This article on Luke 2:22 is about the laws of purification and Jesus Christ.

Source: Clarion, 2013. 2 pages.

Luke 2:22 – The Purification of Baby Jesus

When the time came for their purification…

Luke 2:22a (ESV)

At the end of Luke's account of Jesus Christ's birth, he writes about Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40). What most of us remember about this is the prophecy of Simeon and the praise of Anna, two faithful Jews waiting for the consolation of Israel. We do not, however, focus on why Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple. In verse 22, we find, "When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses" is what prompted the trip to Jerusalem. Verse 24 even details the sacrifice that they made. What is all this about?

Purification Laws🔗

It is rooted in the law of Leviticus 12. When a woman gives birth to a boy, she is impure or unclean for forty days and when she gives birth to a girl, she is unclean for eighty days. Now, the difference between the two is not that boys are only half as bad as girls, nor is it that somehow the Israelite culture did not properly value women. No, boys are circumcised on the eighth day and this shedding of blood shortens the period of uncleanness.

What is Israel supposed to learn from this ritual? First, remember the point of the laws about cleanness. These laws are not about hygiene, nor are they moral laws; they are symbolic, ritual laws about drawing near to God. All these laws come about because of the building of the tabernacle. That is the problem at the end of Exodus. The tabernacle has been built and filled with Yahweh's glory, but no one can enter. The book of Leviticus answers the question: how can unrighteous men come before a righteous God? Yahweh now dwells in the midst of Israel and when Yahweh comes near, he judges sin. Being unclean is symbolically to be under the curse, or the effects of the curse. Uncleanness means symbolic, ritual death. The laws of Leviticus show how that uncleanness can be removed in God's eyes.

The Impurity of Childbirth🔗

Second, the laws of uncleanness "track" the judgments for sin passed by God in Genesis 3. Leviticus 12, then, is rooted in Genesis 3:16, the curse of emotional distress and physical pain in childbearing. Giving birth is now accompanied by blood. Blood and distress show Yahweh's judgment against original sin, and so it makes the woman unclean. She cannot come before Yahweh without cleansing. Both the blood and the baby born in blood come from the innermost parts.

All this is symbolic of the mother's inner depravity and the fact that the child is born dead in trespasses and sins. Through the sacrifices and the washings, God symbolically makes both the mother and the child alive again. Childbirth is so defiling that it requires both a whole burnt offering to atone for sin — God's blood sacrifice covers the blood of birth — and a purification offering, since each birth also defiles the tabernacle, Yahweh's dwelling with his people.

Was Baby Jesus Impure?🔗

This is the reason they come to Jerusalem. Yet this raises some questions. Through the ritual of Leviticus 12, the mother, who is a sinner, and the child, who is born covenantally dead, are restored to the congregation of Israel. This comes through a washing with water and with blood sacrifice. By blood and water, they are incorporated into the covenant people. (If you think about it, Leviticus 12 proves that every infant in Israel was baptized, which is pretty strong evidence for the continuation of infant baptism in the new covenant!)

But how can this be? Jesus is not just Mary's son. He is the Son of the Most High. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and he is sinless. This means that as an infant, he is not born covenantally dead. He was not conceived and born in sin. Why does he go through this rite?

A clue is found in Luke 2:22. Luke speaks of "their purification." Leviticus, however, speaks only of the mother's purification. The child is, of course, unclean and in need of cleansing, but it is an uncleanness derived from his mother. Why then speak of "their" purification? Because Jesus already ritually shares in Mary's judgment, already suffers under the curse for sin. We can go further: Jesus is born in blood and from Mary's innermost parts.

Thus, though in himself he has no sin, merely his birth makes both his mother and himself unclean, and his birth requires the blood of sacrifice and washing with water. This leaves no doubt that he is true man, that he took our sin-cursed nature to himself. This leaves no doubt that he is subject to the Law — "born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4).

Jesus is part of God's people Israel through his mother in the womb. He is born estranged from that people and from the covenant. That's part of what Leviticus 12 shows. Yet, this is not because of any sin in him, but because of the incompleteness of the old covenant. We do not often think of it, but Jesus Christ would have brought sacrifices throughout his life. Born under the law, he had to bring certain sacrifices. He lived in the midst of death, sin, and uncleanness, and he was obligated to bring sacrifices. He comes to the temple for the first time and receives the blood and water of the covenant. And it is the sacrifice for the poor: two clean birds. From the outset, Jesus is identified with the poor who wait on God to save. Sin, uncleanness, and sacrifice surround Jesus' birth.

Christ Purifies Us🔗

Jesus Christ begins where we begin: in the womb. Even in his birth, he is the One who bears the judgment and curse of God against sin. He is the true Son of Adam, who takes our sin-cursed human nature. He comes by water and blood before the Father. Ultimately, he is fully cut off in the flesh. He receives the full covenant curse signified and sealed in his obedience to Leviticus 12. The shadow of his cursed death must fall across the account of his birth. By nature, we all start off dead and then God in Christ makes us alive. And he redeems us fully.

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