Who Was Simeon in the Christmas Story?

Learn about an interesting minor character in the story of Jesus' birth.

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The birth of Jesus Christ has been a widespread and beloved story for almost 2,000 years. As such, most people in Western societies are at least nominally familiar with the main characters in the New Testament account -- characters such as Joseph and Mary, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, King Herod, and so on.

But those aren't the only characters in the Christmas story. There are a number of minor characters who interacted with the miraculous events of Jesus' birth in interesting ways.

In this article, we'll explore a little-know man named Simeon who witnessed Jesus being presented at the temple in Jerusalem.

A Bridge Between Old and New

Simeon's place in the New Testament is relatively small. His introduction comes in Luke 2, after the miraculous events typically depicted in nativity scenes:

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Luke 2:25-26

We're not given a lot of specific information about Simeon, but there is plenty to learn between the lines. For example, Simeon was waiting for "the consolation of Israel." This phrase referred to the Messiah -- a prophesied savior the Jews believed would restore the power and glory of Israel. In verse 26, we learn that God had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he witnessed this promised savior.

In addition, we're told that "the Holy Spirit was on" Simeon. This was a major honor. Throughout the Old Testament, a relatively small number of people were blessed with a special interaction with the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish important tasks in God's plan. (See 1 Samuel 16:13, for example.) Simeon's connection to the Holy Spirit at that time meant something big was about to happen.

What these verses teach us is that Simeon represented the culmination of hundreds of years of faithful Jews who had endured much suffering while waiting for God to send His promised Messiah. Like John the Baptist, Simeon served as a bridge between God's Old Covenant with the people of Israel and the New Covenant He wanted to establish through Jesus.

A Promise for the World

What makes Simeon's story so interesting is that he represented the faithful members of God's chosen people, yet he witnessed a Savior who would reach out beyond the Jews and embrace all people.

Simeon himself recognized this shift in God's plan:

27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and the glory of your people Israel.”
Luke 2:27-32

Simeon pronounced a blessing over the young Jesus, recognizing Him as the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of God's people.

Yet Simeon's words would have surprised the Israelites who heard it, because he talked of God's plan to include "all nations" in that salvation. He even went so far as to say that the Messiah was "a light for revelation to the Gentiles."

This would have surprised the Israelites who heard it, but it shouldn't have. Indeed, it was God's plan all along for the Jewish nation (God's chosen people) to produce a Messiah who would bring salvation to all the world. That was the covenant God made with Abraham -- the founding father of the Jewish people:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis added)

From God's earliest conversations with Abraham, His plan was to bring forth a Messiah (a Savior) from His chosen people -- one who would bring salvation to all the peoples of the earth. Simeon was exceedingly blessed to be an eyewitness to the fulfillment of that promise.

The sad news is that the Jewish people of Simeon's day had a mistaken understanding of who the Messiah was supposed to be and what the Messiah was supposed to do. They believed the Messiah would restore the old glory of the Israelite nation. They thought he would lead a revolution against the Roman Empire and restore the Israelites to the time of David and Solomon -- a time when Israel was most wealthy and powerful.

It was this mistaken understanding of the Messiah that led many of God's chosen people to reject the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This was a reality that Simeon foresaw, as well, and he concluded his words in the Scriptures by cautioning Mary (Jesus' mother) about the trials to come:

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke 2:33-35

In many ways, the story of Christmas is the ending of a story God had started with Abraham and the founding of the Jewish people. This story involved a promise to provide salvation for all the people of the earth -- Jews and Gentiles alike.

In that way, Simeon's part in the Christmas story is a reminder of God's faithfulness to past promises and an announcement of a wonderful hope for the future.