We live on the side of history after the first advent (coming) of Jesus to Earth. So, it is a bit of a stretch for Christians to know what it was like for the Jews to look for, long for, their Messiah, except as we Christians can do in regards to Jesus' second advent, still in the future. (I wrote about this in my last post.)
Two of the most intriguing people in the Bible are found in Luke 2. One of the best things about Luke was his attention to detail. None of the other gospel writers could compare to him in that respect. Both of these "minor" characters were fervently looking for Messiah as "the first Christmas" approached.
Our story begins in verse 22, when Mary and Joseph are found taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in order to fulfill the requirements of the Law for newborn boys. There, they encounter Simeon (who will be the subject of a future post) and Anna, our heroine for today.
36There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. 37She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
According to Luke 2:36-38, Anna lost her husband to death, after only 7 years of marriage. She never remarried. Anna was OLD. Most Jewish women marry in their mid-teens. Assuming she married at 15 and became a widow at 22, she would have been 106 years old at the time Jesus was brought to the Temple for the first time. 106!! That is "ancient", even by today's standards! For whatever the reason, she lived in the Temple, most likely performing some sort of tasks assigned to older widows.1
Anna's close proximity to the Temple, however, is not what earned her the title of "prophetess". (As I mentioned in yesterday's post, she is the only woman given that title in the New Testament.) Being "in church" a lot is not what makes a person a Christian either...Verse 37 tells us that she spent much time in fasting and in prayer. When a person spends that much time seeking God, communing with Him, they are more likely to receive revelations from Him. That's not to say she EARNED the gift of prophecy, because it is a gift from God, given at His discretion. But, she exercised her gift with tremendous zeal.
And, the "proof is in the pudding", as the saying goes. Anna walked up and immediately recognized who Jesus was. If we assumed that she knew Mary and Joseph we would very likely be drawing a false conclusion. The Scriptures do not say she knew them, after all. Whom she DID know was Jesus, even though she had never met him! Her reaction to meeting Jesus "in the flesh" was to praise God aloud, to thank Him and to tell everyone around her about Him.
Do you "get" that Anna knew, even more surely than Mary and Joseph did, who Jesus truly was?
Don't you think that Anna must have been one of God's "nearest and dearest"? Even though she is given a mere 3 verses in the Bible, what a wonderful testimony those verses contain! In his classic commentary on the book of Luke, Alfred Plummer said that Anna was the first in a long line of prophetic disciples who would speak about Jesus to all who were fervently looking for the redemption of Israel.2
In Jesus, Anna glimpsed the future, a future as bright as the promises of God!
2 Alfred Plummer, Luke, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1905), p. 71.