In Luke 2:25-35, Simeon states that after a lifetime of waiting, he has seen the Lord’s “salvation” and so can die in peace. He is referring, of course, to Jesus, but what does he mean by “salvation”? Is it “going to heaven when you die” or something else?
In my commentary on this passage, I wrote this:
Throughout biblical history, when people spoke and wrote about salvation, they were referring to physical deliverance from some sort of temporal calamity, such as sickness, premature physical death, enemies, and natural disasters like storms, floods, and famines. In the case of Israelites like Simeon, they most often thought of salvation in the way it is used in prophetical passages like Isaiah 40:5 and 52:10. Salvation is the time when God would deliver Israel from enemy occupation, and restore her to her rightful place among the nations, with the Messiah ruling and reigning over the entire world from Jerusalem (cf. Green 1997:145). This is what Simeon had in mind, as confirmed by what he says in verses 31-32. Forgiveness of sins (national and personal) was definitely a part of this, but only as a prerequisite to the permanent and perpetual deliverance from enemies that Israel hoped and longed for.
In other words, I don’t believe Simeon was thinking, “Finally! Now I can die and know that I will go to heaven!” Instead, he was thinking, “Finally! The one who will deliver Israel from Rome is finally here! I can die in peace knowing that deliverance is coming for my people!”
What do you think?
P.S. I have turned off comments for this post, so if you want to weigh in on what Simeon meant, please do so over at the commentary. You do have to register, but it’s easy and free!