Now you are releasing your servant, Lord, according to your word in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all the peoples, a light for revelation to nations and glory to your people Israel.
One more quick post in the mad rush before Christmas. I want to clarify my reasons for thinking that Simeon is not speaking about the salvation of Gentiles when he speaks of God’s salvation as “a light for revelation to nations” (Lk. 2:30-32).
It is tempting initially to read this as an allusion to Isaiah 49:6 where it is said that God’s servant, Jacob, will be “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (cf. Is. 42:6). But Simeon makes no reference to a servant. He is holding Jesus in his arms, but he speaks of a “salvation that you have prepared”—an event, not at person. The closer parallel, I would suggest, therefore, is Isaiah 52:9-10:
Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The parallels with Luke’s story of the encounters with Simeon and Anna (2:22-38) are multiple. Simeon has been looking for the “consolation (paraklēsin) of Israel”; Isaiah says that the Lord “has comforted (ēleēsen) his people” (LXX; cf. Is. 40:1, which has parakaleō). Simeon’s eyes have seen God’s salvation; the eyes of Isaiah’s watchmen “see the return of the Lord to Zion” (Is. 52:8). Simeon says that God’s salvation has been “prepared before the face of all peoples”; Isaiah says that this act of salvation—the baring of God’s holy arm—has been carried out “before the eyes of all the nations”.
The thought in Isaiah 52:7-10 is that the salvation of Israel, which is a matter of “good news”, will be seen by the nations; the character and power of Israel’s God will be revealed to the nations. The idea that the nations will at some point turn to YHWH for justice and salvation in response to the work of God’s servant Jacob is present elsewhere, but it is not the argument here.
Since Simeon is speaking about God’s salvation rather than God’s servant, he is probably only saying what Isaiah says in 52:7-10—that the coming salvation of Israel will reveal something about Israel’s God to the nations, and that this revelation will redound to Israel’s glory. We should not, therefore, read into his words a thought that is nowhere else evident in the birth narratives—or arguably anywhere else in the synoptic Gospels—namely that Jesus was born to save not only Jews but also Gentiles. That development belongs to a later stage in the narrative.