2:1 Augustus (meaning “Exalted,” a title approved by the Roman Senate in 27 BC) was the Roman Caesar from 31 BC to AD 14. This decree . . . that the whole empire should be registered was a census for the purposes of taxation and military service.
2:2 It is thought that Quirinius served two terms as Roman governor of Syria: from 6 to 4 BC, and then AD 6 to 9. Jesus was born during the period of the first registration. There was also a census registration in Quirinius’s second term (Ac 5:37).
2:3-4 His own town refers not to where Joseph presently lived (Nazareth in Galilee) but to the town of his ancestral roots (Bethlehem in Judea), which was called the city of David because King David grew up there (1Sm 16:1). Joseph was descended from David (LK 1:27). The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken three days and covered roughly ninety miles.
2:5-6 As months before in 1:27, Mary at this time was still only engaged to Joseph because they had not yet consummated their marriage via intercourse. Nevertheless, she was pregnant (see note at 1:31-33) and ready to give birth.
2:7 The words her firstborn Son naturally implies that Mary later had other children (Mt 13:55-56). That baby Jesus was laid . . . in a manger indicates that the family was forced to stay in a stable, or perhaps a cave that served as a stable, because there was no other room available in Bethlehem.
2:8 The sheep used for temple sacrifices in Jerusalem were kept in fields outside Bethlehem. The work of shepherds was more important at night because of the threats from thieves and predators. Though the social position of shepherds was lowly, the role is often viewed positively in the Bible. God is pictured as a shepherd (Gn 49:24; Ps 23:1). King David was the shepherd of God’s people (2Sm 5:2). Jesus called himself “the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11).
2:9-10 The glory of the Lord was a bright light (in the midst of the darkness of night), indicating God’s glorious presence. It is only natural to be terrified at the sight of an angel (see note at 1:11-12), not to mention a sudden, overwhelming light from the sky. The angel spoke to calm the shepherds and refocus their attention on the proclamation of the gospel (good news). All the people could refer to Israel, but given Luke’s emphasis on the gospel spreading to the Gentiles, it probably means “all nations.”
2:11-12 Savior means “deliverer, redeemer.” Messiah (Gk christos, equivalent to the Hb meshiach) means “anointed one,” especially focusing on being anointed as king. Lord (Gk kurios) was used of secular rulers, but it is also the standard translation of the primary name of God in Hebrew, Yahweh. The shepherds would have been shocked to hear that a divine messianic ruler had been born, but to be told he was lying in a manger and born to a man and woman of humble means would have seemed preposterous.
2:13-14 The praise of the heavenly host is well-known today as the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” from the first words of v. 14 in the Latin Vulgate (Glory to God in the highest). To give “glory to God” does not give him something he otherwise lacks. Rather, it is a confession of the wondrous glory he forever possesses. The peace to be found on earth was not the Pax Romana (the “universal peace” of the Roman Empire) but peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rm 5:1; see note at Lk 1:78-79). The people whom God favors are those who have found God’s undeserved favor, or grace, through Christ.
2:20 The shepherds returned to the fields outside Bethlehem to tend their flocks. They were glorifying and praising God because everything they found in Bethlehem was just as the angel said it would be (vv. 10-12).
2:22-24 The days of their purification lasted another thirty-three days after the child’s circumcision (Lv 12:2-8). To present him to the Lord was what was done with every firstborn male in Israel (Ex 13:2,12). On the sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons, see Lv 12:8 and note there.
2:25-26 Like Zechariah and Elizabeth (see note at 1:6-7), Simeon was a righteous person. Israel’s consolation spoke of the comfort and hope the people had in regard to God’s plan for his people, but, more specifically, it referred to Messiah’s role in that plan. In the OT, the Holy Spirit came on a few selected people (Nm 24:2; 1Sm 10:10; 16:13). After the day of Pentecost, the Spirit has indwelt all believers (Jn 14:16-17; 1Co 3:16). The Holy Spirit filled Zechariah so he could prophesy about John (Lk 1:67-79). In this case, the Spirit assured Simeon that he would live long enough to see the Messiah, so that he could prophesy about Jesus (2:29-32).
2:28-32 Simeon’s words here are traditionally called the “Nunc Dimittis,” from wording in the Latin Vulgate translation. Simeon’s Divine Master had kept his promise that he would live to see Christ (i.e., your salvation), so he could now die (dismiss your servant). God’s salvation in Christ (v. 30) is for all peoples (the Gentiles and Israel). The worldwide scope of the gospel is Luke’s ongoing theme in both of his writings (his Gospel and the book of Acts).
2:33-35 Legally, Joseph was Jesus’s father (see note at 3:23-38) even though it was the Holy Spirit who caused Mary to conceive (see note at 1:34-35). Jesus was a spiritual divider of society (a sign . . . opposed). In considering the gospel about Christ, many in Israel “fell” eternally due to unbelief and others rose by faith to eternal life. Mary would suffer great pain in watching Jesus be rejected and executed. How people respond to Jesus is the difference between pardon and condemnation, eternity in heaven or hell.
2:36-38 The immediate shift of focus from Simeon, a male who prophesied, to Anna, the prophetess, fits with Luke’s emphasis on women. The other prophetesses mentioned in the NT are Philip’s daughters (Ac 21:8-9). If Anna had been married for seven years and a widow for eighty-four years, she was well over a hundred years old. The Greek text can also be read to mean that she was a widow until age eighty-four, but that reading does not fit the circumstances well. Besides being a prophetess, Anna’s other ministry included devotion to prayer. Since Jerusalem was the Jewish capital, the redemption of Jerusalem means the redemption of all the people of Israel.
2:39 Luke did not include several of the well-known incidents that appear in the Gospel of Matthew, including the visit of the magi and the trip to Egypt to avoid an attempt by Herod the Great to kill the infant Messiah (Mt 2:1-23).
2:40 This description of Jesus as a young boy is similar to that of John the Baptist in 1:80. The additional elements emphasized that Jesus was filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on him (see the similar description of Stephen in Ac 6:8,10).
2:41-42 This is the only incident Scripture reports about Jesus’s life between the time he was a small child and his baptism by John (3:21-22). Adult Jewish males and their families were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Shelters. The Bar Mitzvah (Hb, “son of the commandment”) ceremony at age thirteen marked the time when a Jewish male was recognized as a man. Since Jesus was now twelve years old, this was his last Passover before adulthood.
2:43-45 Joseph and Mary went a day’s journey before worrying about Jesus because they assumed he was with the traveling party. It was completely out of character (see v. 51) for him not to obey them in every respect.
2:46-47 Three days included one day traveling from Jerusalem, one coming back, and the third searching for Jesus in the city. The teachers were rabbis who were scholars of the Mosaic law. It was highly unusual for a boy to be welcomed by a group of rabbis, much less amaze them with brilliant scriptural understanding.
2:48-50 Joseph and Mary did not understand that Jesus was referring to his heavenly Father (my Father’s house; i.e., the temple), whom he also had to obey even when such obedience entailed giving his parents’ concerns less priority.
2:52 During the years in which Jesus lived in obedience to Joseph and Mary, he continually increased in wisdom (intellect and practical holiness), stature (growing to adult size), favor with God (spiritual closeness to the Father), and favor with people (social respect). Jesus’s wisdom was already noteworthy as a young boy (see note at v. 40), and the rabbis marveled at his understanding at age twelve. His advancement would have been astounding by the time he began his ministry.