Simeon and Anna: How Did They Recognize the Messiah?

At least two people were paying attention: the prophets Simeon and Anna are mentioned in Luke as recognizing the time of the Messiah’s visitation at a time when so many missed it. How did they manage to spot who that precious baby was? And what can we learn from their excellent example?

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” we are told in Proverbs 13:12, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  The Messiah had been a long time coming. A very, very long time. The Messiah was first mentioned way back in Genesis 3:15, when God promised that the woman’s seed would crush the head of the serpent, and the clues never stopped coming. Hints of sacrifice, parallels and parables, patterns and poetry, echoes and types are scattered throughout the Scriptures, along with some very blatant prophecies. God’s people had been waiting for thousands of years for the coming Savior. The awe and wonder expressed by both Simeon and Anna on holding the baby, the bundle of delight, testifies to the truth of Proverbs 13:12. What an intense experience of joy!

When the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)

Simeon and Anna knew the Scriptures

The Scriptures foretold that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). He would come out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), and be called a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1). He would do miracles and wonders, like walking on water (Psalm 77:19, Proverbs 30:4). He would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:12, Proverbs 30:4) and yet God Himself (Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Zechariah 2:10). He would heal lepers, open the eyes of the blind, and the lame would leap for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6). He would be ‘cut off’ before the second temple was destroyed (Daniel 9:26), his hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:17), and he would be mocked and tortured before his execution (Isaiah 53:4-8). And that’s just for starters.2

Clearly both Simeon and Anna were well-versed in biblical prophecy.

They were both waiting for the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Jerusalem. They knew it was coming because God had promised repeatedly, over and over, in the Bible. And they knew it. A Messiah, a Savior, was on the way.

However, we have to remember that Simeon and Anna met a newborn Jesus. They understood that they had found the Messiah even before the vast majority of the criteria for the Messiah had been met! They knew He was coming, and seemed to know it would be in their lifetime. They may have heard Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, and maybe even some of Mary’s miraculous story. Maybe news from those shepherds and the message from the angels had reached them? You can see how the clues could stack up. But how could they know what He would do, or how He would die? They didn’t see Him perform a single miracle… yet they knew He was the Child of Promise. How?

Attentive expectancy

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25)

Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, and also that he was righteous and devout. The two facts are not unconnected. Simeon was not perfect, but he was someone who walked in God’s ways and was serious about it. And God’s Spirit was upon him. Anna too was devout and active in seeking God. She loved to be in God’s house, and used all the armoury we’re given in our pursuit of God – time, attention, and fasting. They knew what they were looking out for, and they were in tune with God.

They were waiting expectantly.

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

I have heard it said, and I agree, that worship is essentially paying attention to God. We attend, we bring ourselves into God’s presence, and we set our face towards Him. We speak and sing directly to our God, not thoughtlessly into the air, but concentrating on Him. And we listen. We listen carefully, attentively. And we wait. Simeon and Anna were paying attention. They were listening, and they were expectant. When we are face to face with someone, paying careful attention to them, we are able to really listen.

Active listening

We know Simeon listened and heard from God because we are told by Luke,

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26)

Now you might have questions about exactly how it was revealed to him, but that is what the Bible says. The Holy Spirit was revealing things to Simeon and Anna, and they paid attention. Crucially, Simeon believed what God showed him, instead of dismissing it as imagination. Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in his Gospel, as he also does in the Book of Acts. We are told by Luke that John the Baptist heralded Jesus not only as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but also as the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Holy Spirit is not an afterthought, He is God. He is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7, Philippians 1:19, Romans 8:9), and Jesus said that He would “lead us into all truth” (John 16:13) including what was to come. We see the disciples being led and instructed by the Holy Spirit about what to do, where to go, and what was coming throughout the book of Acts.

Simeon and Anna were grounded in Scripture, focused on God, and they were in step with the Holy Spirit.

The text tells us that Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple”. You’ll notice that the Holy Spirit is highlighted throughout. Furthermore, we see more real-time communication between God’s Spirit and Simeon as he is holding Jesus:

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Clearly, the Holy Spirit will only speak what He hears, and it will always be in agreement with God’s revealed word to us which cannot be broken, but He does speak. He speaks to those who are earnestly listening and seeking Him with all their hearts.

… And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. (Luke 2:33)

They never gave up on believing God’s promises

Simeon and Anna not only knew what God had said, (and what he was saying to them) but they BELIEVED it. They had great faith in God’s word. The enemy always tries to cause us to doubt: “Did God really say…?” But Simeon and Anna were unmoved. Yes. He did.

How about you and I? We are in a similar position today when it comes to waiting for the Messiah. Will we be like Anna and Simeon? Waiting in faith for the promises to come to pass in our days? Do we know what the promises are? Are we keeping in step with the Spirit, as Paul urges in Galatians 5:16? Do we tarry to listen to God? Do we believe what He says? Are we passionate about dwelling in the presence of God and seeking His face? We all stumble time and time again, but we are not left to struggle alone; Jesus specifically sent His Spirit to help us, to comfort us, to guide us, to change us from the inside out so that we naturally want to live His way.  If you are not sure whether or not you are filled with the Holy Spirit, why not turn your face again to God, turning away from all sin, and ask the Spirit of God to come and fill you anew even now. And believe! The Holy Spirit is a gift from God to us, and He is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.

Jesus urged and warned His disciples many times to “watch and pray”. As a young believer, I eagerly desired to obey, but felt at a loss. Watch what? What am I supposed to be looking for? Today I study the Scriptures carefully, and I am paying attention to what is happening around me, but most of all, I know that my gaze must be towards the throne of God. I am paying attention to Him, and listening for His voice. We can’t honestly say that we “long for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8) if we don’t even know what we’re looking out for! May Jesus find us full of faith and the Holy Spirit, as we wait for Him with great anticipation. The joy of finally seeing Him will be inexpressible.


Simeon’s Song by Peter Sweeney

Let these old eyes see the Saviour
Just as You promised me
Let these old eyes see the Saviour
Before they grow too dim

I’ve waited all these years to see
This moment that You promised me
You told me all those years ago
That when I see Him I will know… and I know…. yes I know.
Now these eyes have seen the Saviour just as You promised me
Now these eyes have seen the Saviour… now I can die in peace.


  1. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The average population of Bethlehem from the time of Micah to the present (written in 1958, see below for details) divided by the average population of the earth during the same period = 7,150/2,000,000,000 or 2.8×105.

    A messenger would prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1). One man in how many, the world over, has had a forerunner (in this case, John the Baptist) to prepare his way? Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.

    The Messiah was to enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). One man in how many, who has entered Jerusalem as a ruler, has entered riding on a donkey? Estimate: 1 in 100 or 1×102.

    The Messiah would be betrayed by a friend and suffer wounds in His hands (Zechariah 13:6). One man in how many, the world over, has been betrayed by a friend, resulting in wounds in his hands? Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.

    The Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12). Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly 30 pieces of silver? Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.

    The betrayal money would be used to purchase a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13). One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, has returned the money, had it refused, and then experienced it being used to buy a potter’s field? Estimate: 1 in 100,000 or 1×105.

    The Messiah would remain silent while He was afflicted (Isaiah 53:7). One man in how many, when he is oppressed and afflicted, though innocent, will make no defense of himself? Estimate: 1 in 1,000 or 1×103.

    The Messiah was to die by having His hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16). One man in how many, since the time of David, has been crucified? Estimate: 1 in 10,000 or 1×104.

  2. Josh McDowell, author of Evidence that Demands a Verdict, points to the research of Peter Stoner who calculated the chances of one human being fulfilling even a few of the 300 plus prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Stoner, chairman of the mathematics and astronomy departments at Pasadena City College until 1953 and later professor emeritus of science at Westmont College, California, reported, “A verified analysis was conducted by the American Scientific Affiliation that concluded that the probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled in one person is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000!”  The eight prophecies chosen are listed above, with the calculation of probability. Multiplying all these probabilities together produces a number (rounded off) of 1×1028. Dividing this number by an estimate of the number of people who have lived since the time of these prophecies (88 billion at time of Stoner’s writing in the 1950s) produced the probability of all eight prophecies being fulfilled by chance in the life of one person. That probability is 1in 1017 or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000… one in a hundred quadrillion. In a forward to Stoner’s book, Science Speaks, Dr. Harold Hartzler, an officer of the American Scientific Affiliation, confirmed that the manuscript had been carefully reviewed by a committee of his organization and that “the mathematical analysis included is based upon principles of probability which are thoroughly sound.” He further stated that in the opinion of the Affiliation, Professor Stoner “has applied these principles in a proper and convincing way”.

Photo by Glen Hodson on Unsplash

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