Now Let Me Depart in Peace
By: Rev. Sam Harris
|By: Rev. Sam Harris; ©2000|
|What did Simeon mean when he used those words in Luke 2:29? Rev. Harris explains two meanings and makes his choice of the one he feels fits the context best.|
“Now Let Me Depart in Peace”
In our Sunday School class just before Christmas, we were studying the story of Mary and Joseph bringing the baby Jesus into the temple and were met by a man whose name was Simeon (Luke 2: 25-33). Verse 26 reads: “And it had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Then we read in verse 29: “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart in peace according to Thy word ….” Our teacher told us that there were two possible explanations to what Simeon meant: (1) Simeon was now ready to die according to verse 26, or (2) he had now completed the task that was required and promised to him in the temple, and he desired to be relieved from his duties in the temple. What do you think?
Let’s look at your second explanation first. Notice that Simeon addresses God as “Sovereign Lord” and speaks of himself as “bondservant” in verse 29. From the first portion of this passage, we know that Simeon was both “righteous” and “devout.” Three times we see that the Holy Spirit was upon him—verse 27 shows that Simeon was “moved” by the Holy Spirit to go into the temple at that particular time. From all of this, we can deduce that Simeon was a man of God and knew who the “Sovereign Lord” was, and he had a wonderful relationship with God.
Notice that Simeon calls himself, in verse 29, a “bond servant.” You will recall that Paul used this phrase often when referring to himself. “Bondservant,” in the Greek, doulos, translated “slave.” Like Paul, Simeon saw himself as a “slave” of God.
“Letting your servant depart in peace” often meant that when the servant had completed his task, he was then discharged from a particular duty. Some scholars point to this as an explanation of what Simeon meant when he asked God to allow him, a bondservant, to be dismissed: his work was accomplished.
I prefer your first suggestion above as being more in keeping with the meaning of the Scripture. Verse 29 begins with the words “now Lord.” “Now” emphasizes that the Messiah has come, therefore you have the Latin title “Nunc Dimittis” which means “allow to die.” “Depart,” in the Greek, is “apoluo” which means “to free fully, let die” in peace. God had promised to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (vs. 26). The realization of that promise has now been fulfilled, for Simeon says in verse 30: “For my eyes have seen thy salvation.” To see Jesus is to see salvation—a theme already prominent in Luke.
Simeon is now ready for God’s final order: to depart in death because he has seen the Lord’s Christ, he has seen salvation for all people. This is the more accurate explanation of your question for we must understand it in the context of the whole passage. God had made a promise to Simeon, and that promise was fulfilled when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the temple at the same time that the Holy Spirit had “moved” Simeon to be in the temple. He saw the Lord’s Christ, he saw our salvation; he was now ready for the Lord to take him.