:13; 45:25), ran counter to all their preconceptions. Even after the resurrection, the apostles still did not understand. Shortly before the Lord ascended to heaven “they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ ” (Acts 1:6).
Centuries of animosity toward the idolatrous Gentiles, whose corrupting influence had contributed to Israel’s downfall, was not easily set aside. The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were horrified that Peter “went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3) because, as Peter reminded the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius’s house, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28). But salvation is offered to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, since Christ “made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14) and “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for [believers] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Thus the Lord directed that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47; cf. Matt. 28:19–20).
Speaking prophetically of Messiah’s ministry Isaiah wrote,
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. (Isa. 9:1–2; cf. Matt. 4:12–16)
According to Isaiah 42:6, Messiah would be “a light to the nations,” while in 49:6, the Lord said to Him, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In Isaiah 51:4–5, God declared, “A law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly.” Isaiah 52:10 notes that “the Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” In Isaiah 60, God once again addressed His Servant, the Messiah:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (60:1–3)
With each confirmation of their Son’s true identity, Joseph and Mary’s astonishment grew. After hearing Simeon’s song of praise, they were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. Their son, in every sense a normal human baby, was the Divine Savior of the world, the Messiah who would fulfill all the Old Testament promises of salvation and blessing.
27–33 God, active by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has Simeon come to the temple at just the right time and place. God, active by means of “what was customary under the law,” requires Jesus’ parents to bring their son to the temple at this time also. The result of this choreography is this rendezvous. This appointment is not the result of divine coercion, however. Although God is operative through the law and the Spirit to achieve this end, this encounter is dependent on the obedience of these human actors, who by their actions are helpers or supporters of the divine purpose. Their status as helpers contrasts sharply with those about whom Simeon will cryptically speak in 2:34–35a.
The location of this encounter is not without significance: the temple is the locus of God’s presence, the meeting place between the divine and the human. Here it is presented as an important site of divine revelation (cf. 1:11–20; 2:36–38; Acts 22:17–21). This portrayal is ironic, for here and in Acts 22:17–21 this location helps to legitimate the universal reach of the gospel: precisely in the center of the world of Israel, the Jerusalem temple, God discloses that salvation for Israel includes salvation for the Gentiles.
At the center of this pericope stands Simeon’s response to his encounter with Jesus. This “song” is framed by other responses—praise from Simeon (2:28–29), wherein Simeon seems to join the angelic chorus in praise of God (2:13), and the amazement of the child’s father and mother (2:33). Amazement is neither negative nor necessarily positive (cf. 2:18). It is an expected reaction to the miraculous, but does not promise correct understanding or faith in the present or future. That such a response is credited to Mary and Joseph—especially Mary, who has been portrayed so positively—should encourage us to pause for reflection. What Simeon has asserted in his prayerlike hymn is so extraordinary that even Mary and Joseph are amazed. Apparently this portion of the narrative has opened up possibilities requiring further development and clarification.
The Song itself is presented in three couplets, opening with an implicit word of praise (2:29) and proceeding to an explication of the motive for praise (2:30–32). The Song borrows heavily from the vision of salvation resident in Isaiah 40–66 LXX, especially 40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 49:6; 52:10; 56:1; 60:1. These echoes function at a number of levels: (1) they root Simeon’s message firmly in the purpose of God, manifest in the Scriptures; (2) they root Simeon’s message more particularly in the Isaianic vision of divine restoration and healing; (3) they emphasize the universalistic reach of God’s redemption; and (4) they point to the image of the Isaianic Servant of Yahweh as a fundamental scriptural metaphor for interpreting the mission of Jesus as a whole.29
In the Greek text, the word “now” has been placed in the emphatic position: “Now you are releasing your servant, Master.” This emphasizes once again the importance for Luke that salvation has already dawned on humanity with the coming of Jesus (cf. 1:48; 2:11). Also in an emphatic position, at the end of this opening phrase, is the unusual address for God, “Master.” This term, emphasizing submission to God, appears only here and in Acts 4:24 (“Sovereign Lord”) in Luke-Acts. In both co-texts God as “Master” is set in apposition to particular humans as “servants”—here, Simeon; there, David (4:25), Jesus (4:27), and the Jerusalem church (4:29). This underscores that God is the one whose primary aim drives the narrative from creation to redemption, that God will overcome the efforts of those who oppose his purpose, and that the persons named above are those who act in submission to God and through whom God’s purpose is realized (cf. 1:38).
These images are conjoined here with that of “release” or “dismissal,” with the result that we hear a dual message. On the one hand, “to dismiss” can be a euphemism for “to let die.” Cast as it is in proximity to God’s promise that Simeon “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26), a vow God has kept (2:29b), this is a viable reading here. On the other hand, “to dismiss” can be used in the sense of “to discharge,” as from faithful vigil or service.33 This also describes Simeon, particularly insofar as we picture him as a prophetic figure, serving God while awaiting the peaceful era of God’s dominion. With the arrival of God’s “salvation” (2:30), his task is complete.
God’s “salvation,” introduced in 2:30, might be rendered “instrument of salvation.” In the NT this term appears only in 2:30; 3:6; Acts 28:28; Eph 6:17. In Luke 3:6 and Acts 28:28, it is used in contexts that emphasize the universalism of God’s salvation, which “all flesh shall see,” including the Gentiles. And in each case of its appearance in Luke-Acts the Isaianic background of this terminology is evident. Simeon identifies Jesus as this agent of salvation, practically equating the arrival of Jesus, the Lord’s Messiah, with the advent of the new era of divine consolation. In 2:30, 32, “salvation” is set in apposition with “light” (cf. Isa 51:4–5), and in 2:31–32 salvation for “all peoples” is clarified as “revelation to the Gentiles” (cf. Isa 49:6; 49:9) and “glory to your people Israel” (cf. Isa 46:13; 60:1, 19). This complex patterning leaves us in no doubt that the salvation that God has brought is universal in its reach.
Some have doubted whether the phrase “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” implies that the Gentiles are included in God’s salvation, since “open disclosure” need not imply inclusion in salvation. However, the metaphor of “light” is already familiar to us from Zechariah’s Song (1:78–79; cf. 2:8–9), where its salvific purpose is manifest: Through God’s agent of salvation, people do not merely see evidence of the advent of God’s dominion, they are engulfed in it; they are, as it were, led from the dominion of darkness into the light.
2:30–31 / For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people: Isa. 40:5 (see Luke 3:6); 52:10. Luke’s word for “salvation” (sōtērion) is relatively rare in the nt, with three of its four occurrences in Luke–Acts. Tannehill (pp. 40–42) notes that Luke borrowed it from the lxx (as seen in the evangelist’s citation of Isa. 40:5) and probably wanted the reader to understand that Simeon was one of the first to see God’s salvation, a salvation which, thanks to the apostolic mission, the whole Roman Empire would eventually see.
2:27–33. The Spirit controlled everything Simeon did. He spied Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ parents, as they entered the temple. They were simply obeying God’s law. Simeon intercepted them and took the child in his arms. He gave them a blessing they did not expect. Praising God (cf. 1:68), Simeon first claimed his dismissal from God’s army. His tour of duty was done. God had fulfilled his promise. Simeon could now die and claim his eternal peace. He had seen God’s salvation. Named Jesus, “Yahweh is salvation” (v. 21) and proclaimed by the angel as Savior (v. 11), Jesus was what Simeon had longed for and looked for all these years—the salvation, the deliverance of his people.
Such salvation is not a human act or human possession. It is God’s salvation. He prepared for it clearly on the stage of world history where all people could see. He made it a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Yes, salvation was more than fulfillment of Israel’s nationalistic hopes. Salvation was a light revealing God and his purposes and ways to all people, Jew and Gentile alike (see Isa. 40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 49:6; 52:9–10). Israel did have a special place. They were your people. In Jesus they received glory, for the Gentiles saw them as the important instrument God used to bring salvation to the whole world.
Shepherds amazed Bethlehem with their message (v. 18). Simeon amazed Joseph and Mary with his. News about Jesus is never ordinary, daily newspaper stuff. News about Jesus leaves the audience wondering: How can this be? Who is this?
2:27–32. On seeing the Child and picking Him up, Simeon … praised God, the response of godly people toward the Messiah throughout the Gospel of Luke. He then uttered a psalm of praise extolling God for fulfilling His promise by bringing salvation. The Messiah is the Source of salvation, as His name Jesus indicates. In all three of the hymns of thanksgiving and praise recorded by Luke in his first two chapters (1:46–55, 68–79; 2:29–32) lie the deep significance of the births of John and Jesus for the salvation of Israel and the world. Simeon noted that the Messiah was to be for the Gentiles as well as for Israel. The idea of salvation for the Gentiles is set forth many times in the Gospel of Luke. 30. For my eyes have seen. This mode of expression is very common in Scripture; but Simeon appears to denote expressly the bodily appearance of Christ, as if he had said, that he now has the Son of God present in the flesh, on whom the eyes of his mind had been previously fixed. By saving I understand the matter of salvation: for in Christ are hid all the parts of salvation and of a happy life. Now if the sight of Christ, while he was yet a child, had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure; how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms: but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do “we all,” as Paul says, “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,”—not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honour, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.
31. Which thou hast prepared. By these words Simeon intimates, that Christ had been divinely appointed, that all nations might enjoy his grace; and that he would shortly afterwards be placed in an elevated situation, and would draw upon him the eyes of all. Under this term he includes all the predictions which relate to the spread of Christ’s kingdom. But if Simeon, when holding a little child in his arms, could stretch his mind to the utmost boundaries of the world, and acknowledge the power of Christ to be everywhere present, how much more magnificent ought our conceptions regarding him to be, now that he has been set up as a “standard to the people,” (Isa. 49:22,) and has revealed himself to the whole world.
30 Simeon has now seen God’s promised salvation in that his eyes, opened by the Spirit of God (Schürmann, 125), have been enabled to recognize in this child the promised messiah (cf. v 26). Salvation is thought of as embodied in the messiah, as the resumption with “light” in v 32 makes evident. “Salvation” is “seen” in Ps 97 :3; Isa 40:5; 52:10; Bar 4:24 The allusion is almost certainly to Isa 52:10, which is further alluded to in v 31 (though the LXX of Isa 52:10 is not followed in v 30). For the emphasis on seeing cf. Luke 10:23–24.
31 The emphasis in ἡτοίμασας is not on a process of preparation (carried on in public); rather the usage is Semitic (as often in LXX) and suggests that God has set up or established this figure (on the public stage), κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν, “in the presence of all peoples,” echoes Isa 52:10. λαῶν does not reflect the LXX ἐθνῶν, “nations,” but it is a less literal rendering of the הגוים, haggâyim, of the MT. κατὰ πρόσωπον follows perhaps the Hebrew text variant that lies behind the LXX (לפני, lipnê, for MT לעיני, lipnê). Luke uses the plural of λαός, “people,” elsewhere only in Acts 4:25–27 where the word means the “tribes” of Israel, but since in the Nunc Dimittis v 32 seems to be an exposition of v 31, it is best (against Kilpatrick, JTS 16  127) to take τῶν λαῶν here as embracing both the Gentiles (ἐθνῶν) and the people of Israel (λαοῦ σαυ Ἰσραήλ). For Luke, only in the singular is λαός a technical term for the People of God (against Schürmann, 125 and n. 40)
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