Scripture tells us that Mary and Joseph were required by Jewish Law to make two appearances in the temple following the birth of Jesus. The first when Jesus was eight days old; the second being 40 days after his birth.
The first temple visit was to carry out the law of circumcision, a token of the covenant the Lord made with Abraham, requiring every male born in Israel to be circumcised when eight days old, and to bestow a name on the child (Luke 2:21).
It is important to remember that because Jesus was born a Jew, and that both Mary and Joseph were Jews, they would have been devoutly observant of the Law of Moses, which required strict obedience to many laws and ordinances. Mary and Joseph would have performed all required with great exactitude in all matters that pertained to Jesus.
Thus according to the Law, Mary and Joseph would have brought Jesus to the temple at eight days old to be circumcised and to receive the name of “Yeshua” (Hebrew) and in Greek Jesus, which, being interpreted is Savior … the name rightfully His for He came to save the people from their sins” (See Luke 2:21); James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ).
The second temple visit (40 days after Jesus’ birth) was in fulfillment of the law of purification and the law of the firstborn.
The Law of Purification … a Strange Law In the Land
The law of purification was given through Moses to the children of Israel in the wilderness regarding the ceremonially cleansing procedure required for women after childbirth; which continued on down through the centuries to the time of Jesus Christ.
The Mosaic Law stated that new mothers were proclaimed ritually impure (due to an issue of blood) and must remain in retirement 40 days following the birth of a son, (80 days for a daughter) in preparation for purification.
“It appears, from Leviticus 12:1-6 that for the first seven days, every woman who had borne a child, was considered unclean to so great a degree, that whoever touched or conversed with her was polluted. For thirty-three days more, she remained unclean, but to a lesser degree, allowing the child to be taken for circumcision and naming on the eighth day according to the law. However, she still could not partake in the solemnities of public worship until her time of purification was over. At the conclusion of this term, she was required to bring certain sacrifices to the temple, by which the offering would remove the stain laid on her by the law, and she was restored to all purity and cleanness as before. This was the law of purification after bearing a son. For a daughter, the time of separation was double.”
Thus after the fulfillment of a mother’s days of purification, she and her husband would bring their child and offering to the temple where she would be pronounced “clean” by the high priest after making a purification sacrifice on her behalf (See James E. Talmage, Jesus The Christ, p. 90).
Law of the Firstborn … Out of Egyptian Bondage
In connection with the ceremony of purification was the law of the firstborn, where all Israel’s firstborn were to be sanctified and dedicated unto God in His holy sanctuary. This was in observance of the deliverance of every firstborn of Israel (including animals) from the curse of death God placed upon all firstborn of Egypt. This because of Pharaoh’s refusal to free the children of Israel from bondage.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. Firstborn males for services in the holy sanctuary and all firstborn of clean animals for sacrifice in the temple” (See Ex. 13:1–2, 11–15).
So Mary and Joseph, in compliance to the law of purification and law of the firstborn, went to the temple to be proclaimed “clean,” offer sacrifice and submit Jesus for presentation and sanctification before God.
Here, at the temple, the sacrifices offered for the purification of women after child-bearing were offered for Mary. Who according to custom waited in the outer Court of the Women until the sacrifice for her was made. For until the mother’s offering was performed and completed, she could not enter the temple.
It was during this occasion (which happened to be Passover) that Mary and Joseph encountered the Prophetess Anna and the aged, devout Simeon.
Anna, an elderly and godly woman who spent all of her days in the temple, recognized Jesus immediately as the Redeemer and testified of Him to all who were there. Luke then tells us that Simeon, through the power of the Holy Ghost, had been promised that he should not see death until he had seen the Christ. Being prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple that day he saw and recognized the babe as the promised Messiah and taking the child in his arms lifted him to heaven and proclaimed:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2: 28-32).
Mary’s Noteworthy Offering
A significant and notable part of that wondrous and important day was Mary’s choice of offering for sacrifice in fulfillment of the law of purification.
The required and customary offering was a lamb and one young pigeon or dove. But if for financial reasons a woman could not provide a lamb she could offer a pair of doves or pigeons instead (See Lev. 12:2, 4–8).
Most Biblical scholars believe and teach that because Mary offered for sacrifice two doves, instead of a young lamb, that this humble offering revealed Mary and Joseph’s lowly circumstances; and serves as evidence that the Wise Men had not yet visited the baby Jesus leaving their valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Otherwise Mary would have had the resources to purchase and offer a lamb for such an important and momentous occasion.
But I wonder if there could have been another reason, besides lack of finances, why Mary did not offer a sacrificial lamb? Perhaps a deeper, more meaningful reason.
If you really think about it why would Mary offer a lamb for purification sacrifice when she, a pure and chosen vessel of God, just birthed the Son of God … the King of lambs, the lamb that would end all sacrifice … even the very Lamb of God!
Perhaps the Spirit whispered to her that a lamb was not to be her offering … at that moment. That the time for her to offer up a precious lamb would come later.
Although the scriptures are silent regarding Mary and her life prior to the birth of Jesus, there are Apocryphal writings found in the early Christian Church that talk about Mary’s life in her younger years and how she received spiritual manifestations and was taught by heavenly angels (See The Lost Books of the Bible, “The Gospel of Bartholomew).
While most of this ancient Apocryphal scripture is unreliable, Elder Bruce R. McConkie observed:
“As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, Inc., 1965,vol 1,p.85).
So instead of a little lamb, Mary offered two beautiful doves, spiritually symbolic of the life and ministry that lay ahead of her precious baby boy.
One dove as a symbol of peace which her Son, the promised Messiah, would emulate and bring to all the world. The second dove symbolic of the Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead and testifier of Jesus Christ; the power through which she conceived her chosen child and who would appear many times during Jesus’ ministry in the form of a dove.
Jesus Christ … the Shepherd … and the Lamb
Jewish historians record that the passover lambs were brought into Jerusalem from the fields of Bethlehem to the South, then through the north-east gate of the city, by the pool of Bethesda, called “Sheep’s Gate.”
All that I have read about the Savior’s entry into Jerusalem and the temple grounds for the last time in His mortal life, leads me to believe He did so through Sheeps Gate.
It is in Nehemiah, Chapter 3, where we learn about sheep’s gate; that it was actually beautifully carved doors that were built and sanctified by the high priests as the entrance to the temple grounds for the sheep and lambs that were to be used for sacrifice.
In John 10:7-9 we find Jesus referring to himself as “The door of the sheep” by which if any man enter he shall be saved and shall find pasture.
I can easily imagine the Savior entering those beautifully carved, sanctified doors, perhaps even with the lambs as they were being herded through. Jesus walking with them, the Good Shepherd who giveth his life for the sheep, cradling in his loving arms a lamb or two. Knowing that soon He would be the Ultimate Sacrifice … The Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world!
My heart is filled with overwhelming love and gratitude as I ponder all of this.