What are the background facts about Anna? What did she do that day in the temple? How are she and Simeon alike?
Verses 36–38: And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
While Simeon was with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, another person joined them. A woman named Anna arrived in time to see Jesus and recognize Him as the Messiah. Anna was a prophetess. Several prophetesses are mentioned in the Old Testament (see Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14). The same seems to be true in the New Testament (see Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). Anna was one through whom the Lord spoke.
An interesting sidelight in her background was that she was from the tribe of Asher. This was one of the so-called “lost tribes,” which the Assyrians carried into captivity and scattered among the nations. Anna’s presence here shows that some of these people maintained their faith and some returned to the promised land.
We are not told the age of Simeon, but Anna was definitely an elderly person. She had lived with a husband seven years before she became a widow. The wording she was a widow of about fourscore and four years is ambiguous. We cannot know whether this means that she was 84 years old at the time or that she had lived 84 more years after her husband died. The New International Version takes the first option, indicating she “was a widow until she was eighty-four.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible reflects the second option, stating that she “lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years” (HCSB). Either way, Anna was old in years. This shows that elderly believers can make a real contribution to the work of God’s kingdom.
Another background fact about Anna was her great devotion to God. She departed not from the temple. This may be like someone saying today: “She is at the church every time the doors are open.” Or it may mean that she was literally living somewhere in the vast temple complex. At any rate, Anna was always there. Her dedication is also seen in how she spent her time. She served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Her age in some ways limited what she could do. She did what she could, and in the eyes of God there is no greater service. People who are confined in some way can take Anna as an example.
Like Simeon, Anna was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. In light of what happened, her prayers probably focused on His coming. The same word is used to describe Anna’s expectant attitude in verse 38 (rendered looked for) as is used of Simeon in verse 25 (rendered waiting for). The Greek word refers to an expectant attitude. As far as we know Anna had not been promised that she would live to see the Messiah, but she was hopeful.
The words coming in that instant show that the Lord led her—as He had led Simeon—to arrive at the right time and place. The fact that these two encountered Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at just the right time is striking. The fact that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were not frequent visitors in the temple adds to the power of this incident. Anna too recognized the infant to be the Promised One. She responded in two ways. Being a person of prayer, she first gave thanks. But she also followed the example of the shepherds. They obeyed the angel and went to Bethlehem. After seeing Jesus, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (v. 17). After seeing Jesus, Anna spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Anna is a model for all of us—young or old. We all need to tell the good news.
According to Jewish law, the truth of something is verified by two witnesses. Simeon and Anna were two witnesses for Jesus. They had a number of things in common: (1) They were righteous and devout. (2) They had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. (3) God led them to the temple at the right time to see Jesus. (4) They recognized Jesus as the Messiah. (5) They praised God. (6) They spoke of salvation. (7) They were elderly people. (8) They followed the Spirit’s direction in finding Jesus.
In fact, all six of the main human characters in Luke 1–2 had some things in common. They were not from the rich and powerful people of the day. They were ordinary people in social standing, but they had extraordinary faith and faithfulness. They had the kind of piety presented in the Old Testament as ideal. This included the hope of the Messiah, and all six of the people had a part in His coming. Zechariah and Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Mary bore the Son of God, and Joseph was His earthly father. Simeon and Anna were looking for the Messiah and recognized that the infant Jesus was the fulfillment of their hopes.
What are the lasting truths in Luke 2:36–38?
Elderly people can do their part in the work of God.
2. Faithful participation in the house of God is important.
3. God can lead us to the right place at the right time.
4. We should tell others the good news of Jesus and His salvation.
5. We should be righteous, dedicated, and expectant.