BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 45
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons
Luke’s gospel begins and ends in the temple. It opens with Gabriel’s annunciation to the priest Zacharias (whose name, appropriately, means "Yahweh remembers") of the coming of a forerunner. Zacharias is performing priestly service at the time. The book ends with the joyful worship of a new priesthood in the same temple. In between, toward the end of His ministry, after His arrival in Jerusalem and His cleansing of the temple, Jesus taught there daily to eager crowds (19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38; 22:53).
Luke’s account of Jesus’ infancy and boyhood is also bracketed by references to the temple. The series of stories begins with Zacharias and ends with the twelve-year-old Jesus learning and teaching in His father’s house. This event foreshadows Jesus later teaching ministry at the temple; the astonishment of the teachers at the understanding of young Jesus foreshadows the astonishment of His later hearers. In between these events, three other incidents take place in the temple: the purification of Mary, Simeon’s encounter with Jesus, and Anna’s thanksgiving.
The emphasis on the temple is linked with an underlying Samuel typology that pervades the early chapters of Luke’s gospel. These chapters, in short, present Jesus as a Second Samuel. Let’s examine some of the evidence for this claim.
First, Luke alone among the evangelists records the annunciation to Mary and Mary’s song to Elizabeth. This links her closely to Hannah (and other barren women of the Old Testament), who also gave birth to a miracle baby who was destined to be a ruler in Israel. The themes of the Magnificat are heavily drawn from Hannah’s song: exultation in the Lord (1 Sam 2:1; Lk 1:46), the salvation of the Lord (1 Sam 2:1; Lk 1:47), the revolutionary reversal of fortunes (1 Sam 2:4, 7-8; Lk 1:51-53), the holiness of the Lord (1 Sam 2:2; Lk 1:49), and so on. Mary is a new and greater Hannah.
Second, the prophetess Anna fits the Samuel typology in several ways. Her very name evokes that of Samuel’s mother. She is also a prophetess. Only five other prophetesses are named in the Scriptures: Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14-20; 2 Chron 34:22-28), Noadiah (Neh 6:14), and "Jezebel" (Rev 2:20). Of these, only Huldah is associated with Jerusalem’s temple. Following the rediscovery of the book of the law, a delegation from Josiah met with Huldah, who confirmed that the Lord was going to bring disaster on Jerusalem.
The judgment on the temple that Huldah predicted, in turn, was similar to the judgment on the tabernacle and the Elide priesthood in 1 Samuel. Both events marked major transitions in the history of Israel; the capture of the ark and the death of Eli marked the end of the Mosaic order, and the judgment on the temple and the exile of which Huldah prophesied marked the end of the independent kingdom of Judah. Both events ended an old age and an old covenant, while promising a new. Anna the prophetess appears in Luke 1 to call attention to the impending judgment on Jerusalem and its temple.
In her widowhood, moreover, Anna represents the nation of Israel. She had been widowed for 84 years, or 12 X 7 years, a sevenfold widowhood for the twelve tribes. Like the widow Naomi in the time of the judges, the widow Anna represents the condition of the nation. Judges 17-21 makes clear that the fundamental problem in the time of the judges was the failure of the Levitical priests to husband Israel. In providing the details of Anna’s widowhood, Luke alerted his readers to the fact that Israel was in a similar position when the Messiah came. Zacharias is a faithful man, but when we first meet him he is struck mute for his unbelief. Later, other priests come into the picture, but they are worse than mute; they are murderous. As in 1 Samuel, the priesthood is either weak or corrupt, and a new husband is needed for the widowed Anna-Israel.
(The fact that Luke includes details of Anna’s genealogy is striking; no similar descent is recorded for Simeon, and her ancestry is remarkably commonplace. Her father, Phanuel, is mentioned only here, and the tribe of Asher played no outstanding role in the Biblical history. Perhaps Luke includes Anna’s ancestry because of the connotations of the names themselves. Phanuel is perhaps related to Penuel ["face of God"], and Asher means "fortunate" or "happy" [Gen 30:13].)
Finally, Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ infancy and boyhood ends with the story of Jesus in the temple. Here, the Samuel typology becomes obvious. Just as Samuel lived at Shiloh as an apprentice to Eli, so Jesus visits the temple to listen to and speak with the teachers. Just as none of the words of Samuel fell to the ground, so Jesus astonished His hearers with the words from His mouth. In case we’ve missed these hints, Luke 1:52 is a virtual quotation of 1 Samuel 2:26.
Why does Luke employ these allusions to the early life of Samuel? The reason is that Jesus plays a role in redemptive history similar to that of Samuel. Samuel concluded the age of the judges and inaugurated the age of the kings. Jesus, the Second Samuel, brought the old covenant to a close and inaugurated the fulfillment of the kingdom of David.