Day 40 -- Presenting Jesus in the Temple

When Jesus was 40 days old his mother was clean and could accompany her new son into the temple at Jerusalem. The oldest Church holiday not based on Old Testament tradition remembers Mary’s 40 days of cleansing and helps confirm when this happened.

Background

Luke gives several other details regarding the birth of Jesus.

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." Luke 2:22-24 NIV

22And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Luke 2:22-24 KJV

The Law also prescribed he be presented in the Temple on (or after) the 40th day. They presented him "at the temple" as the Law of Moses had prescribed. What does the Law prescribe? That the child is to be presented on or after the 40th day from the son’s birth. Why 40 days? Because that is how long the mother is unclean after giving birth and she cannot accompany the son until the end of these 40 days. When daughters are born the Law prescribes a period of 80 days uncleanness.

The following report shows day 40, when February 17 is the start day.

Report on Jesus’ 40th day
Jesus’ birth date
Fri10989-08-29 AA16 Feb 1 NS17 Feb 754 AUC4008629 AAN
1489-08-29 FE18 Feb 0 OS17 Feb 1 AD1721472 JDN
Jesus’ 40th day
Tue10989-10-08 AA27 Mar 1 NS28 Mar 754 AUC4008668 AAN
1489-10-08 FE29 Mar 1 OS28 Mar 1 AD1721511 JDN

Not obvious in this report is the Biblical date for this event. The very same date 30 years later is the day Jesus will be crucified and die. We explore this 30 year interval in Life Length.

Passover

This 40th day is very close to the same date when the Passover would be held in Jerusalem. Jesus is probably presented at or very near to the Passover in 754 AUC. The Jewish calendar of the period was constructed by observation, not by computation as used in the modern Jewish calendar so it is not possible to know exactly when Passover fell in this ancient year. That this date is late March and this is when Passover was generally held is as close as we can get.

Large crowds would be assembling in in Jerusalem for Passover. There are two clues that Jesus was indeed presented in the temple at or near Passover. The first clue springs right from the following text. Two people are recorded in Luke as having given prophetic words over the baby Jesus. The first, Simeon, reported the following:

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

33The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Luke 2:25-35 NIV

25And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,check en tw eisagagein en = on, when 28Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 33And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:25-35 KJV

The sense here is Simeon is in Jerusalem for a special occation, likely the Passover of that year.

Anna also spoke over Jesus. The following is the account.

36And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an 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.what's up with the hidden tag between auth auth? Luke 2:36-38 KJV

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 NIV

Anna, was very old and never left the temple. She stayed there worshiping and praying every day. Simeon, we are told, was just "in the city", without the same stress as Anna who lived there.

What would have brought Simeon to the city? How about Passover? He was one of those in the crowd, and as the Holy Spirit led him, he entered the courts and found the baby Jesus and gave his word of prophecy over the child.

This 40 day period before Passover is unusual in that it does not follow any holiday pattern from the Old Testament. More interesting still the very early Christian church established a holiday which did align with the 40 days before Easter, the Christian name for Passover.

That season? Lent.

The Christian Season of Lent

The other clue that this really was 40 days before Passover, or at least before the Passover crowds is the ancient church holiday of Lent. This is a time of purification and preparation and is celebrated each year in the 40 days before Easter.

Easter is the church holiday where Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated, and is aligned generally with the Jewish Passover. Unlike the Easter celebration, which aligns with Passover from the Mosaic Law, nothing about Lent aligns with the religious calendar of the Old Testament.

The season of Lent is also very old, having been practiced by the Church from its very inception. Other holidays would be added later, like Christmas, without regard to the calendar of events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Lent, though, goes all the way back to the start and lands where it does, the 40 days before Passover, because of something that happened in the narratives.

Lent aligns well with the 40 day cleansing time of a woman who has just given birth to a son. This holiday is most likely the collective church memory of the 40 days between the time Jesus was born and the time he was presented in the temple on his 40th day.

The Lent dates suggest that the first century church understood that Jesus was born 40 days before Passover and that his mother went through 40 days of cleansing before he could be presented in the temple. Mary would still be accompanying Jesus in his public ministry and was the likely source of the material recorded for us surrounding the birth of Jesus. Perhaps she kept this season throughout her life and passed the practice on to the other disciples?

Who does the Bible say are Jesus’ true mother and brothers? Those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.[1] Who is that? Believers in Jesus himself. How did the ancient church calendar reflect the believer’s need to be cleansed? By instituting a holiday, no, more a season, when we each are to go through similar cleansing.



1. Luke 8:21